Tag Archives: Benicia Independent

Benicia Independent announces new directions

‘BenIndy’ will return to more frequent focus on issues other than COVID-19

The Benicia Independent, by Roger Straw, May 25, 2022

Roger Straw, The Benicia Independent

Friends, family and neighbors near and far – it’s been a looong and sometimes lonely road here at the wheel, driving and maintaining the clean-energy vehicle known as the Benicia Independent.

Now, having passed through a challenging 25 month public health journey, the time has come to reconfigure the roadmap – again.

The BenIndy on COVID-19

In April of 2020, the BenIndy was overtaken by the urgency of reporting on the deadly pandemic sweeping into Benicia and Solano County.

At first, your BenIndy staff of one – that’s me – collected, analyzed and published Solano County COVID data five days a week M-F.  More than a year later in June of 2021, the County cut back to 3 days a week, and although I complained that we ought not be slacking off, I followed suit and began posting my COVID report on MWF.

Just two months ago, on March 14, 2022, the Solano County Health Department cut back to informing the public about COVID only on Mondays and Thursdays.  Again, I expressed disappointment, but switched to a twice a week posting.

As of today, over more than two years, I have published 416 Solano/Benicia COVID reports, keeping residents informed as the virus mutated and surged – and killed 425 of us.  (425 Solano residents.  The County does not disclose City data on deaths and hospitalizations.)

I have been tired of this for a long time, but I carried on due to the danger and severe threat to public health.

The world beyond COVID-19

Meanwhile, like everyone else, I have been alarmed by historic news from Ukraine.  I’ve not posted nearly often enough about our U.S. Supreme Court poised to take over the private health decisions of women.  Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump are threatening the very basis of our democracy.  And my deep and abiding concern for sensible gun control and racial justice has spiked, again, with the devastating news from Buffalo NY and Uvalde TX.

Of course, that’s not all.  There’s a world of nearby news: it’s electoral campaign season again here in Benicia, with our Big Oil political action committee amassing over $200,000 to once again pollute our polls and elect a puppet City Council.  Vallejo news and Solano County and California news is compelling and important.

So it’s time for me to let go of the daily, weekly, interminably ongoing COVID report.  I’ll archive for public access the spreadsheet I’ve kept that shows the spread of COVID here from April 2020 to May 2022.  Check it out at BenIndy COVID SPREADSHEET
ARCHIVE
And the 416 individual updates are archived here: DAILY COVID POSTINGS ON BENINDY.

New Directions

I will renew and strengthen my Benicia coverage, including:

    • an expanded focus on Benicia Black Lives Matter
    • coverage of Benicia’s 2022 electoral campaigns, including the run for City Council by my favorite candidate, Kari Birdseye and the powerful Valero PAC that will surely oppose her
    • continuing stories on Benicia environmental concerns, with a close eye on the SF Bay, the Carquinez Strait, the air around us and our not-so-friendly neighbor, Valero Benicia Refinery

I will also return to peace and justice themes writ large, national and international issues that have motivated me for over 50 years in my professional and retirement life:

    • Racial Justice and the resurgence of white supremacist ideology and expression
    • Gun violence and sensible gun control
    • Organized threats to our democracy in swing states and the federal government
    • Gender justice and LBGTQ rights, with a serious focus on women’s health issues and the right to safe and legal abortion
    • World order, peace, freedom and international justice, including opposition to authoritarian and fascist powers
Limits and personal needs

Of course I’ve set the bar higher than my 73-year old body and retirement needs can begin to attain.  We all know that it’s important to accept some limits and attend to personal needs as well as the critical calls to vigilance, resistance and service.

So I’ll never do it all.  But at least I’ve given myself clarity and permission to move in a good direction.

Help where help is needed?

If there’s anyone out there reading this far down in the story who would like to assist me, I’d welcome turning a one-person operation into a team approach.  In particular, if you would like to pick up on COVID reporting, that would be nice.  Or if you’d like to become a regular contributor on any of the themes I’ve highlighted, let’s talk.  Write to me at rogrmail at gmail dot com.

Who knows?  Maybe the BenIndy will see another 15 years?!

Solano County Public Health Officer answers questions about increasing number of youth with COVID-19

By Roger Straw, June 2, 2020
Are young people the main carriers for Covid-19?  –  NJ MMA News, photo: Getty Images

On May 27, I asked Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson to ask Solano Public Health Officer Dr. Bela Matyas a number of questions about recent increases in the number of our youth who are showing up positive for COVID-19.  The Mayor passed my questions on to Dr. Matyas that day, and on May 31, he replied with answers to all eight questions – see below.

BACKGROUND: 

Solano County is reporting an upward trend in confirmed cases among young persons 18 and under, adding (as of today) 26 more positive cases over the last 20 days, having reported only 6 over the 5 weeks prior. (Latest update…)

MY QUESTIONS & DR. MATYAS’ ANSWERS…

  1. How serious are these youth cases?   ​
    • The youth cases are mostly asymptomatic, although a few have been mildly symptomatic.
  2. How old – teens or young children?
    • While we have had a few young children, most of the youth are older teenagers.
  3. Any of them hospitalized?
    • None have been hospitalized to date.
  4. Are any of them showing symptoms of the “pediatric multi-system inflammatory syndrome likely linked to COVID”?  (See Nearly 200 Cases of Severe Child COVID Syndrome…in NY, NJ)
    • ​None so far.
  5. Surely the increase can be partially explained away as a result of more testing, but that doesn’t mean the numbers are any less serious.  Right?
    • The increased numbers are apparently the result of increased testing of asymptomatic household contacts of cases and testing of asymptomatic persons at the recently opened Optum sites in Vallejo and Vacaville; we are likely uncovering a phenomenon that has been present all along.  As to seriousness, the percentage of positive youths we are seeing seems to match statewide and national numbers.  These individuals, while not themselves experiencing serious illness, are nonetheless able to spread the virus to others.
  6. Is the County conducting contact tracing for these youth?
    • Yes, just as for all positive cases.
  7. Does the County have sufficient staffing for contact tracing?
    • So far, yes.
  8. What can the County and cities do to intensify communication with our young people and parents?
    • Presumably, utilizing social media and school-based communication systems.

SO NOW WHAT?

I sincerely hope that parents and youth reading this will take note, and that the County and its cities and school districts will intensify communication about the serious reality of COVID-19 transmission among youth, and from youth to their elders.

See also: “Are young people the main carriers for Covid-19?”   NJ MMA News

Headlines in search of stories… coronavirus in Benicia & Solano County

By Roger Straw, April 23, 2020

Those of you who are familiar with the Benicia Independent know what it is and what it isn’t.

I’m a one-person journalist.  For over 13 years here on the BenIndy, I have published news and opinion from a Benicia California perspective.

I am NOT an investigative reporter.  Mostly I repost interesting and important stories written by others.  I am an environmental advocate and an old time liberal on issues of race and gender, peace, justice, poverty and more.  I tend to focus on a single issue for weeks or months – or even years – at a time.  I’ve reported at length on hazardous oil trains, gun violence and the need for gun control legislation, local and national electoral politics, and so on.

Recently I’ve  taken on the COVID-19 pandemic here in Solano County.  And that’s where I want to take you today.

Every day now since the second week of March, I’ve posted Solano County’s numbers of confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths.  Most days I spend hours combing through local, regional and national news about the virus and posting it here on the BenIndy.

Your response has been amazing.  At the height of our successful effort to stop our local refinery from importing dirty and dangerous crude oil by rail, almost 1,800 of you paid a visit to my pages one day – a record for the BenIndy that lasted for about 5 years.  Since I started reporting on COVID-19, more than 3,000 of you have checked my pages on 9 occasions, and on April 1 you set a new all-time record of 8,105 views.  A huge and unexpected leap!

Thank you!

Now what does all that have to do with the title of this piece, “Headlines in search of stories… coronavirus in Benicia and Solano County”?

Here’s the deal: every morning I get up and flip back and forth through about 7 local and national news channels on the tv.  I spend about an hour like that while I drink too much coffee and lean my sore back on an electric heating pad.  And I take notes – ideas about important stories that I really SHOULD cover on the Benicia Independent.

Now if I were an editor in chief with staff, I’d assign reporters to make phone calls and conduct interviews and come back with stories, important stories that really should be written.

Alas, that’s not me, and that’s not the BenIndy…

So, with all that lengthy introduction, here is my list of headlines in search of stories.  Please.  Someone out there – please get on the phone or otherwise track down the information that the public needs to know, for instance…

  • There’s a NATIONAL crisis in nursing homes – how many are sick in Solano County’s congregant facilities?  Where ARE our nursing homes and retirement facilities?  (None here in Benicia – so where do Benicians go when we get old and in need of care?  And how are those facilities doing???)
  • Testing in Solano County long term care facilities – numbers, results?
  • Solano has recorded 3 coronavirus deaths, 2 among those aged over 65.  Did they die in a hospital?  And before that, were they living at home or in a long term care facility?
  • Solano County is testing fewer than 50 per day – why?!!!
  • Today’s news: Contra Costa, Napa, Sonoma and San Francisco are expanding testing – why not expanded drive-through testing in multiple cities in Solano?
  • Unemployment numbers in Solano and Benicia?  Local numbers on those unemployed? And local numbers of unemployed with no health insurance?
  • Bolinas and SF Mission District are testing EVERYONE – why not here in Benicia?  (Yes I know Bolinas is tiny and wealthy, but can’t we think big?  Who are a few philanthropists and billionaires with ties to Benicia who could fund such a project?)
  • Reopening moves are beginning to appear in Bay Area counties.  Who is planning the reopening of Solano County, and what are the plans?  And will they be open to public comment?
  • Coronavirus and guns – with schools closed, March was the first month with NO SCHOOL SHOOTINGS in the US since 2002.  Rather a bittersweet statistic – do we celebrate, or weep?  (This despite an uptick in gun purchases.  And what’s that all about?!)
  • Surely there is a dire fiscal impact of the coronavirus lockdown on Benicia and Solano governmental cash flow and operations.  Details needed, and possible solutions.

Etc., etc…  You get the idea.  But who can take it on?  The huge problem with all this is the horrific times our local news media, journalists and reporters were suffering even before the pandemic.  Too many cutbacks, too few local journalists, too few local newspapers, and now too many absences, too much loss of revenue during these historic pandemic times.  (So yes, there’s another headline in search of a story.)

Roger Straw
The Benicia Independent

Yes, they are “Bomb Trains.” Even more importantly, they are “Global Destruction Trains”

Our Earth Day refocus on the larger issues

By Roger Straw, Editor, The Benicia Independent, April 22, 2015
tarsands_wis-sierra-club
This Sierra Club before-and-after photo of tar sands strip mining appeared with my 6/14/13 opinion in the Benicia Herald, “Do Benicians want tar-sands oil brought here?” – Roger Straw

My initial alarm over Valero’s proposal to build a crude-by-rail offloading facility here in my hometown came almost two years ago now, when I learned of the destruction in Alberta Canada caused by the mining and processing of tar sands.   It was plain to me that a decision to permit Valero Crude By Rail here, thousands of miles from those dirty bitumen mines, would position my hometown as a valued partner in the world’s most toxic oil extraction and transport operation.  I joined with others here in Benicia to organize so that we would have no part in that dirty game.

Lac-Mégantic, Quebec
Lac-Mégantic, Quebec

For me and for many along the rails in the U.S., our focus shifted gradually – or in some cases suddenly – to public safety issues surrounding Bakken shale oil train derailments and the resultant catastrophic explosions and fireballs.

Lately, I’m thinking that even though these safety concerns will not go away with the eventual passage of a few new laws and long-delayed safety regulations, we all might want to consider renewing and strengthening our original focus.

What we decide here along the tracks and in refinery towns has EVERYTHING to do with the situation in Alberta and the Upper Midwest where tar sands bitumen and shale oil is being produced.  People there, the land there, the wildlife, the air and water … these are the first and lasting victims of our thirst for cheap oil.

We hear so much about the oil boom’s contribution to “energy independence.”   Well, let’s focus on REAL energy independence: leave the oil in the ground, tax carbon, invest in clean energy.

The Benicia Independent has always been concerned with climate change, the air we breathe and the water and land that sustains life.  But our focus, like that of much of the media, has been primarily on the oil train derailments that have understandably shocked and frightened the public since July, 2013.  As editor and publisher, I’m serving notice this Earth Day, that the Benicia Independent is taking on a renewed commitment to cover the ongoing environmental damage and the increased risks of pollution if we permit oil trains.

You will begin to see more stories about proposed carbon taxes, polar ice, the destruction of land and lives in Alberta and the Upper Midwest and more.

Note that I fully expect my work to be dominated from time to time by the NEXT BIG EXPLOSION, and the NEXT ONE….  As long as oil trains rumble through our neighborhoods, city centers, mountains and wetlands and into our refinery industrial centers, we WILL see derailments.  And no matter the new federal safety rules and the efforts of the rail and oil industries, NOTHING can prevent the massive weight of a moving chain of these monstrous tank cars from coming off the tracks occasionally, accordion jackknifing, flipping and puncturing, setting off horrific explosions, and endangering human life and our natural world.  It will happen, and I will cover the news.

But for every day that you DON’T see a news report with fiery skies and black billowing smoke, please understand that the not-so-silent killer strip-mines and the fracking and horizontal drilling continue, too often unreported.  Far from most of us, but up close and real to the people who live there, our earth is groaning under the weight of our permitting decisions and our corporate desire for continued crude-oil profitability.

Here in Benicia, we will say NO to crude by rail.  It’s a tangible way to have a small say in the welfare of our town, our state, our nation and our beautiful planet earth.

Leave the oil in the ground.  Tax carbon.  Invest in clean energy.


MORE ON TAR SANDS …

Sightline Daily

Understanding the North American Tar Sands
Jan 14, 2015 Last year, Portland’s KBOO Community Radio profiled what is “the largest industrial project on Earth”: the North American tar sands. Typically, one hears of the “Canadian tar sands,” as if the issue is one that lives only north of the US national border and need not concern American citizens. But reporter Barbara Bernstein’s documentary, “Fighting Goliath,” revealed an alarming and very real threat…

Oil Change International

Tar Sands
Tar sands are found underneath Canada’s great boreal forest and consist of heavy crude oil trapped in a mixture of sand and clay. To extract oil from tar sands, companies must destroy fragile forest ecosystems and then use a very energy-intensive upgrading and refining process to turn that sludge into transportation fuel….

Natural Resources Defense Council

Stop Dirty Fuels : Tar Sands
In Canada, the oil industry is transforming one of the world’s last remaining intact ecosystems into America’s gas tank….

Forest Ethics

Canada’s tar sands is one of the largest industrial projects on the planet, and its environmental footprint is growing by the second. At a time when the world needs to transition to cleaner energy, the tar sands is the poster child of what we should not be doing. It’s time to put a healthy environment above corporate profit and the endless drive for more oil….

[More Google links on tar sands …]

Tar Sands Basics

ostseis.anl.gov/guide/tarsands/
Argonne National Laboratory
Tar sands (also referred to as oil sands) are a combination of clay,
sand, water, and bitumen, a heavy black viscous oil. Tar sands can
be mined and processed to extract the oil-rich bitumen, which is
then refined into oil.

Oil sands – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oil_sands
Oil sand is either loose sand or partially consolidated sandstone
containing a naturally occurring mixture of sand, clay, and water,
saturated with a dense and extremely viscous form of petroleum
technically referred to as bitumen  (or colloquially tar due to its
similar appearance, odour, and colour).

Stop Dirty Fuels: Tar Sands

www.nrdc.org/…/dirtyfuels_tar.asp

Extracting tar sands, and turning bitumen into crude oil, uses vast amounts of energy and water, and causes significant air and water pollution, and three times …

What are the Tar Sands? | Rainforest Action Network

www.ran.org/what-are-tarsands
Rainforest Action Network
The Keystone XL pipeline is a disastrous project of tar sands oil
companies that will do serious damage to our country and
climate.  If built, the spill prone …

Canada’s oil sands: The steam from below | The Economist

www.economist.com/…/21615488-new-technologies-are-…
The Economist
Sep 6, 2014 – ONE of the bleakest scenes of man-made
destruction is the strip mining of oil sands in the forests of
Alberta, Canada. The sand is permeated …

Tar sands – Friends of the Earth

www.foe.org/projects/climate-and-energy/tarsands

Tar sands are found underneath Canada’s great boreal forest and consist of heavy crude oil trapped in a mixture of sand and clay. To extract oil from tar sands, …

Canada’s tar sands: Muck and brass | The Economist

www.economist.com/node/17959688‎ – The Economist

But golf courses and suburban housing make the place liveable, and some locals have grown attached to Alberta’s tar sands and Fort McMurray, the town at the centre of them. “I’d like …

Unconventional Crude – The New Yorker

www.newyorker.com/magazine/…/unconventional-crud…‎ – The New Yorker

The tar sands begin near the border of Saskatchewan, around the latitude of Edmonton, and extend, in three major deposits, north and west almost to British Columbia. All in all, they …

How Much Will Tar Sands Oil Add to Global Warming?

www.scientificamerican.com/…/tarsands-and-keyston…‎  – Scientific American

The Opposite of Mining: Tar Sands Steam Extraction Lessens Footprint, but Environmental Costs Remain · Oil Sands Raise Levels of Cancer-Causing Compounds in Regional Waters.

What are Oil Sands? – Canadian Association of Petroleum …

www.capp.ca/…oil…/oilsa

Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers

Oil sands are a mixture of sand, water, clay and bitumen. They are found in several locations around the globe including Venezuela, USA, Russia and Canada.

No Tar Sands | UK Tar Sands Network | What are tar sands?

www.no-tarsands.org/what-are-the-tarsands/

Canada’s tar sands are the biggest energy project in the world,
currently producing 1.9 million barrels of oil a day. Largely located
in Alberta, the tar sands …