Local Activists Threaten to File Civil Rights Complaint Against Army Base Project

May 29, 2014

Complaint could jeopardize $25 million in federal funds

 By Ken A. Epstein

Oakland community environmental leaders have notified the city that they are prepared to file a formal federal Title VI civil rights complaint over the negative impacts on air quality of the Oakland Army Base development in West Oakland, which potentially could jeopardize over $25 million in federal funding that the city is seeking for the project.

“It is a violation of Title VI (of the Civil Rights Act) for a grantee to use federal funds for a project that increases the environmental, health or economic burden on (already impacted) communities of color,” wrote Margaret Gordon and Brian Beveridge of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP) in a May 9 letter to the city, calling on city officials to meet with them to resolve these issues.

At stake in the dispute is over $25 million in U.S. Department of Transportation funding – an Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant – that the city needs for the Oakland Global project at the old Army Base next to the Port of Oakland.

Margaret Gordon

Besides the possible impact on federal funding, the complaint would also be filed with the state and could affect the $242 million in state funding the project has already received.

In their letter to the city, Gordon and Beveridge contend the city has failed since 2002 to produce a Truck Management Plan to mitigate the negative air quality impacts and the disruptions in truck traffic caused by the Oakland Global project.

“This failure has led to the introduction of additional truck traffic into the …neighborhood, a community with more than significant population of low-income people of color,” they wrote.

Brian Beveridge

Because of the city’s failure to plan, they said, the city evicted a private company, PCC Logistics, which was serving as a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Centralized Examination Station (CES), inspecting cargo entering the U.S.

Subsequently, the city’s Planning Commission in April gave a permit to another company to operate the CES for U.S. Customs in the West Oakland neighborhood –North America 3PL, owned by local entrepreneur Tom Henderson.

“This permit approval serves to facilitate the introduction of thousands of truck trips each year into the community,” Beveridge and Gordon wrote. “This port-related truck traffic could have been avoided if a Truck Management Plan had been produced prior to eviction of trucking tenants and the start of construction on the Oakland Army Base.”

U.S. Customs and its contactor North America 3PL are also mentioned in the complaint. “(U.S. Customs) had no  civil rights or public safety protocols in (place to) select a new site for CES operations and relied solely on the contactor’s understanding of City of Oakland zoning regulations to protect the public from increased impacts.”

According to their letter, “Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 clearly requires federal agencies to take whatever steps are necessary to avoid discriminatory effects of their actions through their contractors or grantees.”

In addition, they said, President Obama this year reauthorized President Bill Clinton’s Executive Order 12898, affirming that it is the “responsibility of federal agencies to consider the health and environmental impact of their actions in the communities in which they act.”

The Port of Oakland is included in the complaint because it did not take steps to provide space for U.S. Custom’s inspections on port land.

North America 3PL and its owner Tom Henderson has support in West Oakland because of Henderson’s pledge to bring desperately needed jobs to the community.

A meeting between officials and the environmental activists is scheduled for Monday.