Category Archives: Industrial Safety Ordinance (ISO)

ISO Working Group – reflections on Council’s NO vote… and WHERE from here?

Benicia City Council: 3 to 2 against Industrial Safety Ordinance

By Benicia’s ISO Working Group, submitted by Ralph Dennis
[See also Video: Benicia Council votes NO.]

Another 3-2 vote. Very disappointing, again. The Council majority voted again, 3-2, not to consider an industrial safety ordinance for Benicia. Now, we wait for a yet-to-be determined date in November or December for Council to reconvene and review the progress Valero has made toward its commitments.

It appears the Council majority on these votes thinks another one or two monitors will address Benicia’s “monitoring issue” and that the “communication issue” is already taken care of. What monitoring is out there, or soon to be, is in no way comprehensive or sufficient for our community. Better communication? Thank you, Valero, for sharing all that information at the July 17 Council meeting – after 14 months of Council’s two-step process, and more than 10 years of community requests for Valero to address air monitoring.

Disappointing Council vote, yes. But, now we at least know how many monitors Valero has, and where they are located. And, three are community monitors, not just for fence line. Valero even says it has mobile monitors available. Probably more information than any of us had 14 months ago, certainly 10 years ago.

But this is of little value unless Council takes the next step, uses the data from these monitors (and other monitors perhaps to come), as well as all the other information Valero committed to share on a real-time, easy to access and use, public web site with the City as a “partner”, to address community health and safety concerns. With or without an ISO, Council has already started this process, and Council cannot go back. Council now knows the resources are out there.  We’ll see what Council does with them.  Passage of a Benicia ISO is the most effective tool for ensuring the community’s health and safety.

So, what now?  Over the next 6 months, let’s keep in mind what’s been left on the table or yet to be considered by virtue of Council’s 3-2 vote. What are the deficiencies an industrial safety ordinance would correct?

  1. Progress report. The minutes from June 19th Council state that there will be a progress report in November and then in December there will be (or should be) a meeting with choices of moving forward with an ISO or not depending on the progress report. What are the performance measures for that report? What choices will be presented to Council?  More questions than answers, which is why Terry Mollica said, “we are kicking the can down the road” if we don’t have the rehearing to set the parameters and future steps and outcomes.
  2.  Funding:  For the City to meaningfully “communicate”, i.e., have knowledge, skills set, and be copied and comment on reports, the City will need to increase staff which requires funding. An ISO would provide the funding through fees assessed on businesses subject to the ISO. How will staff follow up without funding?
  3. Promises:  The record is clear that Valero does not fulfill its promises and conditions of approval for permits.  Watch and see….
  4. Confusion and misdirection:  Valero distracts the staff, Council and public with their pat on their own back for their community contributions and their expressions of concern for public health protection.  The City and community recognizes these actions on the part of Valero and its contribution to the City’s tax base. It is nice to have non-governmental groups receive Valero money, but the issue we are talking about is air quality.
  5. Monitors:  There is great confusion about monitors – what they monitor, how they monitor, and when they do it. Council members in the 3-2 majority did not receive the benefit of Eric Stevenson’s recent meeting in Benicia discussing air monitors, nor do these Council members seem familiar with or understand the work of Air Watch Bay Area which is a data resource much more nuanced than understood.  Will the City and public be kept in the loop as Valero acquires and installs air monitoring equipment?  Will the City and public be asked for input?
  6. Regulations:  It is true that we have good state regulations, but the recent KQED story where the California Public Utilities Commission found PG&E at fault because it did not follow those regulations, makes the point of why Benicia needs an ISO.  When will state regulations be implemented?  Will public utilities and private enterprises like Valero follow the regulations?  Who will report to us, how and when?  We should have reports of the required training, the fulfillment of the training, and periodic protocol reviews to be assured that new regulations are adequate, and that they are being followed.
  7. Missing in Benicia. Finally, as an important point of reference and comparison, the Mayor of Martinez says his city has a great relationship with Shell, who invites city people to training exercises, shares reports, and offers meetings and a myriad of other “communicating” actions.  Without Contra Costa County’s ISO, his city would not be included in these ways.  Absence of news is rarely news.  That is, we won’t be seeing newspaper headlines like “Benicia did not get a quarterly report yesterday.”  Or, “On Saturday, Valero did not train City Staff on emergency response.”  Stay alert for what we DON’T hear over these next months.

So, the fight continues for a Benicia ISO. Let’s keep our eyes and ears open for the next piece of information that supports the need for an industrial safety ordinance in Benicia.

    Video: Benicia Council votes NO – ISO does not move forward

    With thanks, from YouTube by Constance Beutel

    Below are four videos documenting the Benicia City Council’s July 17 vote to REJECT Mayor Patterson’s request for reconsideration of Council’s June 19 vote on Industrial Safety Ordinance.

    • Rationale for rehearing (40 minutes)

    • Valero Opposition (39.5 minutes)

    • Support for rehearing (32 minutes)

    • Council debate and vote to deny (34.5 minutes)

      Benicia Herald: Council denies mayor’s request for ISO rehearing

      Repost from the Benicia Herald
      [Editor: For a perspective from the ISO Working Group, see here.  For more background on the ISO proposal, see here.  – RS]

      Council denies mayor’s request for ISO rehearing

      In yet another marathon meeting that lasted almost until midnight, the Benicia City Council voted 3-2 to reject Mayor Elizabeth Patterson’s request to rehear the council’s June 19 vote on reviewing a draft Industrial Safety Ordinance (ISO) for the city. The matter will not be heard again until November at the earliest.

      Patterson first requested an ISO reminiscent of the ordinance offered by Contra Costa County following the May 5, 2017 flaring incident at the Valero Benicia Refinery. The issue was not discussed again until June 19 when the decision to review a proposed ISO was struck down, with councilmembers Tom Campbell, Mark Hughes and Alan Schwartzman casting the opposing votes. The general consensus was that a city ISO would be duplicative of the state ISO, which was already based on Contra Costa’s ISO, although the majority felt Valero needed to improve gaps in communication. Additionally, Campbell and Schwartzman said they would change their votes if proposed air quality monitors were not installed by November.

      On June 28, Patterson submitted a request for rehearing. At Tuesday’s meeting, Patterson said there were three choices on the table: deny the reconsideration, approve reconsideration for the staff recommendation of an Oct. 2 rehearing while the draft ISO was reviewed or approve reconsideration and agendize the matter for an even earlier meeting, possibly July 24. Among other things, Patterson felt the request to review a draft ISO was not addressed at the previous meeting.

      “No need to consider adopting the draft,” she said. “Let’s have a third-party expert in the subject area with public interest, experience and knowledge and legal sufficiency review.”

      Additionally, Patterson felt the motion taken by the council did not address what was in the air, provide funds to support staff engagement, tell schools or workplaces what to do during a shelter in place or address what happens at the county level.

      “I am asking for reconsideration for review of the draft Industrial Safety Ordinance, not for adoption, not for revision, just a review and report back to the council so we all can be on the same page when it comes to local questions that have been raised about what it does and does not know,” Patterson said.

      Speaking on behalf of the ISO Working Group was local attorney Terry Mollica, who said the stipulations requested by the council seemed promising but did not authorize staff to do homework to enable the council to take action in November if nothing changed.

      “Not taking action on the reconsideration would just be kicking the can down the road,” he said.

      Among other things, Mollica felt certain practices needed evaluation and review, particularly the prevention of power failures.

      “Power failures are a fact of life and foreseeable in this community,” he said. “We know that this is a risk that this could happen again, so what steps should be taken to mitigate that issue and has it been adequately mitigated already?”

      Valero representatives also spoke to discuss issues brought up at the previous meeting, including the need for information related to the 2017 incident, establishing clear lines of communication, and installing fenceline monitors within 6 months,

      “Valero heard very clearly the City Council’s expectations from that meeting,” Don Wilson, the vice president and general manager of the Benicia refinery, said.

      Wilson then introduced Rich Walsh, the vice president and deputy general counsel of Valero’s corporate office, who discussed what the Benicia refinery was doing to address the points raised.

      “We listened back through all the discussions from the last council meeting,” he said. “We realized we’ve gotta do a better job of communicating.”

      Walsh noted in a PowerPoint presentation that a fenceline monitoring team began hosting weekly meetings with engineers and planners as well as representatives from the city, Fire Department and PG&E, and anticipates field construction along the refinery’s fenceline to commence soon.

      In regards to the 2017 incident, the PowerPoint noted that Valero has requested a review of PG&E’s overall maintenance program and risk ranked all proposed PG&E work on Valero equipment.

      Finally, the presentation discussed actions Valero would do to improve communication. These included providing a 72-hour incident report, collaborating with the city to establish shelter-in-place and evacuation criteria and procedures, coordinating with the Fire Department to incorporate Valero information into the AlertSolano system and work to increase the number of registrants for said system.

      “Nobody has more of an incentive to make sure this (incident) doesn’t happen again than us,” Walsh said.”This was a tremendous loss for us.”

      After a lengthy public comment period that brought out people from both sides of the issue, the council ultimately voted to deny Patterson’s request for a rehearing, with Patterson and Vice Mayor Steve Young voting in favor of a rehearing, and Campbell, Hughes and Schwartzman voting against.

      In other matters, the council voted 4-1 to delay discussion of placing a port tax on the ballot for the 2020 election. Schwartzman was the lone “no” vote.

      The council is next scheduled to meet on Tuesday, July 24.