Martinez City Council approves ‘weak’ hazardous-rail-related resolution

Repost from The Martinez News-Gazette

City approves hazardous-rail-related resolution

Rick Jones | October 21, 2014
Citizens voice concern about ‘weak’ resolution
Council meeting concerning crude by rail
The Martinez Environmental Group and other concerned citizens attend the Oct. 15, 2014, meeting of the Martinez City Council, where council members approved a resolution calling for safer transportation of hazardous materials through the city. The sign in the background reads: “Stop crude by rail.” (RICK JONES / Martinez News-Gazette)

MARTINEZ, Calif. – The Martinez City Council approved a resolution calling for safer transportation of hazardous materials through the city Wednesday.

While the resolution passed 5-0, many in attendance felt the measure fell far short of where they hoped the city would go. Several members of the council agreed the resolution was weak and in places poorly written.

Councilwoman Lara DeLaney said the resolution was vague, and it didn’t demand enough from state and federal authorities.

“It doesn’t say what Martinez wants from this,” DeLaney said.

She didn’t vote “no” because anything that encourages any kind of safety is better than nothing, she said.

Mayor Rob Schroder supported the resolution, summing up the tone of the council that the resolution does at least make a first step.

“At least it makes a public statement that the City Council is concerned about the public safety of its citizens,” said Schroder, noting the city is also concerned about rail shipments of other hazardous materials. “It’s a broader issue than just crude oil.

“This is just the beginning; as we go on in time, we will be taking more actions with respect to this issue.”

Before the council voted, 14 speakers voiced concerns, most urging the city to take a tougher, more aggressive stance on the issue.

Amy Durfee, who said she lives on E Street about eight blocks away from the Alhambra trestle, is a member of the Martinez Environmental Group (MEG). She spoke forcefully to the council.

“The resolution before you makes absolutely no concrete action to address the issue of the highly explosive trains that are coming across that trestle every 7-10 days and the tanker trucks that are coming back on Highway 4 to Tesoro,” Durfee said

Durfee stated there are currently three crude by rail projects that directly affect Martinez – in Sacramento, Benicia, and Kinder Morgan in Richmond.

“By not directing staff to monitor the situation in nearby cities you are putting the city’s head in the sand and putting us all in danger. [It] feels like voters are talking into a black hole. MEG has been telling you about this since May, and for you to pass this flimsy resolution is not going to fool Martinez voters.”

Bill Nichols told the council that the residents of Martinez have come to just accept the dangers of hazardous materials in the community.

“We have become inured to living with a refinery that puts out 4 million tons of greenhouse gasses every year. All the ice cream socials in the world won’t change that fact,” Nichols said. “We ignore the explosions, the stench, the flames; it’s just part of life here in Martinez. You, however, cannot become inured. You are charged with the public safety. The mayor has said that’s his highest priority. We are asking you to stand up and pass a strong resolution.”

Jan Cox Golovich, former city councilmember from Benicia, told the council of three derailments in the last year at the Benicia Industrial Park involving petroleum coke.

Golovich urged the Martinez council to take a much stronger stance against crude-by-rail. Golovich praised the council for being the first city with a refinery to take any action.

Julian Frazer urged the council to adopt the stronger MEG resolution that was presented to the council.

Councilmember Anamarie Avila Farias said “we all take this very seriously. This is a first step of many more to come. Not a perfect one, but it’s a start.”

Farias said other cities who have passed safety resolutions are now complaining.

“All these other cities have passed these resolutions taking a stance, but the trains keep coming,” Farias said. “The League (of Cities) and the cities we are working with are trying to stop it at a legislative level.”

Interim City Manager Jim Jakel said the city is limited due to a lack of jurisdiction over the railways.

“We don’t really have any power (over the railways),” Councilmember Mark Ross said. “To some, this is nothing more than a political selfie thrown out weeks before the campaign. To others it’s, ‘Hey, at least you are saying something.’”

The resolution “doesn’t really do anything more than express our concern,” Ross said.