Category Archives: Valero Crude By Rail

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:


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.]


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.


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: 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.

    Birdseye and Strawbridge opposed Valero Crude by Rail – Largaesapada supported oil trains

    Pat Toth-Smith: Birdseye puts safety first

    By Pat Toth-Smith, September 9, 2018
    Pat Toth-Smith

    It’s been two years since the 2016 crude-by-rail permit for Valero was denied, but a strong memory of it remains for me and probably for a lot of Benicians.  It’s because of that experience that I’m urging Benicians to vote for Kari Birdseye for the Benicia City Council.

    Birdseye was a new Planning Commissioner when the permit process fell into the Commission’s authority, and she really did her homework to keep us safe in Benicia.

    When I spoke to her about that process, she said she would stay up long into the night reading the stacks of material submitted to the commissioners and also would focus intently on everything the public said during the Planning Commission meetings.

    She added that it was Kamala Harris, California’s attorney general at that time),who made the biggest impact on her in her comment about how local permitting measures absolutely applied to this process.  Birdseye said “I knew then, that the state of California had our back.”

    Birdseye voted against the permit along with all the other Planning Commissioners.

    When I asked her why she denied the permit besides the significant local reasons, her voice choked when she said “My dad, my husband, my sister and my two children live here, why would I want to risk the health and safety of my family, friends, and all Benicians by bringing in 100 crude oil rail cars into our town, when the safety of this form of transport was in question with the rapid increase of oil train explosions.  I did not want our town to be the next tragic headline news story.

    She continued, “After listening to so many of the speakers say, ‘I’m afraid of this,’ ‘Let’s not do this,’ ‘We don’t need this for our community,’ ‘Valero doesn’t need this,’ and ‘There are safer ways to bring in their oil,’ our community certainly wasn’t in favor of it, so how could I possibly vote for it?“

    After the planning commission denial, Valero appealed to the City Council to certify the Environmental Impact Report and issue the permit. After a five-month delay, this is where another 2018 City Council candidate, then-Councilmember Christina Strawbridge, also voted to deny Valero’s appeal for the permit. It ended up being a unanimous vote to deny Valero’s appeal for the permit, mostly based on the Planning Commission’s work.

    Another 2018 council candidate, Lionel Largaespada, was also involved in the crude-by-rail process. Largaespada was in favor of approving the permit and commented to the Planning Commission before their vote, “I understand the concerns. I understand the risks. But I urge you to be objective and pragmatic. Because the fact — the reality is that we need this project to ensure Benicia’s economic future and prosperity. I urge you to certify the EIR and to issue the conditional use permit.”

    Based on this recent history of our town and the way the candidates handled the CBR issue, I’m encouraging Benicians to vote for Kari Birdseye because I think she has the compassion and diligence to do the hard work to put the safety of our community first, especially when the next big permitting process comes along.  Also, praise to Christina Strawbridge, because she did the right thing.

    Pat Toth-Smith is a Benicia resident and member of Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community

      How Benicia Valero Crude By Rail was defeated

      Reflections by Roger Straw, Benicia CA, November 18, 2016

      We Won!  3 (or 10 or 12, or 40?) factors…

      What happened in Benicia was amazing. It’s well worth our time as community activists and organizers to reflect a bit on how David went up against Goliath and won.  (Continued…)