Category Archives: Valero Benicia Refinery

My thoughts on possible District Voting in Benicia

By Roger Straw, January 17, 2020
Roger Straw, The Benicia Independent

On Tuesday January 21, Benicia’s City Council will consider a proposal to change our electoral process from At-Large voting for Council candidates to four newly-defined small geographical districts.  Benicia citizens need to pay attention to this – it may sound ok, but consider…

I think our ability to join forces against the massive and mean-spirited outside corporate influences we saw in our 2018 election would be immeasurably weakened by adoption of district voting.

In 2018, a PAC funded by Valero Services and organized labor spent over $200,000 to smear and defeat Council candidate Kari Birdseye.  (See below for background.)  A similar campaign was waged against candidate Elizabeth Patterson in 2007.

A Council campaign funded and run in a small Benicia district would not be capable of standing up to limitless corporate PAC money.  And Benicia is way too small to be divided into four districts capable of finding and supporting multiple competitive candidates across the political spectrum.

In many cities, district voting makes sense as a measure to strengthen and empower concentrated minority groups.  Note that I am decidedly in FAVOR of empowering minority voting strength, especially when it comes to racial and ethnic minorities.  Most of us would agree.  But Benicia’s racial and ethnic mix is not concentrated in any linear district – so district voting would do absolutely nothing to advance minority voting strength.

What about other sub-groups in geographically defined parts of Benicia?

Our Southampton hills 1) is already represented by Mr. Largaespada, 2) could have elected Kari Birdseye as a Southampton neighbor if she hadn’t been targeted and smeared, and 3) had Mark Hughes as a resident Council member for years.  I’m guessing Southampton probably had a few more Council members going back before my time.

A case CAN probably be made that Benicia’s East Side has been underrepresented over the years – but district voting would create more problems than it would fix for Eastsiders.  IMPORTANT: How could an underfunded campaign in a smaller population on the East side possibly put up a fight against Valero and organized labor?!

MY CONCLUSION: District voting would only give outside big money greater strength to stack our City Council.


Your voice is important!


BACKGROUND ON BENICIA’S 2018 CORPORATE SMEAR CAMPAIGN

    • My background article on Jan 6, 2020 with quote from SF Chronicle, stating over $200,000 was spent by the Valero PAC.  My comment: “Kari ran for City Council in 2018 in a field of 4, competing for 2 seats on Council.  Only she didn’t just run against her opponents.  She ran against a $200,000-plus smear campaign orchestrated by Benicia Valero Refinery and its friends in organized labor.  The three major candidates’ campaigns spent less than $30,000 each, while Valero saturated our phone lines, mailboxes, newspapers and social media with misinformation and ugly photos.”
    • My post-election call on Nov 12 2018 for Council action to reform campaign spending – including comparison of the $200,000 with candidate spending of under $30,000 each.
    • My Oct 28 2018 article just before the Nov election which reported a smear campaign total of $155,000 as of that time. My  comment in that article: “News broke in late September that a major worldwide corporate power had bullied its way into our local democratic process.  Valero Services Inc., based in Texas but with 115 subsidiaries in Delaware, Michigan, Canada and several wealthy Caribbean nations, decided it wanted to buy a seat on the Benicia City Council. Their first strategy was to spend an unknown amount of money to employ two national firms, EMC Research and Research America, to conduct a nasty telephone “push poll,” blatantly mischaracterizing and demeaning one candidate for Council and painting rosy pictures of two others.  When our City Attorney challenged the polling firms, Valero Refinery executive Don Wilson admitted that Valero paid for the poll, but neither he nor the polling firms would comply with our demands for more information.”
    • Weekly and daily reporting of details as the smear campaign unfolded: beniciaindependent.com/?s=birdseye
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    Benicia Crude By Rail remembered in today’s news

    [Today’s news is welcome.  Rep. Garamendi doesn’t represent Benicia, but he does represent uprail cities that would have been affected by Valero’s dangerous and dirty proposal to bring oil trains across California.  Garamendi’s bill, HR 5553, has 4 co-sponsors, but does not include Benicia’s representative Mike Thompson.  Let’s hope Mike will get behind this effort!  – R.S.]

    John Garamendi introduces crude-by-rail safety bill

    Vallejo Times-Herald, by Nick Sestanovich, January 9, 2020
    U.S. Rep. John Garamendi, CA 3rd District

    Rep. John Garamendi, D-Solano, introduced legislation Wednesday to ensure safer standards for the transport of crude oil and other hazardous materials by train.

    House Resolution 5553, also known as the “Crude By Rail Volatility Standards Act,” aims to establish a safety standard for the maximum volatility for crude oils and similar materials transported by rail. It also requires that all crude by rail in America adhere to the New York Mercantile Exchange’s maximum Reid vapor pressure for crude-oil futures contracts of 9.5 pounds per square inch, Garamendi’s office wrote in a news release.

    The current industry standard would remain in place until the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) completes the rule setting a maximum volatility standard that was first announced in 2017 after the attorneys general of six states, including California, petitioned the U.S. Department of Transportation and PHMSA to finalize the regulation nationwide.

    “Every day we delay the implementation of a stronger safety standard for the transport of Bakken crude oil-by-rail, lives are at risk,” Garamendi said in a statement. “My bill simply requires oil companies to decrease the volatility to market levels, rather than carrying unstable products through communities. I am committed to enacting this legislation into law this year as part of the surface transportation reauthorization.”

    Garamendi, who is a senior member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, has been trying to get legislation passed since 2015 to prohibit crude oil from being transported by rail unless it adheres to the New York Mercantile Exchange’s maximum Reid vapor pressure. Garamendi’s office wrote that the actions were influenced by numerous crude-by-rail derailments in previous years, including an accident in Lac-Megantic, Quebec in 2013 which killed 47 people and led to changes in operations for Canadian railways.

    The topic of crude by rail became a hot-button issue in Solano County in 2013 when the Valero Benicia Refinery announced plans to extend rail lines to have crude-oil delivered to its plant by train rather than by boat. The project — which would have passed through Dixon, Suisun City and Fairfield — was met with opposition and was subsequently voted down by the Benicia Planning Commission and then the City Council.

    Garamendi’s co-sponsors on the bill are Reps. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Bill Foster, D-Ill.; Nita Lowey, D-N.Y.; and Jamie Raskin, D-Md.

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      I remember the Benicia smear campaign of 2018

      Benicia electoral campaign reform – 2018 is the reason for fundamental reform

      By Roger Straw, January 6, 2020
      Kari Birdseye, Chair, Benicia Planning Commission

      For a quick review of the nasty campaign against my friend Kari Birdseye, just search the Benicia Independent for “birdseye.”

      Kari ran for City Council in 2018 in a field of 4, competing for 2 seats on Council.  Only she didn’t just run against her opponents.  She ran against a $200,000-plus smear campaign orchestrated by Benicia Valero Refinery and its friends in organized labor.

      The three major candidates’ campaigns spent less than $30,000 each, while Valero saturated our phone lines, mailboxes, newspapers and social media with misinformation and ugly photos.

      All four candidates came out in opposition to Valero’s big-money dirty tactics.

      Shortly after the election, almost exactly a year ago, the Benicia City Council decided – unanimously – to do something about dirty campaigns like the 2018 election.  As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle on January 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.”

      The Council directed its Open Government Commission (OGC) to consider updates and amendments to the City’s three campaign ordinances.  The OGC appointed a subcommittee which took nearly a year to review a zillion suggestions gathered from you and me – and from Valero (!) and other local businesses and organizations.

      This Tuesday, the Benicia City Council will discuss the report and recommendations of the Open Government Commission.  The City Attorney recommended against some of the recommendations, perhaps with good reason: some are covered by California law, and some could be challenged in court as indefensible.  Others that are not supported should be addressed by Council.

      But note that the heart of the OGC recommendations are recommended by City staff, including the City Attorney, for passage.  [AGENDA & Staff Reports here]

      Council should not forget its unanimous desire for reform following the ugly campaign of 2018.  COUNCIL SHOULD VOTE YES on Tuesday, January 7.

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        VIDEO: Benicia City Council workshop on air monitoring

        By Roger Straw, October 23, 2019

        Here is filmmaker Constance Beutel’s video of the City of Benicia’s Air Monitoring Workshop with representatives from Benicia Fire Department, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, Valero and the newly forming non profit, Benicia Community Air Monitoring Program.

        For more background and the staff report, see Mayor Patterson’s invitation, Benicia City Council workshop on Air Monitoring.

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