Category Archives: Benicia City Council

End of big oil and its revenue impact on Benicia

Benicia is a “mini-petrostate” — What’s Next?

(Chris Riley/Times-Herald)
The city of Benicia was given a shelter in place alert and areas south of the Valero Refinery were evacuated after a power outage caused a flare up sending plumes of black smoke across Interstate 680.
By Grant Cooke, Benicia Resident and President Ag Tech Blends, September 24, 2020
Grant Cooke

I recently warned that Benicia faces a self-induced calamity. If the town doesn’t come to grips with the reality that it’s game over for the oil industry and that the tax revenue from Valero will end, the town’s future will be grim.

I suggested that by mid-century most, of it not, all Bay Area refineries—Valero included—would be shut. It may be sooner, as recently, Governor Gavin Newsom announced an executive order that would phase out gasoline-powered cars and pickups by 2035.

Most likely the big oil companies will do their best to delay this, but the direction is clear, California is turning away from fossil-powered vehicular transportation. Electric and hydrogen powered vehicles will be the norm sooner, instead of later.

The impact on Benicia and the other towns—Martinez, Rodeo, Richmond—will be significant. Unless those towns plan ahead—a troublesome chore for municipal governments—services will be drastically cut.

Secondly, if the refineries lock the gates and walk away, the cities will be stuck with the bill for cleaning up the hazardous waste that has accumulated for decades on the refinery property.

A couple of other points to consider. The first is the horrendous conflagrations that are besetting our state. Anyone who lives in California and doesn’t accept that climate change is real and life-threatening needs to talk to some of the state’s farmers who live that reality daily. Farmers know the weather and they know the ravages they are facing as the climate changes.

Climate change is not complex. It is caused by excess greenhouse gases caused by excess fossil fuel use. School kids can explain it.

The second is further from Benicia, but relevant. Over the last few weeks, a peace accord has been struck between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. Now Bahrain has joined and eventually Saudi Arabia and Iraq will also.

This is something I never dreamed I would see—peace in the Middle East. After all the trillions of dollars spent, the tragic deaths and wounded US soldiers, the horrific dismemberments by ISIS, and the millions of civilians who lost their homes, villages or lives; the wars are ending.

The stated reason for the accord is that the moderate nations are sick and tired of the Sunni and Shia extremists and decided that working with Israel with its military might and US backing is the lesser of two evils. These guys are ever pragmatists.

On the other hand, the unstated, but probably more significant reason, is the moderate nations, particularly UAE and Bahrain, have leaders who understand that they have to move away from oil-dependent economies. With a growing population of well-educated, underemployed and potentially restless citizens, change has to happen. The Middle East needs economic diversification with renewable energy, science, modern Western technology, risk capital and innovative thinkers, or the moderate nations are doomed.

This too is Benicia’s dilemma. Basically, the city is a mini petrostate with 45 percent of its tax revenue coming from Valero or related businesses. The city’s problem of dependency on oil tax revenue is the same as the Middle East nations, or Louisiana, or any other municipality that fails to plan for a non-carbon world. At least UAE and Bahrain have come to that realization.

If UAE and Bahrain can think this through, maybe Benicia can. The first step is to resist Valero’s and the union’s PAC to take over the city government in the November election. If the town’s oil interests and supporters control the city, planning for a diversified tax base won’t happen.

Vote for Steve Young and anyone else who is willing to refuse campaign contributions from Valero and the union PAC. That’s a simple step.

The next steps are going to be harder. The first is to bring the problem out in open. Ask Valero for their plans as the oil refinery winds down. What will be the decline in tax revenue? How much have they put aside for environmental cleanup? How many of their folks live in Benicia and what will be the job losses?

Supposedly, Valero says that it will be the “last man standing” or the final oil refinery left in the Bay Area. I doubt it. My bet is that Chevron in Richmond will hold out the longest because their corporate headquarters are in the Bay Area. Valero is a Texas company, which probably means they will be one of the first to shut.

The second step is that Benicia has to do what Bahrain is doing, namely diversify the tax revenue by moving from a fossil fuel to a knowledge-based economy. The world is full of examples of cities—Bristol, Vancouver, Melbourne, Singapore, come to mind—that have remade their economies.

There are several examples in the Bay Area—San Francisco, Walnut Creek, Livermore and Pleasanton.

The third step is probably the hardest still. The move to a robust knowledge-based economy with science, technology and innovation to produce wealth should be sub-regional—along the Straits. Benicia is going to have to cooperate with Vallejo.

Wealth is being generated all along 680 and both cities have to adapt quickly, or they will be left behind as Fairfield and Vacaville prosper by growing their knowledge and service-based economies.

Unfortunately, Benicia and Vallejo have flaws and neither has the ability to generate significant change. They do, however, have exceptional geography with beautiful waterfronts and spectacular views. They have more potential than other underdeveloped Bay Area cities, except maybe Richmond.

But neither can develop a robust new economy by themselves. They don’t have the resources or the willingness to overcome the differences that serious change requires.

There are no easy answers for remaking a city’s economy. It takes vision, hard work and a united citizenry with common goals and a willingness to change. Cities are like alcoholics; they usually don’t change their behavior until they reach rock bottom, or their livers give out.

The cities I mentioned that were able to remake their economies had remarkable good luck when a new company suddenly boomed—like Pleasanton with People Soft—or a brilliant and powerful leader like Willie Brown in San Francisco, who could wrench the existing power structure into action.

It is particularly hard for a small town like Benicia that has prospered along with a single industry and has a city council with decent folks but split agendas. Heaven knows there are small company towns—like Benicia—throughout the Rust Belt that are dead or dying because they waited until the gates were locked and the pink slips issued. Look what happened to Detroit.

The Bay Area is maybe the world’s center for science, technology, innovation and risk capital. It is an unparalleled combination that is being copied in China and on a smaller scale in Boston and Copenhagen. The mixture creates wealth like mountain snow creates mighty rivers. Despite the trillion-dollar successes of Apple, Google, Facebook and Sales Force, this era of magnificent knowledge-based companies is just starting. There are untold new wonders to be developed and decades to run.

It would be a pity if Benicia fails to participate.

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Grant Cooke is a Benicia resident and co-author of two books:
By Woodrow Clark II and Grant Cooke, published by Elsevier and available at Amazon:
Grant Cooke
President, AgTech Blends
https://agtechblends.com

You can VOTE in Benicia on Monday, September 28! Roger’s recommendations…

By Roger Straw, September 25, 2020
Roger Straw, The Benicia Independent

Voting starts earlier than ever this year – you can already cast your mail-in ballot next week!

It’s all new to me.  I have ALWAYS waited, and cast my ballot at the polling place on election day, but not this year.

Candidates for public office have had to change tactics.  I should know –  I’ve been involved in 7 local campaigns over the last 13 years.  We used to send out mailers and knock on doors in October, and there was always a big Get Out the Vote push on Monday before the election.  It all has to be done much earlier now.  And most of us will have already voted by early-, mid- or late-October this year.

So we are making up our minds now.  It’s not hard at all for most of us to know who would make the better President: Joe Biden, of course.  But who will we elect as the next Benicia Mayor?  Who for City Council?  And what about those pesky ballot measures?

For good guidance on these, check out ProgressiveDemocratsOfBenicia.org.  See their CANDIDATE ENDORSEMENTS page and their Recommendations on Ballot Measures.

~ How and where to cast your mail-in ballot EARLY ~

Roger’s recommendations

Steve Young – for BENICIA MAYOR

Benicia Mayor: Steve Young.  I support Steve for his careful analysis of facts and his grounding in city administration.  Benicia will forever owe Steve a debt of gratitude for his intense and persuasive questioning of Valero and City staff during the long fight against Valero’s dirty and dangerous “Crude by Rail” proposal.  The entire Planning Commission and City Council deserve praise, but it was Steve whose star shined most brightly during those pivotal times.  By the way, those who know me are aware of my bias in favor of women candidates.  I’m a longtime male feminist, and usually I will lean left and go with a woman candidate.  But in this year’s race, with Mayor Patterson choosing not to run, I have to go with Steve Young.  More about Steve Young, or Donate and Volunteer.

Terry Scott – for BENICIA CITY COUNCIL

Benicia City Council: Terry Scott.  I support Terry for his vision and values, and for his leadership as Chair of Benicia’s Arts and Culture Commission.  More about Terry Scott, or Donate and Volunteer.

Tinfow receives $300,000 severance package from city of Benicia

Separation agreement reveals Tinfow was  “involuntarily terminated” – public not told why, nor who initiated it

JohnGlidden.com, By John Glidden, September 17, 2020
Lorie Tinfow, Benicia City Manager Apr 2017 – Sep 2020

BENICIA – Benicia has agreed to give more than $300,000 in severance pay to former city manager Lorie Tinfow, who announced her resignation earlier this month, according to a severance agreement obtained by JohnGlidden.com.

Although she officially resigned on Sept. 8, Tinfow actually signed the agreement on Sept. 4, suggesting Tinfow may have been pushed out.

The agreement stipulates Tinfow will receive $303,718 altogether – $259,385 for 13 months of pay, plus $26,287 in unused vacation time, $12,157 in compensation for one-half of her sick leave, and $5,887 for one-half of her unused administrative leave.

Tinfow will remain on the city’s medical, dental and vision plans until October 2021, according to the agreement.

Attempts to reach Tinfow about her departure have been unsuccessful.benicia

Tinfow’s contract with the city states that if she is “involuntarily terminated” she will receive “twelve (12) months of the base salary, plus accrued vacation leave, one-half (1/2) of accrued administrative leave, and one-half (1/2) of accrued sick leave, calculated at the base salary in effect on the effective date of termination.”

According to the contract, involuntary termination can occur through Tinfow’s resignation following a salary, compensation and/or benefit reduction without her consent; a reduction in the powers and authority of the city manager position, or the total elimination of the city manager’s position; or if Tinfow resigns following a formal demand by a majority of the Bencia City Council that she resign.

Tinfow’s contract states that if she voluntarily resigns she is only entitled to accrued vacation leave, one-half (1/2) of accrued administrative leave, one-half (1/2) of accrued sick leave, and not any of her base salary.

Despite indications she faced an involuntary termination, the city council praised Tinfow in a press release announcing her resignation.

“The City Council is grateful for Ms. Tinfow’s service to the City of Benicia and wishes her well in her future endeavors,” the Sept. 8 release said.

In her resignation letter, Tinfow said that she “worked hard over the past three-plus years to make the City of Benicia a stronger, healthier city.”

“I’m especially proud of the work that I have done to complete long-standing projects such as the drainage issues associated with St. Augustine Ct., the Bus Hub transit site, and the ERP which will be completed this fall,” she wrote. “l also introduced new communication tools such as the City of Benicia This Week newsletter, Benicia Town Hall online survey and Priority Based Budgeting and contributed to the Council’s goal of retaining and attracting quality staff by hiring talented individuals and recommending strategies to retain employees.”

Neither Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson, nor the other members of the city council could be immediately reached when asked about Tinfow.

On Sept. 8, the council met in a special closed session to discuss Tinfow’s performance as city manager; a normally routine occurrence. However, following the closed session the council said it had unanimously accepted Tinfow’s resignation and also approved the severance agreement.

Benicia Police Chief Erik Upson was also named “acting” city manager.

A week later on Sept. 15, the council met in closed session, officially appointing Upson as interim city manager. During that meeting, Vice Mayor Christina Strawbridge became the only councilmember to make any reference to the situation when she thanked Upson for “stepping up” to serve as interim city manager.

Longtime resident Constance Beutel expressed concern about Tinfow’s sudden departure from the city.

“As a resident and voter, I am highly distressed that this resignation, without a given explanation, is yet another reason that this city needs to take serious stock of how its equity and diversity issues are handled,” she told the council during the public comment period. “Are there internal biases that drive women and minorities from the city? If so, they are costing us talent, money, and reputation.”

On Sept. 17, the city issued a press release announcing Upson had been appointed interim city manager.

“Mr. Upson will provide the steady hand at the helm as the council begins the recruitment process for a new city manager,” Patterson said in the same release.

As Upson serves as city manager, Benicia police Capt. Mike Greene will serve as interim police chief, officials added.

“I am honored that the Council and the Mayor have asked me to step into this critical role during such a challenging time,” Upson said. “Benicia is an amazing town. I am committed to this community and to our staff. We are in the midst of some very great challenges, but none that cannot be overcome if we come together as one community and lift each other up. We will get through this and, if we take this approach, we will come out stronger on the other side.”

Tinfow came to Benicia in 2017, replacing Brad Kilger who left the position to take a similar job in the city of Martinez.

Prior to Benicia, Tinfow served as city manager of Pacifica, and before that, she was an assistant city manager for Saratoga and Walnut Creek.

Why did Benicia’s City Manager Lorie Tinfow resign suddenly?

By Roger Straw, September 10. 2020
Lorie Tinfow, Benicia City Manager, 2017-2020

Why did City Manager Lorie Tinfow resign suddenly?  Everyone is asking, and I wish I had an answer to that question.

Most of my friends and acquaintances held her in high regard, had no warning of her quick departure, and were shocked and saddened when the news broke.  Her resignation was effective immediately, and gave the impression of a firing or at least an unhappy crashing of relations.

I am aware that not every Benicia City Council member favored her, but I am truly shocked that we lost her at this delicate time in our city’s many struggles, including dealing with the effects of the COVID pandemic.

I take this opportunity to refer you to an excellent new source of Benicia news.  John Glidden, formerly an excellent reporter for the Vallejo Times-Herald, has struck out on his own and is covering Vallejo and Benicia news at JohnGlidden.com.  Here’s a good example of his work – covering a closed-session Benicia City Council performance evaluation of Ms. Tinfow before the sudden resignation.

If you have any information about why Ms. Tinfow resigned, please contact John Glidden via johnglidden.com/contact/ or write to me at rogrmail at gmail dot com.