Port Commission Nominee a Test of Dellums’ Strategies

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Friday September 28, 2007

The wisdom of Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums’ policy of keeping his distance from the politics of the Oakland City Council gets its first real test this Tuesday when the council considers Dellums’ appointments to the powerful Port of Oakland Board of Commissioners. 

It will also be a test of the mayor’s ability to fulfill his promise to bring formerly unrepresented sections of the Oakland community into the halls of power of the Oakland government. 

Last fall, while he was still mayor-elect, Dellums resisted calls from some of his supporters to support anti-war activist and Green Party member Aimee Allison in her runoff race against incumbent District 2 Councilmember Pat Kernighan, saying that District 2 voters were qualified to choose their own representative without his help. Following the election, which Kernighan won, Dellums then refused to intervene in attempts to challenge the re-election of District 3 Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente as president of the Council. 

Now, De La Fuente stands as the reported center of opposition to Dellums’ nomination of West Oakland environmental activist Margaret Gordon to one of two Port Commission seats, while Kernighan is considered one of the key swing votes that could either put Gordon on the commission or keep her off. 

With five votes needed on the eight-member council, Gordon’s confirmation to replace Commissioner David Kramer, now scheduled for the Tuesday, Oct. 2 Council meeting, is considered too close to call. 

Gordon’s nomination was originally scheduled to be voted on by the council just prior to the summer break, but Dellums postponed the vote shortly before the council meeting after determining that he did not have more than four firm votes for confirmation. The mayor also pulled a second Port Commission nominee, IBEW Local 595 Business Manager Victor Uno, but Uno’s confirmation is not considered to be a problem. 

The battle over Gordon’s nomination comes at a time when issues she has long been advocating—improving Oakland’s air quality and the health of its citizens—are at the forefront of Port of Oakland concerns. 

According to Gordon’s bio, the Richmond native, who grew up in San Francisco and later relocated to Oakland, co-founded and co-directs the West Oakland Environmental Indicators  

Project (WOEIP), a state- and federally-funded advocacy group that “works with neighborhood organizations, physicians, researchers, and public officials to ensure West Oakland residents have a clean environment, safe neighborhoods, and access to economic opportunity. In 2006, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recognized WOEIP for its ‘work to improve local air quality.’” 

This past Wednesday, East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE), as part of the Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports, issued a report calling for the elimination of indepen-dent truck contracting at the Port of Oakland in order to “reduce pollution and ensure economic growth.” The report “Taking The Low Road” says that truck pollution at the port and in the surrounding areas is having a devastating health effect on the truck drivers themselves and on West Oakland residents, with Alameda County Department of Public Health Director Dr. Anthony Iton writing in the foreword that “residents living in the shadow of the Port of Oakland can expect to die, on average, more than a decade before residents of the Oakland Hills,” mostly due to asthma-related health conditions. But with independent truckers financially unable to upgrade their vehicles, the report suggests that the port contract with established trucking companies and then require them to meet stricter environmental and work condition standards. 

Port officials are considering the group’s recommendations. 

On Thursday, Gordon and other local business leaders, environmental and community activists and city and port staff members met at the Jack London Aquatic Center on the Oakland estuary to continue work on the port’s Mari-time Air Quality Improvement Plan (MAQIP). Port and local health officials and activists are hoping that, when it is completed, MAQIP will be a roadmap for the port to “reduce the adverse public health impacts of the Port of Oakland’s seaport-related air emissions at the seaport area and in the neighboring communities,” as well as to allow the port to tap into recently passed state infrastructure bond monies to make improvements at the port facilities. 

Gordon, along with Port Executive Director Omar Benjamin and Bay Area Air Quality Management District Director Jack Broadbent, is one of the three-co-chairs for the MAQIP task force, a tribute to how well she is respected in dealing with health-related port issues. 

In between task force sessions on Thursday, Gordon said that she believes that if she is confirmed by Oakland City Council, she will bring a needed new perspective to the Port Commission. 

“I’ll be bringing the experience of a community that other Commissioners don’t see, they don’t smell, they don’t hear,” she said. “I can tell them about the trucks riding up on the sidewalks in West Oakland and cracking the pavement where residents have to walk, or idling under people’s bedroom windows, or the dust and dirt and soot they leave behind them on the sides of houses, or the smoke billowing out of ships that comes over into our neighborhood, or the mothers sitting up with their kids hacking and coughing all night, or the people missing work because of respiratory problems.” 

But Gordon, who has asthma herself and who has five of 11 grandchildren who also suffer from the ailment, says that as well as alerting the port to problems, she can bring with her long-established contacts that can help smooth the way to solutions. 

“There’s no other current commissioner who has the contacts with state and federal and local environmental health officials that I have,” Gordon said, “with the Environmental Protection Agency, with the California Air Resources Board, with the California Department of Health. I’ve been dealing with these agencies for years. I know many of their employees on a first-name basis. I can help the commission understand these agencies’ concerns so that the commission can meet these environmental and health standards, and as a Port Commissioner, I can help the agencies understand the port’s concerns. 

She said that with increasing national consciousness on health and environmental issues, every port will have to meet increasingly stringent standards, adding that facing that challenge and meeting those environmental and health standards early will make the Port of Oakland more competitive, not less. She believes that her presence on the commission would help that process. 

It is difficult to determine the exact nature of the opposition to Gordon’s nomination, aside from the fact that Port Commissioners have traditionally been business-oriented, and that there may be some jockeying by Dellums opponents on the Council who would like to see portions of the mayor’s agenda fail. One of things you hear about Gordon is that she may be too “blunt” to serve on the Commission. 

She is certainly plain-spoken. On Thursday, after some port representatives, including Executive Director Benjamin, expressed concerns that any health and environmental standards should take into account the port’s need to stay competitive with other west coast ports, Gordon said pointedly, “I don’t see the balance. I see the port continuing to grow at the airport and at its maritime facilities, but I don’t see you meeting your responsibilities with regards to the health concerns of the city. I’d like to see a clear financial analysis of how those standards would hurt the growth of the port.” 

But she also added that it was unfair for the port to foot the whole bill for raising environmental and health standards, when area businesses are contributing little or nothing but benefiting from the nearby presence of the port facilities. 

“I’d like to see what our local businesses and industries will commit to this effort,” she said. “Let’s be real. The rubber’s hitting the road, now.” 


Contributed photo  

Port Commission nominee Margaret Gordon.