LETTER SERIES: Jon Van Landschoot – Elizabeth Patterson for Mayor

[Editor: Benicians are expressing themselves in letters to the editor of our local print newspaper, the Benicia Herald. But the Herald doesn’t publish letters in its online editions – and many Benician’s don’t subscribe. We are posting certain letters here for wider distribution. – RS]

Re-elect Mayor Elizabeth Patterson: Actions speak louder than words or endorsements

By Jon Van Landschoot
October 26, 2016
Jon Van Landschoot
Jon Van Landschoot

The candidates that have shown they have positively advocated for Benicia citizens will always get my vote. Politicians always promise the moon, few actually deliver.

In my 30-plus years living in our terrific town, I have not seen any elected official work as hard and get so many things done as Elizabeth Patterson our Mayor! I will add Tom Campbell and Steve Young to that list also. What follows is my memory of what these three folks have done for our town.

First, let’s look at Elizabeth’s efforts. In the early 1990’s, there was an effort to build 1500-plus new homes in the Sky Valley area just North of Benicia. This caused a tremendous outpouring of concern from the public. Benicians did not want to have a huge suburb north of our town. It was subsequently not built. Sounds a bit like the proposed Seeno Northern Gateway Project to me!

What this event did do was to galvanize a number of folks to update out General Plan and protect our open space. That effort was spearheaded by Kitty Griffin — that lovely dynamo — and Elizabeth Patterson.

Hundreds of folks attended a ton of meetings and countless hours went into the effort. What came out if it is still regarded by many as a model document. Thank you, Elizabeth and Kitty, for leading the effort. Your present General Plan was enacted unanimously by the City Council in 1999.

In 2003, the same two stalwarts saved Sky Valley from any future development with Proposition K. The measure passed with over 60% approval. Today, you can take a very pleasant ride out to Sky Valley and see only trees, and in the spring a myriad of flowers and color. Thanks to all who worked to “Save Sky Valley.”

In 2005, Sue Street — another lovely dynamo and a killer Bridge Player — and Elizabeth made a similar effort to “Save the Marina Green.” There were plans to build a strip mall and a three-story boutique hotel on the Green!

Measure C was passed by our citizens by well over 60% of the vote. We now enjoy the Green for a myriad of activities. Thanks to all who worked to save the Green. I love being down there on a windy day.

Elizabeth also served on the Planning Commission in the late 1990’s and added a great wealth of knowledge to that body. Trained as a planner, and having served at the California state level in the Deptartment of Water for well over 30 years, working with Mike Thompson, she worked to get California to be “Water Wise” and she has brought that knowledge and energy to Benicia. The “Pure” effort to save and recycle water from Valero was made in the mid 2000’s.
As Mayor of Benicia, Elizabeth has only upped her game. She has appointed extremely qualified Benicians to our boards and commissions. Elizabeth also was a big mover in the conversion of Mills School into our wonderful Benicia Community Center.

She also has advocated for the creation of an Open Government Commission, the Arts and Cultural Commission, and the Community Sustainability Commission. All these efforts succeeded and have helped Benicia become a more open City, a boon to the thriving Arts Community. Let’s not forget the Climate Action Plan that helped Benicia become one of the very top water savers in the Bay Area. Our Green Building Code is a Bay Area leader in LEED Building Codes. Oh, and we also have become a “Tree City,” with a tree ordinance to save our Heritage Trees. Benicia also has a trained Tree Arborist for citizens to consult. Gee, a very busy Mayor!

Elizabeth has, with others, long advocated for air monitors on the fence line of the Valero refinery. Valero has dragged its feet for quite a long time. So, we do not know the actual air pollutants that we breathe each day! Over my 32 years as a teacher in Solano County, I have seen firsthand the asthma and allergy cases climb.

Other ongoing efforts by Mayor Patterson include using the Good Neighbor Steering Committee money from the Valero settlement to facilitate Benicia joining Marin Clean Energy, which saved the City and residents a lot of money on energy use. Also, Elizabeth is leading the continuing effort to give grants to our local businesses to upgrade their energy and water systems. This saves money that can be poured back into their business and hopefully add more employees, thus increasing profits.

She has also been a champion of Benicia’s Clean Tech Expo at the Clock Tower, and Benicia Makerspace in our Middle School.

While Elizabeth has been our Mayor, the city has increased grants to our Human Services folks, Benicia Old Town Theatre Group and Arts Benicia. She is always looking to help Benicia’s non-profits and enhance our life experiences here in Benicia.

In 2012, when the State Parks wanted to shed 70 Parks — two in Benicia — Elizabeth said “NO!” She and the Benicia State Parks Association (BSPA) mobilized Benicians and stopped the closures. She advocated for a State Parks, Solano County, cities of Benicia and Vallejo and BSPA Committee. It meets every other month at the Benicia Capitol. The City took over the bathrooms and the lawns at the Capitol.

This group ponied up enough money this spring to repave the roads in the Benicia State Recreation Area. This past August, Elizabeth attended a celebration at the Capitol to push for more improvements at both the Capitol and the Benicia SRA. This past week or so, Elizabeth was on hand for the dedication of a new plaque at the foot of the Capitol steps.

Not content to rest, Elizabeth also had a big hand in the remodeling of Military West near the City Park. Traffic calming, bigger bus stop and new trees really give an inviting look to all.

A few years ago, the Seeno Group pushed very hard to build an Industrial Park on their property between East Second Street and Lake Herman Road. This land is labeled “industrial” in our General Plan. After much resistance to following our General Plan and Green Building Code, the Seeno folks pulled out. They are back now with a “Northern Gateway Project,” and wanting to build 900-plus housing units among industrial buildings. Having kids, moms and dads living within this new industrial development—which can produce excessive noise, toxins, traffic congestion and the possibility of explosions does not sound like a good idea. New costs for services for these homes will mostly fall on current Benicians. Our schools will be very impacted: more traffic, more of our water will be used, police and fire resources will be stretched. Also, it does not match with our General Plan! Elizabeth has stated her opposition to this new plan if it includes housing.

Of course, Valero’s Crude By Rail Plan (CBR) has been a crucial discussion for the past few years. In March of this year, the Planning Commission, after almost two years of hearings, unanimously voted to deny the Project and gave 11 sound reasons. Most had to do with conflicts with our General Plan and for health and safety concerns. The Planning Commission did yeoman work. A lot of the credit goes to Steve Young, now running for City Council.

In April of this year, the City Council took up the issue. After days of hearings, much of the information was the same as the Planning Commission had heard. The City Council voted. Elizabeth and Tom Campbell voted to deny the CBR Project based on the Planning Commission’s findings. Three councilmembers did not know what to do! Christina, Alan Schwartzman and Mark Hughes needed “more information” to make a decision! Really. So, as you know we waited five months for the Surface Transportation Board (STB) to help them out.

What was at issue was not the safety of the project, but Valero’s claim that the CBR Project was preempted and, therefore, could not be denied because it would be an infringement on Interstate Commerce. However, if all the councilmembers would have listened to the ton of folks, many professionals, who gave evidence at both the Planning Commission and the Council meetings, they should have realized that Valero’s project did not qualify for preemption. Why? Because Valero is not a railroad, nor is Valero currently shipping or receiving product by rail.

So, when the STB issued its ruling on Sept. 20th stating there is no preemption, the three councilmembers scrambled to vote “No” and deny the CBR Project. Who wants to be in favor of the dangerous CBR Project? Christina was the first to change her mind, followed by Alan and finally by Mark. A big question remains. Will these three be able to make big tough decisions in the future or wait until some Board bails them out?

Finally, our leaders need to be in the community. I see Elizabeth all over the town. If she isn’t at the Camel Barn, she is at a Main Street event, or an Art Soirée on First Street, attending an Arts Benicia Gala, or at our schools, (sometimes teaching a class on sustainability), or at the Historic Benicia Capitol attending a re-enactment program. She walks and bikes all over town and at the Benicia SRA. She has been spotted at Book Shop Benicia for book events and in our terrific library for myriad events.

However, what I think is the neatest thing she does is to meet with Benicians most every Monday evening and listen to their concerns and ideas. Who else on our council does that? NONE! Vote Elizabeth!

Jon Van Landschoot is a Benicia resident