West Oakland has long been plagued
by air pollution. Now a concerned group of residents and environmental
organizations may be close to realizing a plan that they believe will help
improve air quality, stimulate new economic development in a largely stagnant
neighborhood, and invigorate the city through new green industry facilities.
Their proposal is to move two recycling companies from densely populated West
Oakland neighborhoods to a new shared location at the old Oakland Army Base.
West Oakland Neighbors and the El Cerrito-based Global Community Monitor
want to relocate one of the recyclers, Custom Alloy Scrap Sales, because
of community concerns about heavy metals and other toxics emanating from
on-site smelting operations. Unlike most Oakland recycling companies, Custom
Alloy Scrap Sales processes scrap metal at its facility, rather than shipping
The coalition of residents and
environmentalists have collected more than five hundred signatures from the
West Oakland community in favor of relocating the company, said Jessica
Hendricks, program coordinator for Global Community Monitor. The coalition,
which includes West Oakland Air Monitors and the West Oakland
Environmental Indicators Project, along with other community and
environmental organizations, also plans to broaden its outreach. "We've
been pretty West Oakland-specific but this is an Oakland-wide decision, so we
want to expand the issue to the larger community," Hendricks said.
The city has been receptive to
relocating the recycler, and has set aside a portion of the army base known as
the North Gateway, just north of West Grand Avenue between the I-80 and I-880.
The campaign also has received support from West Oakland Councilwoman Nancy
Nadel, and more recently from At-Large Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan.
The city is expecting a joint proposal from Custom Alloy Scrap Sales and
another West Oakland recycler, California Waste Solutions, which would
share the North Gateway area under the current plan, according to Oakland
Redevelopment Area Manager Al Auletta.
Treva Reid, spokeswoman for California Waste Solutions, said her
company is working with Custom Alloy Scrap Sales on a proposal, which they hope
to deliver to the city this year. "We've been partnering for some
time," she said. "The community has been strong advocates, and both
of our firms are committed."
Reid said California Waste Solutions
wants to move because of community concerns about pollution from truck traffic,
and because the company wants to build a new state-of-the-art facility on the
army base that would better serve their customers, and create new jobs. Custom
Alloy Scrap Sales officials declined to be interviewed for this story.
The relocation campaign began in
2007 when Global Community Monitor assisted a group of students at McClymonds
High School to monitor the air quality around their neighborhood because of
concerns about bad odors. They followed their noses from the school and
eventually arrived at Custom Alloy Scrap Sales, where they believed the smells
originated. "We saw some black smoke coming out of the stack," said Denny
Larson, executive director of Global Community Monitor. "We smelled
some weird odors, saw some strange dust in the neighborhood around the area,
collecting on surfaces, and saw some gross-looking water dripping off
They collected dust from a
windowsill at McClymonds, analyzed it, and found that there was metal
collecting on it. Global Community Monitor officials then decided to conduct
more sophisticated tests on days that the recycler was operating, and to
collect samples downwind from the facility. They found several metals in the
air, predominantly aluminum, but also nickel, cadmium, arsenic, magnesium, and
lead, which they suspected were coming from the smelting operations.
Global Community Monitor then filed
suit in October 2009 against Custom Alloy Scrap Sales for pollution from water
runoff coming from the site. The suit was rapidly settled when the recycler
agreed to spend $500,000 complying with regulations for storm-water runoff, as
well as making other upgrades to their facilities.
Global Community Monitor's work also
caught the attention of the West Oakland Neighbors and other community members
who formed the West Oakland Air Monitors. They then asked the Bay Area Air
Quality Management District to take action against the recycler, and began
exploring the idea of relocating it to a more suitable spot.
Although an air district report
released in January of this year concluded that there was no significant
pollution coming from the smelting operations, the agency supported reasonable
buffers between residential areas and heavy industry, and backed the idea of
the recycler moving to the army base. The air district is also drafting new
regulations for metal recyclers.
"I think CASS was being extra
vigilant about their processing," said Linda McFadden, an activist
with West Oakland Neighbors and West Oakland Air Monitors, referring to why the
air district report found that the smelting operations were not polluting the
neighborhood. Other community members also said they believe that extra
scrutiny prompted the recycler to make the appropriate upgrades to their
facility in time for the air district study.
The coalition also said the recycler
was receptive to moving to the army base, and recognized an opportunity to
assuage community concerns about pollution and expand their own operations with
a larger, new facility. "I feel that Edward [Kangeter], the
CEO of CASS, has spent a lot of time talking to the community," McFadden
said. "They really want to upgrade their operations, but they don't want
to spend the money to upgrade their operations if the community is going to be
giving them a hard time."
The army base, however, has been
notoriously difficult to develop, and has had numerous projects fall through
since the city acquired the property in 2003. In January 2010, Oakland entered
an exclusive negotiating agreement with developer Phil Tagami, whose California
Capital Group has been responsible for renovations to the downtown Oakland
Rotunda Building and the Fox Theater. Tagami's plan is to develop the army base
with an emphasis on industry and infrastructure, and he is currently working on
a master plan for infrastructure development.
Tagami estimates that the army base
will need $525 million of demolition, hazardous cleanup, and improvements to
electrical, sewer, and water- and storm-runoff systems before any vertical
construction could occur. His plan is currently undergoing the necessary
environmental review and the city hopes to begin demolition and cleanup within
the next year or two. The soonest that work could begin on a new facility for
the recyclers could be anywhere from four to six years. "We definitely
think the recyclers are an appropriate use for the future of the army
base," Tagami said. "How many, what their size requirements are, are
issues that we still need to work out."
Ray Kidd, a member of West Oakland Neighbors, said that the
community's next major challenge will be to ensure that the land vacated by the
two recyclers will no longer be put to industrial use. There are also concerns
that the property itself may be polluted from forty years of industrial
activity. At a West Oakland Economic Development Working Group meeting on April
21, Margot Prado, a senior development specialist for the city, said she
had offered Custom Alloy Scrap Sales funding for an environmental assessment,
but was turned down.
Kidd said that he believes such a
study should be done before the recycler moves to the base. "We need to
get some kind of assessment before these deals are complete," he said.
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