Jonah Ifcher from Jewish Youth for Community Action places cardboard gravestones with epitaphs for lungs, clean air, etc. along the raised planter encircling developer Phil Tagami’s home on Oct. 30, 2017.
By Sarah Carpenter
Hundreds of Oaklanders joined a “Zombie March on Coal” outside the home of developer Phil Tagami the day before Halloween, protesting his attempt to overturn Oakland’s 2016 ban on the storage, handling, and transport of coal through the city.
Expressing concern about coal’s impact on air quality and public health, the zombie protesters called for Tagami to drop his lawsuit against the City of Oakland. The terminal is located in West Oakland in a historically Black neighborhood where the asthma hospitalization rate is already twice the county average.
“It is Halloween, and Halloween is associated with things that are scary,” said Jada Delaney, a senior at Oakland Tech. “So, the theme is that coal is scary, and the effects of coal on the people of Oakland is going to be scary.”
Tagami is building a bulk shipping terminal near the Port of Oakland, through which he plans to transport coal, among other commodities. In March, Utah agreed to pay $53 million in taxpayer money to help fund the terminal project with the promise that Utah-mined coal would be exported from Oakland.
Tagami filed the lawsuit against the city in response to the unanimous vote in June 2016 to ban the storage and handling of coal and petroleum coke in Oakland, arguing that the ban is an “unconstitutional abuse of power.”
While the lawsuit acknowledges the impact on climate change by burning coal, it states that no coal would be burned at the terminal, only transported from rail to ship. The suit claims the city ban was “not based on evidence.”
The coal project will produce jobs in Oakland, though the number of jobs is in dispute. But zombie protesters were not impressed by this offer.
“Yes, we want jobs for our community, but we also care about the quality of those jobs, and what they’re going to mean for our community,” said Unite Here Local 2850 representative Adrianna Carranza.
Tagami was seen briefly at his balcony on the day of the protest giving a quick thumbs-up before returning inside his home. He was unavailable for comment about the protest.
The zombie march was planned and organized by Climate Workers, and co-sponsored by over 20 youth, labor, and environmental justice organizations in Oakland.
Carnival activities took place outside of the Crocker Highlands home, including face painting, a game of “pin-the-coal-underground”, and “reverse trick-or-treating,” in which volunteers passed out informational leaflets to Tagami’s neighbors.
Jewish Youth for Community Action provided cardboard gravestones painted gray, which were made at an art party they had planned prior to the march. Youth then decorated them with epitaphs like “RIP My Lungs,” and lined them up outside the home in a raised planter.
The original 2013 deal allowing Tagami to develop on the site did not institute any restrictions on commodities that could be shipped, although city officials have stated that Tagami assured them that coal would not be part of his project.
In 2015, Tagami decided to move coal through the proposed terminal. His case was filed soon after the ban was announced. The lawsuit will proceed to trial in January if it is not settled or dropped.
Until then, youth organizations and Climate Workers plan to continue to call for Tagami to drop the suit.