ISO Working Group personal reflection: City Council says no to industrial safety…for now

By Roger Straw

Council turns down draft local ISO, puts trust in Valero, County, State and Air District

Roger Straw, The Benicia Independent

It’s a sad story.  An ambitious and dedicated group of us formed a Benicia ISO Working Group over 7 months ago.  We met, researched, wrote, met with officials and embraced the pro-bono attorney labors of Terry Mollica, who drafted a head-start on Benicia’s own Industrial Safety Ordinance.

The City Council didn’t buy it.  Mostly, they bought the joint opinion of Valero, Solano County and the Bay Area Air District – that a LOCAL ordinance is redundant given new regional and state regulations.  Which of course, it isn’t – redundant, that is.

Mayor Patterson and Vice-mayor Steve Young voted to direct staff to further review the concept and the draft ordinance and return to Council with recommendations.  Mark Hughes (predictably), along with Alan Schwartzman and Tom Campbell, voted to wait awhile.

Significantly, for the first time on the public record, all five agreed that the City of Benicia and its residents are long overdue for air monitors.

Campbell and Schwartzman threatened Valero that they would revisit the issue and vote in favor of an ISO in November 2018 if Valero has not complied with a new Air District requirement for a few “fenceline” air monitors on Valero’s southeast border.

Of course, we would get fenceline AND COMMUNITY-BASED, neighborhood air monitors with the draft ISO.  But three Councilmembers chose to take a slower route with much less leverage over our local Goliath.

It could go either way in November or December.  Valero could conceivably install the required but totally inadequate fenceline monitors.  Or they could seek a delay, or just never perform.  It really doesn’t matter.  Many are saying we should sit tight, and hold Councilmembers Schwartzman and Campbell to their promise if Valero doesn’t comply – that they would then vote for an ISO.  Fine, but a better plan is to simply remember that Councilmember Hughes is up for re-election in November.  Whether or not Valero complies, a third vote on Council would be assured with Hughes’ defeat in November.

This isn’t over.  Benicia continues as the only refinery town in the Bay Area without a local industrial safety ordinance.  Our City staff and our citizens need a measure of oversight and control when it comes to our public health and safety.