Tag Archives: featured

Open Letter to the Benicia City Council: ‘It didn’t have to be this way’

[Editor – Excellent analysis and critique of Council’s ‘Housing Element’ decision on January 24.  For additional background, see earlier stories on BenIndy below– R.S.]

Historic Benicia Arsenal Advocates address City Council on Housing Element decision

January 30, 2023

Benicia City Council Benicia City Hall
250 East L Street
Benicia, CA 94510
RE: 2023-2031 Housing Element – January 31 Agenda Item 10.A

Dear Mayor Young and Council Members:

At the January 24 meeting, despite testimony from many community members advocating for a better alternative, the City Council approved a Housing Element that threatens Benicia’s precious historic resources, puts future residents directly in the path of environmental hazards, and fails to further fair housing goals. [Agenda, Minutes, Video]

(Click image to see the 1999 General Plan)

It didn’t have to be this way. Throughout the 12-month Housing Element update process, concerned community members raised these issues and pointed to better alternatives. And unlike many cities, Benicia had a large number of viable and desirable housing sites to choose from. The Council rejected many suitable sites, often at the request of a handful of neighbors, and yet chose not to consider the larger issues of historic preservation, fair housing, and environmental hazards that civic-minded community members have raised throughout the process. The comments from these community members represented longstanding City policies and values enshrined in the Benicia General Plan.

Click image to view the Housing Element Draft EIR (532-pages, slow download)

At the January 24 Council meeting, a near-capacity crowd asked the Council to approve the Environmentally Superior Alternative as identified in the Housing Element Environmental Impact Report (EIR). As stated on page 6-23 of the EIR, the Environmentally Superior Alternative would meet all the project’s objectives. This alternative would have reduced impacts on historic resources in the Arsenal and downtown and helped address hazards and fair housing concerns while still meeting the City’s housing needs and State of California requirements.

The rationale for the Council’s decision was apparently that, based on advice from the City’s consultants and staff, the Environmentally Superior Alternative might not actually be feasible. The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires that alternatives evaluated in EIRs be feasible. If the Environmentally Superior Alternative was not feasible, the Housing Element EIR is inadequate and should not have been certified.

The staff and consultants also claimed that the Council really had no choice but to approve the Housing Element as currently drafted, due to the looming January 31 deadline for Housing Element adoption, the cost of making changes, and the fact that they had not evaluated the Environmentally Superior Alternative for fair housing compliance. If that were the case, it would appear that the City designed the process and schedule to prevent meaningful consideration of EIR alternatives, violating the public’s trust as well as the requirements and intent of CEQA.
Let’s be clear: The Council had a choice. At the January 24 meeting and throughout the process, the Council had better options but chose not to act on them out of expediency or fear of State repercussions. The Council had an opportunity to present a vision for the future of Benicia and failed to meet the challenge.


Benicia Arsenal Park Task Force,
Benicia Arsenal Defense, and
1000 Friends Protecting Historic Benicia

cc. City Clerk, Community Development Director,  Benicia Herald, Benicia Independent, Vallejo Times-Herald, Vallejo Sun

See earlier on BenIndy:

Roger Straw announces retirement and a bold new BenIndy

Behind-the-scenes activist/reporter ending public service – group organizing to continue the online news and views

Roger Straw, Benicia CA

BENICIA – Longtime Benicia activist and reporter/publisher of the Benicia Independent Roger Straw will retire soon. Old issues of the Benicia Independent will be archived and saved for future reference.

Today’s good news is that you can continue to read BenIndy news and views – but with an impressive new design and staffed by a small but growing group of dedicated volunteers. They need more of you to help! If you are even just a little bit interested in contributing, please contact the BenIndy transition group by emailing Nathalie Christian at nathalie@mngl.ca.

Roger will continue to work with this group during a brief transition and will post new content occasionally until the start-up of the new BenIndy.

About the Benicia Independent ~ Eyes on the Environment / Benicia news & views

In 2007, two years after Roger retired from his service in ministry at Benicia’s Community Congregational Church, UCC, he founded the Benicia Independent, an online source for local news and views. The “BenIndy” as it has become known, served initially to highlight charges of political influence in the firing of the editor of Benicia’s print newspaper, the Benicia Herald.

Over the following 16 years, the BenIndy has published over 4,100 articles. It has gone through design changes, upgrades, and a series of single-issue coverages, including the championing of progressive electoral candidates, reporting on environmental issues local and beyond, calling for sensible gun control, racial, cultural and gender justice, immigration reform, a long-running daily log on the pandemic in Solano County (now archived), and more. Perhaps most importantly, the Independent played a major role in stopping Valero Benicia Refinery’s dangerous and dirty crude by rail proposal (also archived) and has kept a close eye on the refinery at every stage since. More: benindy.wpengine.com/about.

How to say good-bye? A brief personal reflection from Roger…

I’m in relatively good health, so no dramatic health concerns are behind my decision to leave public service. But I’m thinking about the future. It’s important to me that I focus on some unmet personal goals. I need to attend to home chores and spend time with family, and I want to slow down a bit for the first time in a more-or-less driven life.

So I’m saying good bye to a fulfilling 25-year chapter of public service in Benicia and welcoming in a new chapter of being productive in an entirely different way.

Please know that it’s a thrill to give over the Benicia Independent to talented others. The BenIndy will no longer be a one-person operation. Any number of you can now volunteer to write up the Benicia news and to express your views on important issues of the day. Contact Nathalie at nathalie@mngl.ca  Who knows? I may have to join in on occasion, but not every day or every week, and not under a self-induced pressure to produce on deadline.

Take care, Benicia, I love you.

Roger Straw

Refinery Air Watch Training Feb 2, 7 PM – get detailed data on Valero Benicia and other refineries

[Editor: Previously published – this is a tickler about the important upcoming webinar training this week. – R.S.]

Webinar: Introducing Refinery Air Watch: Radical Access to Fenceline Monitoring Data

Thursday, February 2, 7pm PST (zoom link)
Presented by the Fair Tech Collective

Air monitoring is happening at oil refinery fencelines. How can you get your hands on the data?


This one-hour webinar offers an introduction to Refinery Air Watch, (www.refineryairwatch.org), a new website that enables you to download results from fenceline air monitoring–and understand how refineries are making it hard for you to learn what’s in the air.

By the end of the session, you will be able to download data from the site and figure out what the data say about air quality at the fenceline. You will also understand where Refinery Air Watch’s data come from, what its strengths and limitations are, and what regulatory reforms are necessary to secure your right to know what you’re breathing.

Thursday, February 2, 7pm PST
Zoom link:  : Join our Cloud HD Video Meeting

Fair Tech Collective, founded by Gwen Ottinger, believes that science and technology can empower communities—but...
Fair Tech Collective, founded by Gwen Ottinger, believes that science and technology can empower communities—but…



Stephen Golub: Guns: Here We Go Again… and again…and again…

Unhappy New Year

A Promised Land, by Stephen Golub, January 25, 2023

Benicia author Stephen Golub, Benicia CA, A Promised Land

California has kicked off 2023 with a bang: two mass shootings in 72 hours. (Mass shootings constitute events in which four or more people are injured or killed, not including the murderer.) This has probably been the country’s most massacre-intensive January ever – and certainly since the Gun Violence Archive started tracking this data in 2014. Only a small fraction of these nearly twice-daily horrors (647 in 2022) gets much media coverage. Still, this seems like a nightmarish Groundhog Day.

Over the course of nearly nine years, the satirical, fake news outlet the Onion has regularly summarized such slaughters 30 times with the same headline,  “‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.”

I won’t regurgitate most of the grisly statistics you’ve heard before. But it’s worth noting a few:

Family Values

Here’s one more statistical nugget: America is the only wealthy country in which gun violence is the top cause of death for children and teens.

The comparative data leaves other rich nations buried (so to speak) in the dust. Firearms killed 4,357 young people here in 2020. The next highest nations, based on a recent research review of selected similar societies: Canada and France, with 48 each. Correcting for Canada’s far smaller population, its gun mortality rate for folks aged one to 19 is still less than 10 percent of ours.

Even that shameful ratio under-represents how bad our relative situation is. Canada and France themselves have much higher rates than other wealthy nations. The next highest number on the list is that of Germany, where only 14 young people died due to guns in 2020. Given that its population is one-quarter of ours, that figure would extrapolate to just 56 if we were the same size.


Now, this is not to say that most gun-owners are fanatics about their weapons. Many are responsible, or support at least some gun safety measures, or legitimately use firearms for protection or hunting.

Still, why are so many Americans (though by no means the majority ) so dedicated to deadly weapons, including assault rifles?

Pick your poison. The National Rifle Association. Our distorted democracy. The self-perpetuating cycle of easy access and ease of use making for a way of life. The legacy of racial animus. The fear of guns being taken away, which drives the purchase of yet more. The related conviction that more guns equal more protection from more guns. Gun collection as a hobby. Americans loving (ahem) Freedom, as long as it’s that of a gun owner and not a gun victim. The reliance on a Second Amendment adopted at a time of muskets and citizen militias. Or maybe all of the above.

There’s yet another view of what drives our gun culture and gun deaths, courtesy of Arnold Schwarzenegger in the film Terminator 2. Though the context for this clip was the threat of nuclear holocaust, it works equally well for a different kind of self-destruction:

Another answer is even simpler and better than the one Ahnold offers. It’s asserted by the Australian comic Jim Jefferies, in mimicing a hypothetical American gun devotee:

“I like guns!”

Here are the two parts of Jeffries’ brilliant commentary on Americans’ penchant for firearms – though be forewarned, he’s very profane, is politically incorrect, and employs a word that’s apparently much more commonly accepted in Australia than here:

A Shot at Success?

Is there any light at the end of the gun barrel? There are glimmers of hope.

In 2022, the United States adopted the first national gun control law in decades, with even a bit of Republican buy-in. It looks like legislators voting for the bill suffered few if any negative electoral consequences. Though an increasing number of states have adopted “open carry” laws – which allow gun owners to carry firearms in public without the need for permits – last year also saw a range of state-level victories for gun safety.

As I’ve noted, loads of evidence indicates that countries and states with stronger gun laws have lower rates of gun deaths; maybe someday such data will mean something for our nation’s public policy.

In fact, we’ve seen instances of public opinion or legislation shifting on other issues more than previously thought possible. The examples range from acceptance of gay and lesbian marriage to last year’s so-called Inflation Reduction Act, which for all of its flaws was an unprecedented environmental step forward.

Still, manyof us have remained politically unmoved by the Sandy Hook and Uvalde school massacres, by a lone Las Vegas gunman murdering 60 concert-goers and injuring over 400 others, and by so many other atrocities that we lose count.

Now, the sure way to lose the fight is to lose hope. But for now, Americans face the reality of constantly shooting ourselves in the foot, the head, and everywhere in-between.

Stephen Golub, Benicia – A Promised Land: Politics. Policy. America as a Developing Country.

Benicia resident Stephen Golub offers excellent perspective on his blog, A Promised Land:  Politics. Policy. America as a Developing Country.

To access his other posts or subscribe, please go to his blog site, A Promised Land.