Tag Archives: Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson

Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson asked to recuse herself from Valero crude-by-rail decision

Repost from The Vallejo Times-Herald
[Editor:  It’s sad that some would try to silence Mayor Patterson since she has carefully avoided coming out publicly or privately against Valero’s project.  The good news here (lemons to lemonade) … the City Attorney’s challenge, once denied, should open the door to EVERY Council member to speak more freely in addressing important issues outside of Council chambers and prior to decisive votes.  More public debate on the part of all on the Council and various Commissions, boards and committees will be good for Benicia.  – RS]

Benicia: Mayor Elizabeth Patterson asked to recuse herself from Valero crude-by-rail decision

Elizabeth Patterson rejects city’s advice, hires attorney
By Tony Burchyns, 10/13/2014

Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson

BENICIA>>Mayor Elizabeth Patterson is claiming that the city is trying to muzzle her on public policy questions related to plans to increase crude oil train deliveries to the Valero refinery.

Patterson revealed to the Times-Herald the city attorney has advised her not to participate “in any way in any city decisions” relating to Valero’s pending permit decision. Patterson also said the city has asked her to refrain from sending out “e-alerts” about the project and related crude-by-rail issues and to not engage in public discussion of the matter.

“I feel the city is trying to muzzle me on my questions and alerting the public on major public policy issues of crude-by-rail, fossil fuels, public safety and environmental air, water and habitat hazards,” Patterson said in an email. She said she has rejected the city’s advice and hired a lawyer to defend herself against what she views as an attack on her free speech rights.

City Attorney Heather Mc Laughlin declined to comment the matter, citing attorney-client privilege. However, Mc Laughlin said a handful of community and City Council members had raised conflict-of-interest concerns about Patterson’s engagement in the public discussion of the controversial project. She wouldn’t say which council members raised concerns.

Council members Alan Schwartzman, Mark Hughes, Christina Strawbridge and Tom Campbell declined to comment.

Valero is seeking permits to build a rail terminal to receive up to 1.4 million gallons of crude oil daily by train. The city is in the process of responding to dozens of comment letters on the initial environmental impact report from residents and state and local agencies.

Patterson, who has served on the City Council since 2003 and as Benicia’s elected mayor since 2007, regularly communicates with residents on a wide variety of issues. In particular, she sends periodic “e-alerts” to people who have asked to be on her email list.

This year, several of those communications have included information regarding the city’s review of Valero’s pending land-use application as well as discussions of public policy issues raised by the proposed increase in oil train traffic.

In March, Patterson – a retired state environmental scientist working part-time on the California Water Plan – wrote a San Francisco Chronicle op-ed encouraging Gov. Jerry Brown to issue an executive order to ensure the state is prepared to deal with “highly flammable and explosive Bakken crude oil from North Dakota coming by rail and water into California.”

In June, she testified with other officials at a legislative oversight hearing in Sacramento about state and local agencies’ preparedness to respond to oil train accidents like last year’s explosive derailment in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, which killed 47 people. She didn’t comment at the hearing on the merits of Valero’s project.

In a letter to the city, Patterson’s attorney Diane Fishburn defended the mayor’s right to communicate with her constituents and participate in the public discussion. Patterson disclosed the June 26 letter in response to a recent Times-Herald inquiry about thousands of dollars in legal expenses on her latest campaign finance report.

“The law fully supports the mayor’s complete participation in both the public community discussions and her activities in her role as mayor as well as in any decisions which may come before the council on the project,” Fisburn wrote. She cited a 1975 state Supreme Court ruling that held that the public statements of two Fairfield City Council members opposing a proposed shopping center did not serve to disqualify them from participating in the city’s decision on the project.

“These topics are matters of concern to the civic-minded people of the community, who will naturally exchange views and opinions concerning the desirability of the shopping center with each other and with their elected representatives,” the court wrote at the time. “A councilman has not only a right but an obligation to discuss issues of vital concern with his constituents and to state his views of public importance.”

In that 1975 decision, the court also quoted a 1958 New Jersey Supreme Court ruling that stated “it would be contrary to the basic principles of a free society to disqualify from service in the popular assembly those who had made pre-election commitments of policy on issues involved in the performance of their sworn … duties.”

Fishburn argued Patterson has not made public statements or indicated a specific position on the pending project. “However, even if she had expressed views on the pending Valero permit, it is clear based on (related case law) that this wouldn’t disqualify her from participating in the on-going proceedings and in future City Council decisions in the matter,” Fisburn wrote.

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    Vallejo Times-Herald: Joint Legislative Oversight Hearing on Transport of California Crude Oil by Rail

    Repost from The Vallejo Times-Herald
    [Editor: Note near the end of this story, “Patterson, who joined Henke on a four-person panel addressing on-the-ground risks, did not address the merits of Valero’s proposed crude-by-rail project in Benicia.”  Patterson read a prepared statement by her personal attorney affirming her right to offer testimony, and was commended later in the hearing by Senator Wolk.  Mayor Patterson’s testimony can be viewed here – scroll ahead to minute 1:22:20 and 1:43:45.  – RS]

    Benicia Mayor Patterson testifies at hearing about oil-by-rail risks

    Lawmakers looking to address safety concern
    By Tony Burchyns, 06/19/2014

    As state lawmakers look to address the risks from a surge in oil train traffic, Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson joined others Thursday in testifying at a legislative oversight hearing in Sacramento about the need for more actions to prevent and respond to accidents that could threaten public safety.

    In her remarks, Patterson asked whether state and local agencies are prepared to deal with deadly tanker rail accidents like last year’s explosive derailment in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, which killed 47 people.

    “If you are in an industrial area or a cultural center or a school the actual first-responders are those people who are affected,” Patterson said. “And that’s (the) ultimate primary concern that I have that we don’t put people at risk and that we don’t have the children or the people going to a concert or workers or residents exposed to that kind of threat.”

    Driven by increased North American oil production, California and the nation are experiencing a surge in oil-by-rail traffic.

    In California, imports grew from only 70 tanker carloads in 2009 to nearly 9,5000 carloads last year, and could increase up to 230,000 carloads – a quarter of all the crude oil refined in the state – in 2016, according to the California Energy Commission.

    About 3.8 million Californians who live along train routes face increased safety risks posed by new unloading facilities planned or under construction, according to a study by the Natural Resource Defense Council.

    Thursday’s hearing provided an opportunity for regulators, community members and first-responders to look at what the risks and needs are in terms of safety and response.

    Issues raised included uncertainty over the timing and comprehensiveness of new federal rail tank car standards and operational rules, a need to more fully assess the risks from increased oil train traffic in California and a lack of timely and complete information about hazardous cargo before it passes through local communities.

    The need for more training and resources for first-responders was also identified.

    “Your immediate concern is the incident that takes place today, tomorrow and next week,” said Kurt Henke, chief of the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District.

    Patterson, who joined Henke on a four-person panel addressing on-the-ground risks, did not address the merits of Valero’s proposed crude-by-rail project in Benicia. If approved, the project would allow Valero to bring in up to 100 tanker carloads of crude per day to its Benicia refinery.

    The project’s draft environmental impact report was released Tuesday.

    The proposed rail route would pass through rural and urban areas, including parts of Sacramento and Davis.

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      Davis City Council to staff: prepare a resolution opposing crude by rail

      Repost from The Davis Vanguard
      [Editor: Note that this article appeared six weeks ago.  – RS]

      Council Takes Stand on Crude Oil Transport by Rail

      By Michelle Millet  |  March 15, 2014

      Richard-2nd-St

      Last Tuesday [March 11, 2014] Mike Webb, Director of Community Development & Sustainability, presented a status update to council on the Benicia/Valero Oil by Rail Project.

      In December of 2012 the City of Benicia was presented with a Land Use Permit Application from the Valero Refining Company who owns and operates an oil refinery located in Benicia, California.

      Valero is proposing the “Crude by Rail Project” which would allow the refinery to receive a larger proportion of its crude oil deliveries by railcar.

      The Land Use Permit Application states,  ”The primary purpose of the Project is to allow Valero access to more North American sourced crudes that have recently become available. The only viable option for transporting the crude oil from the North American sources to the Refinery is by railroad. Therefore, the objective of this Project is to enable Valero to replace up to 70,000 bbl per day of the crude oil currently supplied to the Benicia Refinery by marine vessel with an equivalent amount of crude oil transported by rail cars.”

      According to Webb’s staff presentation the city of Benicia is currently in the review process. It is preparing an Environmental Impact Report that is expected to be released for public review and comment in the next month. Once the report is released it is assumed that there will be a 45 day comment period, and hearings at the Benicia Planning Commission and City Council are likely.

      The amount of crude oil being moved by train in this country is growing. According to an Associated Press article, “U.S. crude oil production is forecast to reach 8.5 million barrels a day by the end of 2014, up from 5 million barrels a day in 2008. The increase is overwhelmingly due to the fracking boom in the Bakken region, which is mainly in North Dakota, but also extends into parts of Montana and Canada.”

      If the Benicia Valero Project is approved it is estimated that 100 rail cars carrying Bakken crude oil in tank cars could soon be coming through Davis every day. Concerns have been expressed over the fact that the older tank cars that carry much of this flammable crude oil are inadequate and prone to rupture easily.

      On January 23, 2014 the National Transportation and Safety Board called for tougher standards on trains carrying crude oil “The large-scale shipment of crude oil by rail simply didn’t exist ten years ago, and our safety regulations need to catch up with this new reality,” said NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman. “While this energy boom is good for business, the people and the environment along rail corridors must be protected from harm.”

      In February Davis citizens  Lynne Nittler, Milton Kalish, and Matt Biers-Ariel wrote an article for the Vanguard where they laid out some of the concerns community members have expressed over the potential dangers that come with transporting crude oil by train car.

      They stated, “In the last year there have been 10 major rail accidents involving oil trains in the U.S. and Canada.  Last July, 47 people perished in a massive fireball when a train containing Bakken crude derailed and exploded in the Canadian town of Lac-Megantic, Quebec. Four more oil trains have derailed in Canada since then. In November, a train carrying the same Bakken crude derailed in Alabama, possibly caused by trestle tracks that collapsed under the weight of the heavy tank cars. Twelve of the cars exploded, fortunately not in a populated area. In the last week of December, another 18 tank cars carrying Bakken crude derailed and exploded just outside of Casselton, North Dakota, forcing the town to evacuate to avoid the plumes of toxic smoke from the ensuing fires that burned for more than a day.  Another oil train derailed and exploded in New Brunswick days later.”

      On January 27th over 50 people attended the Natural Resource Commission meeting where this topic was addressed.  During public comment on Tuesday night NRC member Allan Pryor stated,  ”The NRC had the largest turn out in over 3-4 years over this issue the chambers were packed. We have never had a crowd so large, and they were vocal and unanimous in their opposition.”

      After over an hour of public comment during their January meeting NRC members voted to approve a list of recommendations to council. Among the recommendations was a request that the City of Davis submit formal comments to the Draft Environmental Impact Report for the Benicia Valero Project when it is released for public comment.

      One February 12, in an open letter to the Mayor of Benicia Mayor Pro Tem Dan Wolk stated, ”I am writing to express my and my constituents’ serious concerns over the proposed upgrading of the rail terminal at the Valero refinery to take in as much as 70,000 barrels of crude oil a day.”  He continued, “In both a literal and figurative sense, that rail line runs through the heart of our community.  I myself commute along this same rail line to and from my “day job” as a Deputy County Counsel for Solano County.  The thought of 100 tank cars full of Bakken Shale oil running through our community each day is absolutely disconcerting.  A similar accident in Davis as the one in Quebec would likely produce even more catastrophic results, in terms of loss of life and the destruction of our downtown.”

      Wolk clarified at Tuesday’s meeting that he was not against the proposed project, and spoke in favor of the jobs the project could create. But he reiterated his concerns over the safety implications that it presented.

      In their report presented to council staff states that their efforts are currently focused on gathering background information and initiating collaboration with other jurisdictions and with elected representatives from Davis and the region, including the offices of State Senator Wolk, State Representative Yamada, and U.S. Representatives Garamendi, Matsui, and Thompson.

      Staff presented council with two following recommendations on how to proceed:

      1. Direct staff to continue to gather data, monitor the Benicia Valero project, and actively partner with other agencies, and State and Federal Representatives, on coordination of review and comments.
      2. Direct staff to continue to engage with appropriate regulatory authorities regarding the safety of the existing railroad operations/speeds/curve in Davis.

      Mayor Krovoza suggested a third recommendation that directed staff to prepare a resolution stating that the city of Davis would oppose crude oil by rail transport through our community.

      Council member Brett Lee expressed concerns that a resolution of this sort was largely symbolic and too open ended to have the impact they were hoping for.  When Korvoza disagreed Lee  posed the question, “Do you really think the railroad is going to stop transporting oil on the railroad line because the Davis City Council says we don’t want it passing through our community?”

      He continued, “I think a more effective way would be to focus on the safety aspects so that our community is protected and other communities are protected.”  Lee clarified that he was not in favor of these cars coming through our community, and went on to say that he did not believe that having a symbolic gesture “excuses us or take us off the hook for dealing with the public safety issue.”

      Ultimately Krovoza put forth a motion, that was seconded by Lee, which directed staff to begin preparation of a resolution where by the city of Davis would oppose crude by rail transport through our community due to public safety concerns until further consideration, including understanding of risks and needed mitigation measures.

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