At the risk of detracting from important election issues, I will take just a moment to point out a few facts:
The Benicia Independent is a personal blog with my own take on local, national and international concerns of my choosing.
The Benicia Independent is not and does not present itself as a mainstream news media with “balanced” coverage and a staff of reporters who interview and investigate. In my blog postings I hold to ethical standards, citing my sources and maintaining truthfulness and courtesy.
Unlike many personal blogs, the Benicia Independent does post legitimate breaking news stories. This function is increasingly important given the cutbacks in staffing and coverage at our two local newspapers.
The Benicia Independent is not a social media forum like Facebook, Nextdoor or Benicia Happenings. The care and feeding of commenters is beyond my reserves of time and energy.
The Benicia Independent was criticized recently by one of the candidates for City Council at a public forum. That candidate is no doubt miffed by the relative lack of attention he has received on the Benicia Independent. That lack of coverage is intentional. His last-minute, eccentric, unfunded and poorly supported campaign will only draw votes away from more qualified and widely supported candidates.
…following this grand conclusion to our 3½ year volunteer-led effort to defeat Valero’s plan … I was exhausted.
The Benicia Independent – a one-person operation – will be entering an entirely new phase, starting today. I will be on a “sabattical leave” from oil train news for at least the next 3 months, maybe a year.
The Benicia Independent was born in 2007, an act of necessity when many felt that our local print newspaper was not representing candidates for Mayor impartially and fired its editor. The Independent came to life again in 2008-9 to oppose the Seeno development proposal and promote a Green Gateway alternative for Benicia’s last large privately-owned open space. After a period of dormancy, the Independent wakened again for the 2011 elections in Benicia, and again after a period of hibernation, re-invented itself in January, 2014 as “Crude by Rail in the News.”
So … the Benicia Independent has evolved as a single-issue blog on a series of emerging issues of local significance.
Right now, the most important local news to cover is our elections for Mayor and City Council.
There is a CLEAR CONNECTION between our last 3 years of David and Goliath struggle to stop oil trains and the 2016 elections. It is critical that we elect two city officials who gave great leadership in stopping Valero’s proposal: Mayor Elizabeth Patterson and Planning Commissioner Steve Young. The Benicia Independent endorses them both, and will post articles to support their candidacy for the remaining weeks of this election.
>> Mayor Elizabeth Patterson is a long-time environmental scientist and Democrat, with progressive views and a strong record of local and statewide accomplishments. She is being challenged by sitting Councilmember Mark Hughes, a retired PG&E executive and Republican, who is business and development friendly, does not wholeheartedly embrace the science behind climate change, and has voted in support of the Seeno proposal. Hughes’ candidacy is supported by outside PACs, and Mayor Patterson’s election is not at all guaranteed. This is a MUST WIN! More at ElizabethForMayor.org.
>> Planning Commissioner Steve Young was incredibly insightful and persistent when, after 3 years of study and hearings and thousands of pages of environmental review, City staff finally allowed Commissioners to raise questions. Steve was not bullied by 3 years of staff, paid consultants and Valero executives favoring the project. He asked hard and penetrating questions for over 3 hours that night, and helped the Planning Commission come to a unanimous vote to deny oil trains in Benicia – a victory for Benicians, communities uprail from here, and for the planet. Steve is running against 4 other candidates for a seat on City Council. It is important that we defeat Republican media consultant Lionel Largaespada. Steve Young deserves our vote, and he’s definitely got mine. More at SteveYoungForCityCouncil.org.
Public comments on Valero Benicia Refinery’s proposed project
By Irma Widjojo, 09/30/15, 6:14 PM PDT
Benicia >> In a special meeting that drew a large crowd Tuesday night, the Benicia Planning Commission received comments from concerned citizens on recently distributed documents on Valero’s proposed Crude-by-Rail project.
Many of those supporting the project wore a sticker on their clothing indicating their approval, while some of those opposing the project wore pins, brought signs and sported a sunflower — a symbol of environmentalism — at the Benicia City Council Chambers at City Hall.
The meeting, which began at 6:30 p.m. and lasted until about 10 p.m., was an opportunity for the public to submit verbal comments on the Revised Draft Environmental Impact Report, or RDEIR, of the project. Those who could not get a seat in the chambers, which has a 120-person capacity, were asked to wait for their turn to speak in an overflow room.
The RDEIR concluded that the project would cause “significant and unavoidable” impacts to air quality, greenhouse gas emissions, biological resources and hazards and hazardous materials. However, the report also adds “potential mitigation measures to reduce these new impacts would be preempted by federal law.”
A few speakers who were concerned with the project took issue with the federal preemption mentioned in the report. Federal preemption means federal laws displace state or other local laws.
“It has become a justification for the lack of mitigation,” Benicia resident Roger Straw said. Straw also is the editor of the online publication The Benicia Independent, which disseminates articles and information regarding crude-by-rail and Valero refinery.
Another Benician, Judith Sullivan, said “preemption makes it sound like we don’t have any choices.
“But grassroots efforts like this have been pushing the federal government to enact new environmental laws,” she said.
Representatives from Valero Benicia Refinery and Union Pacific, which would operate the railroad used for the trains hauling crude if the project is approved, also spoke during the meeting.
“This process has forged into a new territory and goes beyond what CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) requires,” said Don Cuffel, Valero Benicia Refinery’s lead environmental engineer.
An attorney working with Valero on the application called the process “out of control.”
“We’ve lost sight of the city’s discretion,” said attorney John Flynn. The RDEIR, released Aug. 31, came after an outpouring of feedback from the public on the Draft Environmental Impact Report last year.
Valero Benicia Refinery applied for the permit for the project in early 2013.
If the project is approved, Valero will be allowed to transport crude oil through Benicia via two 50-tanker car trains, rather than shipping the crude oil by boat. It will not replace the crude that is transported by pipeline, officials said.
Concerns voiced on Tuesday about the RDEIR included conflicting information, conclusions based on assumptions and lack of details, among others.
Though the commission reminded the public that the comments should be limited to the redistributed report, instead of about the project in general, not everyone heeded the reminder.
“Valero is a powerful oil company that provides most revenue to this town,” a speaker said. “Are you going to let them get richer on the expense of the health and well being of the residents?”
Many supporting the project said Valero has “gone above and beyond” in the process to ensure the project’s safety, and called Valero a “good neighbor.”
However, that was not good enough of a reason for those in opposition.
“While Valero has been a good neighbor, we can’t be held hostage by what they have given generously to our city,” Anina Hutchinson said.
They also brought up issues about increased greenhouse gas emission, chance of derailment while carrying volatile crude and destruction of the environment in the area of the railroad.
Herbert Forthuber told the Times-Herald he supports the project because Valero is a major financial revenue for the city.
“I’ve seen in the past that when it’s not economically viable anymore for (a refinery) to be in a city, they close down,” Forthuber said, adding that it would be a blow for the local employees and other local businesses that depend on the refinery.
Forthuber is the vice president and general manager of a local business that repairs industrial machineries.
“The RDEIR really hasn’t changed my mind,” he said. “I’m more economically minded, and I care about the impact it would have for people who work for me.”
Valero officials have contended that the railroad addition would make the refinery more competitive by allowing it to process more discounted North American crude oil.
All of those who were present Tuesday were given an opportunity to speak, and the remaining three special meetings for this purpose have been cancelled.
Comments on the report may still be submitted in writing no later than 5 p.m. on Oct. 30.
Written comments should be submitted to email@example.com or Principal Planner Amy Million at the Community Development Department. For further information about the revised environmental report, contact Million at 707-746-4280.
The report can be reviewed at the Benicia Public Library, 150 E. L St.; the Community Development Department, 250 E. L St.; or online at bit.ly/1lBeeTt.
Following the end of the comment period, a final Environmental Impact Report will be released to the public.
During the meeting, Million said staff estimated Planning Commission hearings will be held in January for the commission to certify the report and whether to grant Valero the use permit for the project.