By Ken Epstein
The future of Oakland as a conduit for global commerce took a big step forward recently when the Port of Oakland and Union Pacific Railroad started construction on a project to link the ongoing development at the old Oakland Army Base to the railroad’s main line.
But community activists are asking if Oakland residents are going to be part of this commercial future and if they are going to have a say in this public investment.
They want the port to sit down with them to negotiate the benefits and the impact of this project. They say the port had a few meetings with them and then stopped meeting.
“They’ve presented nothing to us –they have not given us any idea of the level of community benefits they are considering,” said Margaret Gordon of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project and OaklandWorks Alliance.
“We’ve given them proposals, and they have not responded to us.” Gordon said. Port officials only met with local residents three times to discuss community benefits, the last time right before the election, said.
In addition, she said, the port never explained the development plan to the community.
As of Wednesday of this week, the port has sent a message offering to schedule a meeting in February to talk with community members.
“The Port of Oakland has never sat down and said what benefits represent their commitment to the people of Oakland, said Brian Beveridge of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project and OaklandWorks.
“My question is: ’Why does the port continue to demand unilateral control over the community benefit discussion with West Oakland residents? What are they so afraid of?’” Asked Beveridge.
In response to community complaints, the port is saying it will restart community benefits meetings after it picks a developer for the port side of the Army Base development project.
The $25 million project is financed by the Port of Oakland and the California Transportation Commission’s Trade Corridors Improvement Fund. It’s part of a $100 million port effort to significantly expand Oakland rail capacity.
A 7,400-foot lead track and the reconfiguration of adjacent tracks should be completed in October. Once finished, the port will be better positioned to receive bulk rail shipments at the former army base from Union Pacific and BNSF railroads.
The port and City of Oakland expect to transform Trans-Pacific supply chains at the 360-acre former army base logistics center. Located on the Port’s Outer Harbor, it would include warehousing, trans-load facilities and a dry-bulk cargo terminal.
“Connecting the Oakland Army Base to the national rail network is a milestone for us,” said Chris Chan, the port’s engineering director. “To be successful, we must have good rail access.”
Bulk shipments of commodities such as Midwest grain and beef could be delivered to Oakland by rail, trans-loaded into containers at the port, and then exported via Asia-bound container vessels.
According, to Amy Tharpe, the port’s Director of Social Responsibility, the Port of Oakland is interested in meeting with community members who will be impacted by the Army Base project.
“The Port of Oakland is committed to developing a community benefits package for the redevelopment of the Port’s portion of the former Oakland Army Base,” said Tharpe.
“To ensure this we have to hear from the people in our community who will be impacted by the project and could benefit from it,” she said. “We’ve held several meetings that began last year with multiple key stakeholders from more than ten community groups.”
“Once a development partner is selected,” she continued, “the Port will schedule more community meetings to create a specific community benefits agreement.”
Courtesy of the Oakland Post, February 8, 2015 (postnewsgroup.com)