Category Archives: Benicia Planning Commission

Our Benicia Election is a referendum on Climate Change

By Roger Straw, October 12, 2018

MY LIFE IN PERSPECTIVE – THE CLIMATE AND OUR LOCAL ELECTION

Roger Straw, Benicia

      For the first 35 years of my adult life, my priority was on peace and freedom, justice and equality under the law. That and helping folks in need.
      Sometime in 2007, a friend and colleague spoke convincingly to me about the planetary threat of climate change, global warming.  I was skeptical, but I didn’t argue with her.  I listened, and somehow, I came to understand that everything – EVERYTHING – is at stake, that creation itself is in the balance.  The science is indisputable.
      My life since then has revolved around environmental causes, and I’ve taken seriously the mantra, “Think globally, act locally.”  I’ve helped elect Benicia leaders who share my views; I’ve campaigned against bulldozing development on Seeno land; I’ve helped organize Benicians to successfully deny giant Valero’s dangerous and dirty crude by rail proposal; I’ve helped awaken Benicia to the serious need of better air monitors in and beyond the refinery.
      These concerns are front and center as I consider my vote for City Council this fall.
      One candidate spoke out repeatedly in favor of toxic and potentially explosive oil trains: Lionel Largaespada.  He’s a nice guy but he doesn’t belong in a position of power at the heart of our city.
Another candidate was a deciding vote in 2016 to stop Valero’s oil train proposal in its tracks.  Christina Strawbridge will get a lot of votes for that, and she should.  I hope Christina wins, but it’s hard to overlook many of her votes.  She frequently voted with business-friendly and environmentally insensitive colleagues.  For instance, she voted in favor of Seeno development, in favor of a nearly million-dollar give back to Valero, and in favor of a budget that discontinued employment of Benicia’s Climate Action Coordinator.
      The one candidate who stands out as a shepherd of the planet’s future is Kari Birdseye.  Thoughtfully independent and caring, she now presides collaboratively over Benicia’s Planning Commission, where she voted in 2016 to send Valero’s oil train proposal down the tubes.  Her professional work is for an award-winning environmental non-profit.  She’s also a mom, with a long history of involvement in Benicia’s schools, where she has raised funds for good causes and led everyday moms and dads to unite for constructive outcomes.  Those abilities will be needed in our future as we work together to build economic diversity and sustainability in our beautiful, family-friendly art town by the Strait.
      I have come to know Kari personally.  She’s a straight shooter, tough and yet nurturing, open to conversation and compromise, but with eyes always peeled for the good of mother earth, the air, land and water.
      Kari Birdseye is my number one priority in this election.  And I hope she will be yours as well.  Check her out, order a yard sign, volunteer and donate at BirdsyeForBenicia.com.

    How Benicia Valero Crude By Rail was defeated

    Reflections by Roger Straw, Benicia CA, November 18, 2016

    We Won!  3 (or 10 or 12, or 40?) factors…

    What happened in Benicia was amazing. It’s well worth our time as community activists and organizers to reflect a bit on how David went up against Goliath and won.  (Continued…)

      FAIRFIELD DAILY REPUBLIC: Top 10 Stories of 2016: Benicia derails Valero’s oil-transport plan

      Repost from the Fairfield Daily Republic

      Top 10 Stories of 2016: Benicia derails Valero’s oil-transport plan

      By Daily Republic staff From page A1 | January 01, 2017
      Tank cars sit on the railroad tracks, near Cordelia Road and Chadbourne Road on January 1, 2016. (Robinson Kuntz/Daily Republic file)
      Tank cars sit on the railroad tracks, near Cordelia Road and Chadbourne Road on January 1, 2016. (Robinson Kuntz/Daily Republic file)

      BENICIA — City Hall reverberated from the cheers when the City Council in September voted unanimously to turn down a Valero plan that would have allowed up to 70,000 barrels of crude oil to be shipped by rail to its refinery.

      It is a topic that also made the Daily Republic’s top stories list in 2015.

      Valero receives its crude oil by ship, and wanted to employ the less expensive rail option.

      What ultimately became a simple land-use decision for the council, turned Benicia into one of the latest battlegrounds on the environmental and urban safety debate over transporting crude oil by rail.

      Proponents noted the advances in railcar safety and emergency service preparedness, while opponents pointed to all the disasters – many deadly – that have occurred, some during the local debate.

      Valero had applied for a permit to add additional rail, pipeline and to make other changes to its off-loading capabilities at the refinery, a request denied by the city Planning Commission in February. A series of public hearings were held before the City Council, but a decision was delayed while Valero took its case to the federal Surface Transportation Board, arguing the city lacked authority to make the decision.

      The agency, just hours prior to the council’s decision, ruled that the city was not addressing a transportation issue, which would have triggered the long-held rail pre-emption laws, but rather was addressing the permit application only.

      Valero, which represents about 25 percent of all local city tax revenue, has not indicated what its next move might be.

      The Valero oil refinery operates, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015, in Benicia.(Daily Republic file)