Smoke and Mirrors

Public records show that Brown has financial ties to a company that could profit greatly from shipping coal through Oakland.

Mike Rosati
May 12, 2016

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.

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