By Matier & Ross December 1, 2015
Before jetting off to Paris for this week’s star-studded global warming conference, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and her staff finally hit upon a plan to solve her first local environmental crisis — how to stop coal from being shipped through the Port of Oakland.
At issue is a proposal to ship Utah coal through the $250 million bulk cargo terminal being built — in part with public funds — by politically connected developer Phil Tagami at the old Oakland Army Base.
Environmentalists — and Schaaf herself — say Tagami assured them that coal would not go through the terminal and have loudly opposed the plan.
The question has been, what can they do about it?
The answer: Declare coal a health hazard.
“That is something the city is looking at,” Schaaf said before catching her flight to Paris.
Her hopes rest chiefly on a single line in the deal struck with Tagami back in 2012 — while Schaaf was still on the City Council — that allows the city to modify the deal’s terms if the project puts either workers or neighbors “in a condition substantially dangerous to their health or safety.”
City leaders have hired a consultant to come up with enough ammunition to prove that coal is indeed dangerous, and thus allow Oakland to adopt health regulations that would essentially make the coal deal unworkable.
The city can’t impose new conditions retroactively, but Schaaf said the agreement with Tagami “recognizes that the development is subject to health regulations that may be subsequently adopted.”
So “we do have the authority to go through the process and consider the adoption of health regulations,” Schaaf said.
The mayor believes Oakland has the authority to act as long as Tagami hasn’t taken out the final permits for the project. He isn’t likely to do so until spring.
Still, the city is walking a tightrope, trying to block the project without inviting a lawsuit from Tagami for interfering with a contract.
Tagami was on vacation in Japan and unavailable for comment. But the attorney handling the cargo terminal project, David Smith, said Tagami’s people “are continuing to honor their commitment to the city under the agreement and look forward to the city doing the same.”
Tagami has cut a deal to turn over the coal terminal operation to a newly created outfit, Terminal Logistics Solutions — headed by two former Port of Oakland executive directors, Jerry Bridges andOmar Benjamin.
As part of the “arm’s-length contractual relationship’’ he has with Terminal Logistics, Tagami has said, the operators will decide what commodities the terminal will handle. He has made it clear, however, that he believes they do have the right to export coal.
For his part, Bridges said Tuesday, “To pass legislation to get out of a commitment they already made doesn’t seem very business-friendly. There are enough real issues in Oakland that would create health and safety concerns, but our project is not one of them.”
Bridges declined to say whether declaring coal a health hazard would be a deal killer — but he did say that coal, which accounts for half of U.S. commodity exports, would be a big part of what passed through the new cargo terminal.
The city’s environmentalists, meanwhile, have apparently decided to take a wait-and-see attitude. Just before Thanksgiving, Earthjustice — a coalition of activists that includes the Sierra Club — said it was dropping its lawsuit against the city and Tagami challenging the project’s environmental review.
“The city has telegraphed its intentions in a way it hadn’t done before,” Earthjustice attorney Irene Gutierrez said of Oakland’s possible move to block coal shipments. “We hope Oakland is going to do the right thing and live up to its progressive roots.”
Super plan: If you’re planning on coming into San Francisco for the Super Bowl festivities, you’d better plan ahead — because getting there could be a Herculean play in itself.
Organizers are expecting upward of a million people to pour into the city for the NFL Experience at Moscone Center and the Super Bowl City pop-up festival at Justin Herman Plaza in the week leading up to the big game Feb. 7.
With all the construction going on, getting into the city is tough enough on a normal day. Plus, there are no plans for additional parking for people coming to Moscone or Justin Herman for the Super Bowl-related fun.
Photo: MLB.com A train loaded with coal approaches the Levin-Richmond Terminal in Richmond, Calif., on Thursday, July 23, 2015. A similar plan for a coal exporting operation has been proposed at the old Oakland Army Base by Oakland developer Phil Tagami and a company called Terminal Logistics Solutions.
If anything, given the planned street closures and security, there will be less parking than what’s available now, which isn’t much.
As usual when big events come to the city, organizers are urging locals to take Muni and out-of- towners to take BART.
However, it turns out that BART, which is already moving a record 230,000 people a day, may not be such an easy ride.
For example, if you’re a family coming in from Stockton, the suggestion is to drive to Dublin, then hop on BART to the Embarcadero.
Sounds simple, but thanks to the booming economy, most of BART’s 33 station parking lots are filled by 8:30 a.m. That includes Dublin.
“We are using every space available,” said BART spokesman Jim Allison.
“People can always go online and reserve a space for the day” for $6, or $9.50 at West Oakland, said Allison.
“And I would advise, the sooner you do it, the better.”
S an Francisco Chronicle columnists Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross appear Sundays, Mondays and Wednesdays. Matier can be seen on the KPIX TV morning and evening news. He can also be heard on KCBS radio Monday through Friday at 7:50 a.m. and 5:50 p.m. Got a tip? Call (415) 777-8815, or e-mail matierandross@ sfchronicle.com. Twitter: @matierandross