Category Archives: Keeping Watch on Earth News

Candidate Strawbridge defends her environmental record – the Benicia Independent responds

Christina’s comments, with my apologies and rebuttals

By Roger Straw, October 13, 2018
Kari Birdseye

In Friday’s Benicia Independent newsletter, I wrote that the one Benicia City Council candidate who stands out as a shepherd of the planet’s future is Kari Birdseye.

Christina Strawbridge

I pointed out that candidate Christina Strawbridge made a huge difference in 2016, voting to stop Valero’s dangerous and dirty Crude by Rail proposal, but I went on to give a critical review of a few of Strawbridge’s votes on environmental issues.

Christina wrote a friendly and detailed response to my criticism, and she deserves to be heard on the issues.  Here are her comments, along with my responses:

SEENO

BENINDY NEWSLETTER: “…she voted in favor of Seeno development…”

CHRISTINA: I did not vote for development of the Seeno Property. It never came before me while I served on the Council. This fabrication was used extensively against me in the last election. The closest I came was to ask Council in a 2 step process to put the use of the property on the Agenda to discuss. Even though a majority agreed to that request it never happened.

ROGER: I apologize for misstating the facts in my newsletter, however there is more to the story.  Seeno was back with a proposal, the Northern Gateway Project in 2015-2016, when Christina was on Council. She is right to point out that the project never came before Council – for approval. The project proponent, suspected Seeno surrogate Schwartz Land Development, approached the Council to be placed on the agenda for “guidance.”  Christina voted approval with a majority and so Council convened a workshop.  Ultimately the developer withdrew their plans when public opposition arose. Opponents of the project were strongly objecting to the housing element in the proposal, and skeptical of the developer’s claim of no relation to the Seeno family.  When a proposal comes before Council in a 2-step process, it is often fair to vote for an airing of pros and cons and discussion regardless of one’s opinion on the merits of the proposal.  But when Council convened the “guidance” workshop on Feb 23, 2016 Christina offered the following accommodating remarks as shown in the minutes: “Council Member Strawbridge discussed the need to figure out economic development within the City. The issue is what would be a viable project in the area. She would like to move forward with the project so we can see what can be done creatively out there (affordable housing, etc.).”  [Emphasis added.]

VALERO GETS GOOD NEIGHBOR SETTLEMENT MONEY

BENINDY NEWSLETTER: “[she voted] in favor of a nearly million-dollar give back to Valero…”

CHRISTINA: The million $$$ give back to Valero. I believe you are referring to the grant recommendations through the Sustainability Commission for remaining money in the Good Neighbor Settlement. This was at the height of the historic drought and the project that Valero wanted to use the money for was a large water conservation project.

ROGER: Valero’s boiler construction project was a good idea at the height of our historic drought.  But the Sustainability Commission’s settlement funds were no substitute for the deep pockets of Valero Energy Corporation to fund the project.  Christina voted with Hughes and Schwartzman on June 17, 2014 to flip $829,000 of the Valero / Good Neighbor settlement money back to Valero to fund the project.  The Community Sustainability Commission recommended against distribution of grant funds to corporate giant Valero, pointing out that Valero could easily afford the outlay itself and recoup costs in about a year.  The CSC preferred to spread the money over a longer period of time to fund local climate solutions that would otherwise be unlikely to move forward.  By flipping the recommendation, most of the remaining funds were spent, decimating the ability of the Sustainability Commission to make further significant investments in smaller projects that would benefit Benicia.

DEFUNDING OF BENICIA’S CLIMATE ACTION COORDINATOR

BENINDY NEWSLETTER: [she voted] “in favor of a budget that discontinued employment of Benicia’s Climate Action Coordinator”

CHRISTINA: Funding the Climate Action Coordinator. As you might recall the contract ended for the CAP coordinator Alex Porteshawver when she left Sonoma State University’s Center for Sustainable Communities to work for a for a company that wanted to provide less service for more money. There was thought that the solar project savings would pay for the coordinator. That was not the case. During deliberation, I asked the Community Development Director if there had been an attempt to negotiate with the company to allow some continued presence of Alex. Staff’s response was the company was not interested. I believe the CAP coordinator was an important asset to our community and Alex was really well thought of in the industry. Perhaps with a different staff and more creative thinking she would still be here.

ROGER: Christina gives a fair defense here.  Budget decisions are complex and difficult, and often must include compromises.  Public support for the Climate Action Coordinator was huge, and the numbers showed that she more than paid for her salary through city savings.  Disappointment lingers.  If Christina is elected, I hope she will work with our new City Staff and Council to revisit funding for a Climate Action Coordinator.  Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

CHRISTINA’S OTHER ENVIRONMENTAL VOTES & ENDORSEMENTS

CHRISTINA: Some things you left out about being environmentally insensitive with my voting record:

  • voted for MCE Marin Clean Energy
  • supported the completion of the solar project pump 3
  • voted to move forward for obtaining grants for the water reuse project
  • served/serve on the Solano County State Parks Committee to coordinate efforts to keep the 2 State Parks open and get the State to do work on deferred maintenance, (Currently on the board of the Benicia State Parks Association)
  • voted to fund the BRIP Business Resource Incentive Program whose goal was to assist businesses in improving productivity and viability through energy and resource savings. BRIP won multiple awards in combining economic development and sustainability for Benicia businesses
  • voted for a comprehensive water conservation program to save water and find funding for lawn replacement, gray water use, etc.
  • I have also been endorsed by the Sierra Club and the Solano County Orderly Growth Committee.

ROGER: Christina’s record on environmental issues definitely has some pluses, but it also has some poor marks.  Suffice to say, every vote on Council is nuanced, and there are often times when a compromise is called for.  In the end, however, the alliances we strike are in fact important, and outcomes matter.  In her 2016 campaign for Council, Christina aligned herself with Mark Hughes for Mayor.  Hughes’ comments and votes on Council have been uniformly insensitive to needs of the environment – he even waffles on the significance of human causes of climate change. Hughes strongly supported Valero Crude by Rail and has fallen short on many other important issues.  Christina is currently supported in her run for Council by Hughes.

    NY Times: U.N. Dire Climate Warning

    Repost from The New York Times

    Dire Climate Warning Lands With a Thud on Trump’s Desk

    By Mark Landler and Coral Davenport, Oct. 8, 2018
    President Trump on Monday in Orlando, Fla., where he spoke to a convention of police chiefs. He did not mention a United Nations report on the threat of climate change. Credit Tom Brenner for The New York Times

    WASHINGTON — A day after the United Nations issued its most urgent call to arms yet for the world to confront the threat of climate change, President Trump boarded Air Force One for Florida — a state that lies directly in the path of this coming calamity — and said nothing about it.

    It was the latest, most vivid example of Mr. Trump’s dissent from an effort that has galvanized much of the world. While the United Nations warned of mass wildfires, food shortages and dying coral reefs as soon as 2040, Mr. Trump discussed his successful Supreme Court battle rather than how rising seawaters are already flooding Miami on sunny days.

    The president’s isolation is not just from the world: In California, New York, Massachusetts and other states, governments and companies are pushing ahead with regulations and technological innovations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

    That bottom-up activism is a source of hope for those who have watched in despair since last year when Mr. Trump declared he would pull the United States out of the Paris climate accord. But experts say it is no substitute for the world’s largest economy, and second-largest emitter of carbon dioxide, turning its back on the fight.

    “You have this enormous discrepancy between the White House and, essentially, everyone else,” said Johan Rockström, the director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. “The leadership in Washington is really moving against the whole agenda.”

    The United Nations report paints a far more dire picture of the immediate consequences of climate change than previously thought and says that avoiding the damage requires transforming the world economy at a speed and scale that has “no documented historic precedent.”

    It describes a world of worsening food shortages and poverty; more wildfires; and a mass die-off of coral reefs as soon as 2040 — a period well within the lifetime of much of the global population.

    Among climate-change scientists, there were increasing fears that Mr. Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris accord, which at first seemed a lonely act of defiance, may embolden other countries to leave it as well.

    In Brazil, voters are on track to elect a new president, Jair Bolsonaro, who has vowed to withdraw his country, the world’s seventh-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, from the pact.

    Mr. Trump’s announcement last year prompted a show of solidarity from the other 194 countries that signed the accord, not to mention American political and business leaders who rallied under the slogan, “We are still in!” But to populists like Mr. Bolsonaro, Mr. Trump’s demands that the United States be given a better deal could prove appealing.

    “To the extent that we get these narrow-minded, so-called nationalist, populist leaders, we could have a big problem,” said John P. Holdren, who served as President Barack Obama’s chief science adviser. “Brazil, with its huge area of forests, is going to suffer terribly from climate change.”

    A wildfire burning last year near Casitas Springs, Calif. The United Nations report warns of mass wildfires, food shortages and dying coral reefs as soon as 2040. Credit Hilary Swift for The New York Times

    Beyond the domino effect, Mr. Holdren, who is now a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School, said there were other immediate costs to what he called “the squandering of U.S. leadership on an acute global issue.”

    Mr. Trump, who has mocked the science of human-caused climate change, cut the American contribution to a global fund that supports climate mitigation and assistance efforts in developing countries by two-thirds, to $1 billion. He has tried to cut government funding of climate-related research — an effort that Congress has so far resisted.

    The White House issued no public response to the United Nations report, which was issued Monday in South Korea at a meeting of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of scientists convened by the United Nations to guide world leaders.

    “Not today,” said Bill Shine, the White House communications director. “It’s a Kavanaugh night.”

    After Mr. Trump returned Monday from Orlando, Fla., where he spoke to a convention of police chiefs and referred to the hurricane now approaching that state, he attended a White House ceremony to swear in Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh as an associate justice of the Supreme Court.

    Following the ceremony, Lindsay E. Walters, a deputy press secretary, said, “The United States is leading the world in providing affordable, abundant and secure energy to our citizens, while protecting the environment and reducing emissions through job-creating innovation.”

    She noted that carbon dioxide-related emissions declined 14 percent in the United States from 2005 to 2017, while they rose 21 percent globally during the same period.

    On Saturday, an American delegation in South Korea joined more than 180 countries in accepting the report’s summary for policymakers, but a statement from the State Department added that it “does not imply endorsement by the United States of the specific findings or underlying contents of the report.”

    The report “is quite a shock, and quite concerning,” said Bill Hare, an author of previous Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports and a physicist with Climate Analytics, a nonprofit organization. “We were not aware of this just a few years ago.”

    The authors found that if greenhouse gas emissions continue at the current rate, the atmosphere will warm by as much as 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, or 1.5 degrees Celsius, above preindustrial levels by 2040.

    The Paris accord set a goal of preventing warming of more than 3.6 degrees above preindustrial levels — long considered a threshold for the most severe social and economic damage from climate change. But the heads of small island nations, fearful of rising sea levels, had also asked scientists to examine the effects of 2.7 degrees of warming.

    Without aggressive action, many effects that scientists once expected to happen further in the future will arrive by 2040, and at the lower temperature, the report shows.

    “It’s telling us we need to reverse emissions trends and turn the world economy on a dime,” said Myles Allen, an Oxford University climate scientist and an author of the report.

    Flooded homes last month in Lumberton, N.C., after Hurricane Florence hit. Credit Johnny Milano for The New York Times

    To prevent 2.7 degrees of warming, the report said, greenhouse emissions must be reduced by 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, and by 100 percent by 2050. It also found that use of coal as an electricity source would have to drop from nearly 40 percent today to 1 to 7 percent by 2050.

    “This report makes it clear: There is no way to mitigate climate change without getting rid of coal,” said Drew Shindell, a climate scientist at Duke University and an author of the report. Mr. Trump has vowed to increase the burning of coal.

    “It makes me feel angry when I think about the U.S. government,” Mr. Shindell said. “My kids feel like it’s their future being destroyed.” He watched as the grounds of his son’s high school in Durham, N.C., and the roads around it flooded last month after Hurricane Florence.

    Dr. Allen said there was little question the report will be ignored in Washington. “The current administration doesn’t seem interested in it all,” he said, although he added that as a scientist, he takes the long view.

    “One way or another,” he said, “the facts do win out.”

    Mr. Trump encouraged scientists recently when he nominated Kelvin Droegemeier, a well-respected meteorologist who is an expert on extreme weather, to lead the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. The post had been vacant since Mr. Trump took office.

    But it is unlikely that Mr. Droegemeier will change the president’s views on climate change, and other influential aides are hardly going to challenge him.

    For example, the Trump administration’s counterterrorism strategy, released last week, made no mention of climate change as a cause for extremism. The Obama administration regularly cited it in threat assessments because of its effect on migration and the competition for food and water.

    “I don’t think climate change is a cause of international terrorism,” said the national security adviser, John R. Bolton.

    For all that, scientists said that they saw a few rays of sunshine amid the clouds. A Democratic takeover of the House would raise the odds that Congress would continue blocking cuts to research. And despite his criticism of the Paris accord as “very unfair” to the United States, Mr. Trump has left the door open to staying in the deal, if the terms were improved.

    “I have been of the opinion all along that we can definitely see the U.S. back in the Paris agreement, even under Trump,” Mr. Rockström said.

    Legally, he noted, the United States cannot formally withdraw from the pact until 2020, and the agreement’s terms are voluntary.

    “He can sit there in the White House and draw up his own plan,” Mr. Rockström said.

    Mark Landler reported from Washington, and Coral Davenport from Incheon, South Korea. Reporting was contributed by Somini Sengupta.
    A version of this article appears in print on Oct. 8, 2018, on Page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Climate Warning Hits Silent Wall On Trump’s Desk.

      Alarm bells in Benicia and beyond… what next?

      The Tenor of our Times

      Related imageIf you are on the Benicia Independent email list, I can pretty much be sure that your alarm bells – like mine – are going off.  A sampling…

      • Christine Blasey Ford and others accuse Judge Kavanaugh – the #MeToo movement and an FBI investigation
      • A “push poll” with Benicia election meddling by outside forces
      • Positive and effective support for one or more local City Council candidates
      • The Trump administration’s alarming “rollback” on oil train braking regulations
      • Urgent calls to help “flip” California congressional districts from red to blue
      • Continuing detention of immigrant children and families at our border
      • Deadlines for financial contributions needed for countless important causes
      • A Benicia resident – a neighbor – arrested and charged as the NorCal Rapist!

      …and of course, I could go on.  I confess that it all leaves me somewhat at a loss, personally.  We’ve been on alert since The Donald won the presidential election, vowing to stand vigilant, to resist, to move the country back into the progressive mainstream.  But we’re tired.  How do we cope?

      I take slivers of hope from a few recent sources:

      • Earlier this month, Barack Obama slammed the Trump administration and addressed us all in a speech at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.  The line that stood out to me and continues to hold me up was, “If you’re willing to fight for it, things do get better.”  And, “Better is good….Better is good.”

        Image result for barack obamaMaking democracy work means holding on to our principles, having clarity about our principles, and then having the confidence to get in the arena and have a serious debate. And it also means appreciating that progress does not happen all at once, but when you put your shoulder to the wheel, if you’re willing to fight for it, things do get better….Better is good.

      • Image result for flake and coons
        Senators Jeff Flake and Chris Coons

        Now just yesterday, we saw a composed survivor of sexual assault and a historically intemperate and deeply suspect judicial candidate followed by two US Senators, a Democrat and a Republican, reaching a sensible compromise on the horns of the partisan dilemma in the U.S. Senate.  Watching the proceedings from afar, we sat by, most of us helpless and dreading the outcome.  But those who could, opted for public outrage, with signs and shouting.  A few incredibly brave ones went public with their stories, and two made history confronting a Republican Senator in an elevator booth.  The combined efforts of all these activists stopped the elevator ride for Brett Kavanaugh – at least for a week.  Definitely NOT perfect… but BETTER.

      • Here in Benicia, the clearly partisan attack of a telephone “push poll” could have powerful electoral results going into our local election.  We probably will never know to what degree.  Yet, it’s GOOD that our City Attorney is looking into it, with a tough communication to the company that was hired to phone us with an attack on Kari Birdseye and thinly disguised promotional statements for one of her opponents.  It’s good that the City’s Image result for push pollOpen Government Commission will hold a last-minute public hearing on November 3rd, giving candidates a chance to defend against hit pieces and misinformation.  It’s good that there are a number of public hearings in our small town where we can go listen to and ask questions of the candidates themselves.  See the schedule of forums at birdseyeforbenicia.com/candidate-forums.
      • Here in Benicia, I have come under personal attack for favoring one candidate, Kari Birdseye, over other credible opponents.  The Solano County Democrats and Progressive Democrats have been criticized for endorsing only Kari while the Labor Council and its member unions endorse without blame.  (Well, except for complaints by some of our Benicia teachers, who resent the controlling influence over their endorsement by the Labor Council.)  Kari Birdseye is in my opinion far and away the most environmentally aware, progressive and highly qualified candidate for City Council.  I personally hope that Christina Strawbridge comes in second.  It will be great – no, GREAT – in this #MeToo year to have 3 qualified women on our City Council.  But my first priority has been and remains, to secure a seat for Kari Birdseye.  See more at birdseyeforbenicia.com.
      • Image result for facts speak louder than wordsHere in Benicia, there are excellent substantiated reasons why NOT to vote for City Council candidate Lionel Largaespada.  His registration as a Republican aside, he stood with Valero and Texas executives and attorneys in favor of dangerous and dirty oil trains cutting over the mountains and through California to Benicia.  He was paid to help defeat a 2012 California tobacco tax initiative that would have funded cancer research.  His friendly outreach and community service is notable, but he is undeniably a supporter of big business, and has demonstrated that he was impervious to community activist’s efforts to educate and organize for environmental health and the safety of the community.  Let’s cast our votes and hope that the Council can proceed without that kind of drag on a bright future for our beloved city.
      • Finally, here in Benicia our local news is disappearing.  Cutbacks at the Benicia Herald and the Vallejo Times-Herald have meant that increasingly, regular citizens have no idea what is going on at City Hall.  We are assuredly in a “news desert.”  As of this writing, yesterday was Benicia Herald editor Nick Sestanovich’s last day, and there’s no news as yet as to his replacement.  GivenImage result for news desertsthe Benicia Herald’s poor track record of owner support for staff AND the hard financial times for print media in general, it wouldn’t surprise me to see the paper close.  Wait and see.  (Nick’s good-bye is a poignant moment in local news.)
        The Vallejo paper covers Vallejo, with only an occasional nod to Benicia news.  Mostly we only see press releases issued by the city of Benicia and police and fire departments.  The Times-Herald  can only do so much with so few staff since Katy St. Clair was let go.  (Note that both Nick and Katy went to work in Vacaville.  No news desert up there.)
        Where can we look for BETTER here?  Not perfect, but better?  Increasingly, we must rely on digital media, like The Benicia Independent, NextDoor, Facebook’s BeniciaHappenings, Patch, and Google groups like BeniciaResist!  Definitely far from perfect.  Let’s make those sources BETTER.

      Well, if you made it through this lengthy analysis, you deserve a thanks and kudos.  I’ll try to be more regular with my newsletters in the future.  Nice chatting with you – let’s all make Benicia a BETTER place.

      Roger Straw