Benicia is the only Bay Area refinery town that does not have the community protection of an Industrial Safety Ordinance, or ISO.
In 1999, the city of Richmond and Contra Costa County adopted their interlocking ISOs. The Richmond ordinance mirrors the Contra Costa ISO, and Contra Costa County Hazardous Materials Division is responsible for enforcement and reporting.
Their experience with repeated refinery and associated hydrogen plant polluting events caused the elected leaders to respond to pressure from the disproportionally impacted communities in Richmond, Rodeo and Martinez for greater protection and information about polluting incidents.
How did Benicia miss out?
Since the adoption of the ISO, there have continued to be dangerous and deadly incidents at these Bay Area refineries, albeit at reduced rates, due to the ISO. Fortunately, the Richmond/Contra Costa ISO allows for corrective provisions that have improved refinery function and provided impacted communities with timely investigative information.
Under the ISOs, a 72-hour post incident report is available to the public. Monthly reports, or more frequently if necessary, follow that report and are publicly posted. To date, neither the Benicia City Council nor the people of Benicia have received any official reports on the nearly monthlong Valero flaring disaster this past May.
Based on the success of the Richmond/Contra Costa ISO, the California legislature adopted some of the process safety management portions of the ISO and made them state law, going into effect in October.
Unfortunately, the legislature did not adopt all elements of the ISOs. Benicia’s ability to receive information, publish the results of investigations to the public and to require Valero to take corrective action simply does not exist. Can we wait for the legislature to strengthen the state law?
While Valero and PG&E point the finger at each other over who is at fault for the Valero flaring disaster in May, Benicia remains in the dark. We know Valero was given permits to construct an adequate backup generator system but only one co-generator was built and the permit for the other was allowed to expire after several extensions, probably because of Valero’s bureaucrats in Texas.
Do we Benicians think we can count on Texas oil men to put our health and safety ahead of their profits? The lesson we learned from the successful battle to stop Valero’s dangerous Crude-By-Rail Project is the company seems to stop at nothing to ensure their profits – even at the expense of Benicians.
TOWN HALL MEETING TONIGHT!
An Industrial Safety Ordinance (ISO)
To learn more about ISO Benicia,
please attend a panel discussion with State Officials, and Contra Costa County experts on why and how Benicia can better protect our community.
Why: Currently, Benicia is the only refinery town in the Bay Area not protected by an ISO. In Contra Costa County, the county Hazardous Materials Division of the Health Department is responsible for enforcing an ISO that governs the three refineries in the county unincorporated areas – Shell, Tesoro and Phillips 66. The City of Richmond has an ordinance that mirrors the county’s and contracts with Contra Costa County for enforcement activities governing the Chevron refinery and other industries.
When:TODAY!Tuesday, November 14, 2017 at 7pm.
Where: The Benicia Public Library in the Doña Benicia Room at 150 East L St. in Benicia.
Gregory Vlasek, Local Program Coordination and Emergency Response, California Environmental Protection Agency
Clyde Trombettas, Statewide Manager and Policy Advisor for California OSHA, Process Safety Management Unit
Randy Sawyer, Contra Costa County Chief Environmental Health and Hazardous Materials Officer
John Gioia, Contra Costa County Supervisor
Staff representatives from Solano County were invited to participate and declined the invitation.
You: There will also be an opportunity for the public to ask questions and make comments at the end of the presentations.
What is the purpose of an Industrial Safety Ordinance (ISO)? The main goal of an Industrial Safety Ordinance (ISO) is to prevent and/or minimize the effects of devastating accidents on the employees close to the accident and the surrounding communities.
Why does Benicia need this when the State has an ISO? After the near-catastrophic May 5th Valero Refinery emergency shutdown and major flaring incident, it was even more apparent that Benicia is at risk without an ISO. Benicia is the only jurisdiction in the East Bay with a refinery or chemical industry that does not have a local safety ordinance such as the City of Richmond and other refinery communities have. The City of Benicia is covered by Cal/OSHA and Cal/EPA safety regulations. However, there are additional concerns not addressed by Cal/OSHA and Cal/EPA, such as no direct safety reports filed at the City of Benicia, leaving Benicia in the dark. An ISO would correct this and other safety matters.
How would this improve communications between Valero and the community of Benicia? A local ISO would facilitate cooperation between industry, the City, the County, local fire departments, Cal/OSHA, Cal/EPA, other agencies that have oversight of businesses, and the public in the prevention and reduction of incidents at refineries like Valero. An ISO would also establish local air quality monitors for access to real time data.
Why is the Valero refinery the only Bay Area refinery not involved with a county or local ISO? In 1998 Contra Costa County adopted an ISO, and revised and updated it after the Chevron fire. The City of Richmond also has a local ISO. These ISOs require among other things, refineries and other chemical businesses to submit a safety plan, undergo safety audits, and have risk management plans, each of which would allow more community input and access. The Contra Costa ISO has been praised as the best safety ordinance in the country, so effective that Cal/OSHA and Cal/EPA adopted many elements for state regulation and oversight. Benicia is the only city in Solano County that is home to refinery and currently our County has no plans to develop an ISO. It is up to the City of Benicia to develop and implement its own.
How would the ISO be managed and can Benicia afford it? Contra Costa County’s ISO enables the county to collect fees from industrial facilities to pay for comprehensive public safety alerts and local information about environmental risks and exposure to toxins due to an “event”.
What are the next steps and how can I get involved? Because Benicia deserves to be properly protected and informed, Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community, Progressive Democrats of Benicia, The Benicia Independent, Carquinez Patriotic Resistance, Communities For a Better Environment and additional community groups are urging the City Council to adopt and implement an Industrial Safety Ordinance for Benicia. To learn more and get involved, visit BeniciaIndependent.com. To write to Benicia city staff and council members, see below…
MAIL / PHONE / OFFICES: Mail to or visit City Hall: 250 East L Street, Benicia, CA 94510
Phone numbers are listed on the City’s CONTACT PAGE
SEND YOUR THOUGHTS TO THE NEWS MEDIA: Benicia Herald, 820 First St, Benicia, CA 94510, or by email to the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org AND
Vallejo Times-Herald, P.O. Box 3188, Vallejo, CA 94590, Fax: 643-0128, or by email to Editor Jack Bungart at email@example.com.
Repost from the Benicia Herald [Editor: This is an incredibly important look at Benicia’s past and future: “For multiple historic and geographic reasons, the city has basically missed the Bay Area’s burgeoning prosperity. While the town’s leaders pushed back against the insanity of bringing in Bakken crude by 50-car trains, no one has yet confronted the reality that the refinery and its wealth and subsequent tax revenue has peaked.” Cooke endorses Mayor Elizabeth Patterson and Steve Young for City Council. – RS]
Benicia’s future at stake in local election
By Grant Cooke, November 4, 2016
In August, I wrote a column about Benicia’s future, the New Economy and why Elizabeth Patterson, Steve Young, and Tom Campbell were the best choices to led our city as mayor and councilmembers respectively.
At the time, I was disheartened by the majority of council members’ lack of political will to put a halt to Valero’s Crude-By-Rail (CBR) project. Subsequent events in September, when the council majority reconsidered that position and rejected Valero’s CBR permit, did much to rekindle my belief that American small towns offer the best in representative democracy. I tip my hat to Christina Strawbridge in particular for her forthrightness and to Mark Hughes and Alan Schwartzman for their project reassessment.
I believe that Sept. 20 council meeting marked a turning point in Benicia’s history-a small step away from the overwhelming influences that the carbon-intensive industries have had on the city for the last half century.
Such decisive moments can be scary, both in municipal as well as personal life. Make no mistake, the refinery and the carbon-intensive industries have contributed the bulk of the city’s tax revenues for decades. Biting the hand that feeds, while momentarily liberating, invariably comes with consequences.
Heavy carbon and the extraction industries, coat-tailed by speculative developers like the Republican presidential nominee, provided the great bulk of U.S. wealth from about the mid-1800s to the late 1900s, or roughly about a century and a half. This Old Economy created oligarchs like the infamous John D. Rockefeller and powerful empires like Standard Oil. Modern day oil oligarchs like Charles and David Koch still stalk the land, spewing anti-science and pro-carbon, environmentally destructive ideology.
These industries and the folks who are enriched by them, are the ones to blame for the multi-layers of U.S. tax and political policies that have created the chasm in American life between the wealthy and the rest, the very rich over the middle class. That so many members of the middle class feel disenfranchised, and are willing supporters of a tax-dodging billionaire for president is one of the nation’s greatest historic ironies.
However, back to Benicia. After World War II, while most of the nation’s economic engine was relying on the wealth of the carbon and extraction industries, California and the Bay Area were discovering technology and the beginnings of the digital renaissance. Scientists from the declining defense industries mixed with the wizards from UC Berkeley and Stanford University. Sprinkling a few geniuses from the area’s national laboratories into this mix created the most extraordinary cornucopia of science and technological advances since Galileo and Da Vinci.
Now in early 21st century, the Green Industrial Revolution with all its digital age splendors and cutting edge science has taken a hold on the U.S. economy, dislodging the old extraction wealth with the new knowledge-based economy. Except for the Republican presidential nominee, many of the rapacious real estate developers have retired or were crushed by the interest-only, credit-swap craziness of the 2008 Great Recession. McMansions with dual HVAC systems have given way to Zero Net Energy housing and solar panels. Even Texas has become a major supplier of renewable energy-and Valero too, is invested in wind and cellulosic ethanol – something I never thought to see.
So where does that leave Benicia, the little Bay Area town that is heavily dependent on Valero and the carbon-intensive industries for tax revenues? For multiple historic and geographic reasons, the city has basically missed the Bay Area’s burgeoning prosperity. While the town’s leaders pushed back against the insanity of bringing in Bakken crude by 50-car trains, no one has yet confronted the reality that the refinery and its wealth and subsequent tax revenue has peaked.
Future city budgets face a hard slog. Safety personnel are jockeying for substantial raises, city employees want raises also, PERS retirement liabilities increase, and service costs continue to go up. At the same time, the residential population ages, capping incomes and reducing their willingness to support new taxes.
Time is ticking on the city’s economic model, and what to do about it is the pressing question. Benicia badly needs to reexamine its tax revenue and business development models. Serious thought and deep consideration need to apply, unvarnished assessments need to happen, and intelligent far-reaching planning needs to take place.
The last is probably the most important. How does a city plan to replace a declining carbon-intensive revenue stream? How can Benicia join the rest of the Bay Area’s Green Industrial Revolution and share in its prosperity? If the city fails to attend these issues, the eventual results will be regionalism and the city gives up its independence and self-determination.
I respect our current councilmembers. They all seem decent, honest and pleasant. Goodness knows I thank them for the time and work they have done on our behalf, and I wish them well in their endeavors. It’s just clear to me that some currently on the council lack the foresight and clarity of vision that Benicia so desperately requires to transition to a new future.
On the other hand, Elizabeth Patterson and Steve Young have extensive experience in planning and meeting transitional challenges. Further, they have an understanding of current realities, and a vision that encompasses a new economic model. Benicia’s future will be marginalized if it doesn’t join the rest of the Bay Area in the new knowledge-based economy, and we need leaders who can move us toward it. That is why I’m voting to re-elect Elizabeth Patterson for mayor, and elect Steve Young for City Council.
Grant Cooke is a long-time Benicia resident, CEO of Sustainable Energy Associates, and principal of DewH20. He is also an author and has written several books about the Green Industrial Revolution.
Grant Cooke: Benicia’s future is with Patterson, Young and the new economy
By Grant Cooke, August 17, 2016
If Valero’s crude-by-rail, or CBR, project goes through, it will do irreparable damage to Benicia. If the three councilmembers—Mark Hughes, Christina Strawbridge and Alan Schwartzman— continue their support for the project, they will do an extraordinary disservice to the city.
I respect those who work on behalf of local government; however, in this case, the legacies of three pro-Valero councilmembers will be that when Benicia needed them, they stood down. They just didn’t have the vision or the ability to do what is right and best for the city.
While the same can be said for numerous elected officials in other American small towns, particularly those dominated by a fossil fuel company, it’s a painful thing to witness. What makes Benicia’s situation more painful, is that the city is gifted with a bright and forward thinking mayor and is nestled on the edge of the most innovative and financially robust center in the world.
Yet, the pro-Valero majority on the council mirrors the city’s self-inflicted company town identity. This fossil fuel dependence holds the city back from partaking in the Bay Area’s knowledge-based economy and its prosperity.
The company town malignancy is intensified by a remarkable and insulating geography that creates the city’s beauty. The town has an idyllic and picturesque quality that is enhanced by a touch of eccentricity and bohemian romanticism left over from the halcyon days of the Gold Rush.
This combination allows for a complacency in the social milieu that is on the one hand charming, but on the other, remarkably short-sighted. In fact, it’s just plain dumb, since it allows for the tacit acceptance of the status quo and masks the reality that problems are coming and action needs to be taken.
For a half-century, Benicia has allowed the refinery to prosper, hardly inhibiting its use of the atmosphere as a garbage can. For most of this time, the refinery has been the largest source of tax revenue, exercising dominant economic and political influence. Which is a pity, since the rest of the Bay Area embarked on a scientific, technological and economic renaissance that is unparalleled in human history.
Now, the era of carbon generated wealth and dominance is in decline, particularly in densely populated areas where growing number of residents are pushing back, protective of their health and well-being. Carbon-generated wealth, usually from extraction industries, is being overtaken by knowledge-based wealth. High-tech workers are transforming the communities throughout the Bay Area. Cities like Richmond that were mired in the death grip of the fossil fuel industry, are now undergoing gentrification and renewal.
So where does that leave Benicia? If the pro-Valero councilmembers have their way and Valero’s CBR project is approved, then the city will continue to be dependent on the refinery and the fossil fuel industry.It’s clear from the evidence that crude-by-rail transportation is unsafe, unhealthy, and disruptive, but it won’t matter if the project is approved and the 50-car trains take over the Industrial Park, cutting off access and exit for most of the existing businesses. Once the trains loaded with toxic and volatile Bakken crude start to roll, there will be no “do overs,” and the city’s future will languish.
There is no doubt that the fossil fuel and oil industries are in decline. Oil prices are dropping as too much supply hits the market. Renewable energy is cheaper, more plentiful and when connected to smart grids far more flexible and cleaner. Vehicles are getting more efficient and transitioning to hybrid, electric, and hydrogen power. The fossil fuel era with its environmental destruction, social and political upheavals, and corrupt power politics is winding down.
So by approving CBR, Benicia will be locked into a decline—all the while the rest of the Bay Area flourishes as the new knowledge-based economy expands.
As an interesting aside, in the last three months, Valero, Inc. made $19.6 billion in gross revenue and $87.8 billion for all of 2015. As part of the company’s second-quarter earnings announcement, Joe Gorder, Valero’s CEO, said “We are also encouraged by ample supplies of medium and heavy sour crude oils in the market…”
So, if there is plenty of supply, and the refinery’s current crude delivery process is creating substantial profits, why does the refinery still want to ship explosive Bakkan crude by trains through towns that oppose it? And why do they claim it’s necessary to bring it to a loading area with a potential blast zone that includes an elementary school?
Admittedly, Valero’s CBR project is not simple. There are key issues at stake, including the tax revenues versus the city’s right and responsibility to protect the health and well-being of its residents. Many people are involved to various degrees in the decision. Unfortunately, the town’s residents can’t vote on the project, since the decision is solely in the hands of the city council.
The pro-Valero CBR faction has tried to diminish the importance of the decision by claiming the opposition is simply a ruckus stirred up by passionate environmentalists opposed to Big Oil. The intent is to frame the local election, and opposition to the project, as simply a one issue ballot. But the reality is far different. It’s not merely a CBR issue, or whether the refinery is good or not for the city, but a clear and simple question of what is to be Benicia’s future? Will the city – pushed by the three pro-Valero councilmembers – be locked into fossil fuel’s decline, or will it have the wherewithal to step into the 21st century and join the Bay Area’s booming knowledge-based economy?
If Benicia is going to survive as a chartered city, it has to go where the future beckons, which is to the new economy. If it dithers, the city will be passed over, as the new economy leapfrogs to Vallejo and other cities along the Interstate 80 corridor.
Three decades in, the scientific and technological Renaissance is just getting started, powered by a steamroller of venture capital. Silicon Valley is awash with cash and opportunity, and the Bay Area’s great universities and national laboratories are brimming with patents just waiting for implementation. High-tech and green tech startups and businesses are growing exponentially each year. Chinese and other foreign buyers are trolling Northern California for the newest inventions and technology.
The Green Industrial Revolution will continue to grow, pushing out along the region’s main transportation corridors. Eventually it will extent from Palo Alto to Sacramento. Just as Apple overcame Exxon, the new economy will push out the fossil fuel industry in the Bay Area. Within a couple of decades, the Bay Area refineries will lock their gates, unable to withstand the shifts in the energy markets and the expenses of offsetting carbon emissions.
What the fossil fuel industries in the Bay Area—and by extension those cities that have cast their lot with them—are not realizing is that there is a generational and workforce shift taking place. The older work force who had a high tolerance for the fossil fuel and heavy industrial manufacturing industries are being overtaken by a tsunami of high tech workers. These young folks are sophisticated, intelligent and extremely sensitive to health and recreation. (Just visit San Francisco’s marina green on the weekend). Their lifestyles are far different than the established group. High-tech workers live in denser neighborhoods, drive efficient autos and take public transportation. (Visit Emeryville, or the area around Pleasant Hill’s BART station.)
Above all, tech workers have enormous amounts of money that is rapidly changing the real estate market and the Bay Area’s lifestyle. As these workers mature, they will pressure politicians for the things they value, which is certainly not carbon emissions or refineries.
Rarely in life does time and circumstance allow us to decide our fate. The future is often veiled and clouded, and usually clarity only comes with necessity, too often calamity. This is true for individuals as well as cities. Cities, especially small company towns, rarely have the visionary leadership and the ability to break loose from the status quo, until like Stockton or Vallejo they implode.
Benicia’s fate is remarkably unambiguous; stick with the old fossil fuel industry and go down with its decline, or join the Bay Area’s Renaissance and prosper. Throughout the world, other cities have faced much harsher realities and have been successful in transitioning to a new economy. Melbourne, Copenhagen, Berlin and Bristol leap to mind. In each, change was driven by strong visionaries who understood that change was the best option and who had the leadership skills to pull the cities and their residents forward.
Does Benicia have similar visionary leadership? That is clearly central to November’s local election. There are two councilmembers up for re-election—Tom Campbell and Christina Strawbridge. Mayor Elizabeth Patterson is being challenged by Vice Mayor Mark Hughes. Three councilmembers – Strawbridge, Hughes and Alan Schwartzman who is not up for re-election – favor Valero and its CBR project.
Mayor Patterson has shown time and again that she understands the dilemma the city faces and why its future lies with the new economy. She clearly has the vision, talent and leadership required to move the city forward, and should be re-elected. Councilmember Campbell also understands that Benicia’s future prosperity can’t be dependent on Valero’s CRB project and he should continue.
Steve Young, a new challenger for a council position possess exceptional talent and leadership skills, and clearly understands that the city’s best interests are to reject Valero’s CBR. As a member of Benicia’s Planning Commission, he spent countless hours on the issue, painstakingly doing the research and leading the commission through the pros and cons as each member came to agree that the CBR project was not the town’s best option.
Patterson and Campbell were outvoted by the three other councilmembers, and the council failed to accept the Planning Commission’s recommendation, instead giving Valero the opportunity to reopen the issue with the Surface Transportation Board. Cluttering the decision was some questionable recommendations from the city staff, goofy advice from a consulting attorney, and bullying from Valero’s high-powered lawyer. In short, the whole process reeked of the misinformation and strong-armed tactics so common when an oil company puts pressure on small town politics.
Given his remarkable dedication to Benicia and the work required to bring the whole CBR permitting process into the public light, Steve Young has clearly shown that he has the intelligence, talent and leadership skills needed to help the city transition away from the past and embrace the future.
For Benicia, come the November election, Mayor Patterson and Tom Campbell should be re-elected. Steve Young should be the newly elected councilmember.
Grant Cooke is a longtime Benicia resident and CEO of Sustainable Energy Associates. He is also an author and has written several books on the Green Industrial Revolution. His newest is “Smart Green Cities” by Routledge.