KQED News: Benicia Breaks with Solano County on Masks
KQED News, by Ericka Cruz Guevarra. Devin Katayama, and Alan Montecillo, Aug 30, 2021
In early August, eight Bay Area counties reinstated mask mandates in indoor public spaces due to the spread of the Delta variant. Solano County was the only one that didn’t.
Last week, the city of Benicia broke with the county by approving — by a unanimous city council vote — its own indoor mask mandate.
Today, we speak with the city’s mayor about this decision, and what it says about differences within Solano County.
Guest: Steve Young, Mayor of Benicia
Ericka Cruz Guevarra: [00:00:00] I’m Erica Cruz Guevarra, and you’re listening to The Bay, local news to keep you rooted. Mask requirements are pretty common here in the Bay Area, except where I’m at in Solano County, but last week the city of Benicia decided to break away with the rest of the county by passing its own indoor mascot mandate.
Steve Young: [00:00:23] If people had a different attitude about this thing, it would be done. We wouldn’t be having this conversation. We wouldn’t have people continuing to die all across the country. And it’s making it so partisan and political is not in anybody’s interest today.
Resolution 21-88 Face Coverings A RESOLUTION OF THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF BENICIA REQUIRING THE USE OF FACE COVERINGS IN INDOOR AND ENCLOSED PUBLIC SPACES WHEREAS, California Government Code Section 8630 empowers the City Council to proclaim the existence or threatened existence of a Local Emergency when the City is affected or likely to be affected by a public calamity; and [continued…]
Your comments and support for reinstating an indoors mask mandate for Benicia is desperately needed as we protect ourselves and others from the surging and highly contagious Delta variant of COVID-19.
Our County health department is failing to protect public health and safety, so we have to take action locally. Thank goodness Mayor Young and Vice-Mayor Campbell have taken this initiative. The measure MUST pass tonight!
Here’s the agenda item, followed by instructions for attending the virtual meeting.
AGENDA ITEM 16.A – RESOLUTION REQUIRING THE WEARING OF FACE COVERINGS IN BENICIA (City Attorney)
At the August 17, 2021 City Council meeting, the City Council directed City staff to prepare a resolution requiring face coverings be worn in certain circumstances indoors given the rise of COVID-19 cases relating to the Delta variant. If adopted, the resolution would be effective immediately and require face coverings in certain locations as detailed in the resolution.
Discuss and consider adopting a resolution requiring the mandatory use of face coverings in certain circumstances. Staff has attached two draft resolutions for consideration. The first resolution (Attachment 1) is based on Resolution No. 20-78, adopted by the Council on June 16, 2020. The second resolution is based on the health orders issued by the seven neighboring Bay Area health officers (Attachment 2). A majority vote is required to adopt any resolution.
3. Two-Step Request – Mayor Young & Vice Mayor Campbell
HOW TO PARTICIPATE IN BENICIA COUNCIL MEETING:
Members of the public may provide public comments to the City Clerk by email at email@example.com. Any comment submitted to the City Clerk should indicate to which item of the agenda the comment relates. Specific information follows:
– Comments received by 2:00 pm on the day of the meeting will be electronically forwarded to the City Council and posted on the City’s website.
– Comments received after 2:00 pm, but before the start time of the meeting will be electronically forwarded to the City Council, but will not be posted on the City’s website, and will not be read into the record.
– Comments received after the start time of the meeting, but prior to the close of the public comment period for an item will be read into the record, with a maximum allowance of 5 minutes per individual comment, subject to the Mayor’s discretion.
• If prompted for a password, enter 405755.
• Use participant option to “raise hand” during the public comment period for the item you wish to speak on. Please note, your electronic device must have microphone capability. Once unmuted, you will have up to 5 minutes to speak.
OR: Dial in with phone:
Before the start of the item you wish to comment on, call any of the numbers below. If one is busy, try the next one.
1 669 900 9128
1 346 248 7799
1 253 215 8782
1 646 558 8656
1 301 715 8592
1 312 626 6799
• Enter the meeting ID number: 839 3585 1585 *please note this is an updated ID number*.
• Enter password: 405755
• When prompted for a Participant ID, press #.
• Press *9 on your phone to “raise your hand” when the Mayor calls for public comment during the item you wish to speak on. Once unmuted, you will have up to 5 minutes to speak.
Benicia’s rejection of oil trains could reverberate across country
By Kurtis Alexander, 9/21/16 5:11pm
Benicia’s rejection of plans to bring trains filled with crude oil to Valero Corp.’s big refinery in the city was hailed Wednesday by critics of the country’s expanding oil-by-rail operations, who hope the flexing of local power will reverberate across the Bay Area and the nation.
Of particular interest to environmentalists and local opponents, who for years have argued that Valero’s proposal brought the danger of a catastrophic spill or fire, was a last-minute decision by U.S. officials that Benicia’s elected leaders — not the federal government — had the final say in the matter.
Word of that decision arrived just before the City Council, in a unanimous vote late Tuesday, dismissed Valero’s proposal for a new $70 million rail depot along the Carquinez Strait off Interstate 680. Valero had said the project would not only be safe but bring local jobs, tax revenue and lower gas prices.
“We’re pleased with the decision and the implications it will have across the country,” said Jackie Prange, a staff attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of several groups opposed to the project. “This issue is live in a number of sites across the country. This is definitely a decision that I think cities in other states will be looking to.”
As oil production has boomed across North America, so has the need to send crude via railroad. The uptick in tanker trains, though, has been accompanied by a spate of accidents in recent years, including a 2013 derailment in the Quebec town of Lac-Megantic in which a 72-car train exploded and killed more than 40 people.
The authority of communities to limit oil trains has been clouded by the assertion of some in the petroleum industry that local officials don’t have jurisdiction to get in the way. Companies like Valero have contended that railroad issues are matter of interstate commerce — and hence are the purview of the federal government.
Shortly before Tuesday’s meeting, however, Benicia officials received a letter from the U.S. Surface Transportation Board, which wrote that Valero, based in Texas, was not a railroad company and that the proposed rail terminal fell under city jurisdiction.
“It’s what I was waiting for to help me make my vote more defensible,” said Councilman Alan Schwartzman at the meeting.
Earlier this year, Valero had asked the Surface Transportation Board for “preemption” protection for the project after Benicia’s Planning Commission rejected the proposal. The plan proceeded to the City Council upon appeal.
The plan called for oil deliveries from up to two 50-car trains a day, many passing through several Northern California communities en route from the Bakken shale formation in North Dakota. Those trains would carry as many as 70,000 barrels of oil.
The company billed the project as a way to keep gasoline prices low in the absence of a major oil pipeline serving the West Coast. Crude is currently brought to the Bay Area mostly by boat or through smaller pipelines.
On Wednesday, Valero officials expressed frustration at the city’s decision.
“After nearly four years of review and analysis by independent experts and the city, we are disappointed that the City Council members have chosen to reject the crude by rail project,” spokeswoman Lillian Riojas wrote in an email. “At this time we are considering our options moving forward.”
The vote directly hit the city’s pocketbook. Nearly 25 percent of Benicia’s budget comes from taxes on the oil giant, and the city coffers stood to grow with more crude. The refinery employs about 500 people, according to city records.
But the city’s environmental study showed that oil trains presented a hazard. The document concluded that an accident was possible on the nearly 70 miles of track between Roseville (Placer County) and the refinery, though the likelihood was only one event every 111 years.
The document also suggested that much of the crude coming to the Bay Area from North Dakota, as well as from tar sands in Canada, was more flammable than most.
Several cities in the Bay Area and Sacramento area joined environmental groups in calling for rejection of the project.
“The council’s vote is a tremendous victory for the community and communities all throughout California,” said Ethan Buckner of the opposition group Stand, who was among more than 100 people who turned out for the council’s verdict. “At a time when oil consumption in California is going down, projects like this are unnecessary.”
At least two other plans are in the works for oil delivery by rail elsewhere in the region — in Richmond and Pittsburg. A handful of other proposals have been put forth in other parts of California, including the expansion of a rail spur at a Phillips 66 refinery in San Luis Obispo County, which is scheduled to be heard by the county planning board Thursday.
Prange, with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said this week’s finding by the Surface Transportation Board gives cities the confidence to reject the proposed oil trains, if they wish to do so.
“It reaffirms the power of local government to protect their citizens from these dangerous projects,” she said.
U.S. oil deliveries by rail have grown quickly, from 20 million barrels in 2010 to 323 million in 2015, according to government estimates. In response, federal transportation officials have worked to improve the safety of oil-carrying cars with new regulations.
But over the past year, rail deliveries nationwide have slowed, in part because of the stricter rules as well as local opposition, falling crude prices and new pipelines.
Critics have complained that the tightened rules have fallen short, pointing to incidents like a June train derailment in Mosier, Ore., which spilled hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude into the Columbia River. Leaders in Oregon are discussing a statewide ban on crude trains.
Kurtis Alexander is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer.