All posts by Roger Straw

Editor, owner, publisher of The Benicia Independent

My thoughts on possible District Voting in Benicia

By Roger Straw, January 17, 2020
Roger Straw, The Benicia Independent

On Tuesday January 21, Benicia’s City Council will consider a proposal to change our electoral process from At-Large voting for Council candidates to four newly-defined small geographical districts.  Benicia citizens need to pay attention to this – it may sound ok, but consider…

I think our ability to join forces against the massive and mean-spirited outside corporate influences we saw in our 2018 election would be immeasurably weakened by adoption of district voting.

In 2018, a PAC funded by Valero Services and organized labor spent over $200,000 to smear and defeat Council candidate Kari Birdseye.  (See below for background.)  A similar campaign was waged against candidate Elizabeth Patterson in 2007.

A Council campaign funded and run in a small Benicia district would not be capable of standing up to limitless corporate PAC money.  And Benicia is way too small to be divided into four districts capable of finding and supporting multiple competitive candidates across the political spectrum.

In many cities, district voting makes sense as a measure to strengthen and empower concentrated minority groups.  Note that I am decidedly in FAVOR of empowering minority voting strength, especially when it comes to racial and ethnic minorities.  Most of us would agree.  But Benicia’s racial and ethnic mix is not concentrated in any linear district – so district voting would do absolutely nothing to advance minority voting strength.

What about other sub-groups in geographically defined parts of Benicia?

Our Southampton hills 1) is already represented by Mr. Largaespada, 2) could have elected Kari Birdseye as a Southampton neighbor if she hadn’t been targeted and smeared, and 3) had Mark Hughes as a resident Council member for years.  I’m guessing Southampton probably had a few more Council members going back before my time.

A case CAN probably be made that Benicia’s East Side has been underrepresented over the years – but district voting would create more problems than it would fix for Eastsiders.  IMPORTANT: How could an underfunded campaign in a smaller population on the East side possibly put up a fight against Valero and organized labor?!

CORRECTION: A kind reader has pointed out that current Council member Tom Campbell lives on Benicia’s East side.  Campbell and former Council member Jan Cox-Golovich live in a section of town north of Military and just EAST of an imaginary First Street dividing line.

MY CONCLUSION: District voting would only give outside big money greater strength to stack our City Council.

Your voice is important!


    • My background article on Jan 6, 2020 with quote from SF Chronicle, stating over $200,000 was spent by the Valero PAC.  My comment: “Kari ran for City Council in 2018 in a field of 4, competing for 2 seats on Council.  Only she didn’t just run against her opponents.  She ran against a $200,000-plus smear campaign orchestrated by Benicia Valero Refinery and its friends in organized labor.  The three major candidates’ campaigns spent less than $30,000 each, while Valero saturated our phone lines, mailboxes, newspapers and social media with misinformation and ugly photos.”
    • My post-election call on Nov 12 2018 for Council action to reform campaign spending – including comparison of the $200,000 with candidate spending of under $30,000 each.
    • My Oct 28 2018 article just before the Nov election which reported a smear campaign total of $155,000 as of that time. My  comment in that article: “News broke in late September that a major worldwide corporate power had bullied its way into our local democratic process.  Valero Services Inc., based in Texas but with 115 subsidiaries in Delaware, Michigan, Canada and several wealthy Caribbean nations, decided it wanted to buy a seat on the Benicia City Council. Their first strategy was to spend an unknown amount of money to employ two national firms, EMC Research and Research America, to conduct a nasty telephone “push poll,” blatantly mischaracterizing and demeaning one candidate for Council and painting rosy pictures of two others.  When our City Attorney challenged the polling firms, Valero Refinery executive Don Wilson admitted that Valero paid for the poll, but neither he nor the polling firms would comply with our demands for more information.”
    • Weekly and daily reporting of details as the smear campaign unfolded:

    Benicia Observance of Martin Luther King National Holiday – Monday, January 20, 2020

    BENICIA’S 5TH ANNUAL OBSERVANCE OF THE MARTIN LUTHER KING NATIONAL HOLIDAY will take place on Monday, January 20th at 7:00 PM, hosted this year at Community Congregational Church, 1305 West 2nd St.

    Noted storyteller Linda Wright will again be present in the persona of Coretta Scott King. Civic leaders, members of the arts community, and youth will give voice to Dr. King’s legacy and his wisdom for us today.

    All who attend will be encouraged to reflect, sing together, and share their particular reasons for honoring Dr. King.

    “For 3 years Jady Montgomery gathered an informal group at the Gazebo on Martin Luther King Day,” observed Mary Susan Gast of the 2020 planning team.

    “Last year Jady decided it might be time to bring the gathering indoors.  Heritage Presbyterian was the site in 2019, and we’re hoping that the location will rotate to other settings in future years.”

    Gast continued, “We particularly urge high school or middle school students who would like to read some of Dr. King’s words, or words of their own relevant to the occasion, to contact me at That same email address works for anyone who has questions.  We look forward to continuing the tradition of a vibrant community-building MLK Day event in 2020.”


      Benicia named to top 5 in contest – YOU CAN VOTE for Benicia to win $500,000 in downtown business fixups


      City of Benicia
      Click for Benicia PR page
      250 East L Street
      Benicia, California 94510

      Contact:  Teri Davena
      City of Benicia, Economic Development Specialist
      (707) 746-4202

      Benicia Named to Top 5 in Competition for Season 5 of The Small Business Revolution

      Benicia, CA (January 14, 2020) — The City of Benicia learned early Tuesday that Benicia has been selected as one of the “Top 5 Towns” in the competition to be the featured town in season 5 of the hit Hulu series The Small Business Revolution, an original series by Deluxe, hosted by Amanda Brinkman and Ty Pennington.

      Each season the Deluxe team invests $500,000 to revitalize selected main street small businesses through makeover and marketing assistance while filming the process for the series.

      According to Deluxe, thousands of towns are nominated each year. The list is narrowed to the top 20, then to the top 10. The Deluxe team makes site visits to the top 10 towns, assessing their needs and opportunities. They were in Benicia on December 4th and 5th visiting First Street businesses. After site visits, the team narrows the list to the top five for public voting, which will determine the winner.

      Public voting opened on Tuesday, January 14th and continues for one week through Tuesday, January 21st online at  Voters may vote one time per day, per device. 

      “I am excited for our town and the chance for so many viewers to see what we get to experience each day,” said Mario Giuliani, Economic Development Manager. “Our small business owners have helped create a renaissance for us on First Street, now it is our turn to help them with a “Revolution”! I encourage everyone to vote every day for Benicia.”

      Benicia is the only California town in the running. Other towns in the top five are Fredonia, NY; Livingston, MT; Spearfish, SD; and The Dalles, OR.

      The series is available for viewing online and on Hulu and Prime.



        Update on criminal processing of Benicia’s accused serial rapist, Roy Charles Waller

        A roommate ad, a call from a stranger, a gun in the night: How NorCal Rapist case began

        Sacramento Bee, by Sam Stanton, January 10, 2020 01:13 PM 

        “She woke to a male subject in a mask grabbing her,” retired Rohnert Park Police Officer Marshall Goldy testified Friday in a Sacramento Superior Court hearing for Roy Charles Waller, the suspect in the NorCal Rapist’s reign of attacks that authorities say began that night and continued across Northern California until 2006.

        “She woke to a male subject in a mask grabbing her,” retired Rohnert Park Police Officer Marshall Goldy testified Friday in a Sacramento Superior Court hearing for Roy Charles Waller, the suspect in the NorCal Rapist’s reign of attacks that authorities say began that night and continued across Northern California until 2006.

        “She said, ‘OK, I was lying on the couch with my face to the back of the couch and didn’t hear anything. And the next thing I knew there was an arm around my neck and a small handgun pointed at my right cheek.’”

        The victim, who now goes by Earnest-Payte, was not present Friday for the third day of Waller’s preliminary hearing, but she attended Waller’s September 2018 arraignment and has spoken openly about the night a masked man attacked her. She also has described how she felt staring Waller down in court following his arrest.

        “When he turned around and looked squarely at us, straight in our eyes, I glared right back,” Earnest-Payte told reporters then. “That was the first time I felt angry.

        “It was the first time that I finally thought, ‘Yeah, there you are, and you look fairly pathetic.’ I was a little afraid, but not afraid of him.”

        Waller, who turned 60 on Wednesday while being held at the Sacramento County Main Jail, is now facing up to life in prison and sat attentively Friday before Judge Trena Burger-Plavan.

        He occasionally made suggestions to his defense attorney, Joseph Farina, as prosecutors continued their meticulous effort to present evidence from decades ago about the attacks that remained unsolved until Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert announced a suspect had been found through analysis of DNA evidence left behind at some of the crime scenes.

        Goldy, an 18-year veteran of the Rohnert Park police force at the time of the attack, said his first involvement came as he was helping with a traffic stop shortly before 3 a.m. on June 23, 1991.

        The victim’s mother pulled up behind his patrol car and told him what had happened, and he followed her over to Earnest-Payte’s Parkway Drive apartment, Goldy testified.

        Once there, he secured the scene and took her to a hospital, where she told him that during the ordeal her attacker raped her three times and that his voice sounded identical to the “Bob Smith” who had previously called about renting a room, Goldy said.

        The assailant bound her hands and feet and placed tape over her eyes and a pillowcase over her head, and asked repeatedly where she kept her money.

        “She said, ‘He pulled open my bathrobe,’” Goldy said, reading from his 1991 police report. “She said, ‘Please, don’t do that. Please, don’t. Take my money and go.’

        “She said at that point he raped her. She said after the first rape she said, ‘Could you please leave now? You’re finished.’ … He was holding onto me like we were lovers or something.”

        Eventually, Goldy testified, the attacker told her not to call police or he would kill her. He bound her feet and hands with tape, and gave her a butter knife, with instructions to wait 15 minutes before she tried to cut off the tape.

        And, he asked for her telephone number and apologized.

        “He kept saying, I’m sorry, this is my first time. I’ve done this and I regret this. I can’t believe I’ve done this to you,’ ” Goldy recounted her telling him. “He kept saying over and over again that he learned his lesson and he would never do this again to anyone.”

        In fact, authorities believe he struck a second time in Sonoma County that same year, and that he eventually attacked women in six counties, ending the serial crime spree with the double rape of announced in October 2006.

        Farina tried to pick apart some of the police work done 29 years ago, eliciting testimony from Goldy that the victim gave him only vague descriptions of the masked attacker, and did not provide his weight, hair or eye color.

        At one point, Waller leaned over and spoke quietly to his lawyer, who then asked whether anyone had tried to trace the phone number from “Bob Smith.” Goldy said he didn’t know.

        Authorities believe semen left on the victim’s bedsheets that night match DNA samples taken from Waller’s garbage by investigators who had him under surveillance before his arrest.

        Waller’s hearing is expected to continue into next week, when the judge is expected to rule whether there is enough evidence to take the case to trial.