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.