Tag Archives: Benicia elections

Benicians for Clean Elections: An open letter to Valero

By Benicians For Clean Elections (BCE), published in the Vallejo Times-Herald, Aug 26, 2022, AND in the Benicia Herald, Sept 4, 2022

To: Valero Energy Corporation
Cc: Valero Benicia Refinery, Working Families for a Strong Benicia Political Action Committee

In the interest of clean elections and clean air, residents of Benicia and surrounding communities ask you, a Texas-based Fortune 50 company, to stop using your “Working Families” political action committee and tremendous resources to influence our city council and mayoral elections.

If you nevertheless persist in funding the PAC, we ask that you limit your spending and campaign practices in order to:

  • Abide by Benicia’s Contribution and Spending Limits Ordinance, which limits individual donations to $640 per candidate, and similarly curtail the PAC’s massive non-donation spending through mailings, ads, phone calls and polling.
  • Abide by Benicia’s Voluntary Code of Fair Campaign Practices, which sets ethical standards for campaign practices.
  • In any Working Families online, printed and other materials, clearly and prominently inform the public that you, Valero, are the main funder of the PAC.

Instead of complying with the Spending Limits Ordinance, the Working Families PAC has spent over 230,000 in each of the last several elections, backing one or two candidates and opposing others. This puts Benicia residents and candidates at a huge disadvantage.

Since the city adopted its campaign finance ordinance, all of the candidates signed a pledge to campaign ethically and abide by the city’s spending limits and standards. Yet, your PAC has never agreed to follow the rules that everyone else must abide by. You are by far the dominant spender on Benicia’s elections, dwarfing the expenditures of all candidates combined.

In the interest of “decency, honesty and fair play,” the Code asks that candidates and PACs pledge to not use “character defamation, libel, slander, or scurrilous attacks … including whispering campaigns involving such statements.” Past elections have seen the Working Families PAC violate this prohibition by calling candidates “job killers,” running misleading polls, photo manipulation, misrepresenting candidates’ records, and engaging in harsh, negative campaigning that has divided our community.

Elections have consequences. One can only wonder at your goals and intentions in funneling so much money into elections which should only be decided by Benicia voters. The issues that have been or could be considered by the city council, and that you might look to influence, include:

  • Whether you would bring back to Benicia the potentially deadly “Crude-by-Rail” project proposal that the council defeated in 2016, which would have brought through our industrial park the kind of fuel-carrying railroad cars that derailed, exploded and killed 47 people in a Canadian city in 2013.
  • Your unreported release into Benicia’s air of toxic emissions thousands of times (see correction to follow here) in excess of legal limits, reaching back to 2003.
    • CORRECTION:  “Our letter to Valero included an error in the extent of Valero’s Benicia Refinery emissions. The letter said Valero had failed to report ‘release into Benicia’s air of toxic emissions thousands of times in excess of legal limits, reaching back to 2003.’  That was incorrect.
      Valero released about 4,000 pounds a day in Non-Methane Hydrocarbons. The legal limit for such emissions is 15 pounds. That is hundreds—not thousands—of times over the limit. Valero also released 138 tons of toxic air contaminants from 2003 through 2020. These contaminants included Benzene. This information was presented by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District in its community meeting in Benicia.”  – Benicians for Clean Elections
  • Your continual requests to lower your property tax assessment, which impacts city finances.
  • Your relatively low water rate payments, given that you use 60 percent of our raw water.

None of our requests are intended to prevent you or your employees from having a voice in Benicia’s election. We only ask that it not drown out Benicians’ voices.

Nor do we doubt the integrity or dedication of Valero’s hardworking employees, some of them our neighbors. But in order to be a good neighbor, the Corporation needs to contribute to clean elections and clean air.

So, keep your PAC out of our elections.

If you will not do that, then sign Benicia’s Voluntary Code of Fair Campaign Practices, limit your donations to $640 per candidate just like everyone else in Benicia, and similarly limit your non-donation spending through polling, ads, calls and mailings.

Be a good neighbor — make our elections clean and fair.


Benicians for Clean Elections

Progressive Democrats of Benicia endorse Kari Birdseye, Terry Scott

City Council Endorsements for Benicia’s November Election

On Thursday, August 25, after an informative and well-attended meeting of the Progressive Democrats featuring a forum for three Democratic Benicia City Council candidates, the membership voted to endorse Kari Birdseye and
Terry Scott for City Council.

The membership failed to endorse the third Democrat running for two seats on Council, Christina Strawbridge.

In the forum moderated by Interim Chair Kathy Kerridge, the candidates were presented with prepared questions on topics ranging from the Valero PAC—which has a stockpile of over $200,000 to support candidates favorable to their issues—to climate change response and adaptation strategies, as well as affordable housing for seniors and low-income families. Each candidate was afforded ample time to answer each question and provided thoughtful, forward-thinking responses.

The membership also voted to endorse Jose Altamirano for the State Board of Equalization and to make a financial donation to each of the endorsed candidates.

Valero PAC reports $226,000 on hand to influence Benicia’s November elections

Valero Political Action Committee files financial statement with City of Benicia on Aug 1, 2022

By Roger Straw, August 2, 2022

BENICIA > Jan 1 to June 30 this year, Valero’s PAC received $0 and spent $7,064, all expenditures for legal and accounting services with Nielsen Merksamer et al.

Their report at this time in our 2020 elections was the same.  We won’t get any more information as to the PAC’s intentions until the next report is released, after due date of August 29.

Details follow:

Source: ……..City of Benicia website, 2022 Campaign Finance Reports
Document: ..Working_Families_…_PAC_Form_460_Semi_Annual_2.pdf

Full Committee Name: Working Families for a Strong Benicia, a Coalition of Labor and Industrial Services Companies, Committee Major Funding by Top Contributors Valero and International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers Local 549 PAC

Total Contributions:

This period: $0
Year Total to Date: $0

Total Expenditures:

This period: $7,064.31
Year Total to Date: $7,064.31
Detail: 8 payments to Nielsen Merksamer Parrinello Gross & Leoni, all for Professional Services (legal, accounting)

Current Cash Statement:

Beginning Cash Balance: $232,386.88
Cash Receipts: $0
Cash Payments: $6,165.06

Outstanding Debts: $899.25

Detail: 1 expense accrued but unpaid to Nielsen Merksamer etc. for Professional Services (legal, accounting)

Benicia’s mayor calls out Valero’s big war chest ahead of election

The Vallejo Sun, By John Glidden, Feb 15, 2022

The Valero Benicia refinery

BENICIA – Mayor Steve Young says he’s displeased that Valero Benicia Refinery is poised once again to spend a large sum of money during the upcoming city council election.

The refinery dumped $200,000 into its Working Families for a Strong Benicia PAC last December, giving the PAC more than $232,000 ahead of the November 2022 election, according to campaign forms submitted to the Benicia City Clerk’s Office.

Benicia Mayor Steve Young.
Benicia Mayor Steve Young

Typically, a Benicia council candidate can expect to receive more than $20,000 in contributions over the span of an election or about 10% of what Valero has available.

The move has revitalized conversation in town between environmentalists seeking more regulations, the company, and local unions that are concerned that city officials want to shut down the plant.

Valero couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.

Young — who said he issued his statement over the weekend only as a Benicia resident and not as mayor — admitted that what Valero was doing was legal but argued “it is wrong-and extremely harmful to our community.”

“There is only one purpose in making such a huge expenditure nine months before the election: to scare off any potential City Council candidate who would consider running without first getting Valero’s stamp of approval,” Young’s statement read. “What candidate is willing to go up against that kind of war chest?”

Valero opened its PAC ahead of the 2018 city council elections, ultimately backing Lionel Largaespada and Christina Strawbridge. Both were elected. The PAC publicly opposed Benicia Planning Commissioner Kari Birdseye. Two years later, the PAC once again backed Strawbridge, this time as she made a mayoral bid, while opposing Young. Despite the PAC spending $250,000 during that election, Young was elected.

Young and Birdseye served on the planning commission together when the body rejected the company’s crude-by-rail proposal in early 2016. The Benicia City Council went on to reject the project later that year.

Young wrote that Valero should have a say in the election but “they should also play by the same rules that apply to everyone else under our campaign finance regulations.”

Young said the city’s campaign laws allow a candidate to spend no more than $35,000 on a campaign. He argued Valero should be held to the same rule.

“But Valero’s size and wealth gives them the belief that they can pick and choose who should be our elected representatives,” Young added.

Young said that to stop Valero every council candidate should reject support it receives from the company.

“In addition, voters should demand that any candidate take a public and ongoing stand that Valero should not support their campaign in any way,” Young added. “I call on all prospective candidates in the November election to make this pledge. If no candidate is willing to be supported by this PAC, where will they spend all of their money?”

Young’s statement comes as the Valero refinery has been receiving some negative attention.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District announced in January that it was seeking a legally binding order against the refinery to correct “significant excess emissions violations.” The district alleges that Valero didn’t report that more than 8,000 tons of excess emissions came from the plant over a 16-year period.

Last November, a contractor was found dead hanging from a scaffolding ladder by his safety harness over a piece of refinery equipment.

Valero is the largest employer in Benicia, employing more than 400 people. The plant processed 165,000 barrels of oil each day, according to its website.

Campaign records show that from July 1 through Dec. 31, 2021, the PAC spent more than $5,000 with Sacramento-based Nielsen Merksamer Parrinello Gross & Leonli LLP for campaign services.

Young, who has opened a 2024 re-election campaign, reported raising no contributions and only spending $29 during the second half of 2021. The campaign reported having about $900.

Meanwhile, both Largaespada and Strawbridge, who are up for re-election this November, reported no activity during the same period.