Category Archives: Local land use authority

Benicia Mayor outlines possible outcomes for City Council on Sept 20

Repost of an E-Alert by Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson, September 18, 2016
[Editor: I would expect considerable discussion on Tuesday to center on whether to continue waiting for a Surface Transportation Board response to Valero’s end run around local permitting authority. Valero has been openly urging Council to continue to delay making a decision.  City staff and the Mayor are certainly expecting a motion to delay; 3 of the 4 possible scenarios outlined below center on continuation. (Don’t miss the quote from Christopher Hart, chairperson of the National Transportation Safety Board, and Mayor Patterson’s question, at the bottom of this E-Alert.)  – RS]

Benicia, California


The Tuesday Council meeting’s main item is the decision on Valero Crude by Rail EIR and Land Use Permit. The complete packet is online here.

The following are potential scenarios for action:

  1. Valero could submit a formal written request for continuation of the appeal in order for the Federal Surface Transportation Board to render a decision on federal preemption of local land use authority. This request would be considered under the Open Government Ordinance as “new and substantial information” and the Council would decide whether or not this request is new and substantial. If the council votes in the majority, the consideration for delay for STB decision would be on the next agenda. The council would then have to decide whether to proceed or not with the action on the current agenda which is the appeal of the Planning Commission denial of the project. Staff is recommending approving the appeal.
  2. No request in writing for continuation but during the council consideration of the Valero appeal, Valero could request a “point of order” and ask for council consideration of continuing the delay. Council again would have to act on the point of order before proceeding to the agenda item. There could be the same outcome as in #1.
  3. No request for continuation by Valero and consideration of the appeal of the denial by the Planning Commission. A councilmember could request a continuation but council cannot continue the item without Valero’s consent – so a council member could ask for a continuation and if Valero agrees the consideration of continuation would have to be at the next meeting. See #1 for steps.
  4. No request for continuation by anyone. The council will hear staff report – there is no public comment on this item unless there is demonstrably new and substantial information (see above for steps by council for consideration). So the decision can be as follows:
    1. motion and second to deny appeal and thus let stand Planning Commission denial of the land use permit with or without prejudice (with means a new application of the same project must wait one year; without means no such restriction. A modified project would be considered a new application).
    2. motion and second to consider certification of Final Environmental Impact Report followed by a motion to deny appeal.
    3. motion to certify the FEIR and grant the appeal and approve the land use permit.

“We’ve been lucky thus far that derailments involving flammable liquids in America have not yet occurred in a populated area,” Hart [current head of the National Transportation Safety Board] said. “But an American version of Lac-Mégantic could happen at any time. Instead of happening out in the middle of a wheat field it could happen in the middle of a big city.”
The Bakken oil train explosion in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, Canada, killed 47 people. As these safety issues are ignored, dismissed, or continued to be studied, an important question remains: How long until that luck runs out?

Benicia City Council: Sept. 20 agenda & attachments

By Roger Straw, September 15, 2016
Note: Find a full listing of links to the staff report and attachments below, and my summary and analysis here: “City staff again recommends approval of Valero oil trains – Council to vote on Tues, Sept 20.”  – RS

Yesterday, the City of Benicia released its agenda for the upcoming City Council meeting, including materials related to the continuation of Council discussions on Valero Crude By Rail.  See Item 15.A. on page 7.

Next Tuesday, our City Council can take a FINAL vote on Valero’s dirty and dangerous oil train proposal.

The report by Community Development Director Christina Ratcliffe gives City Council members four alternative courses of action and supplies every document needed to accomplish each alternative:

    1. Deny Valero’s appeal of the Planning Commission’s unanimous decision – thereby denying the project and stopping crude by rail in Benicia.
    2. Uphold Valero’s appeal and approve oil trains in Benicia.
    3. Send the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) back to City staff for yet another go-round.
    4. Take no action until after the federal Surface Transportation Board weighs in.

The agenda includes the staff report and 10 attachments, as follows:

  1. Draft Resolution FEIR
  2. Exhibit A-1 Statement of Overriding Considerations
  3. Exhibit B MMRP (Mitigation Monitoring and Reporting Program)
  4. Draft Resolution Use Permit , Project Approval
  5. Draft Resolution Use Permit, Project Denial
  6. Valero Submittal – Clarifiation and Rebuttal Cuffel 091316 (Rebuttal of Dr. Phyllis Fox’ expert analysis)
  7. Valero Benicia Sulfur Springs Setback Evaluation Memo (Note this is a huge PDF file, which may appear blank on your screen, displaying content off to the right.)
  8. Hogin Memo STB Process (Previously submitted 4/8/16)
  9. Valero’s Petition to STB for Declaratory Order FILED May 31, 2016
  10. City of Benicia STB Reply July 7, 2016

For a Benicia Independent analysis, see City staff again recommends approval of Valero oil trains – Council to vote on Tues, Sept 20.

Phillips 66 seeks six-month delay in San Luis Obispo rail spur hearing

Repost from the New Times, San Luis Obispo, CA

Phillips 66 seeks six-month delay in rail spur hearing

By Chris McGuinness, August 18, 2016

The oil company proposing one of SLO County’s most controversial projects is asking the SLO County Planning Commission to wait six months before taking up the issue again.

After months of lengthy hearings, Phillips 66 requested that a planned commission meeting on its proposed rail spur extension project scheduled for Sept. 22 be pushed back until March 2017.

The move comes as the company waits for a decision by federal regulators on another controversial proposal also involving oil-carrying trains in the Northern California city of Benicia.

Hearings for Phillips 66’s project, which would allow the company to bring in crude oil by train to its Santa Maria Refinery on the Nipomo Mesa, began in February. In a July 10 letter to county planning staff, the company said it wanted to wait until the Federal Surface Transportation Board ruled on a petition involving an oil train-related project in Benicia. The company in charge of that project, Valero, is seeking declaratory relief from the three-person federal board after the oil company’s proposal to transport 50 trains per-day carrying crude oil through the city was denied by the Benicia Planning Commission and appealed to its City Council.

At the heart of the Benicia case is the issue of pre-emption, or the extent of a local government’s authority over interstate rail transportation, which is the purview of federal government.

The same issue is at play in SLO. The hearings on the Phillips 66 project featured discussions over the county’s ability to set limits or conditions on the project.

“In the interest of efficiency of the commission as well as the planning staff, we believe it would be prudent to further continue the hearing on Phillips 66’s Rail Spur Extension Project until March 2017, so that all parties can benefit from the direction expected from the Surface Transportation Board,” the letter from Phillips read.

Andres Soto is a member of Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community, an organization of residents who oppose Valero’s proposed project. Soto told New Times he was concerned that the impact of a decision that favored Valero would have far-reaching consequences.

“It would gut local land-use authority across the country,” he said.

Whether Phillips 66 gets the delay will be up to the SLO County Planning Commission. The commission will take up the request at the Sept. 22 meeting.