By Roger Straw, Editor, The Benicia Independent, October 1, 2015
Our local print newspaper, the Benicia Herald, has undergone some dramatic changes following the loss of many key staff in early September. Many readers have been extremely disappointed in the quality of reporting, content, layout and journalistic style.
On the front page of the October 1 edition, headline news above the fold presented a blatantly biased article, “Crowds jam City Hall to give comment on Valero’s Crude by Rail Project.”
- Quotes: The article quoted FOUR speakers in favor of crude by rail, and ZERO speakers against crude by rail. The four quoted were:
- Dan Broadwater, Business Manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 180
- Don Cuffel, Manager of the Environmental Department of Valero
- Joe Bateman, Valero Fire Chief, and
- Chris Howe, Director of Health, Safety, Environment and Government Affairs, Valero
- Local support – 16 speakers favored oil trains and the environmental report, while 31 speakers, mostly from Benicia, opposed. The Herald’s brief report on opposing speakers began with, “Project opponents came from various Bay Area cities and discussed their concerns….” Somehow (go figure) Valero management’s public accusation at the Hearing that local efforts are the doing of outside organizations appears as the opening line in the Herald’s coverage of opposition speakers. Of the 31 speakers who opposed the project that night, only 4 were from out of town. Three of the 16 persons who spoke in favor of the project were top Valero officials, and most of the others were current or past employees.
- Column inches – news stories are measured by column inches. This article gave 14.5 inches to pro-oil-train speakers (including quotes) and only 4.5 inches to anti-oil-train speakers.
- Lack of a byline – there was no attribution as to who wrote the lead news article in the October 1 Benicia Herald. The large photo was labeled “Courtesy photo.” If someone OTHER THAN the Herald supplied the photo, is it possible that someone OTHER THAN the Herald attended the meeting and supplied the text? We are left to wonder who wrote the article, and whether the slant was calculated or simply innocently biased.
Needless to say, I will not be posting this article on the Benicia Independent. The Benicia Herald’s online presence has gone into hibernation since the staff turnover on September 13, so no link can be provided to this story. If I find time, I may upload it to some obscure corner for you to verify my observations.
Roger Straw, Editor
The Benicia Independent
NOTE: A blog like The Benicia Independent is permitted and expected to present a strongly held perspective on select issues of the day. A local print newspaper, on the other hand, has a journalistic responsibility to reserve such editorial judgment to its occasional editorials. News should be news, and although pure objectivity is hard to come by, a local newspaper should make every effort in that regard.
By Roger Straw, Editor, Sunday, August 30, 2015
An official notice appeared in the Benicia Herald today regarding the proposed Valero Crude By Rail project. The newspaper notice details plans to release and recirculate the Revised Draft Environmental Impact Report and to hold hearings on the new report.
The City of Benicia arranged for the Benicia Herald to publish this in its Sunday 8/30/15 edition, but it is not yet available online. I am providing a scanned version is available here . (UPDATE: See the City’s online version here.)
SIGNIFICANT HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE TEXT
- In response to requests made in comments on the DEIR, the City is issuing this RDEIR to consider potential Impacts that could occur uprail of Roseville, California (i.e., between a crude oil train’s point of origin and the California State border, and from the border to Roseville) AND to supplement the DEIR’s evaluation of the potential consequences of upsets or accidents involving crude oil trains based on new information that has become available since the DEIR was published . In order to allow the public and interested agencies the opportunity to review this information, the City has elected to recirculate certain portions of the DEIR.
- SUMMARY OF SIGNIFICANT IMPACTS ON THE ENVIRONMENT: …The environmental analysis conducted to date indicates that there would be a significant and unavoidable impact associated with air quality and greenhouse gas emissions, hazards and hazardous materials, and biological resources . The impacts associated with all other environmental issues either would be less than significant or would be reduced to a less-than-significant level with the incorporation of mitigation measures.
- AVAILABILITY AND PUBLIC REVIEW PERIOD: … 45-day public review period beginning on Monday, August 31, 2015 and ending at 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, October 15, 2015 .
- Because the proposed revisions to the DEIR affect only portions of the analysis, the City is recirculating only those affected portions for public review. Pursuant to CEQA Guidelines Section 15088.5(f)(2), anyone wishing to submit comments on the RDEIR should limit those comments to the revised portions shown In Chapter 2 of the RDEIR (Revisions to the Draft Environmental Impact Report).
- PUBLIC HEARINGS: … The City of Benicia Planning Commission will hold a formal public hearing to receive comments on the RDEIR on September 29, 2015. In anticipation of the number of speakers, additional Planning Commission meetings to receive comments on the RDEIR are scheduled for September 30, October 1, and October 8, 2015 . These additional meetings will only be held as necessary to hear public comment. All meetings will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the City Council Chambers, Benicia City Hall , located at 250 East L Street, Benicia, CA 94510. Comments on the RDEIR may be provided at the public hearing or may be submitted in writing, no later than 5:00 p.m., on Thursday, October 15, 2015.
- All written comments should be provided to:
Amy Million, Principal Planner
Community Development Department
250 East L Street, Benicia, CA 94510
(707) 747-1637 (fax)
NOTE: The comment period on the DEIR ended on September 15, 2014 and the City Is in receipt of comments previously submitted so there is no need to resubmit comments previously provided .
By Roger Straw, January 30, 2015
The Benicia Herald published a separate section today, “The Year 2014 In Review.” Counting down dramatically from #14, the #1 story of the year was “Opponents, supporters of Crude-by-Rail Plan square off as city leaders mull decision.” Subtitle: “For second straight year, Valero Refinery’s permit request dominates Benicia news.”
Editor Marc Ethier will not be publishing the special section online. When asked, he indicated it would only be for print subscribers.
The article bends over backwards to present a balanced view of the controversy, giving Valero’s perspective and naming our local organized opposition, Benicians For a Safe and Healthy Community and other groups and government entities that were critical of the project and/or it’s environmental review.
It’s appropriate that our local paper recognized the controversy as the City’s #1 story last year. Benicia finds itself in the crosshairs of a growing nationwide debate, and Valero’s dangerous and toxic proposal would, if approved, affect communities all up and down the rails.
The Benicia Herald’s #6 story of 2014 was “Mayor, city attorney in free speech flap.” For more on this, see our Local Media page.