No Coal in Oakland and the 2020 City Election

  • Oakland City Hall

In 2016 the Oakland City Council voted unanimously to ban the storage and handling of coal at a proposed marine terminal on the city’s waterfront. The ban was reversed in a federal court decision, but construction of the terminal has not begun and the City still has multiple options for preventing its use for coal. No Coal in Oakland (NCIO) wants to preserve the City Council’s commitment to a coal-free Oakland, an issue of environmental justice that aims to both reduce our city’s contribution to climate chaos and protect residents of West Oakland already disproportionately subject to pollution. NCIO rejects any compromise that would allow coal in Oakland.

No Coal in Oakland posed the following question to Oakland candidates: “Regarding the proposed shipping terminal next to the Bay Bridge Toll Plaza, how do you think the conflict over whether or not to ship coal through the terminal should be resolved?

Some candidates are strongly committed to keeping coal out of Oakland while others are ready to abandon this effort or are outright supporters of the coal developers. 

Candidates, including some incumbents, were not aware that the federal lawsuit brought by would-be coal developer Phil Tagami is no longer on appeal, but has been decided against the City. None mentioned that the City has terminated the developers’ lease on the property, that the proposed operator of the terminal is in bankruptcy, that the coal promoters do not have the funding to construct the terminal, and that there are multiple regulatory hurdles before coal could be handled here. Each of these is an avenue or circumstance that can be employed to keep coal out of Oakland, and none are ruled out by the City’s loss in federal court.

No Coal in Oakland asked candidates to pledge not to accept electoral support from the coal promoters. Those who agreed are indicated with a . The pledge is described in detail at the end of this post. (Note: NCIO is not endorsing any candidates but we are grateful to those candidates who made the pledge and encourage you to consider that as one factor in evaluating their responses.) 

Here are the candidates in each district, their responses to the question. and NCIO’s summary for each district:

District 1

Dan Kalb (incumbent)

I’ve been a leader in the effort to stop the Coal export terminal from being constructed. Oakland should not succumb to any pressure to allow an export terminal for coal to be built. If a new expert study is necessary to satisfy the federal court, then we should contract for such a study. We cannot compromise on the health and safety of our residents and workers and our entire planet.

Steph Walton

The city screwed up in 2013 when it approved a development agreement that allowed for the possibility of coal coming through the terminal. Now the taxpayers are footing the bill for litigation for the council’s mistake. Because the city lacks leverage, it has put itself in a bad negotiating position and they should reach a settlement.

Tri Ngo

While I would like to see the legal conflict be ruled in favor of the City of Oakland’s attempt to block the shipment of coal through Oakland, this has been a costly legal battle. Should we lose the conflict in the courts, I will seek out a resolution through different means. The health of our citizens is paramount and we must impose fees that offset the negative externalities of shipping coal out of Oakland. In the long term, Oakland must be a leader in addressing the climate crisis. In the long term we cannot support the use of coal as a fuel anywhere in the world.

NCIO Comment, District 1

Dan Kalb has been a consistent champion of the effort to keep coal out of Oakland. He is the author of the ban on coal passed by the Oakland City Council and used his office’s funds to commission a public health report supporting the ban. His opponents, Steph Walton and Tri Ngo, are abstractly opposed to coal, but are not committed to pursuing a ban. Their alternatives are vague: either a settlement or “a resolution through different means” could include allowing a coal terminal in Oakland. 


District 3

Lynette McElhaney (incumbent)

I do not support the shipping of coal through our Oakland communities. In 2016, I voted to enact a ban on the transport and storage of coal and pet coke, and I will continue to oppose the shipping of coal.

  Carroll Fife

Through court appeal and direct action

Seneca Scott

No Coal in Oakland!!!!!!

Meron Semedar — no response

Faye Smith — no response

Alexus Taylor — no response

NCIO Comment, District 3

All three candidates who responded, McElhaney, Fife, and Scott, oppose coal.  Lynette McElhaney, who has been on the council throughout the campaign, voted for the ban and commits to continued support.  Carroll Fife expresses willingness to pursue the judicial process — and, if necessary, to go further, in keeping with her other activism. Seneca Scott offers no specifics besides enthusiasm.  Meron Semedar, Faye Smith, and Alexus Taylor did not respond.


District 5

Noel Gallo (incumbent)

This item is in federal court under appeal. I do not support coal in Oakland. The City Council has adopted a resolution to ban coal in Oakland.

Richard Raya

I believe the City should hold fast to its aspiration to not allow coal to be shipped through our terminal. By doing so, we can begin publicly “divesting,” or refusing to be complicit in the use of, harmful energy sources. Drawing upon my legal training, though, I recognize that the City’s approach to banning coal — which, in effect, specifically targeted Phil Tagami — will likely not hold up in court. I recommend that the City recognize it is not likely to win on appeal, to go back to the drawing board, and to come up with a new city-wide policy about the handling of coal; in doing so, the City should not only affirm the health risks of handling coal within the City, but also of its larger global implications as a fuel source. There is no paucity of data and evidence to point to that supports a finding that not only does handling coal harm Oakland, but burning coal harms the Earth (of which Oakland is a particularly vulnerable member). By renewing their efforts with broader and deeper goals and evidence, Oakland can hopefully defeat the legally legitimate arguments raised by this specific developer.

 Zoe Lopez-Meraz

Oakland is polluted enough as it is. We cannot allow for the possibility of further pollution. We need to divest from coal and invest in renewable energy.

NCIO comment, District 5

All three candidates oppose coal. On the City Council, Noel Gallo consistently supported the coal ban. Richard Raya proposes a novel legislative strategy. Zoe Lopez-Meras mentions divestment, which may be a reference to not investing in a coal terminal or may be about a more general environmental strategy.


District 7

Treva Reid

I support the No Coal in Oakland campaign. I recognize the City signed a legal contract with OBOT and the judge ruled in OBOT’s favor by holding us accountable to enforce that binding agreement. I support our city leadership in their efforts to continue our fight to keep coal out of Oakland — pursuing further legal recourse–with local partnerships and allies outside of Oakland. I further support the AB617 steering committee efforts to advance our work to prioritize our public health, worker safety, and eliminate harmful environmental pollutants. I am committed to protecting our community and fighting to ensure environmental justice and equity is at the forefront of our decisions to secure a healthy city for all of us to thrive.

Marchon Tatmon

This is non-negotiable for me. No coal in Oakland, store in Oakland, trained through Oakland, and shipped from Oakland.

 Marcie Hodge

Coal should not be allowed in any capacity that would be harmful to Oakland residents.

Aaron Clay

We should stay the course protesting against shipping coal through West Oakland. I was part of the protest before and I will continue that important goal of stopping pollutants from creating negative health impacts in our communities.

Bob Jackson — no response


NCIO Comment, District 7 

Treiva Reid, Marchon Tatmon, Marcie Hodge, and Aaron Clay all oppose coal. Tatmon, Hodge, and Clay are emphatic but offer no concrete strategy to implement their goal. Treva Reid does — further legal recourse and working with allies within and outside of Oakland. Reid also situates her position within the framework of environmental justice. Bob Jackson did not respond to our question, but is on record as a public advocate of using the marine terminal to ship coal; he has publicly organized clergy to oppose Oakland’s ban on coal. 



Rebecca Kaplan (incumbent)

I have been actively working on this, including in Oakland’s vote to prohibit coal, which I actively fought for, and voted for, and in ongoing efforts since that vote. In addition, I believe we will need to continue to also seek support of state officials (the State of California is a major funder of the project) to help in these efforts as well, and we have reached out for that support. I have been actively working in coalition with community advocates on this, including the “No Coal in Oakland Coalition” and would continue to do so, as well as seeking support from county, state, and regional entities (such as BAAQMD) who could help in these efforts. In addition, I have been working to identify alternative, more environmentally-sound options for the Port and shipping terminal and connecting with leaders and stakeholders at the Port and beyond on these efforts.

Derreck Johnson

I am opposed to Coal coming anywhere in Oakland!!!!

Nancy Sidebotham

Proof that the transportation system can be demonstrated to be safe and environmentally safe, is needed….This was approved years ago and that is why it moved forward. We are the third largest Port and Asia has the need. However we have residents that grew up in what was once an industrial area and they have experienced medical issues such as asthma. We need jobs and the City needs money — there has to be a happy medium with which each side can work.


NCIO Comment, At-large councilmember

Rebecca Kaplan has been active in promoting the City Council’s ban on coal and continues to state her commitment to a use for the West Gateway that does not include coal. Derreck Johnson stated his opposition to coal emphatically but without specifics. Nancy Sidebotham’s response leaves room for approving a coal terminal.


City Attorney

Barbara Parker

NCIO did not submit our question to City Attorney Barbara Parker because, as counsel of record in the City’s current litigation with the developer, she would be obligated to state the City’s position rather than her own personal views. However, as City Attorney, Barbara Parker has pursued vigorous litigation to defend the ban passed by the City Council and to end the threat of a coal terminal being built and operated in West Oakland. She highlights this work in a recent interview with the Oakland Post. In another interview, with Darwin BondGraham of Oaklandside, she pointed out that “expert consultants and the city’s economic development staff were responsible for the substance of the contract [with OBOT], including outlining what types of commodities could be shipped through the facility,” not her office. She told Oaklandside the fight over coal isn’t over and outlined a range of tactics the city could employ to  keep the terminal coal-free.

Eli Ferran

NCIO asked: “No Coal In Oakland would like to know what your approach to the City’s conflicts with OBOT will be, if elected city attorney. Will you continue what we understand to be staunch defense of the policies adopted by the city council and the city’s rights vis-a-vis OBOT? How, if at all, would your approach differ from the current city attorney’s?” He did not respond. He did, however, address the coal issue in an interview with Darwin BondGraham in Oaklandside. Asked what he would do about the city’s effort to ban coal if elected, Ferran said he’d solicit more input. “Is this something we should settle? Is this something we should proceed forward with? You want to hear from your subject matter experts and convey that to the City Council.”


NCIO Comment, City Attorney

Barbara Parker remains committed to legal strategies that would maintain the City Council ban and keep coal out of Oakland. Eli Ferran is open to the possibility of settling with developer Phil Tagami, which could allow storage and handling of coal at the terminal. These are very different positions.

[UPDATE: The City Attorney section of this article was updated on 10/21/2020 to include material about the candidates published the day before on Oaklandside.]

Campaign financing

No Coal in Oakland asked all candidates who responded to our question to pledge not to accept campaign support from promoters of the coal terminal. Candidates who committed to this pledge are indicated with .

Text of the Pledge submitted to candidates who responded to NCIO with commitments to keep coal out of Oakland:

Until Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal (OBOT) drops its lawsuits against the City of Oakland and legally commits to forgo the handling of coal, I will not accept any support for my campaign, direct or indirect, financial or otherwise, from OBOT or other proponents of a coal export terminal in Oakland. This includes not accepting any campaign donations that are bundled or raised by these coal terminal supporters. These proponents include: 

  • Phil Tagami, Mark McClure, and their associates and employees at CCIG*, OBOT*, and OGRE*;
  • John Siegel of Louisville, Kentucky, CEO of Insight Terminal Solutions, his immediate family members, and his employees;
  • Insight Terminal Solutions’ paid local representatives including, but not limited to, Greg McConnell and The McConnell Group. 
  • Wolverine Fuels, LLC, the Utah coal company

*CCIG: California Capital and Investment Group

*OBOT: Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal, LLC

*OGRE: Oakland Global Rail Enterprise, LLC