Berkeley report finds overwhelming opposition to project that would bring crude-by-rail through Bay Area cities

Repost from the Contra Costa Times

Report finds overwhelming opposition to project that would bring crude-by-rail through Bay Area cities

By Tom Lochner, 03/04/2016 04:44:34 AM PST

Berkeley report on SLO hearingsBERKELEY — A crude-by-rail project in Central California that could bring up to five trains a week through Berkeley and other East Bay shoreline cities has garnered overwhelming opposition among local politicians and the public, an observer for the city reports.

Ray Yep, a member of the Public Works Commission working with Councilwoman Linda Maio, represented Berkeley at hearings before the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission last month on the Phillips 66 Rail Spur Project. The proposal calls for bringing out-of-state crude oil, likely the tar sands variety, to the Phillips 66 Santa Maria refinery via 80-car trains, via a 1.3-mile spur that would connect the refinery with the Union Pacific mainline.

Possible access routes to the refinery from outside the area would be from the south via the Los Angeles Basin, and from the north via the East Bay and South Bay along Amtrak’s Capitol Corridor tracks.

As early as 2014, the Berkeley and Richmond city councils voted to oppose the transport of crude oil through the East Bay.

Hearings were held Feb. 4 and 5, with at least one more hearing before the planning commission votes on the project. The next hearing is 9 a.m. March 11.

At the Feb. 4 hearing, the county staff gave a presentation, ending with a recommendation to deny the project. A county attorney followed with a discussion of federal pre-emption, characterizing it as a “gray area,” according to the Berkeley report.

Phillips 66 has challenged the county’s standing to evaluate Union Pacific mainline issues — including possible effects on the communities it traverses. In an ensuing presentation, the company held that mainline issues fall under federal regulations, the Berkeley report noted.

Phillips 66 said the rail spur project is needed because of declining of oil production in California, and that it would keep the refinery in operation and provide local jobs and taxes, according to the Berkeley report. The company declared willingness to reduce the volume of trains to three per week, which critics have derided as a tactic to facilitate approval without addressing the danger of fire, explosion and pollution.

Without approval of the rail spur project, 100 trucks would transport crude oil daily from Kern County to the Santa Maria refinery, according to the report.

About 300 people submitted speaker cards at the Feb. 4 hearing and 69 spoke that day, from as far away as Crockett, Davis and Sacramento, according to the Berkeley report. Some 430 speaker cards were submitted at the Feb. 5 hearing.

The report noted that 17 elected officials spoke, all but one against the project.

Maio is expected to present the report to the City Council on Tuesday. It is available online at