By Ken A. Epstein and Ashley Chambers
As the city prepares to kick off its long awaited land-sea transport hub development at the old Army Base, West Oakland community activists are raising concerns about the project, seeking to ensure that the city and developers deliver on the promise of jobs and protect the environmental health of the local community.
The $1.2 billion Oakland Global Trade and Logistics Center, which will break ground Friday afternoon on city land adjacent to the Port of Oakland, will “create thousands of jobs, boost port competitiveness, reduce environmental impacts and help revitalize Oakland,” according to a press announcement released last week by the office of Mayor Jean Quan.
Yet estimates of how many jobs the project will create, originally as high as 8,000 construction and permanent jobs, have diminished as groundbreaking day has approached.
According to Mayor Quan’s press release last week, “Phase I will generate an estimated 1,500 on-site construction jobs,” which means 50 percent or about 750 jobs will be go to Oakland residents over the next four years or five years.
However, as late as October 2012, Quan told KCBS the development will “create about 5,000 good paying, blue collar jobs, of which at least half … have to be from the City of Oakland. And we’re going to make sure it’s more if we can.”
“If we are looking for this project to create thousands of jobs, we’re likely to be disappointed,” said Brian Beveridge, co-director the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEI), which has worked for years to clean up West Oakland, and is part of OaklandWorks, which worked to ensure local residents benefit from the Army Base development.
Construction projects nowadays involve many fewer workers than in the past, and state-of-the-art warehouses, when they are finally built, will be highly automated, producing many fewer jobs than many people had hoped for, said Beveridge.
Though still supportive of the Army Base development, which can create some jobs for Oakland and boost the Bay Area and the national economy, he said, it will not be the economic engine that will create the levels of employment that Oakland must see in order to end chronic unemployment.
City Council members were upset last year when they were told at a meeting that the project would only produce about 80-90 jobs in its first 18 months.
“We were told by (city officials) that there would be about 80 jobs the first year for operating engineers, pile drivers and laborers,” said Margaret Gordon, co-director of WOEIP.
When the city puts out a figure like 1,500 jobs, “We do not know if they are talking about full-time or part-time, people who work for months or only a day or two, office staff or lawyers, laborers or carpenters. They have not broken it down,” she said.
In addition, Beveridge said, the local hiring agreement, which pledges 50 percent of all the jobs will go to local residents, applies to the construction phase of the project, not to the companies that will operate at the finished project.
“Phil Tagami says he’s total committed to local hire, but his partners, like Prologis, are not so committed,” when it comes to guaranteeing that Oakland residents are hired at the companies that build and lease at the project, said Beveridge.
“They didn’t want to have any constraints on them. When they lease warehouses, they want to have as much latitude as possible when negotiating with their future tenants,” he said.
Neither the mayor nor Asssistant City Administrator Fred Blackwell responded to the Post’s questions asking why the city did not negotiate Oakland hiring requirements for companies that build and lease at the project.
Further, Quan in her press statement seems to claim credit for “220 jobs already created by the construction of the rail yard.” However, that is a Port of Oakland project and has nothing to do with the city’s developer, CCIG, owned by Phil Tagami.
According to a port spokesman, the rail yard project so far has hired 123 Oakland residents, a mix of fulltime and temporary employees.
Disagreeing with Mayor Quan’s press statement that celebrates that the project is going to “reduce environmental impacts,” Beveridge said that at this point, the city is committed to making the project “just as clean as the law requires.”
However, there has been a great deal of resistance on the part of the city and the developer to meeting with the community and regulatory agencies to discuss its plans to mitigate the impacts that result from building the project and installing increased shipping capacities, trucking and rail lines.
“The city’s agreement covers the legal requirements for clean air,” said Beveridge. “(But) what the air district is saying is they would like to see innovative projects above and beyond the requirements of the law. They say they will help to bring other resources to the project to make it the greenest, most innovative project possible, but there doesn’t seem to be interest in that.”
Added Margaret Gordon: “There is no air toxic emission reduction mitigation plan. The city has allowed the master developer to do air quality monitoring, which is part of a plan, but it’s not a total plan. None of the air quality regulatory groups have signed off on any emissions reduction plan.”
“All they say is that they will meet ‘standard conditions of approval,’ which could mean anything,” said Gordon.
In addition, there is no plan for where all the additional trucks will be parked or the containers and the chassis will be stored.
The city did not require the master developer to create a transition plan for where trucks would go when the Army Base truck-parking site was shut down. There was no plan for what would happen to inspections of hazardous cargo when the city evicted that company that did it at the Army Base property.
So far, the mayor has not said what she will do to expand employment opportunities, for example, whether she would support an effort to direct tax revenues generated by the development to hiring additional city employees to expand teen centers, expand re-entry programs for the formerly incarcerated, upgrade city parks and fix streets.
Courtesy of the Oakland Post, November 1, 2013 (www.postnewsgroup.com)