All posts by BenIndy

Accountability advocate Andrea Sorce announces run for Vallejo mayor

Andrea Sorce, an economics professor at Diablo Valley College, who chairs Vallejo’s Surveillance Advisory Board and co-founded and co-led ACLU – Northern California’s Solano County chapter, is running for mayor to bring  accountability, transparency, and economic growth to Vallejo. | Image by Askari Sowonde.

Vallejo Times-Herald, by Daniel Egitto, October 4, 2023 

The chair of Vallejo’s Surveillance Advisory Board and co-founder of the local American Civil Liberties Union chapter is running for mayor, promising shakeups in the city’s “status quo.”

Andrea Sorce, a frequent attendee at Vallejo City Council meetings and outspoken critic of the Vallejo Police Department, is running on a platform of transparency, accountability and economic growth. She joins Realtor and former Vice Mayor Pippin Dew in the race to fill the seat of Mayor Robert McConnell when his term ends in January 2025.

Vallejo mayoral candidate Andrea Sorce reviews her notes prior to speaking at the May 10, 2023 meeting of the Vallejo City Council, as Chief Assistant City Attorney Randy Risner looks on. | Geoffrey King for Open Vallejo.

“I think for me, it was seeing the community so frustrated with the status quo and seeing what I feel is a lack of leadership,” Sorce said. “I feel like Vallejo deserves better leadership, and the community for years now has just lost trust in City Hall.”

Sorce took aim at what she sees as “a culture of covering up wrongdoing.” She wants to see “a trusted independent investigator” look into former police Chief Shawny Williams’ resignation last November, as well as the unhoused people who died on the city’s watch in Project RoomKey.

“I think when you have a city where people that do the right thing are punished and people that do the wrong thing are promoted, that is going to deter good people from wanting to work for the city,” she said.

Sorce, an economics professor at Diablo Valley College who previously served in the Peace Corps, said she also wants to see more tax dollars “going to the right problems” in Vallejo – issues like the city’s poor roads and insufficient housing. And she wants to help develop more concrete plans for improving the city’s economy.

The candidate accused local leaders of sometimes taking an “us-versus-them” approach to their own community, deterring people from getting more involved in local politics through policies such as limiting physical access to Vallejo City Hall. Moreover, she blamed the city’s current police officer shortage on a “lack of accountability for wrongdoing, and a lack of leadership, and a lack of support for the folks that have tried to take it on.”

The Vallejo Police Officers’ Association has said the recent wave of resignations results from “the city council’s continued disrespect for our officers and the work that we do.” But Sorce argued that the police department’s culture is deterring many officers from wanting to work there.

“The criticism has never been anti-police. It’s been anti-corruption,” she said, referring to her own track record of fiery public comments.

Sorce believes Vallejo has “made some real progress” in recent elections. She said the city has a long way to go, but she has faith that it can get there.

“It’s doable,” she said. “It’s not easy, but it’s doable. I think there’s real cause for optimism.”

For more information about Andrea, visit the Vallejo Sun’s tagged collection of posts naming or quoting her.

While you’re there, consider supporting independent news in Solano County with a subscription. Per the BenIndy’s Editor Emeritus Roger Straw, “the Vallejo Sun is celebrating it’s second anniversary, and has earned my respect with excellent in-depth reporting on police, local government, schools, arts, and local events.  Recently, I re-subscribed with a voluntary increase in my annual renewal amount. You can subscribe here.”

You can also read more about Andrea at Open Vallejo. Open Vallejo is an “award-winning, independent, non-partisan, nonprofit newsroom serving the public interest.” It’s tireless work unburdening a city from a history of “police violence, corruption, and neglect” is truly phenomenal and also worthy of your support.

Newsom’s Inaction Puts California Legislation Requiring Companies to Pay for Oil and Gas Well Cleanup in Limbo

[Note from BenIndy: Please take a minute to tell Governor Newsom to sign AB 1167. Here is his phone number:  (916) 445-2841, and here is a phone script, provided by 350 Bay Area Action: 

Phone script:  Hello, my name is ____________.  I live in ____________,  California and I’m a climate supporter of 350 Bay Area Action.  I am calling to ask the Governor to sign AB 1167, the bill requiring adequate bonding for plugging oil wells.  I want our state to do everything we can to protect the health of impacted communities and address the climate emergency.

Click this image to go to the governor’s contact form page. You will be redirected to a new site.

Prefer activism by email? You can urge Gov. Newsom to sign AB 1167 using his contact web form (clicking these links will redirect you to his contact page). There will be a drop-down menu where you can select the topic as “An Active Bill” and then another drop-down menu where you can select “AB 1167.” Follow the instructions to write a message. Please also note that our elected state representatives, Senator Bill Dodd and Assemblymember Lori Wilson, neglected to vote on this important bill.]


“A Setup for Disaster”: California Legislation Requiring Companies to Pay for Oil and Gas Well Cleanup in Limbo

An oil rig silhouetted by a golden sunset.
The bill, which awaits a decision by Gov. Gavin Newsom, follows ProPublica’s reporting on the multibillion-dollar cost to clean up California’s oil and gas industry and the exodus of major companies shifting ownership of thousands of aging wells. | Uncredited image.

ProPublica, by Mark Olalde, October 4, 2023

The California Legislature recently passed a bill that would provide the state’s taxpayers some of the strongest protections in the nation against having to pay for the cleanup of orphaned oil and gas wells. But Gov. Gavin Newsom has not indicated if he will sign it.

AB1167 would require companies that purchase idle or low-producing wells — those at high risk of being left to the state — to set aside enough money to cover the entire cost of cleanup. Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo, a Los Angeles Democrat who authored the bill with the support of the Natural Resources Defense Council and Environment California, said it’s needed to “stem the tide” of orphaned wells.

Newsom has until Oct. 14 to make a decision. A spokesperson declined to comment, saying the governor would evaluate the bill “on its merits.” The state’s Department of Finance released a two-page analysis opposing it.

It costs more than $180,000 to clean up an average orphan well in California, the state told the U.S. Department of the Interior in 2021, according to documents ProPublica obtained via a public records request. This includes plugging the well with cement, removing aboveground infrastructure like pumpjacks and decontaminating the site. But bonds, which are financial instruments guaranteeing to pay for cleanup, cover only a tiny fraction of that cost. A ProPublica analysis of state data found that oil and gas companies have set aside only about $2,400 per well. (State oil regulators are currently reevaluating companies’ bonds to increase them within existing law, which does not mandate that they cover the entire cleanup cost.)

Left unplugged, many wells leak climate-warming methane, brine and toxins that were used in the drilling process.

Newsom has until Oct. 14 to make a decision.  | Uncredited image.

“It’s a setup for disaster,” said Ann Alexander, a Natural Resources Defense Council senior attorney.

The bill follows ProPublica’s reporting on the exodus of oil majors from the state’s declining industry — one sale last year saw more than 23,000 wells move from Shell and ExxonMobil to a little-known German asset management group called IKAV — and on the multibillion-dollar cost to clean up the industry. ProPublica’s work was repeatedly cited by the Legislature and the bill’s supporters.

Despite its green reputation, California has a long history of weak oversight of its oil and gas industry, which has left behind an estimated 5,300 orphaned wells. Many are scattered across Los Angeles, complicating redevelopment. Others spew methane in Kern County’s huge oilfields.

Companies have little incentive to plug wells; it’s cheaper to sell or to walk away and forfeit the small bonds currently required by the state.

“It’s too easy for them right now to offload those unproductive oil wells to newer or less-resourced companies that may turn around and go bankrupt and that don’t have the adequate financial capacity to do the job of cleaning up,” said Laura Deehan, director of Environment California.

The Western States Petroleum Association and California Independent Petroleum Association industry trade groups warned state lawmakers that “this misguided bill will increase the number of orphan oil wells in California.” The organizations argued that requiring bonds that cover the full cleanup cost would dissuade sales to companies hoping to enter the market. This, in turn, could lead to well owners getting stuck with the expensive cleanup, causing insolvency and ultimately leaving the wells with the state.

Dwayne Purvis is a petroleum reservoir engineer who authored a study that estimated it would cost as much as $21.5 billion to clean up California’s oil industry. He pointed out that the most common type of bond — a surety policy — is similar to insurance guaranteeing a well will be plugged, so oil companies wouldn’t have to set aside the full cleanup cost in cash to comply with AB1167. Federal regulators recently found these bonds are relatively cheap.

If that stops companies from buying wells in California, Purvis said, then there’s a bigger problem: “This admits — implicitly but almost inescapably — that the cost of plugging exceeds the value of remaining production,” he told ProPublica via email.

A Western States Petroleum Association spokesperson did not address questions about its claims. The California Independent Petroleum Association did not respond to requests for comment.

In negotiations over the bill, according to people present, the trade associations pointed to one example in particular to highlight why the legislation would create more orphan wells — the sales of some of the more than 750 wells orphaned following bankruptcy filings by multiple entities in the Greka group of companies. The sales, the industry argued, presented an opportunity for the wells to be plugged by an oil company, not the state.

However, hundreds of the wells remain on the orphaned list to this day, only they’re now associated with a new company: Team Operating.

Greka’s CEO and Team Operating didn’t respond to emails requesting comment.

The bill does carry a potential loophole, experts cautioned: whether the increased bond requirements in the bill would apply to wells transferred through shell companies, as is often the case.

The state Department of Finance’s opposition to the bill relied on three arguments.

The agency’s report claimed that large companies with enough resources to plug wells are coming into the California market. But research shows these producers are exiting the state and handing off their aging, unprofitable wells to smaller companies that are less likely to be able to afford cleanup.

Its analysis also suggested that bond underwriting companies are “becoming hesitant” to do business in California. Purvis said that if these companies believe the situation is too risky to guarantee cleanup costs will be paid, “then the taxpayers of California probably should not extend producers the same credit.”

Finally, the report argued the bill is unnecessary because California regulators already have the authority to recoup plugging costs from wells’ previous owners.

While existing law gives the state this authority, it only applies to wells transferred after Jan. 1, 1996. Oil drilling in California dates back to the 1860s, and many thousands of wells were sold prior to the law’s cutoff, meaning the state can’t go after the wells’ former operators.

ProPublica reviewed the state’s list of orphaned wells and found numerous examples of well cleanups being left to taxpayers despite the wells being sold after 1996. In those cases, the state either hasn’t used its authority or has otherwise failed to secure plugging funds.

Department of Finance analysts referred questions to the state’s oil regulators, who were the source for much of the report. A spokesperson for the California Geologic Energy Management Division said state regulators have obtained money from previous owners on occasion.

But going after older operators is difficult, said Rob Schuwerk, a former New York assistant attorney general and the North American executive director of the energy finance think tank Carbon Tracker Initiative, and bonds are guaranteed money.

“There’s no better substitute for having the cash,” he said.

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

Citing distrust, conflict of interest, Rio Vista City Council rejects city’s legal counsel’s bid to *also* represent California Forever

[From the article: “It’s not David vs. Goliath, […] [it’s] David vs. an aircraft carrier.”]

California Forever’s first foray into Solano County politics was all about water. It didn’t end well

A former beach, lower left, has washed out and been overtaken by brush and algae at the closed Brannan Island State Recreation Area near Rio Vista, Calif., in 2022. The city’s lawyers approached its council Tuesday to ask if they could also represent California Forever, a group proposing a new city near Rio Vista, in water rights issues. |
Carlos Avila Gonzalez / The Chronicle.
San Francisco Chronicle, by J. K. Dinner, October 3, 2023

For the first time since their plan to build a city in Solano County became public, representatives of California Forever went to a local government and asked for permission to do something.

For the billionaire city-builders, it was a big-time bust.

In a unanimous decision Tuesday evening, the City Council of Rio Vista — a charming delta town of 10,000 that would be the closest city to where the new metropolis would sprout from dry farmland — rejected the idea that it would allow the city’s outside legal counsel to also represent California Forever, the developer’s parent company.

The law firm of Kronick, Moskovitz, Tiedemann & Girard, which has provided legal counsel to Rio Vista since 2011 — most small California cities hire outside firms rather than fund their own legal departments — had asked the city council for permission to also represent California Forever in its process of securing the water rights for the still unnamed, built-from-scratch city.

It was a resounding no.

While the vote was small potatoes in the context of a group that has spent $800 million on purchasing 50,000 acres and is determined to spend billions more to create America’s next great city, it demonstrated the political obstacles that California Forever will need to clear as it tries to convince the majority of Solano County of the wisdom of a project that would transform a corner of the Bay Area still mostly made up of farms and small towns like Rio Vista.

In its request, the firm, KMTG, promised it would create a separation between lawyers working for the city of Rio Vista and those helping California Forever secure water rights for a new city that could become home to 100,000 residents or more.

KMTG attorney Olivia Clark said that if any conflict arose the firm would represent the city, and not the developer. She said KMTG’s expertise in Solano County development issues, and water rights, could be a benefit to Rio Vista.

“We bring a lot of experience and institutional knowledge — that unique background will help both entities moving forward … rather than California Forever finding some hotshot L.A. firm to phone it in,” she said. “I think it’s better to know your neighbor and know they have competent legal counsel representing them. … What’s the cliche? It’s better to know your adversary than take a gamble.”

Founded in 1959, KMTG is recognized statewide for its water rights and water resources law expertise, advising clients on laws and regulations that govern water use in California. Water rights and use are key considerations in California Forever’s development plans in eastern Solano County. | Image from

In a memo on the topic, KMTG partner Mona Ebrahimi said there was “no present conflict between California Forever and Rio Vista” in terms of water rights, but she allowed that there might be down the road.

“The concern is that Rio Vista might oppose California Forever’s efforts to orchestrate water supplies for future land-use projects and might oppose California Forever’s efforts to obtain land-use approvals allowing such projects,” she wrote.

Currently, Rio Vista relies on groundwater pumped from the Solano Subbasin of the Sacramento Valley Groundwater Basin. Although, if that resource is depleted, it could put the city in conflict with the water sources California Forever is looking toward, including the Sacramento River.

But neighbors were not convinced, and neither were elected officials.

After public comment in which all of a dozen or so Rio Vista residents urged the council to reject the idea, the five member body quickly put the kibosh on the request.

Resident Kenny Paul said allowing the firm to represent both sides would “put the city in a bad position.”

“We are not going to be able to stop Flannery, ultimately, but do we extend a hand to them in welcome or do we say, ‘No thanks? ’ ” said Paul. “The fact that they would go after the same counsel we have, who are experts in water rights fights, just speaks to their continued bad faith.”

Resident Bill Mortimore said the law may be well-intentioned but that ultimately there will be conflict “when Flannery comes in and throws a half a billion on the table.”

“Our legal representatives have good intentions, but money talks. I can picture a conflict arising and them walking in with a checkbook,” he said.

Jeannie McCormack, a third generation rancher who rejected Flannery’s efforts of a buy-out of her family’s 3,700-acre ranch, warned against the firm’s request. She said California Forever’s current legal representation — Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP — would provide plenty of legal firepower without also enlisting Rio Vista’s lawyers.

“They have a very high-falutin and well-known legal firm … they don’t need anyone else,” she said. “They will try to weaken Rio Vista and we won’t know what their aims are because they are very closed-mouthed.”

Former Solano County Supervisor and project opponent Duane Kromm said the vote was significant because KMTG is one of the few firms that knows Solano County water rights issues inside and out.

“There is a limited subset of law firms highly specialized in California water rights,” he said.

He said the lopsided dynamic of the fight over the future of eastern Solano County would continue to test the small cities in the area.

“It’s not David vs. Goliath,” he said. “It’s David vs. an aircraft carrier.”

California Forever did not respond to a request for comment.

This and more stories on the Flannery land grab:

In & Out: Laphonza Butler sworn in to US Senate & Rep. Kevin McCarthy dumped as House speaker

[Note from BenIndy: Apologies for putting two major news updates in one post, but not only are these both important stories, they are also worthy of juxtaposition.]

Who is Laphonza Butler, the newest senator from California?

Laphonza Butler was sworn in Tuesday as a new U.S. senator representing California, replacing Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who died last week at the age of 90. Vice President Kamala Harris administered the oath of office at the ceremony in the U.S. Capitol.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said afterwards that Feinstein is “looking down at this moment with pride now that her seat is in good hands.”President Biden called Butler to congratulate her, the White House said.

Butler, a Democrat, was sworn in less than 48 hours after California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced her appointment.

Butler tweeted on Monday that she was “honored” to accept Newsom’s appointment and said, “I am ready to serve.”She stepped down from her role as the president of EMILYs List, a Democratic group dedicated to electing women who support abortion rights, to accept the Senate appointment.In choosing Butler, Newsom kept a 2021 promise to appoint a Black woman to the role. Feinstein’s seat is up for reelection in 2024, and three prominent House Democrats — Reps. Katie Porter, Adam Schiff and Barbara Lee — have already announced they are running.Butler will also serve as the crucial 51st vote for Senate Democrats, who have a slim majority in the upper chamber and are defending several seats in red states in 2024.

Butler will only be the third Black woman to serve in the Senate. Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois was the first, serving from 1993 to 1999. Harris was the second, from 2017 until becoming vice president in 2021. Butler was as a senior adviser on Harris’ 2020 presidential campaign.

Butler is the second openly lesbian woman in the Senate, and the first Black lesbian woman in the Senate. She and her wife, Neneki, have a daughter named Nylah. Although Maryland voting records seen by CBS News show a Laphonza Butler of Silver Spring registered to vote in that state, Newsom’s office said Monday that Butler will re-register in California, where she owns a home, when she is sworn in.

Sen. Laphonza Butler, D-Calif., raises her right hand, with her wife Neneki Lee looking on, as Vice President Kamala Harris recites the oath during her ceremonial swearing-in in the Old Senate Chamber in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 3, 2023. | Bill Clark for CQ-Roll Call, Inc., via Getty Images.

What is Laphonza Butler’s professional background?

According to her biography from EMILYs List, Butler grew up in Magnolia, Mississippi, and attended Jackson State University, a historically Black university.

In an interview with Elle in 2021, Butler said that her family wasn’t the kind “that talked about elections or politics at the dinner table, but we were the family that talked about what it meant to be in service to others. What do we do to help somebody?”

In that same interview, she said that while she was working with the SEIU labor union, she was able to “connect it with the jobs my mom had.”

“There have been parallels in my career and what I knew my mom experienced as a worker herself,” Butler said. “I always felt like the work I’ve done has been my opportunity to continue my mom’s journey and to make those jobs better for the children of those workers.”

At the age of 30, Butler was elected the president of the biggest union in California, and the nation’s largest homecare workers union, SEIU Local 2015. She also served as SEIU International’s vice president and president of the SEIU California State Council.

Butler’s biography says she spent 20 years in the labor movement, including working on the campaign to raise the minimum hourly wage to $15 in California, the first state in the country to do so.

Butler was an adviser to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

In 2018, Butler and political consultants Ace Smith, Sean Clegg and Juan Rodriguez formed the political consulting firm SCRB Strategies. Rodriguez ran Harris’ primary 2020 campaign, with Butler as senior adviser.

After Harris left the race, Butler served as director of public policy and campaigns in North America for Airbnb.

Laphonza Butler speaks onstage at the Emily’s List 6th Annual Pre-Oscar Breakfast held at the Beverly Hills Hilton on March 7, 2023 in Beverly Hills, California. | Photo by Gilbert Flores for Variety via Getty Images.

What did Butler do with EMILYs List?

Until being appointed to the Senate, Butler served as the president of EMILYs List, the group that supports women in office who support abortion rights. She was the first woman of color to hold that position.

EMILYs List is fundraising juggernaut for Democrats, having raised nearly $68 million in the 2022 election cycle, according to OpenSecrets.

Butler told the news organization Capital B News in an interview in Feb. 2022 that after the 2016 election, “more than 60,000 women reached out to us from all over the country and wanted to offer themselves for public service.”

“From a tactical point, we have created online communities for them to connect with each other, we have offered online training and made it accessible no matter what community that person is reaching out to us from, we have made sure that we are working to expand the state and local work of EMILYs List,” she said.

EMILYs List issued a statement on Monday praising Butler as a “groundbreaking leader.”

According to the statement from Newsom’s office, Butler will step down from her role at EMILYs List when she joins the Senate.

Kevin McCarthy ousted as speaker in Republican-led House in historic vote

Politico, by Katherine Tully-McManus, September


    • The final vote was 216-210, with nearly all Democrats joining eight conservatives
    • Rep. Patrick McHenry is now the acting speaker. He has all the powers of an elected speaker of the House and was hand-picked by McCarthy as speaker pro tempore in January.

McCarthy out as speaker

For the first time in history, the House has deposed its speaker.

Democrats joined with Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and his small group of conservative allies to vote to strip Kevin McCarthy of his gavel Tuesday. It’s unclear who would succeed McCarthy long term, though his allies expect he will try to run for speaker again and members pledged to continue supporting him.

“We’re perfectly happy to drag this out as long as it takes,” said Rep. David Valadao (R-Calif.), a McCarthy ally. “We’re all going to be there for the speaker as long as he wants us to be.”

“I’ll continue to support Kevin McCarthy as long as he’s running,” echoed Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.)

The House clerk announced Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) would act as a temporary speaker immediately after the vote concluded. McHenry was selected from a secret list of McCarthy’s hand-picked successors. The Californian’s ally will have all the authority of a regularly elected speaker. There are several questions surrounding that acting speaker, as House rules don’t specifically lay out how soon a new speaker ballot would need to occur.

Eight Republicans voted against McCarthy: Reps. Eli Crane (Ariz.), Ken Buck (Colo.), Andy Biggs (Ariz.), Matt Rosendale (Mont.), Matt Gaetz (Fla.), Bob Good (Va.), Nancy Mace (S.C.) and Tim Burchett (Tenn.).

Three House leaders have been floated as potential long-term replacements: Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.), Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) and Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.). All three have disavowed any interest in replacing McCarthy — a reality that could change now that the Californian is officially out.

McCarthy’s long-running troubles with his right flank became a full-fledged rebellion in recent days after he called up a stopgap spending patch on Saturday that averted a shutdown without imposing any of the spending cuts or conservative border policies that he’d vowed to push. More Democrats than Republicans voted for that short-term spending bill, essentially guaranteeing the conservative pushback against the speaker.

The last time the House moved to try to evict a speaker was 1910, and the move has never before succeeded.