Public Comment

Throwing the Baby Out With the Bath Water

By John F. Davies
Friday November 24, 2006

A few things need to be said regarding the issue of Pacific Steel Casting. While the following opinions could be controversial, and perhaps even disagreeable to some readers, I do believe that they need to be said. To begin with, I am a resident of West Berkeley, whose family has resided in the East Bay since about 1903. For most of my fifty plus years on this planet, I have been an environmentalist and a staunch advocate for a clean and healthy San Francisco Bay. During the most recent election, I voted Green. Nevertheless, I have certain reservations about the growing local movement against Pacific Steel Casting. While I most strongly agree that toxic pollution is a grave problem in our community, and must be rigorously contained and controlled, I do take issue with those who would want to find a solution by simply shutting down Pacific Steel’s foundry. 

There are good reasons not to do this. America’s once mighty steel industry, which up to thirty years ago was substantial, is today no more than a hollow shell. The only type of mills and foundries still left are those like Pacific Steel, who use scrap metal for their castings. At this very moment, America is rapidly losing its manufacturing base, especially small to medium sized firms. And, here in the Bay Area, they are fast becoming an endangered species. Yet, it is these very same manufacturing industries that are still a vital part of the Bay Region’s economic health. They create locally made products, and are a source of employment and tax revenue. Further, as these businesses tend to be locally owned, the dollars tend to stay and circulate in the local region. The ever increasing cost of fuel will soon make imported products expensive to regional customers. As steel is an essential material for the functioning of our society, it makes practical sense in every way to have a local source of supply at hand. And, with the increasing probability of a major economic recession occurring in the coming years, local manufacturing industries will be an essential part of a community’s economic survival. 

Now, I am in no way a conspiracy theorist, but I find it interesting that the volume of protest against Pacific Steel has increased almost simultaneously with the increase in West Berkeley property values. I have also read in the Berkeley Daily Planet that the former Urban Ore site on Gilman Street had been slated to become a bus yard, but that Mayor Tom Bates is fighting tooth and nail to keep this from happening. By the way, I don’t hear very much protest about the noise and noxious poisons that emanate in far greater quantity from the auto and truck traffic right next door on Interstate 80, not to mention San Pablo Avenue. By all signs, it appears that the powers that be have, for the sake of pursuing a quick buck, decided to de-industrialize West Berkeley. One only has to look next door at Emeryville, which in the space of 20 years has changed from a manufacturing center with low and middle-income residents, to one giant high-priced mega condo shopping mall. Indeed, those who are protesting Pacific Steel’s emissions could unknowingly be playing into the very hands of those whose plan is to “Economically Cleanse” the neighborhood. This could again become a classic example of the proverbial throwing out of the baby with the bath water. 

That we can have a manufacturing sector and still be friendly to the environment is not an impossibility. Here is something to consider as a potential solution: How about, with agreement of all parties involved (and with government assistance if need be), rebuilding Pacific Steel Casting into a state of the art, environmentally friendly, and profitable steel mill. There is already existing technology that can do this, and it has been done quite successfully in Germany and in other European countries. This could become an example for the rest of the nation, and again show that our city is once more at the forefront of creativity and innovation. 


John F. Davies is a Berkeley resident.