As a major developer moves forward with his plan to force Oakland and its residents to accept a massive, toxic coal terminal in the Port of Oakland, the Oakland youth are on the front lines of this battle for environmental justice with 350 Bay Area’s Youth vs Apocalypse group leading some of the efforts.
Why is this currently the issue?
Phil Tagami, a developer, and his company, California Commercial & Investment Group (CCIG), are planning to build a giant coal terminal in West Oakland. Coal is extremely toxic – transporting or shipping the coal can pose an increased risk of health problems as well as accidents involving heavily impacted communities in the flatlands. In addition, scientists can predict the amount our global climate would change if the coal that is supposed to go through this terminal were to be burned. Any increase in our already unstable climate means more fires, storms, and droughts that can immensely impact all of us, and often especially communities of color, low-income communities and youth.
The developer claims this project would bring in a number of jobs to Oakland, but we should not have to choose between a livable wage and our health.
How did this happen?
When the Army moved off its former base in the Port of Oakland, they gave the land to the city. The city struck a deal with a wealthy developer named Phil Tagami to create business opportunities in the city. After accepting the contract, Tagami made a verbal promise to refrain from shipping coal. Unfortunately, in 2015 the community learned that Tagami had subcontracted with a front company for Bowie coal and planned to erect a massive coal terminal – potentially bringing a one-mile-long train filled with coal into the city each day, and loading the the cargo onto boats headed for Asian markets. After a massive community outcry, the city council unanimously banned the storing and handling of coal in the city of Oakland.
Shortly after Trump was elected in 2016, the developer’s attorneys announced that they’re suing the city in order to overturn this ban — a move that is financially backed by coal companies and an important part of a national strategy to overturn health and safety protections with intent to allow their dying business to eek out more profit.
In November, citing delays and failure to complete his end of the development agreement for the entire redevelopment agreement (not just the bulk terminal) the city officially moved to break it’s lease with Tagami. Late last year (2018) the development company led by Tagami sued the city in a second lawsuit, designed to force the city to issue permits and also pay millions to the developer
Meanwhile, Oakland youth launched a powerful and energetic campaign to make sure that this terminal won’t be built, and to make sure everyone in Oakland (instead of just developers and judges) have a say in what happens in our city.
So what are the Oakland youth doing now?
Since 2016, youth have been taking action to protect the health and future of Oakland. They testified and met with city council members to get a ban on coal. Since the lawsuit was announced, they have appealed directly to the developer, demanding him to stand with his city and his children by dropping the plans to build the terminal. After unsuccessfully requesting meetings for many months, youth have dropped by the developer’s office, sometimes even in elf suits, to announce that the kids of Oakland don’t deserve coal for Christmas. They have delivered hundreds of messages from fellow youth to advance the movement. They have had musical protests in front of the developer’s building and the yoga studio he owns. They have held a zombie carnival in front of his home, where 200 residents invited him to join us. They have been interviewed on TV and in print, and have also written op-eds in local papers. In 2017, youth activists protested at a fundraiser that was hosted by Tagami, resulting in cancellation of the event due to fear of negative publicity. The youth created a chalk mural and spoke out in front of the site while being broadcasted on the news. During this school year, a diverse group of youth organizations have joined this fight for environmental justice.
Bay Area youth are now involved in a multi-pronged strategy centered around pushing for a solution that does not involve coal and does not hurt youth or their communities. Students have created a petition for a restorative justice circle between stakeholders in the coal conflict. They are also making connections with regional organizing to stop coal, recently traveling to Vallejo to attend a meeting there. Finally, they are working in coalition with other groups locally and nationally to develop a powerful campaign to push the Bank of Montreal to drop it’s funding for the coal project. They’re looking forward to stopping this terminal once and for all.
Actions you can take right now:
- Sign this petition to keep coal out of our community and lungs.
- Mark your calendar: Youth coalition meetings are the first Tuesdays of the month. Contact Carolyn at carolyn@350BayArea.org for meeting details.