All posts by Roger Straw

Editor, owner, publisher of The Benicia Independent

Roger Straw announces retirement and a bold new BenIndy

Behind-the-scenes activist/reporter ending public service – group organizing to continue the online news and views

Roger Straw, Benicia CA

BENICIA – Longtime Benicia activist and reporter/publisher of the Benicia Independent Roger Straw will retire soon. Old issues of the Benicia Independent will be archived and saved for future reference.

Today’s good news is that you can continue to read BenIndy news and views – but with an impressive new design and staffed by a small but growing group of dedicated volunteers. They need more of you to help! If you are even just a little bit interested in contributing, please contact the BenIndy transition group by emailing Nathalie Christian at nathalie@mngl.ca.

Roger will continue to work with this group during a brief transition and will post new content occasionally until the start-up of the new BenIndy.

About the Benicia Independent ~ Eyes on the Environment / Benicia news & views

In 2007, two years after Roger retired from his service in ministry at Benicia’s Community Congregational Church, UCC, he founded the Benicia Independent, an online source for local news and views. The “BenIndy” as it has become known, served initially to highlight charges of political influence in the firing of the editor of Benicia’s print newspaper, the Benicia Herald.

Over the following 16 years, the BenIndy has published over 4,100 articles. It has gone through design changes, upgrades, and a series of single-issue coverages, including the championing of progressive electoral candidates, reporting on environmental issues local and beyond, calling for sensible gun control, racial, cultural and gender justice, immigration reform, a long-running daily log on the pandemic in Solano County (now archived), and more. Perhaps most importantly, the Independent played a major role in stopping Valero Benicia Refinery’s dangerous and dirty crude by rail proposal (also archived) and has kept a close eye on the refinery at every stage since. More: beniciaindependent.com/about.

How to say good-bye? A brief personal reflection from Roger…

I’m in relatively good health, so no dramatic health concerns are behind my decision to leave public service. But I’m thinking about the future. It’s important to me that I focus on some unmet personal goals. I need to attend to home chores and spend time with family, and I want to slow down a bit for the first time in a more-or-less driven life.

So I’m saying good bye to a fulfilling 25-year chapter of public service in Benicia and welcoming in a new chapter of being productive in an entirely different way.

Please know that it’s a thrill to give over the Benicia Independent to talented others. The BenIndy will no longer be a one-person operation. Any number of you can now volunteer to write up the Benicia news and to express your views on important issues of the day. Contact Nathalie at nathalie@mngl.ca  Who knows? I may have to join in on occasion, but not every day or every week, and not under a self-induced pressure to produce on deadline.

Take care, Benicia, I love you.

Roger Straw

Refinery Air Watch Training Feb 2, 7 PM – get detailed data on Valero Benicia and other refineries

[Editor: Previously published – this is a tickler about the important upcoming webinar training this week. – R.S.]

Webinar: Introducing Refinery Air Watch: Radical Access to Fenceline Monitoring Data

Thursday, February 2, 7pm PST (zoom link)
Presented by the Fair Tech Collective

Air monitoring is happening at oil refinery fencelines. How can you get your hands on the data?

www.refineryairwatch.org

This one-hour webinar offers an introduction to Refinery Air Watch, (www.refineryairwatch.org), a new website that enables you to download results from fenceline air monitoring–and understand how refineries are making it hard for you to learn what’s in the air.

By the end of the session, you will be able to download data from the site and figure out what the data say about air quality at the fenceline. You will also understand where Refinery Air Watch’s data come from, what its strengths and limitations are, and what regulatory reforms are necessary to secure your right to know what you’re breathing.

Thursday, February 2, 7pm PST
Zoom link:  : Join our Cloud HD Video Meeting

Fair Tech Collective, founded by Gwen Ottinger, believes that science and technology can empower communities—but...
Fair Tech Collective, founded by Gwen Ottinger, believes that science and technology can empower communities—but…

 

 

Stephen Golub: Guns: Here We Go Again… and again…and again…

Unhappy New Year

A Promised Land, by Stephen Golub, January 25, 2023

Benicia author Stephen Golub, Benicia CA, A Promised Land

California has kicked off 2023 with a bang: two mass shootings in 72 hours. (Mass shootings constitute events in which four or more people are injured or killed, not including the murderer.) This has probably been the country’s most massacre-intensive January ever – and certainly since the Gun Violence Archive started tracking this data in 2014. Only a small fraction of these nearly twice-daily horrors (647 in 2022) gets much media coverage. Still, this seems like a nightmarish Groundhog Day.

Over the course of nearly nine years, the satirical, fake news outlet the Onion has regularly summarized such slaughters 30 times with the same headline,  “‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.”

I won’t regurgitate most of the grisly statistics you’ve heard before. But it’s worth noting a few:

Family Values

Here’s one more statistical nugget: America is the only wealthy country in which gun violence is the top cause of death for children and teens.

The comparative data leaves other rich nations buried (so to speak) in the dust. Firearms killed 4,357 young people here in 2020. The next highest nations, based on a recent research review of selected similar societies: Canada and France, with 48 each. Correcting for Canada’s far smaller population, its gun mortality rate for folks aged one to 19 is still less than 10 percent of ours.

Even that shameful ratio under-represents how bad our relative situation is. Canada and France themselves have much higher rates than other wealthy nations. The next highest number on the list is that of Germany, where only 14 young people died due to guns in 2020. Given that its population is one-quarter of ours, that figure would extrapolate to just 56 if we were the same size.

Why?

Now, this is not to say that most gun-owners are fanatics about their weapons. Many are responsible, or support at least some gun safety measures, or legitimately use firearms for protection or hunting.

Still, why are so many Americans (though by no means the majority ) so dedicated to deadly weapons, including assault rifles?

Pick your poison. The National Rifle Association. Our distorted democracy. The self-perpetuating cycle of easy access and ease of use making for a way of life. The legacy of racial animus. The fear of guns being taken away, which drives the purchase of yet more. The related conviction that more guns equal more protection from more guns. Gun collection as a hobby. Americans loving (ahem) Freedom, as long as it’s that of a gun owner and not a gun victim. The reliance on a Second Amendment adopted at a time of muskets and citizen militias. Or maybe all of the above.

There’s yet another view of what drives our gun culture and gun deaths, courtesy of Arnold Schwarzenegger in the film Terminator 2. Though the context for this clip was the threat of nuclear holocaust, it works equally well for a different kind of self-destruction:

Another answer is even simpler and better than the one Ahnold offers. It’s asserted by the Australian comic Jim Jefferies, in mimicing a hypothetical American gun devotee:

“I like guns!”

Here are the two parts of Jeffries’ brilliant commentary on Americans’ penchant for firearms – though be forewarned, he’s very profane, is politically incorrect, and employs a word that’s apparently much more commonly accepted in Australia than here:

A Shot at Success?

Is there any light at the end of the gun barrel? There are glimmers of hope.

In 2022, the United States adopted the first national gun control law in decades, with even a bit of Republican buy-in. It looks like legislators voting for the bill suffered few if any negative electoral consequences. Though an increasing number of states have adopted “open carry” laws – which allow gun owners to carry firearms in public without the need for permits – last year also saw a range of state-level victories for gun safety.

As I’ve noted, loads of evidence indicates that countries and states with stronger gun laws have lower rates of gun deaths; maybe someday such data will mean something for our nation’s public policy.

In fact, we’ve seen instances of public opinion or legislation shifting on other issues more than previously thought possible. The examples range from acceptance of gay and lesbian marriage to last year’s so-called Inflation Reduction Act, which for all of its flaws was an unprecedented environmental step forward.

Still, manyof us have remained politically unmoved by the Sandy Hook and Uvalde school massacres, by a lone Las Vegas gunman murdering 60 concert-goers and injuring over 400 others, and by so many other atrocities that we lose count.

Now, the sure way to lose the fight is to lose hope. But for now, Americans face the reality of constantly shooting ourselves in the foot, the head, and everywhere in-between.


Stephen Golub, Benicia – A Promised Land: Politics. Policy. America as a Developing Country.

Benicia resident Stephen Golub offers excellent perspective on his blog, A Promised Land:  Politics. Policy. America as a Developing Country.

To access his other posts or subscribe, please go to his blog site, A Promised Land.

Ariana Martinez for Benicia School Board, April 11 Special Election

Ariana Martinez has more experience working with a wide range of children than any other candidate

By Betty Lucas, Benicia resident, January 23, 2024

Ariana Martinez, LCSW, candidate for Benicia Unified School District Board of Trustees, Area 5

Ariana Martinez is the best candidate to serve as the Board Member (Trustee) for Area 5* of the Benicia Unified School District, in the special election that will be held on April 11. To start with, she has more experience working with a wide range of children than any other candidate. More specifically:

As a social worker with a Master’s Degree in Social Work, Ms. Martinez assists a wide array of children of all ages, as well as their parents and other family members, in dealing with various educational and other challenges. She weathered the dark days of the pandemic and all of the new problems it brought, helping children and parents get through the worst of the storm. A passion for helping families still drives her.

In addition, her experience with the Benicia school system is personal, direct and in key respects more recent than other Board members or candidates. After graduating from high school here, Ms. Martinez also helped her significantly younger siblings navigate their schooling in Benicia. She remains an active member and resident of our community.

How else do I know that Ms. Martinez is the most qualified candidate for Board Member? Because, after a careful, thorough application and review process, the BUSD Governing Board chose her for the position back in November. Along with her many other qualifications, the Board took into consideration her dedication to a fair and effective school system and knowledge of special education issues.

So if she was already chosen as the most qualified applicant, why is Ms. Martinez running for the same office now?

To start with, no one ran to represent Area 5 last year, resulting in the vacancy that the Board was required to fill. Any interested, eligible candidate (parent or non-parent) could accordingly apply for the post.

As a result, in November, the Governing Board interviewed four applicants for the position. Ms. Martinez was one of them. After comparing the needs of the district with the experience and backgrounds of each of the candidates, the Board chose by a majority vote to provisionally appoint Ms. Ariana Martinez.

Once Ms. Martinez was chosen, the three unsuccessful applicants – who, again, could each have run in an election for the position last year if they were so inclined – aired various concerns to the Board. They questioned Ms. Martinez’s qualifications, alleged conflicts of interest and suggested that the Board intentionally excluded parents of current pupils from serving on the Board.

The Board took these three unsuccessful candidates’ complaints very seriously. Each complaint was repeatedly reviewed in view of relevant policy regulations and with the assistance of legal counsel. The review firmly determined, among other things, that Ms. Martinez was indeed qualified for the post, that there was no conflict of interest, that Ms. Martinez could be appointed without creating a conflict of interest, that the Governing Board did not violate policy and that there was no reason to reverse the appointment decision made last November.

Ariana Martinez is not a parent, but she brings a wealth of professional and personal experience to the table. And let’s bear in mind that she does not need to be a parent to serve Benicia’s children admirably, just as she has not needed to be a parent to be a social worker serving children. Teachers do not have to be parents to teach; pediatricians do not have to be parents to see patients; the list goes on.

In addition, the majority of current Board members have had children attending Benicia’s schools, so it’s not as though the Board lacks experience in that regard.

Our school boards need people whose dedication and experience enable them to best meet the needs of the children and schools. Even better if their qualifications complement those of other board members. Ms. Martinez was chosen because she passed all of those tests with flying colors.

In response to the Board’s justified and carefully considered decision, the three unsuccessful applicants chose to in effect cost Benicia’s schools anywhere from roughly $60,000 to $80,000, by demanding the April 11 special election for Ms. Martinez’s position. One of their number is now an opposing candidate.

That’s $60,000-$80,000 that could have gone toward an additional student/teacher(s), school supplies, computer resources, athletic equipment, school maintenance or many other needs. That’s $60,000-$80,000 that would not need to be spent now if one of the unsuccessful applicants had opted to run for the position last year. That’s $60,000-$80,000 that Benicia’s schools cannot afford to spare.

Sadly, the expenditure of $60,000-$80,000 was triggered by the unsuccessful applicants circulating a petition that required only 62 signatures to initiate a special election. This imposition on the school budget works out to about $1,000 or more per signature.

Shame on those who decided to waste valuable school dollars on an unnecessary special election, especially since they could have easily run for the position last year and saved the schools all that money.

I sincerely hope that Area 5 residents vote for the most qualified person, Ariana Martinez, on April 11, 2023 or through the mail-in ballots that will be provided in March.


BUSD Area Map (click to enlarge)

*Area 5 includes: Mathew Turner School, Lake Herman, Water’s End areas.  Click on map to enlarge. Area 5 is in purple.

More information on this matter can be found by searching online for “Important Message From BUSD Governing Board re: Trustee Area 5 Appointment and Petition“.

Betty Lucas, Benicia


Betty Lucas

Benicia Resident