Repost from KQED NEWS Public Radio [Editor: This is a GREAT audio report. Only 12 minutes – well worth the time! – R.S.]
Big Oil, Small Town: Valero’s Election Influence in Benicia’s Politics
12 min – Ted Goldberg & Devin Katayama, Jan 14, 2019
Valero spent $200,000 in last year’s Benicia city council election to help elect two candidates who were less critical of the company than others. That’s created tension between the oil refiner and the city, leading people to question how much influence Valero should have in local politics. On Tuesday Benicia will discuss the possibility of new campaign finance laws that could limit corporate influence in its small town.
By Steve Young, Benicia Vice Mayor, November 21, 2018
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.
From an E-Alert by Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson
Much more than fence-line air monitors…
Monday, November 19, 2018
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:
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.
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.