Governor Jerry Brown Has Financial Link to Oakland Coal
Public records show that Brown has financial ties to a company that could profit greatly from shipping coal through Oakland.
Brown co-owns this Oakland business park with his close friend Phil Tagami.
During a high-profile speech last July in Vatican City, Governor Jerry Brown told Pope Francis that “90 percent of the coal” reserves worldwide “can never be taken out of the ground” if the planet is to avoid a climate catastrophe. Brown’s remarks, which are posted on the governor’s official website, were hailed by climate change activists around the globe and further positioned Brown as a world leader in the fight to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
But in the East Bay, activists and political leaders have been concerned for months about the fact that the governor has remained silent on the most controversial local environmental issue: a plan to ship coal through a new terminal at the former Oakland Army Base. Local activists say Brown hasn’t responded to their letters and emails and won’t meet to talk with them about the Oakland coal proposal, despite the fact that he was a longtime resident of the city and served for eight years as its mayor.
Public records may provide a clue to Brown’s reticence: They show that he has financial ties to a company that could profit greatly from shipping coal through Oakland.
That company is California Capital and Investment Group, Inc., better known locally as CCIG, and it’s owned by Brown’s close friend and business partner, Phil Tagami.
According to Brown’s most recent statement of economic interests, filed by the governor on March 1, he owns a substantial financial interest in Edgewater Park Plaza, LLC, a real estate venture that owns a business park in East Oakland. Tagami, who hosted Brown’s wedding in 2005 at the Rotunda Building in downtown, is one of Brown’s partners in Edgewater. In addition, Edgewater is a subsidiary of CCIG, according to legal papers filed by Edgewater’s attorney in Alameda County Superior Court last summer. That means CCIG controls Edgewater—a company in which Brown’s investment share is valued at $100,000 to $1 million (the state does not require public officials to be more specific about the value of their financial holdings).
CCIG, in turn, is the master developer of the city’s portion of the former Oakland Army Base. And CCIG and Tagami stand to make a lot of money by leasing a new terminal on the Army Base to a company called Terminal Logistics Solutions, which plans to ship coal mined in Utah through Oakland to Asian markets.
The governor’s financial link to CCIG “probably unlocks the reason why Jerry Brown has been quiet about the whole coal in Oakland project,” said Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, who is a strong opponent of the coal plan, in part because coal trains would pass through West Berkeley on their way to Oakland, potentially spreading coal dust through residential areas. Bates’ wife, Democratic state Senator Loni Hancock, who represents cities along the rail line from Richmond to Oakland, has authored two pieces of state legislation designed to block the coal plan.
Brown’s press secretary, Gareth Lacy, said in an email that the governor’s relationship to Tagami and his financial interest in Edgewater Park Plaza, LLC, have not impacted his decision-making. Tagami declined to comment.
Some environmental activists were not surprised when told about Brown’s financial ties to the coal plan. They’ve argued for years that Brown’s reputation for being a climate hawk has been undermined by some of his actions as governor.
“We’ve been calling him ‘a climate pretender’ for years—and this makes it worse,” said Lora Jo Foo of the No Coal in Oakland coalition, referring to Brown’s investment. “No wonder he hasn’t said anything.”
Climate activists have noted that despite Brown’s public rhetoric on the immense dangers of climate change, and his headline-grabbing appearance at the historic UN Climate Talks in Paris in December, the governor has steadfastly opposed proposals to halt hydraulic fracturing in California. Known as fracking, the controversial oil- and natural gas-extraction method has been linked to groundwater pollution and has triggered earthquakes in other states.
And last year, Brown came under fire when an Associated Press investigation revealed that his administration—at his request—had conducted a detailed analysis of the potential to drill for oil on his family ranch in the Sacramento Valley.
According to public records, Brown acquired his interest in Edgewater Park Plaza, LLC, on Dec. 27, 2012—the same date the weeks-old company purchased a business park at 7700 Edgewater Dr. in Oakland, near the Coliseum, for $11.25 million. That business park appears to be Edgewater’s sole investment.
The Oakland City Council is scheduled to vote June 27 on whether the city will officially oppose the coal terminal plan at the former Army Base in West Oakland. The city’s contract with CCIG may allow Oakland to block the plan if the council determines that coal shipments in open train cars would harm the health of city residents.
In March, the Utah legislature voted to allocate $53 million in state funds to finance the coal shipment proposal.
This story is from the June edition of Oakland Magazine, which will be available at newsstands on May 27. This story was published here on May 12, 2016 at 9:25 a.m.