Category Archives: Local land use authority

After five years of wasting scarce city resources: Vallejo Marine Terminal / Orcem postmortem

By Jeff Carlson, Vallejo Times-Herald, LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
May 28, 2019 at 2:57 pm
[Editor: Jeff Carlson provides an excellent summary here of the VMT/Orcem debacle.  As Steve Young wrote on a Facebook thread, “Benicia had Crude By Rail, Vallejo had Orcem/VMT, and with enough committed people, sometimes the little guys win.”  – R.S.]
The site of the Vallejo Marine Terminal/Orcem Americas project proposed for south Vallejo is shown. (Times-Herald file photo)
The site of the Vallejo Marine Terminal/Orcem Americas project proposed for south Vallejo is shown. (Times-Herald file photo)

After five years of wasting scarce city resources on a half-baked project proposal that ultimately fell apart under examination, we need to pause and take a look at what happened. What went wrong and how do we pick up the pieces? How do we stop this from happening again?

This dysfunctional expensive mess can be laid squarely at the feet of the old political crony network that extends up through the county level, and is now suffering its own lingering death in terms of influence in Vallejo.

The applicants apparently thought this was a done deal, and never bothered with ordinary due diligence to develop a realistic project proposal. That very quickly became obvious in 2015 when the Bay Conservation and Development Commission got a look at the draft environmental report. They informed VMT that not only did their proposed break bulk cargo port activity fail to fit the Bay Plan designation for the site, but the BCDC hasn’t even seen any break bulk moving through Bay ports since 2006 and there is no demand for such a project. That fictitious port operation represented well over half of the described project.

In light of the early indications of pre-approval on the part of some former and current city officials, it probably appeared unnecessary to generate a realistic project proposal. A sweetheart lease deal with the city for public trust waterfront property that should have triggered an environmental review was signed anyway, citing a CEQA exemption that clearly did not apply. A majority of the former council colluded in secret with the applicants to leverage the project proposal in a scheme to dupe the Army Corps into dredging the length of the strait for deep draft cargo ships. Small wonder the EIR circulated for public comment presented a project description that amounted to little more than an exercise in storytelling.

Picking up the pieces is pretty straightforward because the alternative has been waiting on a shelf for this day. While the crony committee courted the Army Corps behind the scenes, a public planning process was underway to update the City’s General Plan. This exemplary planning effort lasted three years and spent millions to develop a preferred scenario for future development with broad public input. The final map for the south Vallejo waterfront showed walkable access between the Cal State campus and downtown, and a change in zoning from industrial to light industry for the VMT parcel. That public vision stood in direct conflict with the VMT/Orcem project application, which involved heavy industry and would shut out all public access for the 60-plus-year-term of the lease.

The City Attorney informed commissioners that since the VMT/Orcem project application was still pending, the preferred scenario would have to wait for a final disposition of the appeal. She also expressed concern over a potential lawsuit related to a taking of value from private interests by changing the zoning for the site. If nothing else, the process of reviewing the application has confirmed that the legacy industrial zoning no longer fits with surrounding land uses, and changing to a less impactful use category will not diminish the value of the property. Now it’s time to finally and officially terminate the lease and approve the preferred general plan scenario for south Vallejo’s waterfront.

The review process demonstrated the need for an environmental justice policy for the city, along with an ordinance to prevent local handling or transport of coal or petroleum coke. The city should begin work with the BCDC to develop a special area plan like Benicia has done for its waterfront that was formerly designated for port and industrial use in the Bay Plan, or like Vallejo has done for the White Slough area. The BCDC staff has indicated they would be happy to discuss changing the legacy industrial designation to one in line with current community planning initiatives.

We also need to hold those responsible to account at the ballot box. Politicians who feel free to substitute private agendas for a shared public vision; who feel compelled to serve special interests at the expense of Vallejo residents; who lack the intellectual curiosity to do enough research to at least be conversant with the relevant issues — they need to be voted out. The last election showed that we can’t do that without a better field of candidates. We should be thinking about election reforms to diminish the influence of money in campaigns and encourage some of our younger, less affluent, and better informed residents to run for office. Thanks to the many who stood up early in defense of some of our most vulnerable residents and refused to move.

— Jeff Carlson/Vallejo
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    Vallejo’s VMT/Orcem project over

    Applicant pulls appeal; opponents celebrate

    By John Glidden, Vallejo Times Herald, May 24, 2019 at 6:49 pm
    Vallejo Marine Terminal and Orcem officials in the front row react after the planning commission voted 6-1 in March 2017 to reject the proposed project. – John Glidden — Times-Herald file
    Vallejo Marine Terminal and Orcem officials in the front row react after the planning commission voted 6-1 in March 2017 to reject the proposed project. – John Glidden — Times-Herald file

    Vallejo’s VMT/Orcem debate — a hot-button, contentious fight that consumed the city for years — is over.

    Almost six years after an application to build a deep-water terminal and cement facility on 31 acres of land along the Mare Island Strait was submitted, the Vallejo Marine Terminal (VMT) and Orcem Americas project came to an official end on Friday.

    Attorney Krista Kim, who currently represents VMT, sent a letter to City Hall on Friday confirming VMT’S decision to drop its appeal of a 2017 decision by the city’s Planning Commission denying the Orcem/VMT project.

    “VMT no longer supports the project and will not pursue the appeal,” Kim wrote in the brief four-line statement.

    Orcem Americas President Steve Bryan couldn’t be reached for comment. Attempts by this newspaper to reach Kim on Friday were also unsuccessful.

    Peter Brooks, president of Fresh Air Vallejo, a group opposed to the project, said he was surprised but also happy with VMT’s move to withdraw its appeal.

    “VMT sees Vallejo the same way we see Vallejo. It’s just a new time for our community,” he said. “It sends a clear message that Vallejo is business friendly for the right businesses to help our city prosper.”

    The Vallejo City Hall Council Chamber is completely filled prior to a 2017 special planning commission meeting regarding the VMT/Orcem project application (John Glidden — Times-Herald)

    Vallejo Mayor Bob Sampayan said by phone after news broke about VMT’s action that he was happy to have the city move forward.

    “I’m very pleased this divisive issue has been resolved and that we’re going to be moving forward,” he said.

    VMT had sought to build a deep-water terminal, while Orcem aimed to construct a cement facility — with both projects located on the same 31 acres of land at 790 and 800 Derr St. next to the Mare Island Strait in South Vallejo.

    While the FEIR was being finalized, several agencies weighed in on the project, which, had it been built, would have generated over 500 truck trips per day, along with 200 rail car trips per week.

    The California Department of Justice in November 2018 sent city officials a scathing letter arguing environmental documents prepared for the project were misleading and violate state law.

    “The likelihood that the project’s air impacts will be far greater than disclosed in the environmental review documents is troubling on its own,” wrote Erin Ganahl, deputy attorney general for the State of California. “And is more so given the surrounding communities’ already-heavy pollution burden and high rates of pollution-related illness. These analytical flaws must be cured, and the data and analysis be made publicly available, before the project is considered for approval.

    “It is essential that the public and decision makers be made aware of the project’s true impacts, and that those impacts be mitigated to less-than-significant levels, if the project is to move forward,” she added.

    The site of the Vallejo Marine Terminal/Orcem Americas project proposed for south Vallejo is shown. (Times-Herald file photo)

    The Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) in March of this year sent City Hall a letter, concluding the Orcem portion of the project would increase air pollution.

    “The project as proposed will increase air pollution in an already overburdened community and increase the health burden placed on the community from toxic air contaminants including diesel particulate matter, a known carcinogen,” BAAQMD officials wrote after reviewing the stationary sources proposed by Orcem.

    Friday’s unexpected news comes just days before the Vallejo City Council was scheduled to resume its hearing on the appeal. A divided council in June 2017 directed City Hall to complete a Final  Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) on the possible impacts generated by the project.

    Vice Mayor Pippin Dew, Hermie Sunga, Rozzana Verder-Aliga, and former Vallejo Councilmember Jess Malgapo indicated in that June 2017 meeting that they wished to see the final report to help them decide on the appeal.

    Almost two years after that, the city released what it called a new draft FEIR, stating the document wasn’t ready to be presented to the council for certification and possible project approval under the California Environmental Quality Act. Staff cited the lack of necessary information and cooperation from the VMT applicants.

    VMT/Orcem opponents and supporters wait to hear a decision from the Vallejo City Council in June 2017 at City Hall in Vallejo. (Chris Riley — Times-Herald file photo)

    The appeal came after the Planning Commission voted 6-1 to deny the project, as several commissioners cited “quality of life” concerns with the project. City Hall asked the commission to reject the project, stating it would have a negative effect on the neighborhood, negatively impact traffic around the area, and the proposed project was inconsistent with the city’s waterfront development policy. The project also has a degrading visual appearance of the waterfront, City Hall said.

    Landis Graden, then-chair of the commission, said during the March 2017 if he would want his mother to live near the VMT/Orcem project.

    “I don’t think I would, because of the quality of life,” Graden said in the meeting.

    Reached for comment Friday, Commissioner Chris Platzer, the lone vote in support of the VMT/Orcem application, expressed concern the project didn’t have a complete EIR.

    “As a planning commissioner, I can only vote on land use issues. I voted against denial of the project because I think that every applicant, no matter how controversial or complex a project, should be afforded a fair and complete EIR,” he wrote in an email to the Times-Herald. “I think it sends the wrong message to developers that the process might last more than 5 years.”

    City spokeswoman Joanna Altman confirmed the May 30 council meeting was cancelled. It’s not known if VMT will submit another application to develop the land.

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      Washington Agency Votes to Reject Massive Oil-by-Rail Terminal

      Repost from DeSmogBlog

      Washington Agency Votes to Reject Vancouver Energy’s Massive Oil-by-Rail Terminal

      By Justin Mikulka • Wednesday, November 29, 2017 – 10:29
      Portland, Oregon, bridge with banner reading 'Coal oil gas none shall pass'
      Portland, Oregon, bridge with banner reading ‘Coal oil gas none shall pass’

      In another major blow to the West Coast oil-by-rail industry, a Washington state agency voted unanimously to recommend Governor Jay Inslee reject the Vancouver Energy oil terminal. Proposed for construction in Vancouver, Washington, along the Columbia River, it would be the largest oil-by-rail facility in the country.

      Washington State’s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC) has been reviewing the project since 2013 — reportedly the longest review period ever for the council. However, its November 28 meeting and vote on the final recommendation for the Tesoro Savage–backed project only took 10 minutes.

      Given the reality of climate change, there is simply no reason to build new fossil fuel infrastructure, especially for the export of extreme oil,” said Matt Krogh of activist group Stand, one of many groups opposing the Vancouver Energy project. “The entire reason behind this proposal was to move crude oil from the middle of North America to overseas markets. Simply put, this oil is not for us — and the proposal would leave every single community along the rail lines with all of the risk and none of the reward.”

      Vancouver Energy told Oregon Public Broadcasting that the council has “set an impossible standard” for new energy facilities in Washington.

      Proposed by Tesoro Savage Petroleum Terminal LLC (also known as Vancouver Energy), the facility is designed to handle 360,000 barrels of oil per day. Expectations are that the facility would receive both the highly volatile light Bakken oil as well as Canadian tar sands oil, with much of it traveling through the Columbia River Gorge. In 2016 an oil train derailed and caught fire in Mosier, Oregon, with some of the oil ending up in the Columbia River, which has already been suffering major declines of its once-historic salmon populations.

      Map of proposed Vancouver Energy oil by rail terminal on the Columbia River
      A map of the proposed facility from its Final Environmental Impact Statement. Credit: Tesoro Savage Vancouver Energy Distribution Terminal Facility

      Despite lower oil prices, U.S. imports of Canadian tar sands oil reached record levels in 2017 and are currently at 3.3 million barrels per day. More of that oil has been moving by rail recently, and as overall tar sands production continues to rise, industry observers predict large potential increases in shipping more of it by rail over the next several years.

      Rich Kruger, CEO of tar sands producer Imperial (the Canadian affiliate of ExxonMobil), recently commented on how rail was becoming more attractive as a way to get oil to America.

      Rail is increasingly competitive,” Kruger told Bloomberg. “There are times when we look at the pipeline alternative, [but] the variable cost aspect of rail is a more attractive means for us to get to the mid-Western or Gulf coast markets.”

      West Coast Oil-by-Rail Plans

      Should Washington Governor Inslee, who has 60 days to make a final decision, follow the recommendation to reject the Vancouver Energy oil terminal, it would throw a major wrench in oil industry plans for Canadian tar sands and Bakken oil in the West. As DeSmog reported in June, oil-by-rail remains part of the industry’s long-term plans to get oil to West Coast refineries.

      If Governor Inslee stops this project, it will join the growing list of oil terminals in the West rejected after intense local opposition. Earlier this month a California court ruled that an oil refinery and rail project in Bakersfield could not proceed because its environmental review was inadequate.

      Earlier this year the Washington Supreme Court voted unanimously to deny an oil-by-rail project in Grays Harbor because that project lacked a comprehensive environmental review that considered the Ocean Resources Management Act.

      Also in 2017, a proposed Phillips 66 oil-by-rail project in California was voted down by the San Luis Obispo County planning commission. In 2016 the city council in Benicia, California, voted unanimously to reject Valero’s proposed oil-by-rail project.

      Growing awareness of the risks of oil train terminals has led many communities where they are proposed to back away from such projects.

      Local Election Was Proxy Vote on Vancouver Oil Terminal

      Because Vancouver Energy’s proposed oil-by-rail facility is sited in the Port of Vancouver, a recent electoral race for one of the port commission’s three seats became a proxy fight over the oil terminal.

      The race was between Don Orange, owner of a local auto repair shop and opponent of the oil-by-rail project, and Kris Greene, an insurance agent who was backed by large amounts of money from oil and rail corporations. Oregon Public Broadcasting reported Greene raised “nearly $600,000, with 87 percent coming from Vancouver Energy and backers of the project” and also received support from a PAC, funded in part by rail company BNSF and Tesoro, which spent $160,000.

      However, Orange also raised close to $400,000, with considerable support coming from the Washington Conservation Voters Action Fund.

      Orange thought there was little question why so much money was pouring into a local election for a seat on a commission that pays around $10,000 a year.

      This is a choice of what our economy should look like,” said Orange. “It is a choice of having a vibrant small business economy or becoming a big oil town.”

      The election’s results showed how the majority of the community felt about the oil-by-rail project: despite being outspent by Greene, Orange won over 64 percent of the vote.

      Current port commissioner Eric LaBrant was shocked by the results, saying, “I’ve never seen anything like this in local politics … This election shows where the community wants to go and what kind of business the community wants to have there at the port.”

      Still, the final decision on the oil terminal lies with the governor, and even then, the door remains open for either side to take legal action.

      Main image: People’s Climate March PDX Credit: David SierralupeCC BY 2.0

       

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        Baltimore council members propose ban on new crude oil facilities

        From an email by Jennifer Kunze, Maryland Program Organizer, 
        Clean Water Action
        [See also the Baltimore Sun story, below]

        Thu, Oct 19, 2017

        Hi everyone,

        Just wanted to share the exciting news that the Baltimore zoning code change to prohibit new or expanded crude oil terminals has been officially introduced!  You can download the bill here, and here is some coverage of it in the Baltimore Sun and our local NPR station.  Taylor and I would be happy to answer any questions about it!

        Have a great day,

        Jennifer Kunze
        Maryland Program Organizer
        Clean Water Action
        WebsiteFacebookTwitter


        Repost from The Baltimore Sun

        Baltimore council members propose ban on new crude oil facilities

        By Ian Duncan, October 16, 2017

        Two members of the Baltimore City Council want to ban new crude oil terminals from the city as part of an effort to limit the number of oil trains traveling through the area.

        Council members Mary Pat Clarke and Ed Reisinger introduced a proposed change to the city’s zoning laws Monday that would add the oil terminals to a list of banned facilities, ranking them alongside nuclear power plants and incinerators.

        “Crude oil shipments are potential hazards to residents and entire neighborhoods,” Reisinger said in a statement.

        The council members said they were turning to the zoning code because federal law stops city authorities from directly regulating rail. They hope limiting the terminal capacity will mean there will be less interest in sending oil trains to Baltimore.

        Two existing facilities in Baltimore would be allowed to stay but could not expand in any way under the proposal.

        For years environmental activists have been sounding the alarm about crude oil that is transported by rail, which can lead to deadly explosions in the case of an accident. In 2013, 47 people died when a train carrying crude oil exploded in Canada.

        Precise details of the shipments are scarce, but with the price of oil low, the practice is widely believed to currently be at a low ebb. Rob Doolittle, a spokesman for CSX Transportation, said no oil trains have operated in Baltimore or anywhere else on the company’s network for months. Doolittle also said the company has never run dedicated oil trains through the city, but had moved small amounts of crude on mixed trains.

        Clarke said the dip in the market meant it was the right time for the council to take up the proposed restrictions.

        “It doesn’t put jobs in jeopardy,” she said. “We don’t know when the marketplace may change. If it does we want to have already capped out the capacity of Baltimore facilities.”

        The operator of one of the existing terminals declined to comment; the other did not respond to questions.

        Environmental groups say there’s reason to think that if the price of oil picks up again, companies would seek to expand the number of terminals in Baltimore. That’s what happened during the last boom several years ago, but the plans were blocked.

        Jennifer Kunze, an organizer with Clean Water Action, said it makes sense to put limits in place now.

        “This is really a preventative measure,” she said.

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