More than a dozen Oakland clergy members held signs that read “No Coal” and “Faith Against Coal” outside the city council meeting on Tuesday to demand that the council immediately stop a plan to ship coal through the city. Before the meeting, some leaders from the Christian and Jewish communities spoke enthusiastically to an audience about why they believe coal should be banned due to possible environmental and health risks.
“As Flint, Michigan reminds us, environmental toxins particularly impact poor children of color globally and locally. Flint and West Oakland have many parallels,” said Reverend Laurie Manning from Skyline Church in Oakland, referring to the state of emergency in Flint after lead was found in the water supply. “This is a local health issue. The children of West Oakland are already contending with fumes and noise and other toxins from the port.”
The clergy coalition presented a statement from Mayor Libby Schaaf, released hours earlier to the clergy and council, which said she opposed the “transportation of coal and crude oil through the city.” In the letter, Schaaf also asked the city council to postpone a resolution to enter a $208,000 contract with Environmental Science Associates (ESA) to analyze the potential health and safety effects of the transportation of coal through the terminal in order to “evaluate other, potentially more effective options.”
“I intend to maintain Oakland’s strong record on environmental justice and stewardship so we may thrive while protecting our planet for future generations,” wrote Schaaf in the letter.
In 2012, the city entered a lease and development deal with California Capital and Investment Group (CCIG), headed by Phil Tagami, to redevelop parts of the former Oakland Army base. CCIG then subleased the rights to develop and manage the Oakland Bulk and Oversize Terminal to Terminal Logistics Solutions (TLS), headed by Jerry Bridges, a former executive director of the Port of Oakland. Last year, four Utah counties invested $53 million in the development of the Oakland Bulk and Oversize Terminal in West Oakland. Coal from these counties would be transported to the terminal in Oakland by train, and then to Asia.
Since the terminal plan was announced, clergy members have debated it, and some who oppose it have even alleged that other local pastors have been offered money for their endorsement. In November, Reverend Ken Chambers of the West Side Missionary Baptist Church told Oakland North that he knew of several pastors and faith organizations that had been offered money for their support, but he did not name any pastors. In September, the East Bay Express reported on similar accusations made by District 3 Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney, saying that pastors and two members of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project had been offered money for a community fund in return for their support. The article did not name any pastors who had allegedly been approached with offers or accepted any money, and said that the environmental organizers had declined.
In October, the Sierra Club, a nationwide environmental organization, and other Bay Area environmental groups, filed a lawsuit against the City of Oakland in Alameda County Superior Court, claiming it must conduct an additional environmental review for the terminal because past reviews did not take coal into account. At a public hearing in September, Greg McConnell, representing CCIG, said the project had passed the required environmental studies.
The Sierra Club dismissed the suit in November. April Thomas, communications assistant for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, said the suit could be filed again depending if the city decides to follow through with its own environmental analysis.
The proposed contract with ESA is the council’s latest effort to fully assess the risks of exporting coal through Oakland and to understand if it can legally ban it from the city.
Before the meeting, representatives from the Sierra Club also released the results of a poll conducted by Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (FM3), a corporation that specializes in public policy opinion research. According to the report, 76 percent of 400 residents in Oakland opposed the proposal after they were presented with both sides of the argument.
During a public comment section that went through 10 p.m., people from both sides of the argument spoke. Members of the No Coal in Oakland coalition said environmental and public health evidence presented at the public hearing in September should have been enough for the council to stop the plan.
“Public decision making should not be privatized to ESA or any other firm that makes a living drafting EIRs [Environmental Impact Reviews],” said Michael Kaufman, an organizer for No Coal In Oakland. “The only question the Oakland City Council needs to answer is whether we have submitted substantial evidence in support of a coal ban last fall.” Kaufman urged the city not to “appoint ESA to decide for you.”
Some clergy members spoke in support of the terminal, saying it would bring in more jobs. “We have young men and women that are in desperate need of good quality jobs in the city of Oakland and every time we procrastinate, or handle this in a dilatory manner, we are precluding them from getting an opportunity to advance themselves,” said Pastor Michael Wallace of the Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church.
“The black clergy is not divided. We have different opinions about stuff. Some of us want people to get jobs, some of us could care less,” said Pastor Kevin Barnes of Abyssinian Missionary Baptist Church.
Because of Schaaf’s statement, the council only heard public comments on the issue and announced the topic of coal will not be reconsidered until sometime in April.
In other business, the council unanimously denied a final appeal that asked the council to delay the development of the Brooklyn Basin Shoreline Park construction until a new environmental review that takes into account the effects of global warming could take place.
City councilmembers also honored African American leaders from each district for Black History Month. Among them was Oakland native Ryan Coogler, director of the movies Creed and Fruitvale Station, based on the life of Oscar Grant, who was shot by a BART police officer in 2009.