It’s time to update the City of Benicia’s 10-year-old Climate Action plan. This is especially important in 2019 in consideration of:
hugely consequential recent international and U.S. scientific findings on climate change (see links below), and
new California laws and target dates for meeting climate and pollution goals (links below).
Updating the Climate Action Plan could be initiated by City staff and the Community Sustainability Commission. The Commission could consider this as part of its work plan for the next year (2019).
Barriers to this could be budget issues, possible lack of council support and staff capacity. The way the Commission overcame the lack of staff 10 years ago was through the working groups that provided invaluable insight, work products and so forth. From 2012-2014, we also had a staff Climate Action Coordinator, who, if restored, could provide invaluable service for this effort.
I pointed out that candidate Christina Strawbridge made a huge difference in 2016, voting to stop Valero’s dangerous and dirty Crude by Rail proposal, but I went on to give a critical review of a few of Strawbridge’s votes on environmental issues.
Christina wrote a friendly and detailed response to my criticism, and she deserves to be heard on the issues. Here are her comments, along with my responses:
BENINDY NEWSLETTER: “…she voted in favor of Seeno development…”
CHRISTINA: I did not vote for development of the Seeno Property. It never came before me while I served on the Council. This fabrication was used extensively against me in the last election. The closest I came was to ask Council in a 2 step process to put the use of the property on the Agenda to discuss. Even though a majority agreed to that request it never happened.
ROGER: I apologize for misstating the facts in my newsletter, however there is more to the story. Seeno was back with a proposal, the Northern Gateway Project in 2015-2016, when Christina was on Council. She is right to point out that the project never came before Council – for approval. The project proponent, suspected Seeno surrogate Schwartz Land Development, approached the Council to be placed on the agenda for “guidance.” Christina voted approval with a majority and so Council convened a workshop. Ultimately the developer withdrew their plans when public opposition arose. Opponents of the project were strongly objecting to the housing element in the proposal, and skeptical of the developer’s claim of no relation to the Seeno family. When a proposal comes before Council in a 2-step process, it is often fair to vote for an airing of pros and cons and discussion regardless of one’s opinion on the merits of the proposal. But when Council convened the “guidance” workshop on Feb 23, 2016 Christina offered the following accommodating remarks as shown in the minutes: “Council Member Strawbridge discussed the need to figure out economic development within the City. The issue is what would be a viable project in the area. She would like to move forward with the project so we can see what can be done creatively out there (affordable housing, etc.).” [Emphasis added.]
VALERO GETS GOOD NEIGHBOR SETTLEMENT MONEY
BENINDY NEWSLETTER: “[she voted] in favor of a nearly million-dollar give back to Valero…”
CHRISTINA: The million $$$ give back to Valero. I believe you are referring to the grant recommendations through the Sustainability Commission for remaining money in the Good Neighbor Settlement. This was at the height of the historic drought and the project that Valero wanted to use the money for was a large water conservation project.
ROGER: Valero’s boiler construction project was a good idea at the height of our historic drought. But the Sustainability Commission’s settlement funds were no substitute for the deep pockets of Valero Energy Corporation to fund the project. Christina voted with Hughes and Schwartzman on June 17, 2014 to flip $829,000 of the Valero / Good Neighbor settlement money back to Valero to fund the project. The Community Sustainability Commission recommended against distribution of grant funds to corporate giant Valero, pointing out that Valero could easily afford the outlay itself and recoup costs in about a year. The CSC preferred to spread the money over a longer period of time to fund local climate solutions that would otherwise be unlikely to move forward. By flipping the recommendation, most of the remaining funds were spent, decimating the ability of the Sustainability Commission to make further significant investments in smaller projects that would benefit Benicia.
DEFUNDING OF BENICIA’S CLIMATE ACTION COORDINATOR
BENINDY NEWSLETTER: [she voted] “in favor of a budget that discontinued employment of Benicia’s Climate Action Coordinator”
CHRISTINA: Funding the Climate Action Coordinator. As you might recall the contract ended for the CAP coordinator Alex Porteshawver when she left Sonoma State University’s Center for Sustainable Communities to work for a for a company that wanted to provide less service for more money. There was thought that the solar project savings would pay for the coordinator. That was not the case. During deliberation, I asked the Community Development Director if there had been an attempt to negotiate with the company to allow some continued presence of Alex. Staff’s response was the company was not interested. I believe the CAP coordinator was an important asset to our community and Alex was really well thought of in the industry. Perhaps with a different staff and more creative thinking she would still be here.
ROGER: Christina gives a fair defense here. Budget decisions are complex and difficult, and often must include compromises. Public support for the Climate Action Coordinator was huge, and the numbers showed that she more than paid for her salary through city savings. Disappointment lingers. If Christina is elected, I hope she will work with our new City Staff and Council to revisit funding for a Climate Action Coordinator. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
CHRISTINA’S OTHER ENVIRONMENTAL VOTES & ENDORSEMENTS
CHRISTINA: Some things you left out about being environmentally insensitive with my voting record:
voted for MCE Marin Clean Energy
supported the completion of the solar project pump 3
voted to move forward for obtaining grants for the water reuse project
served/serve on the Solano County State Parks Committee to coordinate efforts to keep the 2 State Parks open and get the State to do work on deferred maintenance, (Currently on the board of the Benicia State Parks Association)
voted to fund the BRIP Business Resource Incentive Program whose goal was to assist businesses in improving productivity and viability through energy and resource savings. BRIP won multiple awards in combining economic development and sustainability for Benicia businesses
voted for a comprehensive water conservation program to save water and find funding for lawn replacement, gray water use, etc.
I have also been endorsed by the Sierra Club and the Solano County Orderly Growth Committee.
ROGER: Christina’s record on environmental issues definitely has some pluses, but it also has some poor marks. Suffice to say, every vote on Council is nuanced, and there are often times when a compromise is called for. In the end, however, the alliances we strike are in fact important, and outcomes matter. In her 2016 campaign for Council, Christina aligned herself with Mark Hughes for Mayor. Hughes’ comments and votes on Council have been uniformly insensitive to needs of the environment – he even waffles on the significance of human causes of climate change. Hughes strongly supported Valero Crude by Rail and has fallen short on many other important issues. Christina is currently supported in her run for Council by Hughes.
Valero’s self-proclaimed “Good Neighbor” status is laughable when you begin to peel back the onion and remove the layers of misinformation (or missing information) and reveal the same flavor of corporate propaganda and fearmongering that is used to hold small communities hostage.
There are hidden costs to having Valero as a neighbor that you may not be aware of.
Valero says the City of Benicia is losing more than $360K per year in revenue because of delays in approving their crude by rail project, which could get us 4 new police officers.
Valero DOESN’T say…
CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) is a law that requires due diligence to properly evaluate environmental impacts and most importantly, inform the public of those impacts. City staff initially attempted to push this project through, under the radar, and without LITTLE public notification – skirting the law. Had it not been for a group of alert citizens bringing this to the public’s attention Valero would have gotten away with implementing a project that would have enormous ramifications to our health, safety, and economic viability, not only in our community, but every community along the rails.
Our personal safety is NOT at risk because we are short on police officers, it’s at risk because transporting highly volatile crude oil by rail is extremely risky business. More than 17 major oil train accidents have occurred in the last 24 months resulting in explosions, spills, and derailments.
Valero says they contribute 25% to Benicia’s general fund.
Valero DOESN’T say…
That number is actually 20% AND it doesn’t reflect the millions that Valero has taken away from the city’s coffers in recent years.
The City of Benicia was forced to pay Valero $2.3 million because Valero filed an appeal for a reduction in its property value from $1.02 billion to $230 million and $964 million to $100 million in 2012 and 2013 respectively despite climbing profits and gas prices since 2010. Benicia loses $2.3 million AND any on-going revenue generated from Valero’s property taxes. How many police officers do you think $2.3 million get us?
Valero says the crude by rail project will reduce air emissions and decrease greenhouse gases. In addition, they say they are entitled to $57million in emission reduction credits because of improvements made to the refinery.
Valero DOESN’T say…
The recirculated EIR for their crude by rail project specifically states that there will be significant increases in air emissions and greenhouse gases.
Valero has received dozens of notices of emissions violations nearly every single month of 2014 and 2015 including a violation for Benzene.
Valero has failed to install any publically accessible emissions monitoring equipment despite their pledge to do so since 2008.
Emission reduction credits would allow Valero to increase their emissions for new projects, sell or trade their credits to other polluters. Because of Cap and Trade legislation, big polluters in our own backyards get to pollute even more.
According to the EPA, Valero is the biggest polluter in Solano County, contributing 82% of all toxic releases in 2013. Data for 2014 and 15 is not available.
Valero is desperate to turn a profit and will use whatever means is necessary – squeeze money from the city coffers, pollute our environment, and put our lives at risk – to satisfy the short-term interests of their shareholders. They even threaten to lay people off or sell the refinery if the city doesn’t comply.
We can’t let one business keep our community in such an economically vulnerable situation. The City of Benicia has adopted a Climate Action Plan, but can’t seem to address THE REAL CLIMATE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM, which is Valero. It’s time that serious action be taken to seek out and invite other, more sustainable industries to our city because Valero is NOT a Good Neighbor!