Category Archives: Vallejo Marine Terminal

After five years of wasting scarce city resources: Vallejo Marine Terminal / Orcem postmortem

By Jeff Carlson, Vallejo Times-Herald, LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
May 28, 2019 at 2:57 pm
[Editor: Jeff Carlson provides an excellent summary here of the VMT/Orcem debacle.  As Steve Young wrote on a Facebook thread, “Benicia had Crude By Rail, Vallejo had Orcem/VMT, and with enough committed people, sometimes the little guys win.”  – R.S.]
The site of the Vallejo Marine Terminal/Orcem Americas project proposed for south Vallejo is shown. (Times-Herald file photo)
The site of the Vallejo Marine Terminal/Orcem Americas project proposed for south Vallejo is shown. (Times-Herald file photo)

After five years of wasting scarce city resources on a half-baked project proposal that ultimately fell apart under examination, we need to pause and take a look at what happened. What went wrong and how do we pick up the pieces? How do we stop this from happening again?

This dysfunctional expensive mess can be laid squarely at the feet of the old political crony network that extends up through the county level, and is now suffering its own lingering death in terms of influence in Vallejo.

The applicants apparently thought this was a done deal, and never bothered with ordinary due diligence to develop a realistic project proposal. That very quickly became obvious in 2015 when the Bay Conservation and Development Commission got a look at the draft environmental report. They informed VMT that not only did their proposed break bulk cargo port activity fail to fit the Bay Plan designation for the site, but the BCDC hasn’t even seen any break bulk moving through Bay ports since 2006 and there is no demand for such a project. That fictitious port operation represented well over half of the described project.

In light of the early indications of pre-approval on the part of some former and current city officials, it probably appeared unnecessary to generate a realistic project proposal. A sweetheart lease deal with the city for public trust waterfront property that should have triggered an environmental review was signed anyway, citing a CEQA exemption that clearly did not apply. A majority of the former council colluded in secret with the applicants to leverage the project proposal in a scheme to dupe the Army Corps into dredging the length of the strait for deep draft cargo ships. Small wonder the EIR circulated for public comment presented a project description that amounted to little more than an exercise in storytelling.

Picking up the pieces is pretty straightforward because the alternative has been waiting on a shelf for this day. While the crony committee courted the Army Corps behind the scenes, a public planning process was underway to update the City’s General Plan. This exemplary planning effort lasted three years and spent millions to develop a preferred scenario for future development with broad public input. The final map for the south Vallejo waterfront showed walkable access between the Cal State campus and downtown, and a change in zoning from industrial to light industry for the VMT parcel. That public vision stood in direct conflict with the VMT/Orcem project application, which involved heavy industry and would shut out all public access for the 60-plus-year-term of the lease.

The City Attorney informed commissioners that since the VMT/Orcem project application was still pending, the preferred scenario would have to wait for a final disposition of the appeal. She also expressed concern over a potential lawsuit related to a taking of value from private interests by changing the zoning for the site. If nothing else, the process of reviewing the application has confirmed that the legacy industrial zoning no longer fits with surrounding land uses, and changing to a less impactful use category will not diminish the value of the property. Now it’s time to finally and officially terminate the lease and approve the preferred general plan scenario for south Vallejo’s waterfront.

The review process demonstrated the need for an environmental justice policy for the city, along with an ordinance to prevent local handling or transport of coal or petroleum coke. The city should begin work with the BCDC to develop a special area plan like Benicia has done for its waterfront that was formerly designated for port and industrial use in the Bay Plan, or like Vallejo has done for the White Slough area. The BCDC staff has indicated they would be happy to discuss changing the legacy industrial designation to one in line with current community planning initiatives.

We also need to hold those responsible to account at the ballot box. Politicians who feel free to substitute private agendas for a shared public vision; who feel compelled to serve special interests at the expense of Vallejo residents; who lack the intellectual curiosity to do enough research to at least be conversant with the relevant issues — they need to be voted out. The last election showed that we can’t do that without a better field of candidates. We should be thinking about election reforms to diminish the influence of money in campaigns and encourage some of our younger, less affluent, and better informed residents to run for office. Thanks to the many who stood up early in defense of some of our most vulnerable residents and refused to move.

— Jeff Carlson/Vallejo
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    VMT / OCREM project dead – hearings cancelled!

    Press Release, City of Vallejo, May 24, 2019

    VMT WITHDRAWS APPEAL OF VMT/ORCEM PROJECT – MAY 30 PUBLIC HEARING CANCELLED

    VALLEJO, CA – Vallejo Marine Terminal, LLC. (VMT) delivered formal notice to the City of Vallejo this afternoon that it has elected to withdraw its appeal of the Planning Commission’s 2017 denial of the VMT-Orcem Project.

    The public hearing at the City Council previously scheduled for May 30, 2019 has been cancelled.

    VMT applied on September 5, 2013 for a cement processing plant project on ~30 acres at the former General Mills factory. The original project was denied a major use permit by the Vallejo Planning Commission on February 27, 2017 due to concerns over environmental and quality of life impacts.

    VMT stated in its May 24, 2019 withdraw letter that it no longer supports the project. As real property holder, VMT’s withdraw of the appeal effectively terminates the proposed project.

    For more information:
    Joanna Altman, Assistant to the City Manager, Joanna.Altman@cityofvallejo.net, (707) 648-4362

    *****

     

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      Vallejo council tentatively set to resume Orcem/VMT hearing in May

      Public Hearing on May 30 – unclear whether staff report will recommend denial of appeal

      By JOHN GLIDDEN, Vallejo Times Herald, April 22, 2019 at 6:13 pm

      The site of the Vallejo Marine Terminal/Orcem Americas project proposed for South Vallejo is shown. (Times-Herald file photo)

      Almost two years after the Vallejo City Council directed staff to complete an environmental report for the proposed Orcem/VMT project, councilors are tentatively scheduled to meet on May 30 and make an official decision on the project, City Hall confirmed on Monday.

      Vallejo spokeswoman Lyan Pernala said the public hearing will be a continuation of the council meeting from June 1, 2017 in which a heavily divided city council directed staff to bring back a Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) for the Vallejo Marine Terminal (VMT) and Orcem Americas project.

      Councilmembers Pippin Dew-Costa, Hermie Sunga, Rozzana Verder-Aliga, and former Vallejo Councilman Jess Malgapo all said in 2017 that they wished to see the final report to help them decide on the appeal filed by VMT and Orcem.

      Just recently, City Hall released a new draft FEIR, although staff said the document is not ready to be presented to the council for certification and possible project approval under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Staff cite the lack of necessary information and cooperation from the VMT applicants for the draft status of the report.

      Prior to the 2017 hearings, staff and the applicants went back and forth regarding the need for a FEIR. Orcem and VMT argued certification would allow councilors to have full information about the project before deciding the project’s fate. Meanwhile, City Hall at the time argued such a certification is not needed if a recommendation to reject the project is being offered by staff.

      Staff originally said the project will have a negative effect on the neighborhood, impact traffic around the area and is inconsistent with the city’s waterfront development policy. The project also has a degrading visual appearance of the waterfront.

      Pernala didn’t confirm if City Hall will once again recommend a denial of the appeal for the May hearing.

      “Staff is preparing a staff report to the City Council with their recommendation and that will be available prior to the meeting date,” she wrote in an email to the Times-Herald on Monday.

      The companies submitted the appeal after Vallejo’s Planning Commission rejected the project in March 2017 by a 6-1 vote.

      Pernala also said the May 30 hearing will include a public comment period. She further said the hearing might not meet in the council chambers.

      “We anticipate that there are a lot of people interested in this meeting and are looking at the best venue to have as many people be able to attend,” she wrote.

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        Vallejo declares VMT/Orcem appeal abandoned

        [Editor –  More:   View the Attorney General’s scathing 13-page letter.  For opponents’ perspective, see Fresh Air Vallejo.  For official project documents, see Vallejo’s City website.   – R.S.]

        City looking to set special hearing

        Vallejo Times-Herald, By John Glidden, April 10, 2019 at 6:33 pm

        Apparently, tired of waiting to receive cooperation from Vallejo Marine Terminal (VMT), City Hall sent official notice on Wednesday informing representatives with VMT and Orcem Americas that city staff determined the project application has been abandoned.

        Staff wrote that the lack of information and collaboration from VMT is preventing City Hall from finalizing the project’s final environmental impact report (FEIR) and presenting it before the City Council for certification under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

        “As you know this is required for the VMT/Orcem Project. Without clarity or cooperation from VMT, the City has now determined that the VMT/Orcem Project application has been abandoned,” wrote Snannon Eckmeyer, assistant city attorney. “City staff intends to recommend denial of the appeal.”

        Release of the city’s letter comes just a day after all three sides failed to meet as previously scheduled. Krista Kim, the attorney representing VMT principals Alan Varela and William Gilmartin, informed city staff and Orcem via an email sent out at 2:20 a.m. Tuesday morning that a calendar error would cause her to skip Tuesday’s meeting.

        “I was going to attend on VMT’s behalf but I just got back from vacation this morning and realized my flight to DC is actually Tuesday morning at 6 a.m., rather than Wednesday at 6 a.m. as I had on my calendar,” Kim wrote in an email shared with the Times-Herald.  “Thus, I am actually heading to the airport in an hour or so and regret having to send this late cancellation.”

        That, in turn, caused Orcem Americas President Steve Bryan to cancel his Tuesday morning flight from Houston to Sacramento.

        “I assumed the meeting had been cancelled and I cancelled my flight and returned home,” Bryan wrote in an email to City Manager Greg Nyhoff after receiving Kim’s message.

        City Hall wasn’t amused, re-iterating VMT continually failed to provide information about its control of the South Vallejo land both businesses hope to build on. In addition, city staff said they have sought Varela’s and Gilmartin’s signatures on an indemnification and assignment and assumption agreement, which staff say is needed to continue the appeal.

        “Without clarity from VMT on if it wants to proceed with the application appeal process, the City cannot determine if several of the mitigation measures we have discussed are feasible,” staff wrote. “We have not received the barge implementation strategy and fleet management plan data from VMT, which is also necessary for certain mitigation measures. Neither VMT nor Orcem signed the reimbursement agreement necessary to complete the environmental justice analysis and to release the associated funding.”

        All three sides met on March 26 to discuss the various topics, including VMT’s claim that city leaders are confused over the metes and bound descriptions regarding the city ground lease between Vallejo and VMT, and another section of land, Parcel 1, which VMT says it owns in fee.

        According to the same city letter, both sides agreed to meet again in April to allow VMT time to gather the appropriate documents.

        “At that (March 26) meeting, the VMT applicants requested we meet in person on April 9, 2019, to which you all agreed. The purpose of the delay was to allow all of you time to gather documents to support your position and bring resolution about how to move forward,” the letter reads.

        However, Tuesday’s meeting never took place, due to Kim’s “error.” Attempts to reach Kim were unsuccessful on Wednesday.

        Reached by email on Wednesday, Bryan said Tuesday’s meeting can be rescheduled.

        “The more critical issue is that the City Attorney has now hired outside counsel to challenge VMT as to whether they even own the General Mills property,” Bryan wrote. “Seven years into the process the City suddenly does not accept that VMT owns the property project is on. The resolution of that issue has to be everyone’s urgent priority, before anything else.”

        City Hall also released the unfinished draft version of the updated FEIR on March 26, stating that without the needed information from the VMT, the document is incomplete.

        “The city has acted reasonably in all its attempts to get the parties to finalize outstanding issues. We have attempted to communicate with you on numerous occasions to try to get you to finalize the joint-applicant appeal,” staff wrote in a letter sent to VMT and Orcem on Wednesday. “We have received minimal communication from any of you on any of our requests.”

        Vallejo Marine Terminal (VMT) wants to build a deep-water terminal, while Orcem Americas is seeking to build a cement facility. Both projects would be located on the same 31 acres at 790 and 800 Derr St. next to the Mare Island Strait in South Vallejo.

        The Vallejo Planning Commission voted 6-1 in 2017 to reject the VMT/Orcem project, agreeing with City Hall that the project would have a negative effect on the neighborhood, that it would impact traffic around the area and the proposed project was inconsistent with the city’s waterfront development policy. The project also has a degrading visual appearance of the waterfront, City Hall said at the time.

        City officials argued in 2017 that since a rejection was being recommended, a FEIR was not required. At the time, city leaders called the first iteration of the document a draft FEIR.

        Orcem and VMT appealed the Planning Commission decision, and in June 2017 when reviewing the appeal, a majority of the then-council directed City Hall to complete the impact report.

        Since then, numerous agencies have issued letters of concern with the project as they reviewed the first version of the DFEIR.

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