Tag Archives: Benicia Herald

Benicia Herald’s biased coverage of Planning Commission hearing

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.



    Benicia publishes Notice of Availability & Public Hearings on Valero Crude by Rail

    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.)


    • 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 .


      Valero Crude by Rail ranked #1 news story in Benicia for 2014

      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.


        Derailment fireballs too hot to handle

        Repost from The Benicia Herald
        [Editor: I wrote the following for publication in the Benicia Herald to comment on our local version of a phenomenon taking place at cities across the nation.  I’ve lost track of the number of Google alerts in recent weeks about first-responder-crude-by-rail-training-events sponsored at great expense by the rail and refinery industries.  In nearly every case, the after-training press releases and interviews serve as pacifiers to public concerns, with assurances of adequate equipment and training should anything go wrong.  This is, of course, far from the case.  Our respected and heroic firefighters are caught in a catch-22: of course they want additional training, but their work should not be made into a pawn in the ugly game of industry painting itself as clean and safe.  – RS]

        Roger Straw: A straw man

        November 14, 2014 by Roger Straw

        THE HERALD’S RECENT TWO PART SERIES (click HERE and HERE) on the Union Pacific Railroad emergency training at Valero for a crude-by-rail accident suggested that someone, somewhere has claimed that “crude oil fires can’t be extinguished” and that “foam doesn’t put out fires.” Valero Fire Chief Joe Bateman called it a “fabrication,” and he’s right. No one I know has claimed this. (Classically, this is referred to as a “straw man” argument … and as you might guess, someone with my last name just can’t resist rising to the bait.)

        The fire at Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, is out, so it surely was extinguished, though it took two days beginning with a period when it could not be approached. For a time there was, in fact, no alternative to just letting it burn. The same is true of the explosion in Casselton, N.D. In certain circumstances, firefighters do deliberately let a fire burn itself out. Sometimes this is a triage decision: First responders’ priorities are sometimes directed to saving lives and deflecting the flow of a spill. Other times it is because there is no other choice.

        It is accurate to state that foam puts out crude oil fires, but that statement loses its meaning in a worst-case scenario of a major catastrophic derailment and explosion. When there is a massive fire such as that in Lac-Mégantic or Casselton, firefighters have been unable to safely approach the inferno and have indeed been forced to let the fire burn. Foam puts out oil fires, but not when emergency personnel are a half-mile distance from a catastrophic explosion.

        I recently received a communication from Fred Millar, a well-known independent consultant and expert on chemical safety and railroad transportation. Millar gives convincing and documented testimony addressing the tactic of “letting it burn itself out.” He wrote, “…in several post-Lac-Mégantic forums (see the NTSB Safety Forum webcast) and in many media articles, the majority of fire service experts have been clear that the ongoing crude oil rail disasters are beyond their capabilities to handle. Even with an infinite amount of costly foam, letting them burn is the only sensible approach (and this is what was done in all the major crude oil disasters in North America).”

        Millar’s full statement and nearly a dozen other reputable sources confirm this as fact. (See Benicia Independent articles: Firefighters will sometimes stand back and let an oil train fire burn itself out and Expert on first responder decisions to ‘let it burn’.)

        A few questions remain. Did the Union Pacific training include preparation for a massive unapproachable explosion? Do our first responders know what to do (or not do) in the case of another Lac-Mégantic, Lynchburg or Casselton? Have our firefighters and emergency personnel considered how to protect Valero’s Industrial Park neighbors and residents within a 1-mile blast/evacuation zone of a potential major accident? Somehow, I don’t think Union Pacific’s shiny yellow training tank car did much to help our local heroes figure out what to do if a 50-car train carrying millions of gallons of volatile Bakken crude oil derails, punctures and sets off multiple massive explosions.

        Yes, I know … not likely. But few would disagree: When it comes to high-risk ventures, “well-prepared” means knowledge of, and readiness for, worst-case scenarios.

        For more information, see SafeBenicia.org.

        Roger Straw is a Benicia resident.