Benicia resident Ramón Castellblanch: Jackie Elward is the most progressive candidate for District 3 State Senator

District 3 State Senate candidate. Jackie Elward. | www.jackie4senate.com.

By Ramon Castellblanch, March 1, 2024

I will be voting for Jackie Elward for District 3 state senator because what I see of the overall records and positions of the candidates, hers adds up to show me that she’s the most progressive candidate.  On environmental issues, Valero’s targeting her highlights the progressivity.  Along with other oil companies, the toxic polluter is co-financing a million-dollar televised smear campaign against Elward, distinguishing her from all her opponents.  She also has the endorsement of California Environmental Voters, a state environment group that views what legislators can do from the perspective of the state capitol.

On local planning, a KQED piece showed Elward as our only state senate candidate to unequivocally call out California Forever as an, “existential threat” to neighboring communities.  On workers’ rights, she has the support of the Working Families Party as well as the California Labor Federation.  The federation’s top agenda item is helping California workers gain the fruits of collective bargaining.  Among district 3 state senate candidates, they’ve assessed Elward as their best bet for support in this work.

Elward’s accomplishments as Rohnert Park mayor provides a track record of progressivity on affordable housing and police reform.  Rohnert Park was successful in gaining Project Homekey funds to build 60 units of low-income housing.  She also oversaw that local police received training against bias and for sensitivity and de-escalation.

Jackie Elward not only brings the perspective of a historically black college graduate, the compassion of an immigrant organizing relief for homeless children in Kinshasa where she grew up, she brings an environmental, local planning, labor, housing, and police reform record that make her stand out as a state senate candidate who would well serve progressive policymaking in the capitol.

Ramón Castellblanch, PhD
Benicia resident

*Senate District 3 includes the counties of Solano, Napa, and Yolo as well as portions of the counties of Sonoma, Contra Costa and Sacramento.


Note from BenIndy: The race to become the state senator for District 3 is heating up and we are interested in hearing from you! To submit your recommendations for this or any other office, or ballot measure, please email us. Publication is subject to factchecking and, ultimately, the BenIndy’s discretion. 

After Corrections, California Forever Collecting Signatures for Ballot Initiative; Solano Together Clarifies ‘Guarantees’ Are Not Binding

[Note from BenIndy: The images and emphasis in this post are not original to the Solano Together press release. If you are interested in learning more about Solano Together, check out their website, see how to get involved (with options ranging from simply being on their mailing list to volunteering), and don’t forget to donate. While there is no way Solano Together can match the millions to billions of dollars that California Forever is throwing at this thing, grassroots movements can do a lot with even a little. $5, $10, or more if you can may go a long way.]

Land where California Forever plans on building its new city (foreground) in Solano County, Feb. 16, 2024. The contentious development would be located between Travis Air Force Base and Rio Vista. | Loren Elliott / CalMatters.

Solano Together Press Release, March 1, 2024

SUISUN CITY – After intense public criticism and multiple resubmissions, California Forever’s ballot initiative asking voters for permission to rezone agricultural land to build a massive sprawl development was officially accepted by Solano County officials on Thursday. This means that California Forever will be able to start collecting signatures from voters to make the initiative eligible for the ballot this coming November.

For Solano Together, the multiple amendments to their ballot initiative speak volumes to their rushed and secretive process and the true intent of their development proposal.

The new title and summary, called “Rezoning of 17,500 acres of land in east Solano County to allow the development of a new community”, was prepared by Solano County counsel on Feb 29, 2024, updating information regarding the acreage for the proposed “new community,” changes to their land use plans, and clarifying language on the need for a Development Agreement to “vest” any promises made in the initiative.

As noted by County counsel, what is on the ballot is primarily a land use change that is not supported by any real plans for infrastructure development, resource allocation, or environmental impacts. The continued secrecy and purposeful deception of the public is unsurprising, given that project proponents have repeatedly withheld information on their intentions since they first started acquiring land in Solano County in 2017.

The initiative’s empty pledges—which they call “guarantees”—and lack of detail on everything from water sources to transportation plans give Solano residents and decision-makers very little information about how this proposed community would be developed and its associated impacts.

While the County Counsel’s summary states that the measure identifies “ten voter guarantees, including general financial and environmental commitments, that the project proponents would be obligated to provide once residential and commercial development begins,” it also clarifies that environmental impacts and financial feasibility would not be known until the measure is approved. “Rights to develop the New Community and obligations for voter guarantees would not vest until a Development Agreement is executed between the project applicant and the County.”

It’s been widely reported in local media that those “guarantees” are largely empty promises as there is no mechanism to enforce them until a Development Agreement is in place and a ballot measure cannot legally obligate the County to agree to specific provisions in a Development Agreement. The title and summary further detail that any community benefits negotiated through a Development Agreement would only be binding if the new city remained unincorporated. If California Forever chose to incorporate, all of those benefits could disappear.

Since the first public announcement of their ballot initiative on January 17, California Forever has submitted language three times as a response to criticism of their handling of Travis Airforce Base, corrections in acreage, and legal clarifications about the use of a Developments Agreement and compliance with CEQA.

Reactions from Solano Together Coalition supporters:

Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.). |  Mariam Zuhaib / AP.

“Don’t build in this area. Period. The latest ballot initiative does not alleviate concerns about Travis Air Force Base encroachment. Building a city of 400,000 residents next to an active Air Force base will jeopardize the long-term viability of this vital national security installation and the 30,000 jobs that rely on the base. On top of that, the initiative provides little substance regarding governance. Flannery and Associates’ project would be an enormous strain on the County if it continues as an unincorporated community. As we’ve seen in the title and summary, all the benefits in the Development Agreement would go out the window if the community is incorporated into a city. If this project goes forward, Solano County taxpayers will foot a large part of the bill. This is a lose-lose scenario for Solano County, and we cannot allow it to move forward.” – John Garamendi, U.S. Congressman. 

“As a Solano County resident and a member of the National Union of Health Workers, this initiative is hugely concerning when it comes to the impacts a new city of 400,000 residents would have on existing mental health services. Resources are already stretched thin, and a new, unincorporated community would pull from scarce resources. If they wanted to solve homelessness, they would be acting in better faith with specialists to ensure that mental health services are being strengthened, not forgotten and potentially made even worse.” – Sarah Soroken, Solano County Resident and Mental Health Clinician at Solano County Behavioral Health.

Princess Washington, Mayor Pro-Tem of Suisun City & Chair of Sierra Club of Solano County. | Robinson Kuntz / Daily Republic.

“The changes to the initiative in response to the concerns of Travis Air Force Base should not be interpreted as goodwill on behalf of Flannery Associates. What I take from this process is a complete disregard by California Forever’s team for Travis’ needs—although they have all along said otherwise—until they realized they weren’t going to get very far unless they made some changes. If you are working as a partner, you make sure you’re on the same page from the start, and that is not what we’ve seen here.” – Princess Washington, Mayor Pro-Tem of Suisun City & Chair of the Sierra Club of Solano County.

“What is coming before Solano County voters in November is essentially a blank check for Flannery Associates to move forward with a development project that currently provides zero details on how this new city will build and fund infrastructure, manage the traffic impacts of 400,000 new residents on the roads, or uphold any of their so-called ‘guarantees.’ It’s especially concerning to know that any community benefits agreed upon in a Development Agreement would be thrown out the window if and when this new city was to incorporate.” – Marilyn Farley, former Fairfield City Council Member and former Executive Director of the Solano Land Trust

“In this third version of the initiative, there continue to be no answers for how this project will be delivered, just more questions. As an organization that sees housing as one of our best climate solutions, I think we have the opportunity to come together to overcome barriers to building in our seven cities rather than count on this project to bring the solutions we need when they have continuously failed to work with community members and public agencies, still have no plans to deliver income-restricted affordable housing, and have produced an initiative that has very little substance when it comes to project delivery.  We need climate-smart housing solutions now, and building a new city far from jobs and transit is not how we will get there.”– Sadie Wilson, Director of Planning and Research, Greenbelt Alliance.

On February 4, a diverse group of organizations, residents, and local leaders came together to celebrate the launch of the Solano Together coalition. From left to right: Fairfield resident Mario Cisneros, Rio Vista resident Aiden Mayhood, Suisun City Mayor Pro-Tem and Sierra Club of Solano County Chair Princess Washington, Representative John Garamendi, Solano Farm Bureau President William Brazelton, Vallejo Councilmember Charles Palmares, Representative Mike Thompson, and Solano County Supervisor Mitch Mashburn. | SolanoTogether.org.

About Solano Together: A group of concerned residents, leaders, and organizations who came together to form a coalition that envisions a better future for Solano County, focuses development into existing cities and strengthens our agricultural industry. Our work is driven by an alternative vision for Solano in the face of Flannery Associates’ claims about California Forever’s benefits—our vision is guided by local voices and perspectives. Learn more at solanotogether.org

For more information, contact: Daniela Ades, dades@greenbelt.org, 1-415-792-9226

Benicia Herald on Valero Refinery spill of toxic Hydrogen Sulfide

[Note from BenIndy: The Benicia Herald  does not have an online edition but this Wednesday, February 28 article by Galen Kusic, editor, represents the best and most complete coverage of the Valero incident last weekend, including reactions from local representatives for Valero and our own elected officials. Supporting local journalism is crucial for ensuring communities are informed and facilitates transparency and accountability during important local events like this one. You can subscribe to the Herald by email at beniciacirculation@gmail.com or by phone at 707-745-6838.]

Benicia Valero Refinery spill of hydrocarbon releases Hydrogen Sulfide; odor smelled throughout Benicia

By Galen Kusic, Editor, The Benicia Herald, February 28, 2024

On Sat. Feb. 24 at 7:40 a.m., the City of Benicia reported that Benicia Fire Department was working with the Benicia Valero Refinery “on mitigating an odor coming from the refinery.” The source, which was reported as “refined hydrocarbon” was actually Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S), a dangerous neurotoxin.

According to the mandatory 72-hour report provided by Valero Benicia Refinery, between 5:30 and 6 a.m., Benicia Dispatch informed Valero of three odor complaints, and the Refinery received two inquiries related to odors smelled in the community. Residents noticed the strong odor throughout Benicia ranging from neighborhoods near Southampton, First St. and the lower east side.

As stated in the report, refinery operations began investigating the source of the odor and identified hydrocarbon on the roof of Valero Refinery’s Tank 1738 at approximately 6:08 a.m. Valero activated the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) around 7:48 a.m. and cleanup efforts began at approximately 1 p.m. Prior to the event, refinery operations were following emergency shutdown procedures to safely posture a unit that included transferring material to Tank 1738. The bulk of the material on the roof of the tank, currently estimated to contain less than 83 gallons of refined hydrocarbon, was removed by Sat. evening.

Levels of H2S spiked between 5:30 and 8:30 a.m., with levels reaching a maximum five minute average around 400 ppb (parts per billion) and a maximum one hour average around 142 ppb, according to data from the refinery’s fenceline website at www.beniciarefineryairmonitors.org.

“It was a very low level,” said Benicia Fire Chief Josh Chadwick. “Dangerous levels are at 50,000 ppb and we start to get concerned at 1,000 ppb.”

To put that in perspective, those numbers are more than twice the level Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists as an acute Minimum Risk Level (MRL) of 70 ppb over an hour period. The Reference Exposure Level (REL) determined by California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) for H2S is 30 ppb over an hour period.

In the report it states, “A REL is an airborne concentration level of a chemical at or below which no adverse health effects are anticipated for a specified exposure duration. RELs are based on the most sensitive, relevant, adverse health effect reporting in the medical and toxicological literature and are designed to protect the most sensitive individuals in the population by the inclusion of margins of safety.”

Two separate flaring incidents at Valero were reported by Benicia Fire Department on Feb. 18 at 12:39 a.m. and Feb. 23 at 8:30 p.m. Ongoing intermittent flaring that exceeded the 500 lbs. Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) reporting threshold occurred as part of the unit shutdown. According to Valero, the flaring did not contribute to the community odors.

After detecting the odor, Valero provided communication to the City of Benicia and other appropriate agencies and cleanup efforts were initiated to abate the odor. The City of Benicia Fire Department responded as a member of the EOC and also conducted air quality testing using their portable air monitors at multiple points throughout the City. Refinery personnel continued to clean off the material also referred to as “slop” from the tank roof until there wasn’t enough daylight to continue.

The refinery continued to spot clean the remaining residue on the tank roof and expected to have that activity completed by Mon. evening. Samples are being taken of the containers that are holding the material removed from the roof to obtain a more accurate estimate on the amount of oil.

“The strong smell has dissipated,” said Chadwick. “There is currently no health hazard.”

An investigation is underway to determine how the hydrocarbon material got onto the tank. A summary of the investigation will be provided to the Fire Chief once it is completed. Chadwick estimates the investigation can take up to a month.

Valero Refinery is also required to submit a 30-Day Investigation Report with root cause analysis. The 30-Day report will be posted publicly when available. In addition, Solano County Environmental Health will work in conjunction with the City of Benicia to perform a full incident investigation report that will also be released publicly.

It isn’t clear as to why alerts went out at 7:40 a.m. when H2S was discovered on Tank 1738 at 6:08 a.m. and H2S was detected in the air as early as 4:30 a.m. When this question was posed to Valero Benicia Refinery Director of Community Relations and Government Affairs Paul Adler, he responded.

“In order to answer your first question, I suggest that you review the Public Information Bank website along with that policy which defines the requirements of notifications,” he said.

In the Valero Cooperation Agreement, it states that “immediate notification is required in all Level-1 through Level-3 incidents. This was categorized as a Level-3 incident, but nowhere in the agreement does it describe what actual time frame constitutes “immediate notification.”

While the City noted in an update on Sat. evening that the smell was dissipating, driving by the Valero Refinery at 1:30 p.m. on Mon. on I-680 the smell was still strong. According to the City, Solano County Public Health only recommended to shelter in place if the odor smell was too strong and/or if it was “aggravating.”

When asked about further updates on Sun., Mayor Steve Young responded, “I don’t sorry,” but noted that he was meeting with Chadwick and City Manager Mario Giuliani on Mon.

“Hopefully I will have more information then,” he said. Young did not respond for further comment by press time Tue.

There were no injuries associated with the event, and no reports of offsite injuries or property damage have been reported.


Other reporting on this recent refinery incident:

Benicia resident Sheri Zada: Re-elect Monica Brown as the best candidate for County Supervisor, District 2

Solano County Supervisor Monica Brown (masked) speaks after a video presentation celebrating Solano County’s centenarians at the Government Center in December 2022. | Aaron Rosenblatt / Daily Republic.
Sheri Zada, President of Benicia Unified School District’s Governing Board and Benicia resident..

Dear Editor:

Monica Brown is the best choice for Solano County Supervisor.

I am writing to express my strong support to re-elect Monica Brown for County Supervisor in the upcoming election. Monica’s dedication to our community and her proven track record makes her an excellent choice for this crucial role.

Monica has consistently demonstrated a deep understanding of the challenges our county faces, and she has shown a commitment to finding practical and effective solutions. Her experience in local governance has been marked by a focus on transparency, accountability, and inclusivity.

Monica Brown’s leadership style is characterized by open communication and a genuine concern for the well-being of our community. She listens to the concerns of residents, engages with diverse perspectives, and strives to represent the interests of everyone in our county.

As we approach the election day, I urge my fellow community members to re-elect Monica Brown as the best candidate for County Supervisor. Her experience, dedication, and vision for our community make her the right choice to lead us forward.

Sincerely,

Sheri Zada
Benicia Resident/Benicia Unified School District, President, Governing Board

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