Behind closed doors, the Benicia City Attorney and certain members of the city council have attempted and failed to strip the mayor of her First Amendment right of free speech. Even though they refuse to identify themselves to the public, the council members have revealed their desperation to salvage Valero’s doomed and dangerous Crude By Rail project.
The city attorney has a much bigger problem— the State Attorney General has called out the city for the legal inadequacy of Valero’s Crude by Rail Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR). Lined up behind the state is a long list of other public agencies, NGO’s and community groups ready to humiliate the city in court should it dare certify the document without major revisions and recirculation.
A competent city attorney, acting in the public interest, would extricate us from this legal dilemma by withdrawing the currently flawed DEIR and defend freedom of speech with all her might.
Jan Cox Golovich/Former member Benicia City Council
MARTINEZ, Calif. – The Martinez City Council approved a resolution calling for safer transportation of hazardous materials through the city Wednesday.
While the resolution passed 5-0, many in attendance felt the measure fell far short of where they hoped the city would go. Several members of the council agreed the resolution was weak and in places poorly written.
Councilwoman Lara DeLaney said the resolution was vague, and it didn’t demand enough from state and federal authorities.
“It doesn’t say what Martinez wants from this,” DeLaney said.
She didn’t vote “no” because anything that encourages any kind of safety is better than nothing, she said.
Mayor Rob Schroder supported the resolution, summing up the tone of the council that the resolution does at least make a first step.
“At least it makes a public statement that the City Council is concerned about the public safety of its citizens,” said Schroder, noting the city is also concerned about rail shipments of other hazardous materials. “It’s a broader issue than just crude oil.
“This is just the beginning; as we go on in time, we will be taking more actions with respect to this issue.”
Before the council voted, 14 speakers voiced concerns, most urging the city to take a tougher, more aggressive stance on the issue.
Amy Durfee, who said she lives on E Street about eight blocks away from the Alhambra trestle, is a member of the Martinez Environmental Group (MEG). She spoke forcefully to the council.
“The resolution before you makes absolutely no concrete action to address the issue of the highly explosive trains that are coming across that trestle every 7-10 days and the tanker trucks that are coming back on Highway 4 to Tesoro,” Durfee said
Durfee stated there are currently three crude by rail projects that directly affect Martinez – in Sacramento, Benicia, and Kinder Morgan in Richmond.
“By not directing staff to monitor the situation in nearby cities you are putting the city’s head in the sand and putting us all in danger. [It] feels like voters are talking into a black hole. MEG has been telling you about this since May, and for you to pass this flimsy resolution is not going to fool Martinez voters.”
Bill Nichols told the council that the residents of Martinez have come to just accept the dangers of hazardous materials in the community.
“We have become inured to living with a refinery that puts out 4 million tons of greenhouse gasses every year. All the ice cream socials in the world won’t change that fact,” Nichols said. “We ignore the explosions, the stench, the flames; it’s just part of life here in Martinez. You, however, cannot become inured. You are charged with the public safety. The mayor has said that’s his highest priority. We are asking you to stand up and pass a strong resolution.”
Jan Cox Golovich, former city councilmember from Benicia, told the council of three derailments in the last year at the Benicia Industrial Park involving petroleum coke.
Golovich urged the Martinez council to take a much stronger stance against crude-by-rail. Golovich praised the council for being the first city with a refinery to take any action.
Julian Frazer urged the council to adopt the stronger MEG resolution that was presented to the council.
Councilmember Anamarie Avila Farias said “we all take this very seriously. This is a first step of many more to come. Not a perfect one, but it’s a start.”
Farias said other cities who have passed safety resolutions are now complaining.
“All these other cities have passed these resolutions taking a stance, but the trains keep coming,” Farias said. “The League (of Cities) and the cities we are working with are trying to stop it at a legislative level.”
Interim City Manager Jim Jakel said the city is limited due to a lack of jurisdiction over the railways.
“We don’t really have any power (over the railways),” Councilmember Mark Ross said. “To some, this is nothing more than a political selfie thrown out weeks before the campaign. To others it’s, ‘Hey, at least you are saying something.’”
The resolution “doesn’t really do anything more than express our concern,” Ross said.
In case you missed the forum in Benicia on March 10, you can listen and see the presentations of the panelists here. With apologies for the poor lighting in the room, but with gratitude to videographer Constance Beutel, who made the best of it… Great event – let’s Stop Crude by Rail! – R.S.
Marilyn Bardet, Benicia resident and Community Activist, spoke at the Stop Crude by Rail forum, Benicia, CA
Ed Ruszel, of Ruszel Woodworks, Benicia, Spoke at the Stop Crude by Rail forum, Benicia, CA
Antonia Juhasz, Oil Industry Analyst, Noted Author, spoke at the Stop Crude by Rail forum, Benicia, CA
Andrés Soto, Benicia resident, spoke at the Stop Crude by Rail Forum, Benicia, CA
Diane Bailey, Senior Scientist, NRDC, spoke at the Stop Crude by Rail Forum, Benicia, CA
Damien Luzzo, Davis resident, spoke at the Stop Crude by Rail Forum, Benicia, CA
To view the entire forum, including the video presentation, see below (approximately 1 hour).