By Ashley Chambers and Ken A. Epstein
City officials are saying that current zoning regulations prohibit the inspection of hazardous materials at the old Horizon Beverage building in West Oakland, which is encouraging news to local residents who do not want to see big trucks and potentially dangerous cargo moved from the Port of Oakland into their neighborhoods .
The city planning and zoning department has yet to receive an application from the building operator, according to city staff.
“If there were to be any hazardous materials proposed to be handled, stored or transferred here, that’s prohibited in [that
zoning district]. If anything were to come to the zoning counter on this issue, the red flags would go up,” said Scott Miller, the city’s zoning manager, speaking at Tuesday’s Community and Economic Development Committee (CED) meeting.
Owned by investor Tom Henderson at 1700 20th Street, the proposed site is located across from Raimondi Field, posing potential risks to the community and small children who regularly play sports there.
In general, U.S. Customs inspects cargo containers suspected of carrying black market products, illegal drugs, smuggled weapons, radioactive materials and infested farm products. If produce is infested, it must be fumigated with highly poisonous gas.
In response to concerns raised by community members, city staff is conducting a risk assessment on the hazard conditions that could stem from customs inspections operating in West Oakland. The assessment is expected to be done by next week.
“I don’t want us to limit our view just to the hazardous materials. There are a lot of other health impacts that could happen from land-use decisions,” said Councilmember Libby Schaaf, who wants the risk assessment to include the impact of diesel trucks and other diesel producing equipment associated with inspections of cargo at the site.
Community speakers urged the council members on the CED committee to put a stop to the proposed inspection site.
“The chemical waste issue is concerning to me being a homeowner in West Oakland,” said Dean Chambers, who added that he has asthma and therefore a personal concern about air quality in the area.
Pacific Coast Containers (PCC Logistics) located on the Oakland Army Base previously had a contract with U.S. Customs. However, when the city moved the company off of its current site, PCC was only granted a two and a half year lease. Customs decided to contract with another operator with a long-term five-year lease, according to the city.
The city knew well in advance that it was going to move the businesses at its Army Base property in order to make way for its development project and therefore had plenty of time to ensure that PCC Logistics could maintain its contract on Port of Oakland land, said Rashidah Grinage, executive director of PUEBLO.
“This was entirely foreseeable. You knew this was coming for two years, and no provisions were made for how to keep this ‘genie in the bottle.’ You need to figure out how to keep customs inspections at the port,” Grinage said.
“This is a disaster in the making,” she said. “This is a risk that is incalculable in terms of potentially dangerous items coming into the community.”
City staff agrees that customs operations should remain at the port and that the contract should be awarded to PCC Logistics, said John Monetta, project manager for the city.
“City staff believes that (inspections) should stay in the port area. We believe that (the contract) should be awarded to the applicant that is within the port area, which is (PCC Logistics),” said Monetta.
Community members suggested that city staff reach out to Congresswoman Barbara Lee and Senators Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein to encourage U.S. Customs to dialogue with the city.
To contact Scott Miller, City of Oakland zoning manager email email@example.com or call (510) 238-7733.
Courtesy of the Oakland Post, October 24, 2013 (www.postnewsgroup.com)