.Big Coal Muscles Into Oakland Mayor’s Race & OPD’s License Plate Readers

No Coal in Oakland reveals large donations to one candidate

By Janis Hashe

The fight against an Oakland terminal at the West Gateway site at the foot of the Bay Bridge, which would be used to ship coal, has been going on for years. In the most recent twist, according to the group No Coal in Oakland (NCIO), allies of the terminal have been funneling money into the campaigns of a candidate for mayor. 

The group also has noted that some city council members have refused to sign a “no coal” pledge, raising concerns that, if elected, they will undermine the eight-year struggle to keep coal out of Oakland.  

NCIO asked mayoral and city council candidates to sign a pledge supporting the City of Oakland’s efforts “to use every feasible legal strategy to prevent construction or operation of a coal terminal in Oakland.” As of this writing, mayoral candidates Greg Hodge, Treva Reid, John Reimann, Loren Taylor, Sheng Thao and Allyssa Victory have signed the pledge. Candidates Ignacio De La Fuente, Tyron Jordan, Peter Liu and Seneca Scott have not.

In city council races, District 2 candidate Nicki Fortunato Bas has signed the pledge. Harold Lowe has not. In District 3, both Janani Ramachadran and Nenna Joiner have signed the pledge. In District 6, Kenneth Session and Nancy Sidebotham signed the pledge. Kevin Jenkins and Yakpasua Zazaboi have not.

According to Margaret Rossoff, NCIO co-coordinator, group members have been monitoring the city’s two sites which record campaign contributions, www.opendisclosure.io, and “Show Me the Money.” Red flags were raised when it was discovered that mayoral candidate Ignacio De La Fuente had first taken $50,000 donations from an “Independent Expenditure Committee,” called “Californians for Safer Streets Supporting Ignacio De La Fuente.” This “committee” was set up by longtime coal lobbyist Greg McConnell, who has ties to Vikas Tandon, the financier who has now taken over plans to build a coal terminal.

The big money donors to this include Jonathan Brooks, founder of hedge fund JMB Capital, which shares the Los Angeles office with hedge fund Autumn Wind, which picked up ownership of Insight Terminal Solutions (ITS) in a bankruptcy proceeding. Autumn Wind’s Chief Investment Officer is Vikas Tandon, who is now the CEO of ITS.

Oakland Bulk & Oversized Terminal (OBOT), Phil Tagami’s shell company that entered into a development agreement with the City of Oakland in 2013 (via parent company CCIG), until the City terminated the lease in late 2018 due to the developer’s failure to meet contractual obligations, also donated $50,000.

Then, on Oct. 12, Open Disclosure revealed a $250,000 additional donation to De La Fuente’s campaign via the committee by Brooks. On Oct. 20, Brooks contributed yet another $250,000, bringing his total to $550,000 to a pro-coal candidate.

“If the mayor and city council skew more pro-coal, it could affect the ongoing settlement negotiations,” Rossoff said. If no settlement is reached, the matter is set to go to trial again in April 2023. However, “there continues to be strong public opposition to a coal terminal,” she said, praising in particular the growing activism of Youth vs. Apocalypse, whose September “climate strike” drew hundreds. 

Participant Georgia Wallace, 17, told NCIO, “Building a coal terminal through a predominantly Black and brown neighborhood shows us again that the safety of these communities is not valued.”

By the Numbers

Oakland Police will continue to use license plate readers after city council vote 

By Keith Burbank

Police in Oakland will continue to use automated license plate readers (ALPRs) following a unanimous vote by the city council on Oct. 20. 

The readers are cameras mounted on police vehicles that scan license plates during routine police patrols. Information gained may help officers identify stolen vehicles or vehicles connected to a crime or missing persons’ case. 

Last month, the city council’s public safety committee sent the police department’s request for continued use of the readers back to the privacy advisory commission. 

Councilmembers Treva Reid and Loren Taylor, both who are running for mayor this fall, used a procedural motion to get the request out of committee and allow the council to consider it, Taylor said last week in an interview.

City council President Pro Tem Sheng Thao, also a mayoral candidate, proposed amendments at last week’s city council meeting to Reid and Taylor’s motion. The amendments followed negotiations Thao spearheaded between the privacy advisory commission and Oakland Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong.

The city council passed the item with Thao’s amendments.

“As our city grapples with an increase in violent crime and the limited capacity of our currently understaffed police department, I have reiterated the need to leverage technology to improve our public safety services,” Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said last week in an email to residents. 

Schaaf urged residents to tell city council members to let the police keep the data collected from the readers for a year. Councilmembers opted to allow police to keep the data for six months. 

“The support received from my council colleagues avoided further delay and much-needed action,” Reid said in a statement.

She said the readers give police “enhanced tools to keep Oaklanders safe and hold criminals accountable.”

Reid said in an interview last week that criminals don’t believe they won’t be held accountable in Oakland. 

“While ALPR technology is already in use in well-resourced commercial corridors, and in a small fraction of OPD vehicles, it is essential that we pave the way for expanded use across the city to improve safety and address equity,” Taylor said in a statement. 

Police have about 20 readers now, Taylor said. The city council’s approval may lead to the use of more readers in the future.

Taylor and Reid said audits will be conducted to ensure the use of the data by police addresses residents’ privacy concerns.

The readers will save police time, and among other things, increase officers’ efficiency, Taylor said.

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