Oakland’s Poor Economic Development Effort, Coal, Phil Tagami Lawsuit and Tom Steyer: The Story

Tom Steyer, Libby Schaaf, and OaklandTom Steyer, Libby Schaaf, and Oakland
(Last Updated On: December 7, 2018)

Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal has filed another lawsuit against the City of Oakland regarding its controversial but long-planned coal handling facility. The idea, launched as far back as 2009, was that the Oakland-based port project would connect Utah’s coal industry mining production with Asian markets and handle minerals and iron ore, as then-Oakland Economic Development Director said in 2012. (And there’s ample evidence Oakland knew that coal hauling was to be part of the project’s operation).

But the reason the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal came to be was because of a contractual obligation the City of Oakland established and has with the State of California and the Federal Government, where Oakland is responsible for replacing the lost 2,400 well-paying yet non-technical government jobs due to the giant American military base closure effort of the 1990s.

That action basically killed much of the San Francisco Bay Area’s basic industry job base, as Alameda Naval Air Station, The Oakland Army Base, and Treasure Island were closed to activity, and turned over to their respective base-reuse organizations.

Overall, in an example of stunningly bad economic development work, Alameda, Oakland, and San Francisco have failed to do the actions necessary to replace the lost military jobs. While, McKesson leaves San Francisco and is moving to Las Colinas, Texas, as this blog post is written, and people and businesses leave Oakland and the SF Bay Area in droves, in search of a better economic living condition, Tom Steyer appears to sit back like a puppet master, watching the events unfold, directing his cash here and there.

Clearing Decks: Oakland’s Forgotten Economic Development Process, and the “Tom Steyer Factor” in The Oakland Coal Issue

Regardless of how one feels about the project (and opponents to it should avoid reacting to what’s presented here before finishing it), the fact remains that the Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal (OBOT) development is the only one that comes close to holding up Oakland’s job replacement responsibilities. That’s why it landed a $240 million contract with the State and Federal government in being able to provide the necessary employment and maintain the land as a place for a warehousing and logistics center.

One issue has held up it’s construction, and that’s the very understandable fear of the impact of coal shipments passing through West Oakland. But rather than go out and find an alternative company looking for an excellent place to relocate, Oakland has done nothing.

This author knows that for a fact, and after a brief talk with the consultant to the City on the project during the summer of this year and an impromptu encounter in front of a local restaurant called The Athletic Club.

The consultant to the City on the project said that “(OBOT Developer Phil Tagami) Tagami and his people are searching for a replacement for (the OBOT tenant-to-be) Bowie Resource Partners,” Utah’s largest coal producer. (Which has reorganized and is now called Wolverine Fuels, while a new firm, Insight Terminal Solutions, has the Oakland contract.)

But what about the City of Oakland actually doing economic development work and helping Phil find that company? The response from the consultant to the City on the project was “Don’t ask me. That’s the City’s issue. I see your point.” In other words, the City of Oakland’s approach was to be lazy and sit on its hands. That’s not the way Oakland has been in the past from this author’s experience as Economic Advisor to Oakland Mayor Elihu Harris and head of the NFL Super Bowl XXXIX Bidding Committee from 1995 to 2000. (And something said to the consultant by this author as a response to his information.)

Once, Oakland, California had a proud economic development process and tradition. In the 70s, 80s, and 90s, the Oakland Office of Economic Development and Employment and the Port of Oakland and the Oakland Redevelopment Agency worked together to bring job-rich businesses to Oakland representing various sectors of the economy.

The Oakland Federal Building, for example, was originally supposed to be in San Francisco. But aggressive action and skilled negotiations on the part of Oakland Mayor Lionel Wilson and Economic Development Director George Williams, plus an assist from the late Congressman Ron Dellums, landed the prize for Oakland, and the 3,000 jobs that came with it. There are many more examples of such successes.

By contrast, the Oakland of today still has a problem of lack of retail and basic industry jobs have been all but killed, yet it is content to allow itself to wallow in a drunk-like-state over tech-produced wealth and without any thought for a true, real, well-financed economic development plan. It’s as if the City’s minders said “Well, we have fewer people of color who are discriminated against or people who can’t compete in the job market and so who need our help or can cause a problem, thus we won’t do any real hard work to make sure there are jobs for them or build any affordable housing.” The result: a giant homeless problem.

Enter Tom Steyer.

Tom Steyer Helps Drive Oakland Gentrification, Washing Cash Over The Oakland Promise

Why is the Oakland of today so reluctant to act in doing the work of economic development of past staffers and elected officials? Who is stopping the creation of a win-win solution that could produce well-paying green jobs in a project developed by Phil Tagami?

Look to the actions of Tom Steyer for a large part of the answer to that question. (Author’s note: this is in no way questioning climate change in any way. But I am concerned that there is a “moralist” hue masking other actions that are harmful to the American social safety net in the Oakland context. One should be suspicious that Steyer lacks a “clean jobs” plan along the lines of the “Green Collar Economy” model that Van Jones proposed 10 years ago.)

Mr. Steyer, the famed American billionaire hedge fund manager, philanthropist, environmentalist, liberal activist, and fundraiser has used his money to buy the favor of some Oakland elected officials, while fueling an effort that has worked to change the very demographics of West Oakland.

Tom Steyer provided Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf with a $500,000 donation to Oakland Promise Generation Fund and Children’s Initiative, an organization she’s created to provide financial assistance to low-income Oakland students. And, overall, Steyer, via his NextGen Corporation, has washed cash over the California Democratic Party.

As of this writing, Tom Steyer has no plan to help cities pay for alternative economic development, and has only formed an effort that stops any project it deems outside of its opinion of what clean development is.

Is Tom Steyer  trying to get Phil Tagami out and clear The Oakland Army Base for market rate housing?

At this point, it’s important to ask one question: are Tom Steyer and Neill Sullivan and Mayor Schaaf working to get Phil Tagami’s business interests away from the Oakland Army Base and arrange a scenario where a market rate housing developer, perhaps Sullivan himself, steps in?

While no calls have been made to ask this question, it’s hard not to say that all roads of activity seem to imply that’s exactly what’s going on. This author hopes that’s not the case, but Sullivan is noted as against Phil’s OBOT project and has financially helped the legendary Oakland community activist Ken Chambers lobby against the bulk terminal project (even to the point of calling it something it’s not: a coal factory).

The one main point that must be repeated here is that no effort has been made to build an alternative economic development strategy that gives jobs to Oaklanders who have less, and every effort has been made to get rid of those same Oaklanders, many of whom have taken to live on the streets of West Oakland.

While Tom Steyer’s many works have helped to point America in the right direction, his investment actions with Neill Sullivan have helped to cause the Oakland homeless problem. The end solution is for Phil Tagami, Mayor Schaaf, and Tom Steyer to work together to form a new plan for the economic development of West Oakland, and the restoration of the jobs lost due to military base closures and technological change.

Stay tuned.

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Zennie Abraham is the CEO of Zennie62Media

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Zennie Abraham
Zennie Abraham is the CEO of Zennie62Media