Planning Commission Approves West Oakland Customs Inspection Site
Apr 6, 2014
By Ken Epstein
The city’s Planning Commission this week rejected a zoning appeal to its decision to allow a local company to establish a U.S. Customs Central Examination Station (CES), clearing the way for containers entering the Port of Oakland to be inspected at the West Oakland site.
The Panning Commission voted 5-0 in favor of the CES operated by North America 3PL at 1700 20th St. in Oakland, owned by entrepreneur Tom Henderson.
A second East Bay inspection site is operated by BOBAC CSF Corp. at 300 Ave. A in Alameda.
The commissioners made their ruling narrowly on issues of whether the CES met existing industrial zoning regulations that cover the site.
They did not rule on or examine the opposing arguments that divide the community. Most of those who attended the meeting supported the speakers who emphasized the importance of the hundreds of jobs that the CES and Henderson are bringing to a community that desperately wants to work.
Others, including the longtime environmental activists who filed the appeal, argued that the inspection site means more trucks in West Oakland, impacting a community already suffering from high levels of respiratory disease.
They also say the site potentially opens the community to exposure to unknown health hazards arriving in cargo from ports throughout the world.
The zoning appeal “is essentially based on wrong information, based on opinion not on facts – it is based on suspicion,” said Rena Rickles, a local attorney who represents Henderson and his company, speaking at the meeting.
The CES is a secondary inspection site that examines goods, with an assurance that they are not hazardous, said Rickles, adding that a U.S. Cus
toms director said he does not recall there ever being an incident anywhere in the United States.
“Tom Henderson – he’s a gem. We’re lucky to have him in Oakland. He wants to do the right thing,” she said.
Rickles said site would use the latest trucks, which are less toxic, and there will be no fumigation conducted at the CES.
Henderson explained his goal is create a business that is clean and green and good for Oakland and its residents.
“I am interested in creating jobs in Oakland,” he said. “Over the last few months, I created 400 jobs in Oakland, good jobs with benefits, including 140 new jobs at the CES.”
“I am going to be putting in three grocery stores” in the community, he said. “I would appreciate a yes vote tonight. There’s a lot more to come. “
Supporting the business, Pastor Gerald Agee said, “I am very satisfied that every issue has been addressed. Public safety is not the issue. Right now, we have an opportunity to employ people, and people want to work.”
“This man right here is going to create jobs,” said community member Gavin Butler. “How can you deny a thirsty man a glass of water? So many people in West Oakland are in need of jobs – they are on the corners.”
Among those opposed to the CES was Margaret Gordon of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP).
“I’m not anti jobs,” said Gordon “But this is the wrong place” for a CES. “A lot of work has been done (for 15 years) to keep trucks out of the neighborhood.”
The root of the problem, she said, goes back to when inspections were done where they were supposed to occur – at the Army Base. But then the city evicted PCC Logistics to develop the property, and the port refused to give the company a long-term lease.
About 50 local workers lost their jobs at PCC Logistics.
“That work was already at the army base,” Gordon said. “There was no need to be evicting anybody. They have plenty of land, and they have plenty of space out there. Let’s talk about that.”
Timothy, one of the dedicated soccer players who uses Raimondi Park, was concerned about the CES being across the street from where he and many others play.
“Soccer players run an average of seven miles a game,” he said.” We breathe the pollutants and the particulates. The air at Raimondi Park is already bad enough.
“We want to play the game we love without getting sick,” he said “But they can’t control which way the wind blows.”