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Judge Denies Developer's $160 Million Suit Against Oakland in Ongoing Coal Terminal Battle

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Large trucks leave an industrial site, with cranes in the background.
Trucks leaving the Port of Oakland on Sept. 28, 2023. (Martin do Nascimento/KQED)

The city of Oakland landed a legal victory on Tuesday in a years-long battle over a potential coal export terminal at the site of the former West Oakland Army Base near the Port of Oakland.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Noël Wise ruled against a group of developers (PDF) who were seeking nearly $160 million from the city in what they said was lost profits after the city terminated its ground lease for the terminal, thwarting the controversial project.

The judge instead agreed with attorneys for the city, who argued the group’s projected profits were speculative.

The order, however, means that development of the new bulk terminal — which had been halted for years due to the litigation — can now resume under an extended deadline more than two years out, putting environmental activists opposed to the project on high alert.

“We applaud the court’s refusal to reward the would-be coal terminal developers with the massive payoff they sought by suing the City,” Ted Franklin, an organizer with the activist group No Coal in Oakland, said in a statement. But he also acknowledged the battle to come.

The extended development deadline is “setting the stage for a renewed campaign to keep coal out of Oakland,” Franklin said. “We are ready for the fight.”

Franklin’s group is among a handful of local environmental justice organizations that have long opposed a prospective coal terminal, citing concerns over increased levels of pollution from coal dust and truck exhaust that would disproportionately impact already hard-hit communities of color in West Oakland.

“If the developers decide to move forward with their plan to put a polluting coal export terminal in the Port of Oakland, even in light of the court’s decision, they can expect a long, uphill battle,” Ben Eichenberg, an attorney with San Francisco Baykeeper, said in a statement, following Tuesday’s order. “For over a decade, frontline communities have demonstrated their resolve to keep this poisonous project out of West Oakland, and the Oakland city council and city attorney’s office have remained steadfast in opposing it every step of the way.”

Wise’s latest decision follows her ruling last month, when she sided with Oakland Bulk and Oversized Terminal LLC (OBOT) and its owner, Phil Tagami, ruling that the city had improperly terminated its lease in 2018 when it claimed the group had missed key construction deadlines.

In its suit against the city, Tagami’s group also accused officials of blocking access to necessary documents related to the project, which it argued created costly delays.

The judge then gave the group a choice between restoring its lease with the city, with the new deadline or taking just under $320,000 and walking away from the project altogether.

The group opted to renew the lease, but it continued to press for the $159.6 million in damages it had originally sought — an effort the judge quashed on Tuesday.

OBOT’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment.

The city of Oakland could still choose to appeal the court’s decision to stop the project from moving forward.

“Although we appreciate that the trial court ultimately correctly rejected OBOT’s attempts to obtain hundreds of millions of dollars in damages that it is not entitled to under the contract or law, the City’s position remains that the court erred in making its initial finding in favor of OBOT on the City’s and OBOT’s dueling breach of contract claims,” Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker said in an email.”The City will continue to evaluate all of its legal options as it pursues its rights to bring this longstanding dispute to final resolution.”


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