Tag Archives: Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin

Richmond residents, leaders warn of danger from Bakken crude by rail shipments

Repost from The Richmond Confidential

Richmond residents, leaders warn of danger from Bakken crude by rail shipments

By Phil James, November 1, 2014
Kinder Morgan's Richmond depot takes in dozens of DOT-111 train cars laden with Bakken crude oil from North Dakota every week. (Phil James/Richmond Confidential)
Kinder Morgan’s Richmond depot takes in dozens of DOT-111 train cars laden with Bakken crude oil from North Dakota every week. (Phil James/Richmond Confidential)

If you go to the website explosive-crude-by-rail.org and zoom in on Richmond, what you’ll find is disconcerting. According to the 1-3 mile buffer zone on the map, the entire city and its 107,000 residents are in danger if trains carrying crude oil explode.

Such is the concern of several Bay Area environmental groups in Richmond who have drawn the City Council into an escalating dispute with the Bay Area Air Quality Management District and Kinder Morgan, which operates a local crude by rail transfer station.

“The health and safety of the community is at stake here,” Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said during a City Council meeting. “We are encouraging the air district to review the process.”

Richmond City Council on Tuesday unanimously passed a resolution to “review” and “if feasible, revoke” the permit given to Kinder Morgan – the 5th largest energy company in the United States — to take in crude oil by rail. Based in Texas, the company was founded in 1997 by two former Enron executives.

The crude, from the Bakken Shale of North Dakota, ignites and explodes more easily than more traditional crudes. On the heels of a major oil boom, transportation of crude by rail in the North America increased by 423 percent between 2011 and 2012, and more crude shipped by rail was spilled in 2013 than in the four previous decades combined.

In 2012, a train carrying Bakken crude derailed and exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing 47 people and decimating the small Canadian town. This, among other incidents, has prompted the U.S. Department of Transportation to label Bakken transport by rail as an “imminent hazard”.

Several community groups have rallied to ban the movement of crude shipments through Richmond. Megan Zapanta of The Asian Pacific Environmental Network said she’s worried that a lack of attention could have dire consequences.

“Bakken crude has not been well-documented here,” she said. “If there’s some disaster, how will we get the word out to our immigrant community?”

Evan Reis, a structural engineer for Hinman Consulting Engineers, released a report earlier this year assessing the probability of a crude-laden train derailing in the East Bay.

He estimates there is a six in 10 chance of derailment on the line running from San Jose through Richmond to Martinez within the next 30 years.

“Given the fact that these are highly urbanized places we are going through,” he said by phone, “A 60 percent probability would be of concern to me.”

McLaughlin pledged to support Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) as they consider appealing the air district decision to grant Kinder Morgan a permit to funnel crude through Richmond by rail cars. The city does not have the jurisdiction to revoke any licenses or permits from the company. The permit must go through the air district, where it can be reviewed with respect to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)

In March, CBE filed a lawsuit against BAAQMD for failing to publicly disclose the permit to the residents of Richmond. The group only noticed the arrival of crude by rail because a local television station, KPIX, discovered that Kinder Morgan was bringing Bakken crude to its Richmond depot.

The Tesoro refinery in Martinez receives the Bakken shipments by truck after they are transferred from the rail depot in Richmond. Richmond’s Chevron refinery does not take in any of the Bakken crude.

In September, the lawsuit was dismissed on technical grounds because the complaint by the CBE was not filed within 180 days of the permit’s issuance.

The permit, which was filed by BAAQMD staff in 2013, drew ire from environmental groups because it was not subject to an environmental impact report, and was granted without review from the district’s board.

Andres Soto, a representative of Communities for a Better Environment in Richmond, appealed to Richmond leaders to counter the decision.

“Kinder Morgan issued an illegal permit to bring Bakken crude into Richmond without public notice or review,” Soto said.

Ralph Borrmann, public information officer for the BAAQMD, declined to comment until the end of the appeal period. The CBE has considered a challenge of the ruling.

The Kinder Morgan depot has been taking in ethanol by rail since 2010, but they have since diversified their intake to include Bakken crude. Kinder Morgan officials, though, say the concerns are overstated.

“We didn’t feel that the profile of the crude oil arriving was materially different,” Melissa Ruiz, a spokesperson for the Texas-based company, wrote in an email.

Charlie Davidson, a member of the Sunflower Alliance speaking on behalf of CBE, disagrees.

“They’re basically running tin cans on 100 cars,” he told Richmond City Council. “The flash point [of Bakken Crude] is so volatile that it could burn in Antarctica.”

Randy Sawyer, Chief Environmental Health and Hazardous Materials Officer in Contra Costa County, acknowledged the dangers but also downplayed the risk of a major disaster.

“It’s a hazardous material and there’s concern of derailment and fire,” he said in an interview by phone. “But if you put it in relation to other materials, it isn’t as hazardous as chlorine or ammonia. It’s equivalent to ethanol or gasoline.”

“The biggest concern with crude by rail is not so much than the hazard being worse, it’s just the huge amount of quantity that’s being shipped by rail,” Sawyer said.

Since the dismissal of the lawsuit, other municipalities in the North Bay have rallied against crude by rail. In Sacramento, a lawsuit by Earth Justice prompted the local air board to revoke a permit from Inter-State Oil Company on the grounds that they did not disclose the potential public health and safety concerns to local residents.

Suma Peesapati, a member of Earth Justice, drew similarities between Sacramento and Richmond.

“Kinder Morgan’s project in Richmond is virtually identical to the air district issued permits for unloading crude in Sacramento,” she said. “The [Bay Area] Air District made it clear they issued a permit in error, rather than engage in this formal process.”

Despite the resolution passing, Richmond Councilmember Jael Myrick expressed just as much weariness as concern for the issue.

“The frustration that we had the last time we talked about this is it just seems there is so little we can do to combat it.”

Chevron: deep pockets, heavy influence on electoral politics in Richmond, CA

Repost from Counterpunch

Chevron Sounds Alarm Against East Bay “Anarchism”

Via Mass Mailings & Push Polling
by Steve Early, September 16, 2014

One of the great things about living near Chevron’s big East Bay refinery—yes, the one that caught fire and exploded two years ago—is its system of early warnings about new disasters about to befall Richmond, CA.

In our post-Citizens United era, the nation’s second largest oil producer is now free to spend $1.6 million (or more, if necessary) on direct mail and phone alerts, designed to keep 30,000 likely voters fully informed about threats to their city.

During the last week, glossy mailers from a Chevron-funded group called “Moving Forward” have been flowing our way, at the rate of one or two per day—almost seven weeks before Election Day.

And, then, just to make sure that Chevron’s urgent message is getting through, we’ve also been called by pollsters. They claim to be surveying  opinion about Richmond politics, but actually just recite the contents of these same Moving Forward mailers over the phone.

My favorite manifestation of this negative campaigning involves a Latino candidate for Richmond City council. His name is Eduardo Martinez and remembering the Eduardo part is important. By some strange coincidence, Moving Forward—the Chevron-backed “Coalition of Labor Unions, Small Businesses, Public Safety and Firefighters Associations”—is backing another Martinez for city council whose first name is Al and who is apparently not a public safety threat.

One Martinez Too Many

Eduardo, the dangerous Martinez, is a retired public school teacher and registered Democrat. He’s silver-haired, soft spoken, neatly dressed, and rather distinguished looking. For years, he has devoted himself to good causes in Richmond, including serving on the city planning commission. On that body, he has been an influential voice for Richmond’s Environmental Justice Coalition.

Earlier this summer, for example, he voted to impose additional air quality and safety requirements on Chevron, in return for city approval of its long-delayed $1 billion refinery modernization plan. This project was finally OKed by the city council majority in July after some improvements were obtained, plus $90 million in Chevron-funded “community benefits.”

Chevron did not forget that Martinez—Eduardo, not Al—helped to challenge and change its original blueprint for “modernization,” a project that will employ 1,000 building trades workers. And that’s why Richmond voters have just discovered, via expensive mass mailers and phone calls, that Eduardo Martinez is really a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

This alarming news first arrived in the form of a lurid four-color mailer, with a cover picture of “Black Bloc” demonstrators wearing face-masks and brandishing shields on behalf of the “99%” three years ago.  Inside, 65-year old Martinez is fingered as a fellow “Occupy Oakland member, who believes that anarchy is the highest form of government.” In a second “hit piece” a few days later, Chevron—through its “Moving Forward” front group–claimed that, after enlisting in Occupy, Martinez urged others “to join the group, which has been blamed for violent protests that cost Oakland more than $5 million, hurt local businesses, and drove away new business.”

Abolish The City Council?

This mailer again displayed a glowering, angry-looking headshot of Martinez—one of three appearing in the first piece (which made him look a little bit like the late Leon Trotsky, who was no anarchist). The second brochure noted that “Richmond needs new businesses and jobs” but, with a card-carrying “anarchist” on its council, the city won’t be able to attract either. The bottom line: “Eduardo Martinez is too radical for Richmond.” For more details, readers are directed to a Moving Forward website – www.NoEduardo.com – where we learn that Martinez is “so radical that he does not think the city council should exist”—a truly unusual stance for any city council candidate anywhere.

Just as these dire warnings landed in the mailbox, my home phone started ringing. It was Research America, a Sacramento-based pollster, calling to discuss local politics. Who was paying for this opinion survey, I asked. Oh we can’t disclose that, my would-be interviewer said, but you can talk to my supervisor. Her supervisor didn’t know or wouldn’t say who was behind the call either, disclosing only that Research America had been retained by EMC Research, a firm based in Oakland, who was acting on behalf of some third party whose identity could not be revealed in order to “maintain as much impartiality as possible” in the polling.

I objected to this policy of client anonymity but asked the supervisor to put her subordinate back on the line.  OK, I said, what do you want to know? Actually, she had some things that Research America/EMC wanted me to know like, for example, that Martinez and his “Team Richmond” running-mate, Gayle McLaughlin, were part of “an extreme left wing group called the Richmond Progressive Alliance. It’s a group of radicals out of touch with Richmond voters.”

Stop right there, I said. How could that be? McLaughlin has twice been elected mayor of Richmond, and once before that to the city council.  Martinez only narrowly lost his previous council race two years ago. How “out of touch” could they be with a won/loss record of 3 to 1 between them? Besides, I said, “I belong to the RPA and I’m a Richmond voter. Does that mean I’m ‘out of touch’ with myself?

Push Polling Paymasters

My good-natured interlocutor at Research America plodded through the rest of her dreary task—which consisted of reading and asking my reaction to a long series of questions or statements, almost all of which deliberately misrepresented the political views, personal behavior, or public record of Martinez, Mayor McLaughlin, and Richmond Vice-Mayor Jovanka Beckles, a third RPA-backed council candidate.

The Occupy-related scuffles in downtown Oakland in 2011, which Martinez had no connection with, were duly revisited.  Anyone who didn’t know the RPA candidates personally—or hadn’t bothered to follow Richmond issues very closely—would have been left with a distinctly unfavorable impression of Martinez, McLaughlin, and Beckles.

Eager to confirm the identify of those displaying such “impartiality” while conducting a public opinion survey, I called and/or emailed Research America in Sacramento, EMC Research in Oakland, Chevron in Richmond, Moving Forward in San Rafael, and the firm of Whitehurst/Mosher, a key Chevron advisor, in San Francisco. Whitehurst/Mosher is listed as a paid “campaign consultant” on the California Fair Political Practices Commission Form 460, filed on July 30, which shows Chevron ponying up $1.6 million, all by itself, for the Moving Forward “coalition.” Neither Research America or EMC are listed yet as “payees” for any services rendered.

None of the above, except EMC responded, in any form, by Beyond Chron’s deadline. Reached by phone, EMC president and founder Alex Evans told me he has been a pollster since 1984 but would “neither confirm or deny” that Chevron/Moving Forward was currently his client. A Richmond city councilor in the late 1990s, Evans also wouldn’t acknowledge any past work for the oil company, before, during, or after his council service. “We have no disclosure obligations, no professional obligation to disclose unless directed by our client,” he said. (According to longtime Richmond council member and current mayoral candidate, Tom Butt, Evans is a Chevron pollster.)

These calls were necessary because, as Evans correctly noted, there is no mandated disclosure of who is financing phone polling, no matter how propagandistic.  Corporations or unions bankrolling “independent expenditure” committees–like Chevron’s Moving Forward—have to put their names on the direct mail brochures they send out to sway the electorate (and, in California, report their funding sources to the FPPC.)  But their hired “public opinion” surveyors are free to engage in “push polling,” with complete funder anonymity, until the next round of FPPC form-filing months later.

Aren’t You That Anarchist?

Two years ago, Eduardo Martinez was first runner up in a large field of Richmond council candidates, falling about 500 votes short. When one of the three winners died shortly after that election, Martinez should have been named to fill the vacancy– based on the 11,000 votes he received and the fact that the city’s Latino population, its largest ethnic minority, has no council representation. (Martinez chairs the Richmond chapter of MAPA–the Mexican-American Political Association.)

Instead, a non-Latino who received half the votes that Martinez got—but who doesn’t belong to the RPA —was appointed to the council for the next two years. This led Eduardo to run for city council again this year, as part of the three-person slate which includes RPA leader Gayle McLaughlin, a registered California Green, who is termed out, as mayor, after eight years in that office.

When Martinez was out campaigning last weekend, he made stops at a neighborhood block party, a local Democratic Party club, and a Pt. Richmond fundraiser for his campaign. At the block party, after he mingled and chatted affably with potential voters, one confessed to him: “You know, talking to you is not the same as reading about you.”

At the meeting of West County Democrats, Martinez tried to convince his fellow party members that his personal refusal to accept corporate donations made him a good candidate for local Democrats to endorse. Both he and Beckles, who was also seeking the club’s backing, pointed out that Chevron’s massive display of unfettered (and, in some forms, hidden) political spending illustrated the post-Citizens United threat to reform candidates throughout the country, regardless of party label. Their plea fell on partially deaf ears. Neither RPA candidate got the 2/3 vote necessary for the group’s endorsement.

On Sunday, Martinez was raising funds the old-fashioned way, one-on-one, at a house party attended by Richmond residents. The donations were modest, but there was a silent auction to boost the take. In his 2012 race, Martinez raised about $35,000–$20,000 coming from individual donors and $15,000 in local public matching funds. He expects to raise and spend a similar amount in the course of this year’s run for office.

It’s easy to do the electoral math. Eduardo’s total spending will be in the range of $1 per voter, if turnout is similar to last time. Meanwhile, Moving Forward will be spending more than $50 per voter, for its four preferred Richmond candidates, and possibly much more. Already, Chevron’s “independent expenditures” on behalf of the other Martinez have given him instant visibility via billboards, direct mail, other advertising, and, soon, paid canvassing as well. None of this activity has, of course, been “authorized” by or coordinated with any of its lucky beneficiaries—and certainly not the “push polling” that depicts a local progressive Democrat as an “anarchist,” of the violent and irresponsible sort.

But it sure makes running for municipal office a lot easier if your name is Al rather than Eduardo Martinez. If the latter suffers a second defeat on Nov. 4, he won’t be the only loser in Richmond.

Steve Early lives in Richmond and belongs to its ten-year-old Progressive Alliance. He is the author of Save Our Unions (Monthly Review Press, 2013) and is now researching a book about recent political changes and environmental conflicts in Richmond.

KPIX: Protesters Against Fracked Oil Deliveries Chain Themselves At Richmond Yard

Repost from CBS SF Bay Area, 5KPIX
[Editor: See this story also on Popular Resistance, the Richmond Standard, the San Francisco Bay Guardian and the Sacramento Bee.  – RS]

Protesters Against Fracked Oil Deliveries Chain Themselves At Richmond Yard

By Christin Ayers, September 5, 2014

RICHMOND (KPIX 5) — A dramatic showdown at a rail yard in Richmond on Thursday as protesters locked themselves to a gate to disrupt operations at the facility.

The yard is the only one in California that is bringing in 100-car trains full of potentially explosive fracked crude oil. Earlier this year, KPIX 5 was the first to uncover the operation.

A group of protesters chained themselves by the neck with bicycle locks to the gates of the Kinder Morgan rail terminal in Richmond.

“We are here to stop Kinder Morgan’s illegal activity here in Richmond, said Evan Buckner.

Their goal: To block tanker trucks from carrying explosive crude oil through their communities. It’s the same kind of shale oil from North Dakota that has caused deadly explosions in derailments in Canada and across the country.

“I will do everything I can to prevent that from happening,” said Katy Polony.

KPIX 5 discovered back in March that trains a hundred cars long are delivering the volatile loads to the rail yard every month, where it’s transferred onto trucks and driven to local refineries.

But nobody knew the trains were coming in because the operation never had to go through any kind of environmental review.

“They were granted a permit to bring in oil into this facility by the air district without any public process,” said Buckner, who belongs to an environmental group called ForestEthics.

Even Richmond’s Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said she was kept in the dark. “We hadn’t been aware of it in Richmond, but I am very grateful to Channel 5 for bringing this forward,” she said.

McLaughlin came by to show her support. “This has been a big issue in Richmond. I brought a resolution to the city council stating that we need to do whatever we can to stop these trucks from rolling on our streets,” the mayor said.

Police showed up in force, but did not move to make any arrests.

For three hours, the protesters blocked tanker trucks from leaving, then finally unchained themselves and left peacefully.

Because of our reporting, the environmental group Earth Justice has filed a lawsuit against Kinder Morgan and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to try to force an environmental review. Kinder Morgan and the air district would like to see the suit dismissed. The first hearing in that case is Friday.