Benicia Herald: Mayor requests rehearing of Industrial Safety Ordinance vote

Repost from the Benicia Herald
[Editor: For background and reference, you may want to view Mayor Patterson’s Request for Rehearing of Vote Cast 6_19_18 concerning the Industrial Safety Ordinance.  Plan to attend the Council meeting, 7pm on Tuesday, July 17.  Here is the agenda and other materials.  – RS]

Mayor requests rehearing of Industrial Safety Ordinance vote

By Nick Sestanovich, July 13, 2018
Elizabeth Patterson, Benicia Mayor 2007 - present
Elizabeth Patterson, Benicia Mayor 2007 – present

At its June 19 meeting, the Benicia City Council voted 3-2 to not take any further action on Mayor Elizabeth Patterson’s request for an Industrial Safety Ordinance (ISO) in Benicia until November. Now Patterson is requesting a rehearing on the item, which is on the agenda for Tuesday’s council meeting.

Following a flaring incident and shutdown at the Valero Benicia Refinery in May 2017, Patterson submitted a two-step request which asked the council to consider adopting an ISO in line with Contra Costa County’s ordinance requires refineries to submit safety plans, undergo safety audits and develop risk management plans while incorporating community input. The council voted 4-1 to adopt the first step of this request, but the second step did not appear on a council agenda for another 13 months. Four weeks ago, the council narrowly voted to not adopt an ISO just yet and to direct Valero to fix gaps in communication. Of the three councilmembers who voted down the ISO, two— Tom Campbell and Alan Schwartzman— said they would change their votes if air quality monitors were not installed by November.

However, the issue will be returning to the council even sooner. On June 28, Patterson submitted an application to rehear the item on four grounds: that she felt staff had not adequately prepared the council for the hearing, past settlement agreements and obligations regarding air quality monitoring had not been addressed, new evidence discussing the necessity of fenceline and community monitoring which are not addressed by the planned Bay Area Air Quality Mangement District monitors and the decision to wait for BAAQMD monitors to be installed was “vague and uncertain” and “does not present a viable plan,” Patterson wrote.

For the first reason, Patterson wrote that staff had not done anything substantive in between the discussion of the two steps and that the staff report prepared for the June 19 meeting lacked key information.

“The Staff Report contained almost no meaningful information concerning what actions or costs would be necessary to actually move toward the adoption of an Industrial Safety Ordinance,” she wrote. “Although a thorough draft of the Industrial Safety Ordinance prepared by members of the community was included in the packet, the staff had not reviewed it and was unprepared to comment even preliminarily.”

For the second item, Patterson said the staff report did not mention the past settlements with Valero in 2003, 2008 and 2010 which required fenceline and community monitors, neither of which were installed.

“The City Council should have been advised and taken into consideration Valero’s failure to comply with these agreements as well as its non- compliance with the conditions of approval in rendering its decision, but the Staff Report failed to address these points at all,” Patterson wrote.

For the third item, Patterson said she attended an Airwatch Bay Area conference four days after the council meeting, which noted that BAAQMD’s proposed fenceline monitors were only 1 percent effective at detecting hazardous waste materials.

“Rehearing on the request to direct staff with certain criteria stated earlier to have the draft Industrial Safety Ordinance reviewed should be allowed so that new expert and non-expert evidence can be presented on this important subject,” she wrote. “The BAAQMD monitoring program will not be sufficient in quality…or location to fully protect the community. Time is of the essence.”

Finally, Patterson felt the decision to delay was not specific enough and that waiting presented a potential danger.

“With each additional day that passes, the community faces the risk of another power outage, which Valero has acknowledged it is unprepared for,” she wrote. “The delay in taking any action just puts the community in greater jeopardy of such releases without taking any action to eliminate or mitigate such risks.”

Staff responded to the first two reasons in a report prepared by City Attorney Heather McLaughlin. Regarding the first reason, McLaughlin wrote that as part of the two-step process, staff support for individual requests from individual councilmembers is limited to 15 minutes of staff time and that researching, writing reports and compiling materials would not take longer than 15 minutes unless approved by a majority of the council.

“Staff had collected some background information and provided it with the report to support the Council’s discussion but no analysis or other in-depth work had occurred,” McLaughlin wrote. “Staff had adequately prepared Council for the hearing based on the type of hearing that was scheduled to occur.”

This reasoning was also the basis for the short response to Patterson’s statement that past settlement agreements were not mentioned in the staff report. Staff did not respond to the third or fourth statements.

The council will vote on whether or not to schedule a rehearing on its June 19 vote, which would be slated for a later meeting if approved.

In other matters, the council will vote to approve a resolution placing a tax on port-related activities on the ballot for the general election and confirm Thomas Stanton as Benicia’s seventh poet laureate.

The council will meet at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 17 in a closed session to discuss legal matters. The regular meeting will start at 7 in the Council Chambers at City Hall, located at 250 East L St. A live stream of the council meeting can also be found online at ci.benicia.ca.us/agendas.

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