Tag Archives: Benicia City Attorney

Benicia city council to send letter supporting safer rail measures

Repost from The Vallejo Times-Herald
[Editor:  See original documents on the City of Benicia’s website:
      – Staff’s Agenda Report
      – Mayor Patterson’s draft letter of support (not approved)
      – League of Cities letter requesting letters of support & sample letter (sample letter approved)
For a local news report that fails to describe the City’s recommendations in the letter, see The Benicia Herald.  (The Herald previously detailed these recommendations.)  – RS]

Benicia council to send letter supporting safer rail measures

By Irma Widjojo, 04/08/15, 8:36 PM PDT

Benicia >> The City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to send a letter in support of several rail safety recommendations to the Federal Office of Management and Budget.

Mayor Elizabeth Patterson asked the council to consider sending the letter as requested by the League of Cities, of which Benicia is a member.

The league has adopted 10 recommendation as official policy to “increase rail safety in the transport of hazardous materials.”

The recommendations include mandating speed limits and electronically controlled braking systems, increasing the federal funding for training and equipment purchases for first responders, regulating the parking and storage of tank cars and others.

Patterson on Tuesday said sending such a letter usually doesn’t require it to be presented in a city council meeting, however City Councilman Tom Campbell has voiced his concerns due to the pending Valero Crude by Rail project.

“I wanted the city attorney to give an opinion if we are going to run into an issue of possibly prejudicing ourselves,” Campbell said Tuesday.

The city is currently processing the use permit and Environmental Impact Report for the project.

City Attorney Heather McLaughlin said there would not be an issue of bias, since the letter only states that “we just want the oil transported safely.”

Though the council voted unanimously to send the letter, they opted for the version that was provided by the league, instead of the one that was slightly edited by Patterson.

“I would go along with the language of the league as provided for consistency,” Vice Mayor Mark Hughes said.

A Benicia resident and environmental activist spoke during the public comment period stating that the letter will not have any effect on the Valero project.

“The letter is not going to make much impact as much as I appreciate the spirit of it,” Marilyn Bardet said. “The rail will be built before any policy is put in place.”

Patterson has also has been an outspoken advocate of tougher crude-by-rail safety measures.

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    Benicia CA: City Council adopts letter encouraging rail safety

    Repost from The Vallejo Times-Herald
    [Editor:  UPDATE: On Tuesday, 4/7/15, the Benicia City Council approved sending the League of California Cities letter by unanimous vote.  See original documents on the City of Benicia’s website:
          – Staff’s Agenda Report
          – Mayor Patterson’s draft letter of support (not approved)
          – League of Cities letter requesting letters of support & sample letter (sample letter approved)
    – RS]

    Benicia mayor to request council to send letter encouraging rail safety

    By Irma Widjojo, 04/06/15, 7:58 PM PDT
    Benicia, California
    Benicia, California

    Benicia >> Mayor Elizabeth Patterson on Tuesday night will be asking the rest of the city council to consider sending a letter to the Federal Office of Management and Budget in support of several rail safety recommendations.

    League-of-CA-Cities-LogoBenicia is a member of the League of Cities, which has adopted 10 recommendation as official policy to “increase rail safety in the transport of hazardous materials.”

    The recommendations include mandating speed limits and electronically controlled braking systems, increasing the federal funding for training and equipment purchases for first responders, regulating the parking and storage of tank cars and others.

    The League Executive Director has requested that cities send letters to the appropriate federal rail safety rule making authority requesting that these measures be implemented, Patterson said.

    Patterson — an outspoken advocate of tougher crude-by-rail safety measures — said she has asked the city attorney to “determine whether sending a letter requesting rail safety improvements would in any way create a due process issue for the city,” since Benicia is currently processing the use permit and Environmental Impact Report for the Valero Crude by Rail project.

    However, the city attorney determined that there would not be an issue since “the letter does not oppose the Valero project or take any position on adequacy of the environmental review for the project.”

    In November, the city attorney released a legal opinion that states that Patterson should not participate in any decision concerning the project because “the appearance of bias” could result in a legal challenge against the city.

    However, the mayor, who has hired her own attorney, at that time indicated she doesn’t intend to follow the city’s advice.

    The council is set to meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 250 E. L St. Agendas and staff reports can be found on the City’s website.
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      San Francisco Chronicle: How crude-by-rail — and other debates — are censored

      Repost from SFGate, Opinion Shop

      How crude-by-rail — and other debates — are censored

      By Lois Kazakoff, January 2, 2015
      Valero seeks to modify its Benicia refinery to bring in two 50-car trains a day of crude oil.
      How the crude-by-rail debate is censored… Valero seeks to modify its Benicia refinery to bring in two 50-car trains a day of crude oil. Photo By The Chronicle

      When I wrote in November about how the mayor of Benicia was effectively muzzled from speaking about a pending city decision with nationwide importance, I thought the debate was over climate change. Now I learn the real concern is over democracy itself.

      My Nov. 18 blog post concerned the City Council’s decision to make public an opinion on whether the mayor should be allowed to speak freely with voters about Valero’s application to convert its Benicia refinery to receive crude from the Baaken Oil Shale by rail. The decision is huge because fracking the crude is only profitable if the oil can reach refineries and the global market. Benicia’s refinery and port are key components to success.

      Locally, Benicians and Californians living along the rail lines are fearful of train cars filled with the highly volatile crude rumbling through their communities twice a day. It’s a highly charged dispute that has drawn in Attorney General Kamala Harris, who chastised the city for only studying the effects on Benicia and not the effects along the entire rail line through California.

      When the City Council voted to make public the opinion, written by an attorney hired by the city attorney, the decision was Mayor Elizabeth Patterson had overstepped her bounds.

      Why? Because local politicians can advocate for new laws, but when they are holding a public hearing or ruling on a permit — acting more like judges than legislators — the permit applicant’s right to appear before an unbiased body trumps the legislator’s right to freely express an opinion.

      Peter Scheer, the executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, writes in Sunday’s Insight section that this growing practice of advising City Council members to censor themselves is deleterious not just to political debate over important and engaging local issues but to democracy. By giving City Councils this dual role and then advising them to censor their own speech, we discourage civic participation  on the concerns constituents care about most.

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        A little humor on a serious subject

        Letter to the Editor, The Benicia Herald
        [Benicia Herald letters to the editor only appear in the print edition.  – RS]

        A little humor on a serious subject

        By Roger Straw, December 9, 2014

        I got a big laugh out of the letter by my friend Jim Kirchhoffer, “The Mayor is at it again,” which appeared in last Friday’s Benicia Herald.  Great spoof, and a wonderful lightening of the controversy over questions raised by Council members and the City Attorney resulting in allegations of Mayoral bias.

        I was surprised, however, and somewhat horrified to discover that at least one very intelligent friend of mine didn’t find any humor or “tongue in cheek” in Mr. Kirchhoffer’s letter.  I scratched my head and wondered why?

        As a possible explanation, consider this: here in Benicia, we’ve been through four and a half years of continually repeated public attacks on Mayor Patterson by a local right-wing gadfly.  Jim Kirchhoffer’s light-hearted spoof must have seemed to some Benicians like just another malicious rant.

        Many thanks to Mr. Kirchhoffer for his gift of a touch of humor and for his injection of a lighter note into the current controversies.  The point behind his satire is serious and well-taken: that our elected officials should be free to express themselves on current matters having to do with public health and safety, to exercise their expertise and competence on behalf of the public welfare, and to provide the public with information on a wide range of topics via email and other forms of communication.

        Roger Straw, Benicia

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