OAKLAND -- Once again a Cold War era law prohibiting Oakland from contracting with firms that work on nuclear weapon projects is threatening to derail completion of an intelligence center whose surveillance capabilities have spurred opposition from privacy advocates.
The City Council will meet Tuesday to decide whether to contract with Schneider Electric Inc. to complete the Domain Awareness Center. The joint city and Port of Oakland project would establish a data hub where feeds from street cameras, gunshot sensors and other surveillance tools would be broadcast on a bank of constantly monitored television screens.
Should the council determine that Schneider violates the Oakland's Nuclear Free Ordinance, the city and port most likely would lose $1 million in federal grant funding that is tied to the project being completed by the end of May, officials said.
Without the grant, the center likely would function at a reduced capacity, said Mike O'Brien, the port's facilities security officer. The grant would help pay to integrate key systems at center allowing workers to quickly access police and fire department records, vehicle locations, dispatch data as well as weather alerts.
If the council rejected the project altogether or failed to find a suitable contractor, the port would not proceed with it, O'Brien added. "We're really dependent on the city to partner with us on this project," he said.
The center, which is being built with federal grant funds, was initially conceived to protect the port from potential terrorist attacks. The city joined the project and expanded it to resemble intelligence hubs that already exist in major cities such as New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.
City leaders say that by integrating intelligence gathering tools at a single center, the project would help police solve crimes and first responders better serve residents during emergencies. Already $2.9 million in federal funds have been spent on getting the center ready for operation.
But council support for the project has softened over the past year amid revelations about federal surveillance programs and opposition from local privacy advocates who fear the project will allow authorities to spy on residents.
The council voted late last year to cancel work with the city's original contractor for the project, Science Applications International Corp. (since renamed Leidos Holdings) after the grassroots Oakland Privacy Working Group drew attention to the firm's nuclear weapons work and a recent contracting scandal.
City officials initially said Schneider, a multination industrial equipment firm, complied with the nuclear law, but the privacy group this week brought to the city's attention a website in which the company claims it works on "weapon launching control system(s) for nuclear submarines."
Assistant City Administrator Arturo Sanchez said city compliance officers were reviewing Schneider's assertion that it did not violate the law and would provide their findings to council members before their meeting next week.
The anti-nuclear ordinance was approved by voters in 1988. After a federal judge invalidated it, the council passed a less sweeping law in 1992 that prohibited the city from doing business with firms that "knowingly engage in nuclear weapons work."
Although the 1992 law allows the city council under certain circumstances to waive the requirement, the council's four-member Public Safety Committee indicated Tuesday that they were not inclined to seek a waiver.
"I don't want the full council to hire a contractor who is in violation of our law," Councilmember Dan Kalb said during the committee meeting. Even Councilmember Noel Gallo, who backs the project, said Tuesday that the council should honor to the law.
Two other firms bid for the city project: Motorola Solutions, Inc. and G4S Technology LLC. Both firms claimed to adhere to the anti-nuclear law, but privacy advocates have posted federal contracts showing involvement with nuclear weapons work.
If the council rejects Schneider, city staffers would then perform due diligence on those firms, said Ahsan Baig, the city's manager of information systems. That process would make it "very tough" to meet the May deadline for preserving the grant, he added. "I think the chances are we would lose it."
Contact Matthew Artz at 510-208-6435