Exclusive Investigative Report
By Donald V. Watkins
©Copyrighted and Published on May 4, 2019
I watched the May 1, 2019 video of Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin admitting his full knowledge of Sherman Industries’ controversial plan to relocate its downtown concrete manufacturing facility to a stable black residential neighborhood in the Five Points West community. Instead of discouraging and/or stopping this relocation initiative when he first learned about it, Woodfin blessed it.
At that moment, Randall Woodfin became the first black mayor in American history to openly, willingly, and knowingly embrace an unmitigated act of environmental racism. By supporting Sherman Industries’ relocation plan, Woodfin actually breathed new life into City Engineer A.J. Hawkins’ 1933 city map that depicted black neighborhoods as less desirable than those areas that were zoned for hazardous waste.
Because blacks were viewed as sub-human in 1933, Birmingham city officials forced them to live in residential neighborhoods that were located between lands that were used to dump commercial volumes of hazardous waste and those that were zoned for heavy commercial and industrial use. Mayor Woodfin's executive actions in this matter are perpetuating the vestiges of Birmingham's long and ugly history of racial discrimination against blacks.
Today, it is well-documented that concrete manufacturing facilities release toxins into the air, ground, and water that can be extremely dangerous to the health, safety and lives of humans in the surrounding communities.
Steven Hoyt "Blew the Whistle" on Woodfin’s Embrace of Environmental Racism
Last month, Birmingham City Councilor Steven Hoyt, a three-term council member who represents District 8, exposed Randall Woodfin’s embrace of the environmental racism in Sherman Industries’ relocation plan. On April 26, 2019, Hoyt wrote Woodfin a letter that described this racism and protested the relocation plan. Hoyt noted that Sherman Industries was asked to relocate its toxic concrete manufacturing facility from downtown in an effort to reduce the impact of the toxins released from the manufacturing process on residents in and around Railroad Park and Regions Field. These residents are predominantly white.
Woodfin privately agreed that residents in the Railroad Park and Regions Field areas should not be exposed to the toxins coming from the concrete manufacturing facility. However, Woodfin supported Sherman Industries’ plan to relocate the facility to Five Points West because the new site was already zoned for heavy industrial use. This is where Woodfin’s executive decision was wrong, dangerous, unconscionable, and a complete sellout of the residents in the Five Points community.
The concrete facility would be located directly across the street from a daycare center that provides care for 35 to 40 neighborhood children. The facility would be located next to the Regions Bank building and one of the City’s major investments at the CrossPlex.
Last Tuesday, the city council voted unanimously to oppose this relocation program. Despite this unified vote, Woodfin still supports the relocation plan. To get the political heat off of himself, Woodfin has deflected responsibility for the ultimate decision on whether the facility will be allowed to operate on the new site to a Jefferson County environmental permitting authority controlled by Sherman Industries and other known polluters. This was a slick PR trick and cowardly political move on Woodfin's part.
Randall Woodfin is Compromised
Sherman Industries would never try to relocate a toxic concrete facility to a City of Mountain Brook, City of Hoover, or City of Homewood residential neighborhood. The mayors of those cities would never allow it. Yet, Mayor Randall Woodfin signed off on this relocation plan.
Birmingham's business community has privately profiled Randall Woodfin as “lazy,” “inept,” “weak,” “scared of confrontation,” and a man who has no "balls." The key business leaders within this group often brag in private dinner parties that “Mayor Woodfin is our man.” These are their words, not mine.
They simply do not respect Randall Woodfin. In their view, Woodfin is nothing more than a “pack mule” who carries their political baggage and special corporate interests. He is reliable, dependable, loyal to the business community only, and dutifully subservient to their wishes. Woodfin has proven to the business community that he will betray his constituents.
The business community’s chokehold on Mayor Woodfin is further evidenced by the horrible deal he cut for the UAB stadium project. In 2018, Woodfin agreed to provide $90 million of the $174 million in funding for a new 55,000 seat open air stadium for University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) football. Even though the City of Birmingham is providing the largest amount of money for the project, it does not control the hundreds of contracting and subcontracting opportunities related to the construction of the stadium or the plethora of ongoing revenue streams from stadium operations. Furthermore, the City did not demand that businesses headquartered in Birmingham have first preference on contracting opportunities related to the project. The other financing partners in the stadium project have total control and dominion over the expenditure of project financing monies and the economic empowerment opportunities derived from stadium operations.
Instead of controlling every aspect of the stadium project, Mayor Woodfin and other Birmingham city officials are just happy to have access to free seats, hot dogs, and drinks in one of the luxury skyboxes during the UAB games.
Now, one of the big corporations in Birmingham believes it can relocate a toxic facility to a black residential neighborhood because the city’s business community has "bought and paid for" Mayor Randall Woodfin. This company might be right. As expected, Woodfin is doing absolutely nothing to fight Sherman Industries' relocation plan.
In Birmingham, Kids in a Baseball Academy are “Toxic” but Polluters are Not
In March 2019, Birmingham Council President Valerie Abbott teamed with Mayor Randall Woodfin (her silent partner) to kill a proposal by Major League Baseball (MLB) to construct a $10 million Youth Baseball Academy and four full-size baseball fields at George Ward Park because Abbott’s Glen Iris neighborhood residents thought the MLB sports complex would attract too many blacks to the Park. Glen Iris residents viewed the increased presence of blacks in the area as a "toxic" condition. To most right-thinking Americans, there is nothing "toxic" about young kids learning how to play baseball at a 100-acre public park. Yet, Abbott and Woodfin quietly killed the MLB project even though the city council voted 8-1 to support it. Once their discreet MLB-related collaboration was exposed, Woodfin’s inconspicuous embrace of this form of "benign" racism shocked white and black residents alike across the entire city.
Now, Sherman Industries is trying to relocate its toxic downtown concrete manufacturing facility to a stable, black residential neighborhood in the Five Points West community. Woodfin has already committed his support for the relocation plan even though the concrete manufacturing process may poison the air these residents breathe, the ground their children play on, and the water they drink.
How can the presence of young black children at an MLB Youth Baseball Academy be considered “toxic” and dangerous to a predominantly white Birmingham residential neighborhood but not the presence of a concrete manufacturing facility that poisons the air, ground, and water in a black residential neighborhood?
Judas Iscariot got "thirty pieces of silver" for betraying Jesus Christ. What did Mayor Randall Woodfin and his cronies get for betraying the taxpaying, law-abiding, civic-minded, hard-working, residents and homeowners in the Five Points West community?
Only Randal Woodfin can answer these tough questions. My job is to ask them.
PHOTO: Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin is backing Sherman Industries' controversial plan to relocate its toxic downtown concrete manufacturing facility to a stable black neighborhood in Five Points West. District 8 Councilor Steven Hoyt exposed Woodfin's complicity in this act of blatant environmental racism. Woodfin is not worried because he is basking in the warm glow of his rock-solid campaign finance relationship with Birmingham's business community.