Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal: what happened to the promised jobs from OBOT, which was to replace the closed Oakland Army Base? Ask the Oakland City Council and the Oakland City Attorney.
The Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal project promised thousands of jobs and tens of thousands of worker hours for Oakland residents, new trade apprentices, and disadvantaged workers produced millions in employee income until recently when the City Of Oakland pulled the plug on the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal . . . over politics.
News update: “No Coal In Oakland” Mistaken Jobs Numbers On OBOT.
The loss of the single-largest employer in Oakland, the Army Base and its 7,000 jobs, was the catalyst for converting the shuttered base to an active economic and employment engine for the City Of Oakland and the community workforce. After several failed proposals, the City finally moved forward with a global trade and logistics center, Oakland Global and the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal.
A 2012 study projected that the project would produce between 1,840 and 2,335 full-time permanent on-site jobs and indirectly boost the San Francisco / Oakland Bay Area regional economy with as many as 6,560 new jobs. The regional income produced from these jobs was estimated to be as much as $300 million for employees.
As for construction-related jobs, the study projected between 1,520 to 2,690 on-site construction jobs. And the ripple effect regionally via the construction activity was expected to generate between 3,060 to 5,410 jobs. “While the construction impacts are not permanent, they will bring a significant boost to Oakland and the region.” The study further estimated that the regional employment rise could produce $313 million in employee payroll.
Pipe dream? Hardly! With only part of the construction activity originally envisioned completed, the Army Base project has a demonstrated record of employing over 3,000 construction and professional support services workers. More specifically, between 2013 and 2017, the project generated 1,435 construction jobs, of which 403 were certified to be Oakland residents, 227 trade apprentices, and 158 disadvantaged workers.
How can we be so sure of the statistics? Because the governing contracts between the City of Oakland and Developer Phil Tagami mandate it. Under what is recognized to be one of the most strict and onerous local-hire mandates related to a project of this scale, the project had to track and demonstrate, absent narrow exceptions, that 50 percent of the work hours were by Oakland residents, 24 percent of the work hours were performed by “disadvantaged workers,” and 20 percent of the hours were performed by trade apprentices.
In fact, the policy was so strict relative to then-industry standards that it caused one of the primary industry contractors to withdraw itself from consideration as an operator at the project site so as not to set a precedent for its other facilities around the country.
So what went wrong? Politics. While the initial construction activity consisting of major site preparation and infrastructure installation tracked or exceeded all of the job creation and criteria goals, work at Oakland Bulk & Oversized Terminal (the former Oakland Army Base) ground to a halt when the City Of Oakland refused to abide by contractual schedules for the evaluation, permitting, and commencement of operations at the site.
Annual reviews of the performance of the site by the City of Oakland confirmed that the Developer was in full compliance with and carrying out all of its obligations under the governing agreements. But a Sierra Club campaign seeking to eliminate any possibility of the export of minerals that may be used in fossil fuels (forgetting that coal is also used to make steel) from any facility along the Pacific Coast attacked the job-making project.
Although the City of Oakland was at all relevant times informed and well knew that the primary facility at the project, a multi-commodity bulk marine terminal, was likely to ship iron ore and coal (the City’s own record, for example, included documents showing that coal was approximately 40 percent of the bulk commodity shipping market at the time), the City of Oakland bowed to Sierra Club pressure and ordered any consideration or permitting related to the project to be put on hold.
In discussions with the Developer, Phil Tagami, representatives of the City of Oakland stated openly that they would “kill” the project before they would allow it to ship coal. This, notwithstanding the fact that the City of Oakland had granted the Developer a vested right to build and operate the facility without regard to which commodity it would handle over its 66-year life.
So far, one federal court has ruled the City of Oakland’s conduct illegally breached its contract with Phil Tagami and California Capital Investments Group. An additional lawsuit is now pending in state court alleging new, more recent violations by the City of Oakland.
The tragic losers amidst all the legalities and politics are the workers sidelined by the dispute. There are rail lines to repair and install, transloading facilities to build and install, and permanent operations to be staffed. Only a fraction of the work is done, but all of the labor mandates have been honored.
But the City of Oakland would rather shelve all of those ready, waiting, and funded work hours for Oakland residents, disadvantaged workers, and trade apprentices in the name of a political agenda, even where such conduct violates the law, rather than honor its promises and obligations – “promises and obligations” made, by the way, not only to the Developer but to the community.
Zennie Abraham is the CEO of Zennie62Media