Category Archives: Valero Benicia Refinery

Vice Mayor Steve Young: letter from former City Attorney of Santa Rosa

Repost from a Benicia Nextdoor post

City Council Meeting on Air Monitors

By Steve Young, Benicia Vice Mayor, November 21, 2018
Steve Young, Vice Mayor, City of Benicia

It’s not often that the Council receives the kind of letter copied below. It is from Brien Farrell, the former City Attorney of Santa Rosa, who has retired here in town. I thank Mr. Farrell on behalf of my colleagues. After 4 hours of testimony and deliberation on Tuesday, the Council unanimously adopted a motion advancing what I hope is the mutual interest of the City and Valero in providing enhanced air monitoring for the public, as well as better communication between the two parties. We also appreciate the donation to the City Fire Department by Valero of three mobile air monitors.

Brien Farrell 4:34 PM (7 hours ago)
To Mayor, Steve, Mark, Alan, Tom

Mayor Patterson and Councilmembers:

I watched portions of last night’s council meeting on line and I watched the entire discussion surrounding the motion that was adopted.

I have attended hundreds of city council meetings. Your preparation, civility and thoughtful crafting of a compromise was a model of good government.

Our family thanks you. Air quality and economic stability are important to all of us. Our middle son is the special education coordinator at Robert Semple Elementary School. He had to be rushed to the hospital the day of the flare-up in May 2017. He did not know whether he was having a cardiac or pulmonary emergency. He had never experienced anything similar.

Evacuation planning and air quality monitoring are both critical. We strongly support local, state and federal oversight. In my past career as a city attorney, I routinely observed that local government is the most responsive and accountable.

Our son has been cleared to donate his kidney to another Benicia teacher on December 17, 2018, at the UC Davis Hospital. Upon his return to work, we worry that he might be exposed to another major air quality event or cumulative harm. Everyone assures us that his health will be normal after the kidney transplant. We would like all foreseeable risks to be minimized.

Your ongoing efforts to promote maximum transparency and protections that are fair and reasonable are much appreciated. We urge the city to impose local regulations, if it is not possible to reach compromises in six months.

Thank you for your service and dedication.

    Mayor Patterson: Air monitors and public health – Council agenda for Tuesday

    From an E-Alert by Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson

    Much more than fence-line air monitors…

    Monday, November 19, 2018

    Elizabeth Patterson, Benicia Mayor 2007 - present
    Elizabeth Patterson, Benicia Mayor 2007 – present

    The regular council meeting will be at 7:00 and the agenda and staff reports and recommendations are online here.

    The main item of interest is the “report” to Council about progress on installation of air monitors by Valero.  The report came about because of the request by the Industrial Safety Ordinance working group – a citizens’ steering committee which researched and developed a draft Industrial Safety Ordinance in response to the near catastrophic melt down of Valero Refinery in May of 2017 and subsequent plumes of black smoke.

    The request to the city council was – and is – to have an outside subject matter expert with legal skills to review the proposed ISO and determine its legal sufficiency and report to the council.  For some reason staff does not make this clear but rather states that it is a vote up or down on the ordinance. This is incorrect.

    The request to have an expert opinion report on the need, adequacy and value of the Industrial Safety Ordinance is meant to have a neutral party report to council.  I made a request for considering the ordinance in May of 2017 and soon realized that this would not be addressed quickly.  Therefore, I advised the Benicians for Safe and Healthy Community and thus they took the initiative to research, interview, have an expert panel discussion and draft the ordinance.  Naturally, this was done to expedite the process.  The small step of seeking outside advice on the draft Ordinance was voted down by the council majority.

    A couple of common objections to the Industrial Safety Ordinance are:

    1. An ISO is not necessary now that the state has adopted many of the Contra Costa County ISO regulations.  It should be noted that none of the cities or county have rescinded their ordinance because they still find it meets specific needs and is subject to better reporting to local government.
    2. Now that the fence-line monitors are in place there is no need for the ISO because the county’s Program 4 suffices.  Actually this is a requirement of the state to coordinate state and local regulations and is incorporated by reference into the draft ISO.  The county does not have regulatory authority, but rather coordinates.  For instance, the county reports on inspections and status of required reports.  The coordination with local government to date has been a booth at the 2018 Peddlers’s Fair.  CalEPA requires a full public participation program for the community air monitor(s) to be implemented.  Neither the community air monitor nor the public participation program has been done.

    In short the proposed Industrial Safety Ordinance is much more than fence-line monitors at the refinery or portable emergency air monitors.  It is providing a seat at the table participating with the county and state regulators and the regulated industries.  It is a guarantee to get reports and posting them on city website rather than chasing down reports at the county or state and often with broken links.  It is a fee structure to pay for continuous staff level of engagement rather than driven by budget constraints.  It is memorializing our affirmative duty to protect public health.  It establishes a collaborative relationship with regulators and the regulated refinery and not a co-dependent relationship.

      KQED: Texas refinery candidates win in Benicia City Council race

      Repost from KQED News

      Valero-Backed Candidates Win Benicia City Council Election

      By Ted Goldberg, November 7, 2018
      The Valero refinery in Benicia. (Craig Miller/KQED)

      Two candidates backed by Texas-based Valero Energy Corp. won seats on the Benicia City Council in Tuesday’s election, while another candidate attacked by the large oil company lost.

      Valero — which operates a refinery that’s one of Benicia’s largest employers — along with five state and local labor groups donated more than $165,000 to a political action committee that backed Christina Strawbridge and Lionel Largaespada and opposed Kari Birdseye, an environmentalist.

      That amount is more than three times as much as what the candidates raised combined.

      By Wednesday morning, Strawbridge got more than 33 percent of the vote, Largaespada garnered close to 30 percent and Birdseye received 26 percent, according to the Solano County Registrar of Voters. Those numbers don’t yet include all mail-in and provisional ballots.

      Birdseye has conceded the election, but she expressed displeasure with the PAC’s actions.

      “We ran a smart, clean campaign and played by the rules. These election results will only embolden special interests to throw in money to local races to buy candidates to do their dirty work,” Birdseye said in an emailed statement.

      The Valero PAC’s ads called Birdseye “a yes man” for Mayor Elizabeth Patterson, and “another job killer” that was “bad for Benicia.”

      Its work deepened a divide at City Hall and the rest of Benicia over the city’s relationship with its refinery neighbor, 18 months after the facility experienced a full power outage that led to a major release of pollution.

      The Valero PAC’s work led to a failed attempt by Benicia city officials to get the state’s political watchdog to investigate some of Valero’s communication with voters weeks before the vote.

      And it reminded critics of an effort by Chevron to sway voters in Richmond in 2014 when the company spent millions on an attempt to elect a slate of its allies to the City Council.

      Strawbridge, who was previously on the council, emphasized that she did not support what she called the committee’s “smear campaign,” and said it’s time for the city to come together and improve its dealings with Valero.

      “It’s been a tough election,” Strawbridge said in an interview Wednesday. “I ran on my own credentials, my own experience and I feel like that resonated with the residents.”

      A Valero spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.

      Last month the company wrote a letter to the editor at the Vallejo Times-Herald, emphasizing the refinery’s strong safety record and criticizing Mayor Patterson.

      Union officials have said that Patterson’s criticism of Valero puts the city’s economic health at risk. And, since Birdseye was her ally and a spokeswoman for the National Resources Defense Council, she became the target of the PAC.

      “Last night the voters of Benicia made it clear the path they want our city to take,” said Don Zampa, president of the District Council of Ironworkers, in an emailed statement. Zampa’s group is one of the those that donated to the PAC.

      “Benicia is home to a blue-collar workforce. We’ve been here for generations and we are not going anywhere,” Zampa said.

      Patterson, for her part, has said Valero tried to bully and buy its way into politics in Benicia. [Editor: see Mayor Patterson’s email comment to KQED.]

      Largaespada did not respond to a request for comment.