It’s not often that ro-ro cargo operations and historic preservation appear in the same sentence, but the expansion plans of Amports, one of the largest auto processors in North America, in Benicia, California, is pitting the company against the local city council over the proposed demolition of two buildings.
The buildings in question are two dilapidated edifices and nothing to look at, but they also happen to be the oldest industrial structures west of the Mississippi, hence the concern of preservationists.
Benicia, located on the upper San Francisco Bay, is one focus of Amports’ expansion plans in northern California. The company announced earlier this year the lease of a 108-acre site in Antioch, California, east of Benicia, that has access to a deep-water wharf. Ports in the San Francisco area have been looking to grow their auto import and export businesses in recent years.
Amports inherited the buildings in question years ago as part of a larger acquisition at the port. Back in March, Amports applied to raze the buildings and was initially backed up by the city.
It seems, though, the buildings have been reduced to near rubble over the years by fire, squatters, and vandalizing youths. When the city sent professionals to inspect the site earlier this year, they found they were “not safe under any circumstance,” and “in danger of “imminent collapse.” Even first responders should not be permitted into the area, they advised, and the buildings could be demolished in the interests of safety.
Local preservationists appealed the decision to destroy the structures, first to the city’s Building Board, which ended up deadlocked, and then to the city council. They accused Amports of purposely neglecting the buildings and argued the company should not now be able to benefit from destroying the historic structures.
The city council voted 3 to 2 in favor of preserving the site, at which point Amports’ attorneys petitioned the body to reconsider.
In arguing for reconsideration, Amports’ attorney Dana Dean stated that the council’s decision to spare the buildings “failed to comply with the law by exceeding its jurisdiction, considered information outside the record, and misconstrued the law.” The attorney also alleged council bias against Amports by two of the council members.
Dean asserted that the council failed to fully disclose the substance of communications outside the council chambers. Sunshine laws require the disclosure of any such conversations, according to the attorney’s papers which were presented to the council. Dean also alleged that the council overstepped its legal bounds by exerting authority that it does not have.
“The city council’s decision dictating how Amports secures its property and the structures lacks any legal support, and was beyond the scope of the hearing,” she wrote.
Dean also threatened to take the city to court, but indicated Amports prefers pursuing negotiations. The council agreed to docket Amports’ request for reconsideration in late April. The lack of developments since then indicates that talks are still ongoing.