Tag Archives: Benicia Mayor Steve Young

Steve Young & Mark Hughes: What is the future of Benicia? Voters will help decide 

Former Benicia City Council Member Mark Hughes. | City of Benicia.
Benicia Mayor Steve Young. | City of Benicia.








By Steve Young and Mark Hughes, January 22, 2024

[A note from the authors: Some may be surprised to see both of us as authors of this opinion piece. We served together on the Council from 2016–18, and while we did vote differently on a variety of issues, we respected each other’s point of view. We never ran against each other, but did support different candidates in various elections. But the one thing we never doubted was our mutual commitment to the betterment of the City. We both know that our financial situation is dire, and that these revenue measures will help keep Benicia financially stable moving forward.]

Slowly, Benicia residents are becoming aware of the extent of the fiscal challenge facing the City. There is an ongoing annual deficit of $6.5 million. Currently we are using reserves to cover the deficit, but those reserves will only last one more fiscal year.

Then what? There must be a combination of budget cuts and new revenue if we are to put off cuts to programs and services that Benicia residents have come to expect. Part of the reason for our rapidly increasing costs are the same as those affecting all of our residents, such as higher energy costs for fuel and heating/cooling, increasing health care costs, as well as the cost of virtually everything the City buys. In short, the City’s expenses have been increasing year over year, while revenue has been stagnant.

Some people point at recent raises given to City employees as the problem. The fact is that our employees were falling further and further behind other local area governments in compensation, and we were losing trained employees to other cities and counties, as well as finding it very difficult to recruit and hire new employees, especially those with specialized skills.

The simple fact is we cannot cut our way to a balanced budget; we also need additional revenue. The City’s two main sources of revenue are property taxes and sales taxes. Because our town is so attractive to families and others, there are relatively few houses for sale. This low turnover rate, combined with Prop. 13, has resulted in essentially flat property tax levels for several years. It’s also important to note that Benicia only receives approximately ¼ of the property tax collected, with the remaining money going to State, County, and School agencies. 

Sales taxes have also been relatively flat, with very little new development for more than a decade. And while a small town, no-growth attitude is what some people love about Benicia, it comes at a real cost.

In response to this situation, which has been brewing for more than a decade, the City Council is facing up to the challenge by proposing reductions in expenses, and two tax increase measures that will appear on the March 5 ballot. The first tax measure is Measure A, which will raise the local hotel tax paid by tourists and guests from 9% to 13%. The second tax measure is Measure B, which will ask voters to approve a 3/4 cent increase in the sales tax, from 8.375% to 9.125%. This increase represents 75¢ for every $100 spent. The increased tax would generate $5-5.5 million/year, and go a long way towards eliminating the deficit, and maintaining the programs and services the City currently provides. This sales tax increase, if approved will be overseen by a Citizens Review Committee, and will be in effect for 12 years, at which time it will sunset.

What will happen if the measure fails? This is where the conversation becomes much more difficult. While the City Council unanimously supports this measure, the only responsible thing to do is to hope for the best, but plan for the worst, in the event that it fails. The City has been, and will continue to ask citizens to share what services are most important to them, because if Measure B does fail, the City will need to consider budget cuts and service reductions in all areas of the city, including Public Safety, Parks, Library, Public Works, etc.  In addition, it is likely that most of the Boards and Commissions would be eliminated, as well as the Grants that the City provides to the Arts, Culture and Human Services organizations.

And please believe us when we say that these are definitely not intended to be scare tactics; it really comes down to basic math.

We love our town, and the quality of life that we enjoy here.  Please join us by supporting the City’s strategies to address our financial challenges.

We ask you to support Measures A and B on the March ballot, and encourage you to ask your friends and neighbors to do the same.

Visit BelieveInBenicia.org to learn more about Benicia’s Resiliency Plan, sign up for updates from Benicia City Manager Mario Giuliani, and join the effort to help shape Benicia’s future. While some workshops have already occurred, there is still time to add your voice! Look for the red, bolded text below to see upcoming workshops, and please fill out the community survey (also linked below).


Community Survey
January 15-26 – Community Survey Link
In Person Workshops
January 18 • 6pm-8pm
City of Benicia Public Library
January 25 • 6pm-8pm
City of Benicia Community Center
Virtual Workshops via Zoom
January 17 • 6pm
January 24 • 6pm – Join the meeting

Benicia mayor says Valero’s latest alleged emissions violations ‘should bother all Benicia residents’

Valero Benicia Refinery. | Scott Morris / Vallejo Sun.

Vallejo Sun, by Scott Morris, August 10, 2023

BENICIA – The Bay Area Air Quality Management District announced Thursday that it had discovered continued violations at the Valero Benicia refinery during its investigation into years of toxic releases.

Specifically, the air district said that Valero had failed to install required pollution control equipment on eight pressure relief devices,  safety devices that prevent extreme over pressurization that could cause a catastrophic equipment failure. The violations led to 165 tons of illegal emissions, the air district said. [Emph. added by BenIndy contributor.]

The air district said it is seeking an abatement order from its independent hearing board that would require Valero to immediately correct the violations.

“The extensive violations discovered at Valero’s Benicia refinery are of great concern,” air district chief counsel Alexander Crockett said in a statement. “Our priority is to protect the health and well-being of our communities, and we will vigorously pursue enforcement measures to achieve cleaner and safer air for all residents of the Bay Area.”

A Valero spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Benicia Mayor Steve Young said in a statement that Valero’s alleged continued pattern of emissions violations is “particularly concerning” and “should bother all Benicia residents.”

“The City is also waiting, with increasing impatience, to see how the separate, bigger, case of 16 years of unreported hydrogen emissions will be ultimately resolved,” Young said. “The citizens of Benicia deserve much more transparency from the refinery about these operational deficiencies than we have been receiving.”

The air district discovered the violations during its investigation into the release of toxic emissions from a hydrogen vent at the refinery that went on for nearly 20 years. The air district separately obtained an abatement order for those violations last year, though by the time it revealed the excess emissions publicly, it had already worked with Valero to correct them for some time.

Those excess emissions were first detected by Valero in 2003 when it started measuring output from the hydrogen vent, but the air district believes it likely had been going on even earlier and has no measurements from that time.

Since 2003, the air district estimates that the vent was releasing about 4,000 pounds of hydrocarbons per day, far more than state regulations allow. Overall, the district found that Valero released more than 10,000 tons of excess hydrocarbons over 16 years, including 138 tons of toxic air contaminants ethylbenzene, tolyrene, zolerine and the especially carcinogenic benzene.

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Read more! As Air Quality is so essential to our health, you might want to check out these resources:

State senate race heats up, Benicia Mayor Young endorses Chris Cabaldon

Mayor Steve Young endorses former West Sac Mayor Chris Cabaldon for State Senate

State Senate District 3 Candidate Chris Cabaldon. | Image from campaign website.

By Nathalie Christian, June 26, 2023

After speaking with two front-running candidates, Benicia Mayor Steve Young has endorsed Chris Cabaldon to replace Sen. Bill Dodd for State Senate District 3.

Benicia Mayor Steve Young

“Having spent a substantial amount of time talking with both candidates,” Mayor Young wrote, “it was clear to me that Christopher is far more familiar and knowledgeable about the many diverse challenges facing Solano County and the 3rd District. He is someone who is both a progressive and accomplished elected official.”

“When I worked in Sacramento, Chris was the Mayor of West Sacramento for more than 20 years,” Mayor Young continued. “Under his leadership, W. Sacramento transformed from a primarily industrial city as shown by the construction of Raley Field and the redevelopment of the riverfront across from Sacramento. We were both active in the League of California Cities, where he chaired the Asian-American caucus and was the first Filipino LGBTQ Mayor in the US.”


The endorsement was first announced in the Vallejo Times-Herald last week, where Cabaldon responded: “I am honored to have earned the support of Mayor Young. Benicia is a beautiful community, and I look forward to working with Mayor Young to protect access to clean drinking water, create good paying jobs, and invest in the infrastructure our Delta communities – and cities throughout Solano County – need to thrive.”


District 3 includes all or portions of Solano County as well as Contra Costa, Napa, Sacramento, Solano and Yolo counties. The district has been represented by Sen. Dodd since  2016. State senators are limited to serving two 4-year terms, which disqualifies Dodd from seeking another term.

Only the top two candidates in the March 5, 2024, primary will advance to the general election next November, regardless of party affiliation.

The candidates

Per the best of my web sleuthing, three candidates have announced their candidacy for the opening seat: former West Sac Mayor Chris Cabaldon, Vallejo Vice-Mayor Rozzana Verder-Aliga and Rohnert Park City Council Member and former Mayor Jackie Elward. All three candidates are running as Democrats.

Dr. Rozzana Verder-Aliga

State Senate District 3 Candidate Rozzana Verder-Aliga. | Image from campaign website.

Dr. Rozzana Verder-Aliga is the first Filipino-American woman elected to public office in Vallejo and Solano County. She is a mental health professional and licensed marriage and family therapist, and serves Vallejo as Vice-Mayor.

Verder-Aliga served on the Vallejo School Board for 12 years and the Solano County Board of Education for 6 years before being elected to a partial term on the Vallejo City Council in 2013 and re-elected to full terms in 2016 and 2020.

According to various press releases, Verder-Aliga has been endorsed by sitting State Senator Bill Dodd, CA State Treasurer Fiona Ma, CA Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis, former CA Superintendent Delaine Eastin, Napa Mayor Scott Sedgley and current West Sacramento Mayor Martha Guerrero, as well as Benicia Independent‘s very own Roger Straw. Lionel Largaespada, a former Benicia council member, also endorsed Verder-Aliga. A full list of Verder-Aliga’s endorsements was not available on her campaign website.

“My goal is to reinvigorate the California dream and strengthen the opportunities it promises its people in the state Senate,” said Verder-Aliga in a press release announcing her campaign.

Jackie Elward

State Senate District 3 Candidate Jackie Ellward.| Image from campaign website.

Jackie Elward is a first-generation immigrant from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Although she has been described as a relative political newcomer, she is a veteran labor organizer and activist as well as a professional educator.

Elward was elected to Rohnert Park City Council in 2020, unseating a six-term council member in the process, and was unanimously selected to serve as mayor by her fellow council members. As the leader of a diverse and progressive majority on City Council, she was the first Black, immigrant woman to serve Rohnert Park.

Elward has spoken openly about the discrimination she has encountered as a Black woman in office, but said that the support of community and labor groups encouraged her to run for higher office regardless.

A list of Elward’s endorsements is available at her campaign website, although it is unclear if the endorsements included there are for this upcoming race and not previous campaigns.

In news releases, Elward has described herself as a “bridge builder” focused on uniting people from different backgrounds  even around the most fractious of issues, and she has said she would work to fill a similar role in Sacramento.

Valero hit with $1.2 million penalty for toxic flaring in Benicia

[BenIndy Contributor Nathalie Christian – Texas-based Valero raked in about $11.5B of profit in 2022 — and that’s pure profit. While this fine represents progress, it also represents less than 1 hour of Valero’s 2022 profits. That’s right — in 2022, Valero made more than $1M just in profit per hour, 24 hours a day, for 365 days (Valero doesn’t stop profiting just because it’s a holiday or weekend). It’s clear Valero treats fines like these as fees; they represent just another minor cost of doing business in Benicia. Examples of fines from recent years: Valero Benicia Refinery was fined $266,000 in 2018, $122,500 in 2016  and $183,000 in 2014. It is rare for fines like these to actually financially benefit Benicia. The full text of the EPA News Release is available below this article from the Chronicle.– N.C.] 

U.S. EPA hits Valero’s oil refinery in Benicia with $1.2 million penalty for two toxic flaring incidents

San Francisco Chronicle, by Julie Johnson, April 5, 2023

A picture of Valero's Benicia Refinery
Incidents at the Valero refinery in Benicia in 2017 and 2019 forced people to shelter in place because of the risk of exposure to harmful chemicals, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (Samantha Laurey/The Chronicle 2022)

Oil refining giant Valero must pay a $1.2 million penalty for major flaring incidents at its Benicia facility that spewed dark plumes of pollutants into neighborhoods, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday.

The “significant chemical incidents” occurred in 2017 and 2019 and forced people, including schoolchildren, to shelter in place because of the risk of exposure to harmful chemicals, according to the agency.

Following a federal investigation, Valero executives agreed to make specific changes to their Benicia operations and pay a penalty totaling $1,224,550 in a settlement reached with the EPA. Martha Guzman, regional administrator for the EPA in California, Nevada and New Mexico, said the changes will help protect Valero workers, Benicia residents and the environment.

The EPA’s announcement is the latest investigation into problems at the Bay Area’s oil refineries. Earlier this year, health officials in Contra Costa County warned people living near the Martinez Refinery run by PBF Energy to avoid eating foods grown in surrounding neighborhoods, four months after the facility sent 20 tons of dust into the community that coated cars, homes and backyards in a mysterious fine white powder.

Last year, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District announced it had found Valero had been releasing unlawful and potentially harmful amounts of hydrocarbons from its hydrogen stacks — undetected — from 2003 to 2019. Valero said it also hadn’t detected the releases and took steps to end them.

On Wednesday, Valero didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment about the federal fines.

Benicia Mayor Steve Young said the city wasn’t notified by the EPA about its investigation or the findings. The city has been pushing for greater transparency from oil refineries and the agencies that oversee them, especially after finding out last year that local air-quality regulators failed to tell the community about harmful releases until three years after the problems were discovered.

“We have concerns that we’re being left in the dark and only find out well after the fact,” Young said.

Oil refineries sometimes burn off flammable gases through tall stacks to keep careful equilibrium within pipes and other equipment and avoid disasters like explosions. But flaring is a highly regulated activity meant to be used sparingly because of the risks those burned gases and other pollutants pose to people nearby.

One major pollutant generated by these flares is sulfur dioxide, which can harm human respiratory tracts, exacerbating problems like asthma, and worsen pollution from particulate matter and acid rain.

On May 5, 2017, Valero stacks began shooting flames and churning out dark plumes of pollutants when the facility unexpectedly lost power. The emissions coated cars in an oily substance and sent employees at a nearby musical instrument factory to the emergency room, according to the EPA. More than 1,000 people were evacuated, including staff and students at both Robert Semple and Matthew Turner elementary schools. Ultimately, more than 10,000 pounds of flammable materials and 74,420 pounds of sulfur dioxide were released from the facility, according to the EPA.

Valero reported the flaring caused more than $10 million in damage to its facility, according to EPA records. The company later sued Pacific Gas and Electric Co. for the outage.

Then on March 11, 2019, another flaring incident led Solano County health officials to warn residents with respiratory issues to stay indoors. Some businesses sheltered in place. An investigation revealed more than 15,000 pounds of sulfur dioxide were released.

The EPA inspected the facility following both incidents and in 2019 found “several” cases where the company was violating the law.

“Valero failed to immediately report releases of hazardous substances, update certain process safety information, adequately analyze certain process hazards, and develop and implement certain written operating procedures,” the EPA said.

The agency found the company had violated the federal Clean Air Act’s regulations for preventing chemical accidents.

Valero is based in San Antonio and operates 15 petroleum facilities in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.

In a press release, Larry Starfield, with the EPA’s enforcement division, said the settlement “sends a clear message that EPA will prosecute companies that fail to expend the resources needed to have a compliant, well-functioning Risk Management Plan to the fullest extent of the law.”

Reach Julie Johnson: julie.johnson@sfchronicle.com; Twitter: @juliejohnson


Letterhead image for Environmental Protection Agency Newsroom

EPA Orders Valero Refining to Improve Chemical Safety at Benicia, CA Refinery

Settlement Also Requires Company to Pay $1.2 Million Penalty for Clean Air Act Violations

SAN FRANCISCO (April 5, 2023) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a settlement with Valero Refining-California to resolve violations of the Clean Air Act’s Chemical Accident Prevention regulations at their Benicia Refinery. The company will pay a $1,224,550 penalty and make changes to improve process safety at the refinery.

“This settlement sends a clear message that EPA will prosecute companies that fail to expend the resources needed to have a compliant, well-functioning Risk Management Plan to the fullest extent of the law,” said Acting Assistant Administrator Larry Starfield for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.

“Failure to properly manage hazardous materials can pose serious risks to our California communities,” said Martha Guzman, Regional Administrator of EPA Region 9. “This settlement will help protect Valero workers, the Benicia community, and the environment more broadly.”

After significant chemical incidents at the Benicia Refinery in 2017 and 2019, a 2019 EPA inspection at the facility identified several areas of noncompliance, including that Valero failed to immediately report releases of hazardous substances, update certain process safety information, adequately analyze certain process hazards, and develop and implement certain written operating procedures.

Under the terms of the settlement, Valero has agreed to make significant chemical safety improvements at the Benicia Refinery. The company has already made several of these changes, related to chemical safety, in response to EPA’s inspection. These improvements include updating and modifying process hazard analyses, modifying operating procedures, modifying reporting policies, and improving employee training. The settlement also requires Valero to modify several pressure-relief valves and update process hazard analyses to consider hazards of power loss at the facility. As part of the settlement, Valero will continue to implement safety improvements through June 2025.

The Benicia Refinery is one of thousands of facilities nationwide that make, use, and store extremely hazardous substances. Reducing the risk of accidental releases at industrial and chemical facilities like the Benicia Refinery is one of EPA’s National Enforcement and Compliance Initiatives. Catastrophic accidents at these facilities can result in death or serious injuries; impacts to the community, including orders to evacuate or shelter-in-place; and other harm to human health and the environment. The Clean Air Act requires that industrial and chemical facilities that store large amounts of hazardous substances develop and implement a Risk Management Plan to reduce the risk of accidental releases.

For more information on the Clean Air Act’s Risk Management Plan Program, please visit EPA’s Risk Management Program (RMP) Rule webpage.

For more information on reporting possible violations of environmental laws and regulations visit EPA’s enforcement reporting website.