Tag Archives: Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson

VALLEJO TIMES-HERALD: Valero’s crude-by-rail project turned down in Benicia

Repost from the Vallejo Times-Herald

Valero’s crude-by-rail project turned down in Benicia

By Matthew Adkins, 09/20/16, 9:54 PM PDT
Anti-Valero supporters wave sunflowers as Benicia’s crude by rail project was denied Tuesday evening by council members in Benicia City Hall.
Anti-Valero supporters wave sunflowers as Benicia’s crude by rail project was denied Tuesday evening by council members in Benicia City Hall. Matthew Adkins — Times-Herald

BENICIA >> Environmentalists hoping to defeat Benicia’s crude-by-rail project scored a huge victory Tuesday night, handing Valero Refining Company a significant defeat in the process.

In a unanimous decision from Mayor Elizabeth Patterson and Benicia City Council, Valero’s application for a conditional use permit for a crude oil off-loading facility was denied.

Vicki Dennis, who moved to Benicia two years ago, was one of many present at City Hall and said she was “just delighted” with the decision.

“I’m so proud of this city,” Dennis said. “Our council people are very thoughtful. This process has been a long one, but I think they handled it in a wonderful way.”

The City of Benicia’s Planning Commission first began considering the issue in December 2012 when the refinery submitted an application seeking permission to build infrastructure to bring two 50-car trains a day carrying up to 70,000 barrels of North American crude oil into Benicia.

In March, the Planning Commission voted unanimously to deny the application and to not certify an accompanying environmental impact report. The decision was made against the recommendation of city staff who said the project’s involvement with rail-related issues made the decision a federal issue.

Valero representatives submitted an appeal looking to reverse the commission’s decision to deny their application, and the matter was postponed until Sept. 20.

As part of the appeal, Valero sought a declaratory order from the Surface Transportation Board on the issue of federal preemption in regards to the project.

During this time, many governmental agencies, private organizations and individuals publicly opposed the city council’s decision to transfer authority on the matter to the federal government.

At the city council meeting Tuesday, however, public comment on the topic was officially closed.

“We are eager to hear from you about any item that is not on the agenda,” Patterson said. “I know it’s a little difficult right now. We have an item on the agenda that I know a lot of you are interested in, but there is no public comment on that tonight.”

This drew a few hushed laughs from the crowd of approximately 150 people who had shown up to witness the landmark decision at Benicia City Hall.

Mayor Patterson’s warning didn’t stop a few concerned citizens from indirectly talking about the issue.

“I originally put in my request to speak before I knew you were not accepting public comments about Valero,” said one man. “If the council decides to change their mind and re-open public comment on the issue, I would be glad to come back up and speak.”

“Since I can’t talk about what the Surface Transportation Board has just done, I would urge the council to support the struggle against the Dakota Access pipeline,” said another man.

After public comment was closed, a brief recap of the project’s journey though Benicia’s civic system was put forth along with two resolution findings, one for approval and the other for denial,

The denial resolution highlighted specific issues that city council members had with Valero’s proposed project, including the unclear traffic impacts of having an unregulated shipment schedule, spill risks associated with shipping by rail and the project’s uncomfortable proximity to the city’s waterways.

Before making a judgement, Council members took turns voicing their concerns about health, safety and the project’s effect on the environment.

“When we first started considering this, there seemed to be little risk involved,” said Councilwoman Christina Strawbridge. “After four years, the community has endured numerous public hearings with hundreds of people speaking about the project. During this time, there have been 13 derailments around the country involving multiple carriers.

“The derailment in Oregon was a game-changer for me,” she continued. “Union Pacific was the same carrier and the railroad cars involved were the same ones Valero is offering. The strongest car didn’t withstand a puncture and crude oil came in contact with fire and burned for 13 hours. Union Pacific failed to maintain its track, resulting in its derailment. The railroad industry has not kept up with safety standards regarding the transportation of crude. I’m going to vote to deny the project in hopes that the community can begin to heal after such a divided process.”

After the council’s comments, Councilmember Tom Campbell put forward a motion to deny, and was seconded by Patterson.

A quick vote was taken and the motion to deny Valero’s presence in Benicia was decided.

Misao Brown, a retired teacher and environmental activist from Alameda, was thrilled with the council’s decision and was seen embracing her friends outside of Benicia City Hall.

“If there were any spills where we are in Benicia, it would be in the Bay and go all over the place,” she said. “Benicia is concerned about the greater good and it’s just wonderful. It was really hard sticking it out for so long, but they gave every chance to Valero. In the end, we’re really talking about life on earth. So, when the decision comes through like this under tremendous pressure, I’m really grateful to every member of the planning commission and city council.”

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    STEVE YOUNG: What Benicia can learn from the Oregon train derailment

    Repost from the Benicia Herald

    What Benicia can learn from the Oregon train derailment

    By Steve Young, June 7, 2016
    Planning Commissioner Steve Young is running for City Council. Among the biggest issues in his campaign are opposing Valero’s Crude-By-Rail Project, diversifying the city’s economic base, modernizing the water and sewer system, improving the roads and maintaining the parks. (Courtesy photo)
    Planning Commissioner Steve Young is running for Benicia City Council. Among the biggest issues in his campaign are opposing Valero’s Crude-By-Rail Project, diversifying the city’s economic base, modernizing the water and sewer system, improving the roads and maintaining the parks. (Courtesy photo)

    On Friday, June 3, a Union Pacific train carrying Bakken crude oil derailed in the town of Mosier, Ore. Fourteen rail cars came off the tracks, and four exploded over a 5 hour period.

    There are several things that the City Council needs to keep in mind whenever they re-open discussion of the appeal of the Planning Commission’s unanimous decision to reject the Valero Crude-by-Rail project. Many of the assurances given to the public about the safety of transporting crude by rail have been called into question by this derailment.

      1. The train cars that derailed and exploded are the upgraded CPC-1232 version promised to be used by Valero for this project.
      2. The train derailed at a relatively slow speed as it passed through the small town of Mosier. Union Pacific trains carrying Bakken to Valero will travel at speeds up to 50 mph in most of Solano County.
      3. The portion of track on which the train derailed had been inspected by Union Pacific three days before the derailment.
      4. A Union Pacific spokesman, while apologizing for the derailment and fire, would not answer a reporter’s question as to whether the Bakken oil had been stabilized with the removal of volatile gases prior to shipment.
        At the Planning Commission hearing, I tried repeatedly without success to get an answer from both UP and Valero as to whether they intended to de-gassify the Bakken oil prior to transport.
      5. A major interstate, Interstate 84, was closed for 10 hours in both directions while first responders used river water to try and cool the tank cars to a point where foam could be used to try and put out the fire. It took more than 12 hours to stabilize the scene.
      6. An oil sheen is in the river, despite the deployment of containment booms.

    And finally, Oregon Public Broadcasting on June 4 had an exchange with the Fire Chief of Mosier, about how this experience changed his opinion about the safety of transporting crude by rail:

    “Jim Appleton, the fire chief in Mosier, Ore., said in the past, he’s tried to reassure his town that the Union Pacific Railroad has a great safety record and that rail accidents are rare.

    “He’s changed his mind.

    “After a long night working with hazardous material teams and firefighters from across the Northwest to extinguish a fire that started when a train carrying Bakken crude derailed in his town, Appleton no longer believes shipping oil by rail is safe.

    “’I hope that this becomes the death knell for this mode of shipping this cargo. I think it’s insane,’ he said. ’I’ve been very hesitant to take a side up to now, but with this incident, and with all due respect to the wonderful people that I’ve met at Union Pacific, shareholder value doesn’t outweigh the lives and happiness of our community.’”

    When the City Council took up the appeal of the Planning Commission decision in April, Mayor Patterson and Councilmember Campbell stated their opposition to the project, while the other three councilmembers (Hughes, Schwartzman and Strawbridge) approved Valero’s request to delay a decision on this project until at least Sept. 20. There is still time for the citizens of Benicia to tell their elected officials how they feel about this project. I urge them to do so.

    Steve Young, a member of the Benicia Planning Commission, is running for the Benicia City Council in November.

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      GRANT COOKE: Time to Shed the Company Town Label

      With permission by the author. (Published in the Benicia Herald, 5/3/16, no online presence, thus no link…)

      Time to Shed the Company Town Label

      By Grant Cooke, April 29, 2016
      Grant Cooke
      Grant Cooke

      I have a great deal of respect and gratitude toward municipal politicians, particularly those who toil on the city council and commission level. The hours are long, the decisions tough, and the pay bad to non-existent. Heaven knows that without good folks looking after the stuff that keeps a social contract intact, Thomas Hobbes’s “natural state” of chaos, violence, and potholes would be the norm.

      This goes for the folks who lead our fair city. Benicia’s mayor and members of the council seem like fine people. They attend the meetings, do the horrific amount of homework required to be conversant with the issues, and overall appear to be decent folks with a sincere believe that they are doing the collective good by serving their fellow citizens. I’m grateful for their service; but I just wish that three of them—Alan Schwartzman, Christina Strawbridge and Mark Hughes—would resign.

      Their collective efforts to secure Valero’s delay of the crude-by-rail decision against overwhelming community disapproval, the unanimous rejection of the project by the Planning Commission, the concerns of every major city along the proposed rail path, and the thousands of letters and statements against the project by informed and credible experts raises the bar of small town political shamefulness.

      That it was clear from the start that the three council members were going to side with Valero verges on chicanery. Why put the town’s citizens through the hope of believing that their concerns of health and wellbeing are being heard and matter, if you support a volatile project that has a blast zone that includes an elementary school?

      Since none of the three has stepped forward with a clear and convincing argument about why they sided with Valero—after all Valero would still bring the oil in by existing means and really doesn’t need the continuous line of daily rail tankers to stay in business and pay its taxes—we are left with the impression that once again, a small American town is at the mercy of a major oil company.

      The history of the US oil industry is a trail of tears going back to the early days of ruthless land grabs, the mendacity and murder of Standard Oil’s oligarchy, the tragic violence of the Middle East, and the rise of climate change and environmental pollution. And to think, all this could, and still can, be avoided by shifting from carbon-based to renewable energy.

      (As an aside, look at Denton Texas. This small Texas oil town, home to many of Dallas’s oil executives, banned fracking and drilling in the city limits. Evidently, they didn’t want to run the risk of an accident close to parks and schools. There’s a lesson here for Benicia. As a state, New York stood tall against the oil industry, but Denton is the only US small town I know of to have the self-respect required to say enough.)

      So, the question before the citizens of Benicia is now what? What good is Benicia’s formal planning process if corporate power can bludgeon a thorough and lengthy review and rejection of the crude-by-rail proposal? Why put the residents through all the work and hope of participating in the democratic process if there is no intention by the council to understand their concerns or follow their wishes?

      I grew up in rural America and know what a “company town” is. In some ways, it was simple and easy, letting the company bosses tell you where to work, what and who to like, what to believe in and who to vote for.

      But it lacked fulfillment and self-determination, and I moved to the Bay Area to be part of the epicenter of the world’s intellectual and scientific renaissance where freedom of thought, action, and the ideals of local democracy are so highly acclaimed. Yet, ironically, I end up in a “company town”, where a huge carbon polluter can seemly send three decent council members scurrying to service its greed.

      The problems of 21st century cities, big and small, are complex and can no longer be inclusive of one economic driver or administered by one major corporate power. For Benicia to move forward and join the extraordinary Bay Area knowledge-based economy we need to say goodbye to those three council members who lack the wherewithal to help the city past its company-town era.

      Other once-rural Bay Area cities have thrown of the oppressive yoke of being run by a single company, exchanging “easy” for self-determination. Cities like Sunnyvale and Mountain View long ago threw off the yoke of the defense industry and learned to reinvent themselves and flourish. Walnut Creek, Livermore, and now Richmond are joining the prosperity of a sophisticated diverse economy. Vallejo and the other cities along I-80 are showing signs of change as the robust modern Bay Area economy moves outward from Silicon Valley.

      If Benicia hopes to continue as a fully functioning city with a compliment of services and a healthy and vigorous citizenry, it has to look forward, shed its dependence on Valero, and embrace a 21st century reality.

      #######
      Cooke is a long-time Benicia resident, author and CEO of Sustainable Energy Associates. His newest book, Smart Green Cities: Toward a Carbon Neutral World was published in April. The Green Industrial Revolution: Energy, Engineering and Economics was published last year.
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        MARILYN BARDET: Valero delay tactic – unnecessary interference in local politics

        Guest Editorial by Marilyn Bardet, March 16, 2016

        Valero delay tactic – unnecessary interference in local politics

        Marilyn Bardet
        Marilyn Bardet

        Last night, March 15th, the first hearing of the Benicia City Council was held on Valero’s appeal of the unanimous vote of the planning commission to deny certification of the final EIR and the proposed Crude By Rail Project, a permit for which would allow construction of a rail terminal on Valero property that would serve to off-load two 50-car trains each day loaded with domestic shale oil and/or Canadian tar sands.

        After the staff gave its usual synopsis of Valero’s proposal, the planning commission’s chair, Don Dean, gave an excellent overview of the commission’s work over three years of public review, summarizing the arduous process, first begun in 2013, when the public and commissioners questioned City staff’s recommendation to adopt a grossly flawed Initial Study /Mitigated Negative Declaration. The commission’s inquiry continued following the drafting of a full EIR in 2014, that was then followed by review of a Revised EIR in 2015 — all of which entailed long hours of public hearings and study of volumes of written comment letters from Benicia residents and comments and testimony provided by public agencies, environmental organizations and government representatives. (See beniciaindependent.com/project-review/ for links to the public record.)

        After Don Dean’s presentation, it was Valero’s turn to present their appeal. In all previous testimony, and in their official letter of appeal, which had been submitted to the City in the wake of the final planning commission hearing in February, Valero has asserted that under federal preemption, requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) would be superseded, hence that any impact evaluations or determinations regarding mitigations directly or indirectly involving rail would be considered irrelevant and unenforceable. In their appeal letter, Valero went so far as to describe the commission’s decisions for denial as representing an “abuse of discretionary powers”, insisting that commissioners had virtually ignored the full authority of federal preemption.

        Thus, it was to be expected that Valero’s Don Cuffel would repeat “the Valero basics” about why the Project would be safe and economically beneficial, while pointing to what Valero considers the various errors of “the opposition”, including those representing opposing legal views presented in the course of public hearings.

        But the twist came when attorney John Flynn took the podium and surprised the council, city staff and the public by announcing that Valero was now recommending “a delay” in the appeal process they’d initiated, to allow time for them to petition the federal Surface Transportation Board (STB) for the agency’s perspective on the scope of federal preemption law governing rail operations. They admitted the delay could take at least three months.

        Under the dubious premise that delaying their appeal would benefit everybody, Valero argued that getting an opinion from the STB would “help” the City make the correct decision with regard to the limits of their jurisdictional authority imposed by preemption.

        But what kind of ‘benefit’ would delaying the appeal process really represent, given that Valero claims that preemption essentially neuters our city council’s authority and obligation under CEQA to protect the health and safety of residents, and thus to uphold most important goals and policies of the Benicia General Plan?

        Council members Mark Hughes, Christina Strawbridge, Alan Schwartzman and Tom Campbell, and Mayor Patterson, each questioned why Valero had not petitioned the STB previously, when either the Draft EIR or Revised EIR were being developed. Valero didn’t seem to have an answer.

        But “politics” are in the air, and Valero Energy Corp, headquartered in San Antonio TX, is now gambling politically, apparently seeking to produce what could be considered a “pre-trial” test of their own legal opinion on preemption right at the time of our local elections. Interference in local politics in order to push permitting of their dangerous Crude By Rail Project is not acceptable and must be challenged!

        Make no mistake: Valero hopes to bank on setting a precedent, right here in Benicia, that would affect municipalities of every size and stripe across California and the US seeking to protect their communities from the risks of dangerous oil trains plowing through their urban cores and rural landscapes.

        Valero’s “recommendation for delay” is a bald political tactic:
        • Delay is NOT necessary for the City Council to reach an informed decision on the Crude-By-Rail Project;
        • Delay does NOT serve City staff or the public;
        • Delay ONLY serves the financial and broad political interests of Valero Energy Corporation.

        Please come to the April 4th council hearing to voice your concern:
        • To support the authority and requirements of CEQA — for the public’s right to full disclosure of impacts, for enforceable mitigations and feasible project alternatives;
        • To support our planning commission’s consensus judgment resulting in a unanimous vote to deny certification of the Final EIR and deny the project permit;
        • To support the authority of our City to protect our community’s health and safety and uphold the Benicia General Plan;
        • To deny Valero’s appeal and audacious corporate attempt to interfere in local politics for their own gain.

        — Marilyn Bardet, Benicia

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