Category Archives: Seeno property

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.

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    LETTER SERIES: Larnie Fox – “Leadership Style” on the Benicia City Council

    [Editor: Benicians are expressing themselves in letters to the editor of our local print newspaper, the Benicia Herald. But the Herald doesn’t publish letters in its online editions – and many Benician’s don’t subscribe. We are posting certain letters here for wider distribution. – RS]

    “Leadership Style”

    By Larnie Fox
    October 21, 2016
    Larnie Fox
    Larnie Fox

    Republican mayoral candidate Mark Hughes is running on a platform of changing the “leadership style” on our City Council, and the other council members are supporting him. I’ve been attending City Council meetings and watching them online for the last six years, and I think I know what he means.

    As Mayor, Elizabeth Patterson is constantly trying to lead the Council to be forward-thinking and visionary, and has often been frustrated by the inertia of the current Council.

    During the recent debate over Valero’s crude by rail proposal, Council members, including Mark, appeared to be unhappy with Mayor Elizabeth Patterson’s questioning of Valero’s proposal. Elizabeth was unhappy because Council members and City staff made a concerted effort to stop her from spreading information about the project via the informative email newsletter which she produces at her own expense. She was forced (also at her own expense) to mount a legal defense against those efforts. Personally, I want a mayor who is willing to share information with the public and has opinions on important issues. Other Council members and City staff, (whom I know to be good people and like personally), apparently disagreed with this understanding of the First Amendment.

    The decision on crude by rail should have been a no-brainer after our Planning Commission’s extensive research on the subject, the environmental impact reports, the input from communities and governmental entities across the state including our Attorney General, and the ongoing pattern of explosions, derailments, and spills. Yet, under pressure from Valero, the Council voted for delay. Elizabeth Patterson and Council member Tom Campbell were opposed to the project early on, but the other three were noncommittal about it until the recent explosion in Mosier Oregon convinced Christina Strawbridge. No one wants to be on the losing side, especially right before an election, so we had a unanimous Council opposing the project, thank goodness! Mark Hughes is now running on his record of opposing crude by rail. Clearly, Elizabeth Patterson on the Council and Steve Young on the Planning Commission provided the leadership to finally stop this dangerous proposal.

    The debate over water rates provides another illustration of differing leadership styles. My understanding of the water issue is as follows:

    1. We are in a drought; water is harder to get and more expensive.
    2. The infrastructure is old and needs work. Benicia loses around 25% of its water to pipeline leaks, faulty meters, etc.
    3. The council postponed raising rates to appropriate levels during the Recession.
    4. Our current Mayor is a water-use professional on the State level, and an expert in the field.

    Therefore rates have gone up; more so for the bigger users. Elizabeth led the Council to this action to secure our water supplies and rebuild our old infrastructure, in spite of the fact that it was politically unpopular. Hughes, on the other hand voted against it. Clearly that that was the politically expedient thing to do. Elizabeth could have waited until after the election to do this, but was unwilling to “kick the can down the road” and did the responsible thing.

    Now the Council is considering the “Northern Gateway project” development proposal to build 900 homes on Seeno family land near the industrial park in land zoned for industrial use, without much consideration of the need for additional schools, police, fire or road infrastructure, and no plan for more water. Elizabeth, Steve Young and Tom Campbell are for smart growth and clearly against the proposal as it stands. Hughes recently said repeatedly that when a developer approaches Benicia with an idea we should “throw out a welcome mat” for them. The Council’s style so far has been reactive, one in which they react to proposals piecemeal as they come in, rather than a proactive style, in which Benicia makes plans then finds developers to execute them. Elizabeth and Steve are both planners by profession, Elizabeth at a high-level position with the State Department of Water Resources, and Steve, retired with 30 years experience planning housing and redevelopment. They are both arguing for a proactive approach to planning.

    I have been working actively for the campaigns of Elizabeth Patterson and Steve Young primarily because of these three issues, and also because they would better support the arts.

    Elizabeth’s opponent Mark Hughes is a decent guy, but conservative, Republican, pro-development and pro-corporate; a veteran of PG&E. I feel that it’s crucial for Benicia to finally get a forward-looking, proactive majority on City Council and put the “good ol’ boys” days behind it.

    The local election may have more impact on our lives than the national election, so please do your research and vote, and pay special attention to this race.

    Larnie Fox, former Director of Arts Benicia
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      LETTER SERIES: David Schulter – Steve Young for City Council

      [Editor: Benicians are expressing themselves in letters to the editor of our local print newspaper, the Benicia Herald. But the Herald doesn’t publish letters in its online editions – and many Benician’s don’t subscribe. We are posting certain letters here for wider distribution. – RS]

      Steve Young – Successful In Leadership, Experience, and a Vision for the Future

      By David Schulter
      October 21, 2016

      At the Planning Commission meetings, I saw Steve put the health and living interests of city residents and homeowners above those of the Valero oil refinery. Steve transcended normal due diligence and questioned Valero’s attempts to bypass Benicia’s local land use authority for non-rail entities — i.e. Valero.

      The Defeat of Crude by Rail: Steve Young was the key Leader in the successful effort to save our City and deny Valero the Crude by Rail Permit. This was a struggle with Valero that took 3 years of diligence to defeat, and happened despite the steadfast support of City Hall for the project. Steve was able to see the long term and unintended consequences of this project on the life, health, and welfare of citizens of our City – especially our children and elderly.

      A People’s Candidate: Based on the campaign finance reports on file with the City Clerk’s office Steve Young has the widest base of support when compared to the other candidates running for Benicia City Council: http://www.ci.benicia.ca.us/index.asp?SEC=88C65819-EA7E-497E-8282-90BA17A52E9C&DE=1E8D0CBB-5286-4F0B-A8B8-6DAEC2567D88&Type=B_BASIC. This base of support includes proportionally more people who live in Benicia than his rivals. Steve, unlike some other candidates, is not supported by unions with members who do not live in Benicia. Indeed he has no special interest PAC’s and money from outside of Benicia.

      To date, Steve has the largest total contributions and the largest number of contributors, nearly 90 percent of whom are Benicia residents. At the same time, he has the lowest average donation of $148, compared to $531 for Strawbridge and $327 for Largaspaeda.

      Steve’s Vision For Creating a Better Future In Benicia: Valero uses about 50 percent of the water in Benicia. Valero and the city need to rethink how to prepare for the future, and perhaps provide a way of reprocessing water, which is becoming our most valuable commodity.

      Mr. Young is also concerned with attracting more retail and commercial industries to Benicia. He supports maintaining and upgrading our city parks and waterfront for the benefit of residents and to continue to attract visitors to the many restaurants and shops on First Street.

      Having a large developer build housing on the Seeno property in Benicia’s Industrial Park would mean the need for an additional school, additional water for the 900 new houses, and other infrastructure. Steve Young questions whether this project would be “smart growth.”  See Steve’s Website for more information http://steveyoungforcitycouncil.org/.

      Experience: Steve Young has over 35 years of experience in Planning, Economic & Community Development. In Sacramento he met the challenge to transform land use to people friendly and economically viable uses following the government shutdown of military facilities at Mather Air Force Base and McClellan Air Force Base.

      David Schulter
      Benicia Resident

       

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        LETTER SERIES: Roger Straw – Leaders for the future of Benicia

        [Editor: Benicians are expressing themselves in letters to the editor of our local print newspaper, the Benicia Herald. But the Herald doesn’t publish letters in its online editions – and many Benician’s don’t subscribe. We are posting certain letters here for wider distribution. – RS]

        Why NOT to vote for Hughes and Largaespada, and WHY TO VOTE for Elizabeth Patterson and Steve Young

        By Roger Straw
        October 19, 2016
        Roger Straw, Editor, The Benicia Independent
        Roger Straw, Editor, The Benicia Independent

        Here in Benicia, we have a seriously important choice as we vote for our next mayor.  Everyone agrees that Mark Hughes is a nice guy, and I have had cordial relations with him.  But Mark is a Republican, worked for years as an executive in a major corporation, PG&E, and has not joined with the progressive majority on a number of important Council votes.

        On Seeno, for instance, Hughes voted on Aug. 7, 2007 to approve the Seeno DEIR.  On June 3, 2008 he voted to accept Seeno’s request for an extension, have a comprehensive traffic study submitted to Council, and limit the public hearing to the traffic study.  Most importantly, on October 7, 2008 Hughes voted to approve the Seeno project when the Council narrowly defeated it on a 2-3 vote.

        Unlike her opponent, Elizabeth Patterson embraces climate change science, is a longtime protector of the environment, lives and promotes progressive values.  With Elizabeth as Mayor, Benicia has strengthened the arts, won awards for environmental stewardship, brought in numerous grants and weathered the great recession.  She is responsive to residents, offering open office hours and regular email communications on issues of importance to us all.  Napa and Solano County political action committees (PACs) have endorsed Mr. Hughes and are spending huge sums of money to support him.  It is not at all guaranteed that Elizabeth will win this race – it’s incredibly important that you vote.  Don’t stay home!  Vote for Mayor Elizabeth Patterson. More at ElizabethForMayor.com.

        Equally important is the Benicia City Council race.  Five candidates, including two incumbents, are running for the two open seats.  All but Lionel Largaespada are on record opposing Valero Crude By Rail.  Largaespada is another PAC-backed Republican. In 2011-12, he was paid $40,833 as a campaign consultant for NO ON 29. Proposition 29 was a tobacco tax for cancer research, and narrowly lost, under heavily funded attacks by big tobacco companies, law enforcement & labor.  (Sources: California Secretary of State, Cal-Access and Ballotpedia.)  According to his Linked In page, Largaespada operated an online advertising business, Civis Media Group, “specializing in issue advocacy and voter outreach for political candidates and issue-based non-profits and trade associations.”  Largaespada is surely another very nice man, but someone who would likely take Benicia on a rather permissive developmental joy ride.  Vote for anyone but Largaespada.

        So the choice comes down to the other four candidates: incumbents Tom Campbell and Christina Strawbridge, and two Planning Commission challengers, Steve Young and George Oakes.  The top two vote-getters will win a seat on Council.

        I was highly impressed with Christina’s and Tom’s actions in leading a unanimous vote on Council to deny Valero Crude by Rail.  But it was Elizabeth Patterson’s steady presence as an environmental advocate and the Planning Commission’s unanimous vote that led the way.

        Planning Commissioners Don Dean, George Oakes, Elizabeth Radtke, Suzanne Sprague and Susan Cohen Grossman were all admirably outspoken in opposition to Valero’s proposal. But it was Steve Young’s persistent and challenging voice on the Planning Commission that was particularly effective in making the case against oil trains, and served as a wake-up call to everyone, including current Council members.

        Against the formidable pressures of Benicia City staff, the City’s paid consultants and contract attorneys, and Valero’s executives and attorney, Steve proved himself to be a fearless champion of independent thinking, a leader with an eye for detail and a public servant with an unshakable concern for the health and safety of our residents and businesses.  Perhaps most importantly, Steve’s work helped shape and preserve Benicia’s reputation as a forward-thinking community.  I will vote for Steve Young.  Please vote for Steve.  More on Steve Young at SteveYoungForCityCouncil.org.

        Roger Straw
        Benicia resident and editor of the Benicia Independent
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