Tag Archives: Benicia Arsenal

Local non-profit sues City of Benicia – Development threatens Civil-War era buildings and grounds

[To sign a petition in support of this lawsuit to stop the City of Benicia plan, see “Help Us Appeal the City’s Approval of these projects!” on Change.org.  For earlier stories on this see below– R.S.]

1000 FRIENDS PROTECTING HISTORIC BENICIA

Press Release, November 21, 2022
Contact:  Elizabeth Patterson, elopato29@gmail.com

1,000 Friends Protecting Historic Benicia, a local non-profit, fights to save Officers’ Row, in the nationally recognized Benicia Arsenal Historic District, from city approved development that will destroy the district’s historic significance. The development threatens Civil-War era buildings and grounds surviving from President Lincoln’s commissioning of the Benicia Arsenal Army base.

Present-day aerial view of Benicia’s Officers’ Row

WHAT:  1000 Friends Protecting Historic Benicia is suing the City of Benicia to stop it from issuing permits and is seeking a peremptory writ of mandate ordering the City and its agencies and commissions to set aside and void the City’s recent approvals of two development projects in the Benicia Arsenal Historic District.

“Projects that destroy or impair the significance of a site on the National Register, as these projects do, clearly have the most significant adverse impact on historic resources,” said Gary Widman, former Chief Counsel for the California State Department of Parks and Recreation and the Office of Historic Preservation.

BACKGROUND:  In August 2022, the City of Benicia approved two development projects for Officers’ Row in the heart of the Benicia Arsenal Historic District which the U.S. government listed on the National Register of Historic Places, deeming it worthy of preservation due to its historical significance to the country.

The Jefferson Ridge Project would build 121 housing units and 2,000 square feet of commercial/retail space on Jefferson Street, including the former flagpole assembly area between the Commanding Officer’s Quarters and the Lieutenant’s Quarters. A total of 16 three- story structures would flank Jefferson Street, dominating the three historic houses adjacent to this project and blocking character-defining views of the Carquinez Strait.

The 1451 Park Road Project, would build 17 apartments in 2 two-story buildings incompatible with the scale and style of the historic non-commissioned officers’ quarters immediately west on Jefferson Street.

​Designated a State Historical Landmark in 1935, the Benicia Arsenal was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 and was a key contributor to establishment of the National Park Service’s Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta National Heritage Area in 2019.

The Arsenal’s Officers’ Row offers one of the nation’s most impressive ensembles of mid-19th-century military architecture and open spaces, largely intact as built over 150 years ago. Meticulously planned by the Army, the layout is a prime example of military site design, with careful thought given to building scale, placement, and sight lines.

The two projects needed the City of Benicia to determine that they qualified for fast-track approval under a new state law, California Senate Bill 35 (SB 35), that restricts review of projects to their consistency with “objective standards.”

Members of the community highlighted several conflicts with the Arsenal Historic Conservation Plan (AHCP) and objective planning and zoning standards for both projects. This included several standards for which the City claimed the projects demonstrated consistency.

The City subsequently removed many of the standards it had identified as conflicting with the projects as proposed.

The City also failed to incorporate many standards from the AHCP. In particular, a commenter stated that in reviewing the 1451 Park Road Project, the City only applied 37 of the 64 design standards and guidelines from the AHCP that apply to the design of residential buildings in Officers’ Row.

The City failed to consider public safety standards because City staff stated that Senate Bill 35 applications were not subject to any such standards, since they contain subjective as well as objective elements and therefore had to be considered subjective.

Despite the various inconsistencies, on August 26, 2022, the City issued ministerial approvals for both projects. The City subsequently denied members of the public the right to appeal the two projects.

ACTION:  The lawsuit challenges both approvals based on errors in assessing environmental hazards and violations of City of Benicia ordinances concerning the current general plan and zoning.  

1000 Friends Protecting Historic Benicia is a non-profit Benicia organization represented by attorney Doug Carstens, Chatten-Brown, Carstens & Minteer, a public interest-oriented law firm specializing in environmental and land use law. Individuals of the non-profit and other members of the public are on record with the City with many protest letters and public hearing appearances over the past two years. The goal of this campaign is to establish a park that will honor and protect the nationally recognized Arsenal Historic District forever.

WEBSITE COMING SOON:  1000FriendsPHB.org
SEE ALSO EXISTING WEBSITE:  YES! Benicia Arsenal Park



See earlier on BenIndy:

President Lincoln’s Historic Benicia Arsenal in Peril – Former Mayor Elizabeth Patterson

[Excellent background here on why oppose current plans for new construction in Benicia’s historic Arsenal District.  To sign a petition in support of a lawsuit to stop the plan, see “Help Us Appeal the City’s Approval of these projects!” on Change.org.  For additional background and photos, see “YES! Benicia Arsenal Park“.   Earlier stories on BenIndy see below– R.S.]

New efforts to save our National Treasure

EL PAT’S FORUM

by ELIZABETH PATTERSON
Benicia, California

August 3, 2022

One woman is responsible for listing most of the historic structures in the Historic Arsenal of Benicia. Ms. Wold, a graduate of University of California at Berkeley (UCB), recognized that the city leaders in 1965 were focused on surviving the Army’s closure of the Arsenal and loss of jobs and business.  Therefore Ms. Wold filled out the forms – around 90 – and got the historic structures listed. State Parks and Recreation was interested in establishing a State Park for the mostly early portion of barracks, garrison, officer quarters, infirmary and enclave of Civil War Era buildings. President Lincoln commissioned the garrison and barracks – about 120 acres – to ensure Union presence to prevent Confederate efforts to make California a slave state. Think about that.

But the city leaders showed little interest in the history and even did a land swap that put many historic structures at risk. Witness the demolition of the 1860s Foundry and Pacific Mail Steamship company office building just three years ago. While Mayor I used my office as a bully pulpit for saving or at least respecting these structures as the last tangible evidence of the first industrial site in California. It was a struggle. At least the city was able to negotiate a settlement price with Amports that will help preserve other historic structures. But none on the list are the first industrial buildings.  Gone. Part of the settlement was to develop a “demolition by neglect ordinance” – an ordinance to prevent intentional or neglect and then seek a demolition permit to tear down. I don’t have the exact numbers but we are talking about more than 20 or so historic structures demolished by this strategy.

The city brushed off the State’s proposal for a State Park and embarked on permitting industrial and commercial development with no master plan, limited infrastructure improvement and legacy problems of pollution that range from monitoring to major cleanup or mitigation – in 2003 dollars about $50 million that ultimately was reimbursed to the developers by the Army. Yep. The United States Army left stuff that could be catastrophic. Some areas can never be safe and that is why we have a few open spaces with trails and not homes.

In the early 2000s there was a “McMansion”* proposal of 16 large, expensive homes for the Historic District C – between the Commanding Officers’ Quarters and Jefferson Mansion and the open space and parade grounds. The city council certified a report that declared there was no environmental impact and approved the project. No impact to the President Lincoln commissioned Arsenal. No impact to the historic parade ground and oak trees planted like sentinel soldiers to guard the Civil War enclave.  A large and passionate group organized, sued the city for failure to asses the impacts and also gathered signatures for a referendum on the city council approval. The applicant and city settled with us and we put the money toward beginning restoration of the Commanding Officers’ Quarters where Arts Benicia is now. 

The Secretary of the Interior and the State Office of Historic Preservation have written in the past that too many new structures will impact the historic integrity of the district. It may be removed from the National Register.  President Lincoln’s commissioned Arsenal – removed from the National listing because the city leaders acquiesce to misguided state legislation that the city interprets in a manner that favors the applicants.

Here are the links to the appeals filed by Benicia Arsenal Park Task Force and Benicia Arsenal Defense.


*In suburban communities, McMansion is a pejorative term for a large “mass-produced” dwelling marketed to the upper middle class.

P.S The first link is one appeal and the second link is the other appeal – just can’t make a link work for two documents. I hope you read them. They are short.



See earlier on BenIndy:

Benicia Petition: STOP approval of 163 condos and apartments on Jefferson Street’s historic Officers’ Row

September 6, 2021

Benicia Arsenal Park Task Force petition would preserve Jefferson Street Officers’ Row

Hello Friends for Benicia,

Marilyn Bardet, Benicia

As a member of the Benicia Arsenal Park Task Force [BAPTF], I’m asking for your help to protect from density housing development the last precious open spaces along Jefferson Street’s Officers’ Row that date back to the Civil War era. These landscapes are central to the character and 19th century ambiance of the Arsenal Historic District, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

On this Labor Day, I hope you can take a moment to read our petition and consider signing it to save these heritage sites from avoidable destruction.

>> Petition >> STOP approval of 163 condos and apartments on Jefferson Street’s historic Officers’ Row! · Change.org

The Benicia Arsenal is central to the history of the City of Benicia from its earliest days. We believe these former military grounds deserve to become Arsenal Park for the benefit of all, to honor Benicia’s unique place in state and U.S. history, and, not least, for sake of the beauty and calm these landscapes – maintained and gardened by the army for 104 years – still offer in the midst of our industrialized lower Arsenal area.

An Arsenal Park would protect our City’s unique heritage and represent our legacy for future generations: it would be a magnet within District C for the leisurely enjoyment of residents and tourists alike. It would be central to development of heritage tourism, as envisioned by the Benicia General Plan, to derive economic benefit from our historic resources.

While we strongly support creating affordable housing in Benicia, we know there are other available parcels in town that would provide suitable and feasible locations for infill density residential. We do not need to sacrifice the heart of the Arsenal Historic District for only a few affordable housing units within a massive “market rate” condo development!

For more about the Arsenal and District C, please visit our website <www.yesbeniciaarsenalpark.com>

If you sign the petition, thank you for your support of this good cause! You can help get the word out by circulating the petition to friends and neighbors, and by sharing the link to our website.

Let’s aim high, as always, together!

🙂 Marilyn

Click here to sign the petition!

The Fight to Stop a Boom in California’s Crude by Rail

Repost from The Huffington Post
[Editor: Our friend here in Benicia, Ed Ruszel, has been featured in numerous online blogs and news outlets in this story by Tara Lohan.  This is an abbreviated version.  The article mistakenly gives a link to The Benicia Independent rather than Benicians for a Safe and Healthy CommunityBSHC can be found at SafeBenicia.org.  – RS]

The Fight to Stop a Boom in California’s Crude by Rail

By Tara Lohan, 01/08/2015

Ed Ruszel’s workday is a soundtrack of whirling, banging, screeching — the percussion of wood being cut, sanded and finished. He’s the facility manager for the family business, Ruszel Woodworks. But one sound each day roars above the cacophony of the woodshop: the blast of the train horn as cars cough down the Union Pacific rail line that runs just a few feet from the front of his shop in an industrial park in Benicia, California.

Most days the train cargo is beer, cars, steel, propane or petroleum coke. But soon, two trains of 50 cars each may pass by every day carrying crude oil to a refinery owned by neighboring Valero Energy, which is hoping to build a new rail terminal at the refinery that would bring 70,000 barrels a day by train — or nearly 3 million gallons.

And it’s a sign of the times.

Crude-by-rail has increased 4,000 percent across the country since 2008 and California is feeling the effects. By 2016 the amount of crude by rail entering the state is expected to increase by a factor of 25. That’s assuming the industry gets its way in creating more crude-by-rail stations at refineries and oil terminals. And that’s no longer looking like a sure thing.

Valero’s proposed project in Benicia is just one of many in the area underway or under consideration. All the projects are now facing public pushback–and not just from individuals in communities, but from a united front spanning hundreds of miles. Benicia sits on the Carquinez Strait in the northeastern reaches of the San Francisco Bay Area. Here, about 20 miles south of Napa’s wine country and 40 miles north of San Francisco, the oil industry may have found a considerable foe.

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Photo by Sarah Craig

A recent boom in “unconventional fuels” has triggered an increase in North American sources in the last few years. This has meant more fracked crude from North Dakota’s Bakken shale and diluted bitumen from Alberta’s tar sands.

Unit trains are becoming a favored way to help move this cargo. These are trains in which the entire cargo — every single car — is one product. And in this case that product happens to be highly flammable.

This is one of the things that has Ed Ruszel concerned. He doesn’t think the tank cars are safe enough to transport crude oil in the advent of a serious derailment. If a derailment occurs on a train and every single car (up to 100 cars long) is carrying volatile crude, the dangers increase exponentially. In 2013, more crude was spilled in train derailments than in the prior three decades combined, and there were four fiery explosions in North America in a year’s span, the worst being the derailment that killed 47 people and incinerated half the downtown in Lac Megantic, Quebec in July 2013.

Public Comments

In Benicia, a Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) regarding the Valero project was released in June 2014 and promptly slammed by everyone from the state’s Attorney General Kamala Harris to the local group Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community because it left out crucial information and failed to address the full scope of the project.

One of the biggest omissions in Valero’s DEIR was Union Pacific not being named as an official partner in the project. With the trains arriving via its rail lines, all logistics will come down to the railroad. Not only that, but the federal power granted to railroad companies preempts local and regional authority.This preemption is one of the biggest hurdles for communities that don’t want to see crude-by-rail come through their neighborhoods or want better safeguards.

The DEIR also doesn’t identify exactly what kind of North American crude would be arriving and from where. Different kinds of crude have different health and safety risks. Diluted bitumen can be nearly impossible to clean up in the event of a spill and Bakken crude has proved more explosive than other crude because of its chemical composition. It’s likely that some of the crude coming to Valero’s refinery would be from either or both sources.

Public comments on the DEIR closed on Sept. 15, and now all eyes are on the planning department to see what happens next in Benicia.

But the Valero project is just the tip of the iceberg in California.

In nearby Pittsburgh, 20 miles east of Benicia, residents pushed back against plans from WestPac Energy. The company had planned to lease land from BNSF Railway and build a new terminal to bring in a 100-car unit train of crude each day. The project is currently stalled.

But Phillips 66 has plans for a new rail unloading facility at a refinery in Nipomo, 200 miles south of the Bay Area in San Luis Obispo County, that would bring in five unit trains of crude a week, with 50,000 barrels per train.

Further south in Kern County in the heart of oil country, Plains All American just opened a crude by rail terminal that is permitted for a 100-car unit train each day. Another nearby project, Alon USA, received permission from the county for twice as much but is being challenged by lawsuits from environmental groups.

Closer to home, unit trains of Bakken crude are already arriving to a rail terminal owned by Kinder Morgan in Richmond. Kinder Morgan had been transporting ethanol, but the Bay Area Air Quality Management District allowed Kinder Morgan to offload unit trains of Bakken crude into tanker trucks.

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Photo by Sarah Craig

With all this crude-by-rail activity, some big picture thinking would be helpful. As Attorney General Kamala Harris wrote about the Benicia project, “There’s no consideration of cumulative impacts that could affect public safety and the environment by the proliferation of crude-by-rail projects proposed in California.”

A longer version of this story appeared on Faces of Fracking.