Category Archives: Industrial Safety Ordinance (ISO)

Benicia Herald: City Council candidates discuss issues at Chamber of Commerce forum

Repost from the Benicia Herald

City Council candidates discuss issues at Chamber of Commerce forum

By Nick Sestanovich, September 13, 2018
(Left to right) City Council candidates William Emes, Kari Birdseye, Lionel Largaespada and Christina Strawbridge answer questions from the audience at Wednesday’s Candidate’s Night forum. (Photo by Nick Sestanovich)

Viewers of Wednesday’s Candidate’s Night forum, sponsored by the Benicia Chamber of Commerce, had an opportunity to ask questions of the City Council candidates and learn their perspectives on hot-button issues facing the city.

The forum was held in the Council Chambers of City Hall and moderated by James Cooper, the president of the Vallejo Chamber of Commerce. All the candidates were present, including Planning Commission Chair Kari Birdseye, retired carpenter William Emes, Economic Development Chair Lionel Largaespada and former Councilmember Christina Strawbridge. Prior to the forum, audience members wrote down questions on cards, which Cooper read to all the candidates. Below is a sample of the candidates’ answers.

Industrial Safety Ordinance

The candidates were asked their stance on a proposed Industrial Safety Ordinance for the city, which among other things would include a more community-involved approach to safety procedures at the Valero Benicia Refinery and other local industries. A draft ISO went before the council in June, but the council voted to delay the ISO to give Valero more time to address some of the concerns resulting from the 2017 flaring incident.

Birdseye felt the proposal should be reviewed.

“I’m all for communications between our great neighbor, Valero Refinery, and the community at large,” she said. “The heart of the ordinance is better communications and better data on what’s in our air.”

She proposed the ordinance should be renamed the “Community Involvement Ordinance.”

Largaespada made five points. He said his top priority was public safety, the city should have an active climate environmental policy, he supports the installation of more air monitors, the council should be vigilant over the council’s execution of Program 4— the state version of the ISO and he supported the expansion of command centers with every vulnerable entity in town, including Amports and schools.

“We didn’t have to wait for there to be a flaring incident at Valero to take all these actions,” he said. “I assure you as the next councilmember, public safety is what I will think about every day, working with fellow councilmembers and city staff. We will correct and amend our ordinances and our processes along the way.”

Strawbridge said she was concerned about the way the ordinance was presented, namely that she felt the public did not have much oversight and the councilmembers and staff did not have much time to review it.

“I think we need more time to review it,” she said. “I think that it has brought people to the table, which has been really important.”

She noted that the ISO discussion has created opportunities for communication with Valero and suggested people wait and see what the refinery will do in the time given.

Emes felt Valero should be given time to meet the minimum requirements, including installing monitors.

“Over time, my 15 years experience working refineries, they have continually become better,” he said. “It takes time to do this. To demand that it occur instantly in five years is unrealistic given the historic record.”

Water rates

Candidates were asked about the city’s decision to restructure water rates and their views on continued rate increases.

Birdseye noted her family was among those impacted by the water rate increases, and she noted in her experiences going door to door, many residents wanted relief and action. She felt that addressing the city’s “crumbling infrastructure” was the right thing to do.

“We want future generations of Benicians to have access to clean water, and that’s not a god-given right,” she said, citing the incidents of Flint, Mich. and Newark, N.J. as examples of failed leadership resulting in lack of access to clean water.

However, Birdseye felt the city should explore its options and figure out alternatives to rate increases.

Largaespada said he was frustrated by the rates and had been protesting them since 2016 via public comments at council meetings and letters to the editor. He offered a plan for the next council to freeze rates, bring back discounts to those with fixed incomes and extend them to nonprofits such as the Benicia Teen Center, ask for money from state and federal representatives and look at public/private partnerships.

“The reality is Benicia will never have enough money to pay for this,” he said.

Strawbridge said she was the swing vote when the council voted to increase water rates but felt further discussions should be held with residents and advocated freezing the rates to figure out where the city stands with its water and sewer funds. She also suggested developing a water hotline to address the complaints.

Emes felt assistance should be provided to those who need help and the commercial enterprises that use a lot of water should carry their weight.

“My feeling on this sensitive subject is that those in need should get help, and those that can give help should help carry the burden,” he said. “It is that simple.”

Cannabis

The candidates were asked their views on the city’s decision to allow cannabusinesses.

Largaespada rejected assertions that he was a “prohibitionist” or “moralist,” and he accepted the statewide voters’ decision. However, he did not feel the council’s ordinance was well-implemented, particularly the decision to do away with buffers around parks, places of worship or youth centers.

“It is the responsibility of the City Council to ensure that Benicia remains a family-friendly community,” he said. “Those businesses are welcome, but families come first and we will do our best to accommodate the locations that will not come at the expense of the families and children here in Benicia.”

Strawbridge said she felt the decision was made too fast and felt Benicia should have waited to see how cannabis legalization was impacting other communities.

“I have no problem with legalized marijuana,” she said. “I think it’s been helpful, especially for people for medicinal use for people trying to find relief and pain, but I do have a problem with the fit for here in Benicia.”

Strawbridge said she would continue to fight to ensure cannabis is not used by youth.

Emes agreed with Largaespada and felt there should be zones where cannabis is not allowed.

Birdseye, who was on the Planning Commission that recommended a zoning ordinance, said ensuring public safety in the wake of legalization will be a top priority.

“Our chief of police was there every step of the way in legalizing cannabis and bringing cannabis to our community,” she said. “He will ensure that cannabis will not be a safety nuisance. In addition, because we took advantage of the timing of the state in legalizing cannabis, we will have additional funds to enforce cannabis laws and keep it away from our kids and also education in our schools. I felt that was a very valuable part of what we did.”

The televised broadcast of the forum will be shown again at 7 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 26; 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 6; and 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 15 on Comcast Channel 27.  [Editor: …and streamed on the City website for local access channel 27.]

    Benicia Mayor Patterson on State decision not to penalize PG&E

    From Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson’s E-ALERT
    [See also: KQED NEWS, California Report.]

    From: Mayor Elizabeth Patterson
    Sent: Thursday, August 9, 2018 9:32 AM
    Subject: State Decides Not to Penalize PG&E for Major Valero Outage

    My full statement to KQED was:

    Without an Industrial Safety Ordinance residents and workers in Benicia are at risk because the CPUC cravenly fails to ensure that PG&E provide adequate training when working on power supply to Valero Refinery.  Without an Industrial Safety Ordinance Benicia has no way to check on the adequacy and timeliness of PG&E training.   

    On top of that the city cannot require Valero to “power down” when major work is being done by PG&E.  The CPUC fails to consider the public – the City of Benicia and its school district are the only public entities in the near catastrophic May 5th PG&E power outage at Valero Refinery. The Public Utilities Commission fails to consider the city in its investigation.  There was no effort to determine the costs to the city for opening and operating the Emergency Center; no cost for deploying our police and fire personnel; no cost for all staff on deck for the entire episode; no cost for the loss of public trust .  No effort to determine the costs to the BUSD for shelter in place.  No effort to determine the cost to loss of business in the Benicia Industrial Park.  Without the ISO the City of Benicia could not present this information to the CPUC.  Sleeping on the “Public” of the CA Public Utilities Commission does not extinguish the need for Californians’ access to safe and reliable utility infrastructure and services.

    • Mission Statement:  The CPUC regulates services and utilities, protects consumers, safeguards the environment, and assures Californians’ access to safe and reliable utility infrastructure and services.
      CPUC Investigation Conclusion:
    • My [CPUC] investigation found that PG&E violated General Order 174, Rule 12 because: 1) PG&E failed to maintain the CCTV for its intended use and also2) PG&E failed to provide adequate training, documents, or diagrams for its operators to identify the CCVT as part of the anti-islanding protection scheme since the documents, diagrams, and training on the protection scheme did not provide enough clarity on the activation conditions and how they relate to the failed CCVT.

      KQED: State Decides Not to Penalize PG&E for Major Valero Outage

      Repost from KQED NEWS, California Report
      [See also: Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson’s full comment.]

      State Decides Not to Penalize PG&E for Major Valero Outage

      The Valero Benicia refinery. (Craig Miller/KQED)

      The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), which recently blamed PG&E for causing a major power outage at Valero’s Benicia refinery last year, has decided not to punish the utility for the mistakes that led to one of the worst Bay Area refinery accidents in years.

      The commission concluded that PG&E’s inadequate training of operations personnel and slow response to the failure of an electrical component led to the May 5, 2017, outage, which triggered a major release of toxic sulfur dioxide and prompted emergency shelter-in-place orders in Benicia.

      But the state agency — at this point — does not plan to penalize the company.

      “PG&E has agreed to take corrective actions that, in CPUC staff’s opinion, would prevent a recurrence of the problems,” commission spokeswoman Terrie Prosper said in an email.

      “SED (The CPUC’s Safety and Enforcement Division) does not plan to issue a citation with penalties at this time, but will monitor to ensure that PG&E addresses the problems sufficiently and in a timely manner,” Prosper said, adding that if things change, the commission could reopen the probe and cite the utility.

      The CPUC’s decision did not sit well with the area’s elected leaders.

      “I think it’s outrageous,” said state Sen. Bill Dodd (D-Napa), who represents the area. “Not only continually has PG&E’s safety protocols been called into question, but now this leads me to call into question the oversight of the California Public Utilities Commission.”

      Dodd plans to send a letter to CPUC President Michael Picker in the coming days, expressing outrage over the agency’s decision.

      “They clearly violated the law,” said state Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), a longtime critic of PG&E, in an interview Thursday.

      “To give them a pass certainly does not bode well for the change in culture and policies and prioritization at the PUC where safety is supposed to be paramount,” said Hill, who’s been pushing the commission to be a stricter regulator of PG&E since the 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion.

      “It indicates a systemic problem with PG&E,” he said. “The CPUC should do its job, enforce the law and cite PG&E.

      Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson, who has been pushing for the city to have more oversight over the refinery, said the CPUC’s decision means it failed to consider that the city was gravely affected by the outage.

      “Residents and workers in Benicia are at risk because the CPUC cravenly fails to ensure that PG&E provide adequate training when working on power supply to the Valero refinery,” Patterson said.

      The mayor says the commission should have considered fining PG&E for costs associated with the city’s opening of its emergency center and the work its police and firefighters did the day of the outage, among other sacrifices Benicia made in dealing with the refinery accident.

      The Valero shutdown led to several government investigations, a brief increase in gas prices and a lawsuit by Valero against PG&E.

      The CPUC said a lack of training and unclear company documents led PG&E workers to misunderstand the importance of a key piece of equipment that went down before the outage.

      Valero, when asked to comment on the commission’s decision, reiterated that blame was on PG&E for the entire episode.

      “We agree with the CPUC report, which found that PG&E violated state regulations and is solely responsible for the May 5, 2017 power outage,” company spokeswoman Lillian Riojas said in an emailed statement.

      “PG&E must take the necessary corrective actions to prevent this from happening again,” Riojas said.

      PG&E disputes the CPUC’s findings and continues to blame Valero for the incident, but says it’s taking steps to prevent a similar problem.

      “Since this incident, we have completed several corrective actions … including adding alarms and alerts, regularly reviewing work processes and making changes to verification status of protective systems and holding regular refresher trainings for operators,” said Deanna Contreras, a PG&E spokeswoman, in a statement.