Category Archives: Benicia CA

Save March 26 for a public meeting about industrial oversight

[Note from BenIndy: This meeting is guaranteed to be a lot more interesting than it might sound. Save the date! We’ll update with more information about how to participate if it becomes available, but it seems like you just show up. While you’re looking at this event page, consider signing up to become a member of so you can participate in important conversations about City initiatives, like the development and adoption of an ISO for Benicia.]

Click the image or the links below to be redirected to the event page. Benicia Public Library. |

From the City of Benicia’s new public participation platform,

Join us for a community meeting at the Benicia Public Library on Tuesday, March 26, 2024 at 5 p.m. to discuss ideas and thoughts about an Industrial Safety Ordinance plan for Benicia. This will be an in-person, interactive event.

Sign up here.

An Alternative to Hate is to Celebrate – Celebrate Fiestas Primavera Spring Fest at Benicia City Park on Saturday, March 23

Sheri Leigh
Sheri Leigh, Benicia resident and educator.

By Sheri Leigh, March 8, 2024

Along with the longer lasting daylight and the blossoming of our beautiful downtown trees comes the anticipation of Spring Break. And during the last few decades, at this time of year some of our students look forward to the tradition of the La Migra chase game – the game that gives the teens something exciting and edgy to do in our small, quiet town.

Each year the game is staged, those who choose to play look forward to the challenge of either getting strategically and successfully across town on foot while being pursued by their older peers who are behind the wheel of the motor vehicle, or, on the other side, finding and apprehending the cunning escapees. If caught, the “runners” are captured and “deported” to some remote area on the outskirts of town.

Sounds like fun, right?

Definitely not for everyone. There are a lot of serious problems associated with this so-called game.

Some Benicia High School students have taken action against the game, posting warnings to discourage peers from participating. | This image is a still from a 2023 NBC Bay Area report.

The premise of the game is racist – flat out. It’s simulating the brutal and terrifying experiences of many immigrants and other marginalized people who have been targeted, beaten, and/or run out of town (or the country) because of the color of their skin, their status as a citizen, their religion, their sexual orientation, or their vulnerability. Historically, Mexican and Central Americans, Blacks, Jews, the Queer community, Native Americans and many other groups of people, have been the victims of hate crime in the United States. And in that same spirit of xenophobia and hate, a few bullies who, under the pretext of playing the game, have chased down and terrorized anyone they felt like harassing, whether or not their target was participating or even knew the game was underway.  Some victims of these students have been severely traumatized and carry that with them for years afterwards.  

And then there’s the public safety aspect. With young people running away from their pursuers into private yards and through traffic, with teens being abducted and abandoned alone in remote areas, and with inexperienced drivers focused on the pursuit, rather than the road, it’s only a matter of time before someone gets seriously hurt or even killed. 

The La Migra Game is a blight on Benicia. Several of the students who are playing are well aware of the racist implications and take the opportunity to behave badly. And the really sad part is there are many adult Benicians who simply look the other way or consider the game a tradition and a teen rite of passage. Our collective ambivalence towards the game adds to Benicia’s reputation of being a Sundown Town, unwelcoming or even hostile towards anyone who is not white and/or socioeconomically well situated.

Fiestas Primavera Benicia






Solano Aids Coalition, under the organization of an experienced cultural event coordinator and the director, Mario Saucedo, is offering a spring time alternative to this game.   For just one example of Mario and SAC’s skill and passion for bringing cultural events to life, see this article about the Dia de los Muertos event in Vallejo last year.

This year, for Benicia, SAC is bringing a vibrant and energetic opportunity to learn about and celebrate the Mexican/Latino and Indigenous cultures through an inclusive and interactive event called Fiestas Primavera Benicia or Spring Celebration.

The event will take place on Saturday, March 23, 2024 in the Benicia City Park by the Gazebo at the top of First Street from 10:30am to 6pm. This event is supported by local and State officials, the Benicia School District, the Benicia Police Department, the Public Library, Benicia Black Lives Matters, the Kyle Hyland Teen Center, local artists and businesses, and a host of others who want to establish an equitable and welcoming community.

As a prelude to the event, you will see some of the supporting First Street businesses have their storefront windows decorated with colorful floral paintings done by local artists and high school students (if you are a First Street business who is interested in signing up to have your window painted, contact Sheri using the details provided on the flyer image below).

On the day of the event there will be an extravaganza of dance, music, and art by professional performing and fine artists and local students. Arts and crafts vendors, food trucks and a lowrider parade around the park will draw in people of all ages. Students will have the opportunity to display their artwork in the art pavilion and speak about their experiences and the need for diversity and inclusion during an open mike session. Doña Benicia will mingle with the crowds to share her wisdom, and clowns or payasos will entertain with their antics and charm.

In the children’s area, Catrina face painting, pinata making, street chalk art, and bounce houses will help the children enjoy and appreciate Mexican/Latino culture. And everyone will have the opportunity to look up and remember their own ancestral journey of immigration to this country, no matter from where or how long ago.

We all need to remember that less than two hundred years ago Benicia was part of Mexico, and before that, it was the land of the Suisunes and Miwoks and other Patwin tribes. We should be honoring the history of our land and its many diverse inhabitants and celebrating our cultural diversity, including the tremendous contributions of the Indigenous peoples and immigrants to the United States and Benicia over the ages.

Please join us in solidarity and celebration at this landmark event, Fiestas Primavera Benicia on March 23 anytime from 10:30 until 6pm.  Stand up against racial bias and hate – celebrate.  

For more information and details, including how to support this event through monetary donations and volunteering, please visit the Solano Aids Coalition Website at

“Who’s Monitoring the Monitors?” Last Night’s City Council ISO Status Report In Review

Valero’s Benicia Refinery, January 25, 2024.. | Galen Kusic.

Who’s monitoring our air monitors? Not Valero, apparently

Opinion by BenIndy’s Editorial Board, March 6, 2024 

Most Benicia residents will agree that when it comes to our health and safety, timely, clear disclosure of dangers to our community’s health is paramount to helping us make good decisions. In the context of keeping our families safe when industrial accidents or violations occur, “good decisions” may include evacuation or sheltering in place at one end of the spectrum, with closing windows, keeping vulnerable seniors and kids indoors, and discussing as a community how we feel about our biggest industrial neighbor, Valero, on the other end.

But the latest on Benicia City Council’s efforts to adopting an Industrial Safety Ordinance serves as a stark reminder of the many challenges and complexities we must face as we seek meaningful community oversight for industrial activity in Benicia.

At last night’s Benicia City Council meeting, Fire Chief Josh Chadwick’s status report on the City’s march to drafting, adopting, and implementing a Benicia Industrial Safety Ordinance (ISO or BISHO) was a highlight of the meeting, demonstrating a step in the right direction towards enhanced public safety measures. The Fire Department’s efforts to improve and quickly deliver clear notifications to the public also received well-deserved recognition, with many commending its recent efforts as a significant improvement from past practices.

However, the presentation took a disturbing turn with the revelation that, to the best of our present knowledge, it is unclear who or what is actively monitoring the town’s air monitors and exactly what the process to notify the community is, so we know when we are in danger.

File photo of Valero’s Benicia Refinery. This image does not show the recent accident.  | Pat Toth-Smith.

Complaints triggered investigation into hydrogen sulfide accident, not air monitor spikes

As many of you know, there was an accident at Valero’s Benicia Refinery last weekend that released hydrogen sulfide, a neurotoxin,  into our air. The spill prompted questions and caused residents to call the Air District, Benicia Fire Department, and even Valero with complaints of a rotten egg smell, ultimately resulting in residents receiving a text alert about the odor through Alert Solano.

Until Valero’s 30-day mandated Investigation Report with a root-cause analysis is released, Benicia leadership as well as residents are in the dark as to the exact cause and impact of the release. But even without this report available, several concerns emerged regarding both this recent accident at the Benicia Refinery and Valero’s response to it during Tuesday’s presentation.

According to Chief Chadwick, monitors detected spikes in hydrogen sulfide levels starting at 4 am on the day of the release, yet there was a delay of at least two hours in notifying the community. This delay suggests a lack of active monitoring.

Furthermore, Chief Chadwick revealed on Tuesday that it was the Fire Department that first made contact with Valero about the odor after staff noticed it on an unrelated call, not the other way around. This indicates that Valero did not proactively inform the Fire Department about either the accident or the community complaints the refinery had apparently received.

While there may be good reasons why refinery staff should investigate the source of an odor before alerting the community, this recent release and Valero’s subsequent response exposes serious flaws in the existing cooperation agreement between Valero and the City – the cooperation agreement that is supposed to serve as the framework for incident response and notification protocols (more on this below).

As we reflect on the discussions and outcomes of the City Council meeting, the question “Who monitors the monitors?” resonates most deeply. It highlights the imperative for a comprehensive system with clearly defined standards and expectations, to ensure that the systems we rely on for our health and safety are not just in place, but are also actively and effectively monitored so timely and clear notification in emergencies can occur.

The path forward must include rectifying this oversight to prevent any lapses that could compromise public safety and our environmental surrounds.

Valero Benicia Refinery’s Community Relations director’s response demonstrates failure to relate to our community

Another disturbing revelation that the Benicia Herald reported on last week emerged when Editor Galen Kusic asked Valero’s Benicia Refinery Director of Community Relations and Government Affairs why the community was finally notified at 7:40 am when H2S was detected as early as 4 or 4:30 am, depending on reports.

In order to answer the question, “I suggest that [Mr. Kusic] review the Public Information Bank website along with that policy which defines the requirements of notifications,” the director responded. The policy the director referred to is Valero’s existing cooperation agreement with Benicia. At Tuesday’s meeting, Mayor Steve Young questioned the delay as well.

Here, BenIndy’s Editorial Board offers two opinions and two speculations. The first opinion of this Board is that this was a wholly unacceptable response. Our first speculation is that this response  exposed that the director was either unprepared or refused to answer Mr. Kusic’s question.

The second opinion is that if this is what Valero considers to be appropriate “community relations,” it is clearer than ever that there is an immediate need for an Benicia ISO that can define, respond to, and deliver on expectations of a safe and healthy community.

Finally, we speculate that Valero will not be a willing partner, let alone a good-faith leader, in the effort to design and provide one.

It is up to our City to lead instead

Vice Mayor Terry Scott and City Council Member Kari Birdseye, who have been at the forefront of advocating for a robust ISO for Benicia despite attacks and opposition, joined Chief Chadwick in acknowledging the community’s interest in oversight. As the three members of Benicia City Council’s ISO Subcommittee, their determination in pushing for common sense safety measures to reduce accidents and improve notifications to our community is a breath of the freshest air.

But while progress is certainly being made in the right direction, the journey towards a more responsive and transparent notification system is ongoing, and may be uphill. It is incumbent upon all stakeholders in this process to remain vigilant, proactive, and collaborative in acknowledging and navigating the challenges that lie ahead, especially if Valero decides to dig in its heels.

This post was updated on March 7 to reflect that, at Tuesday’s meeting, Chief Josh Chadwick indicated that it was the Fire Department that made initial contact with Valero’s Benicia Refinery to report the smell, only to discover that the refinery had already received complaints but had not yet shared this fact with the City. The post was also updated to better clarify the nature of the City’s cooperation agreement with Valero’s Benicia Refinery.

The opinions above represent those of BenIndy’s editors and no other groups or individuals, but we will share that you can follow this conversation by becoming a Supporter of the BISHO Working Group at

The Benicia Fire Department has a public page regarding incidents at the Valero Benicia Refinery. These are the uploaded documents regarding the February 2024 Valero Refinery Odor Incident:

2024-02-24 Valero Odor Incident Update 3
2024-02-24 Valero Odor Incident Update 2
2024-02-24 Valero Odor Incident Update 1
2024-02-24 Valero Refinery Odor Incident
2024-02-24 City of Benicia 72 Hour Report


The Benicia Fire Department also has a public page with incident notifications, starting in 2019:

Level-1 Notifications

Level-2 Notifications

Level-3 Notifications

Benicia favors increasing hotel, sales taxes; school bond measure also verges on passage, by Tony Hicks for Bay City News, March 6, 2024

Three Benicia-area measures on the Solano County ballot in Tuesday’s election were winning, according to preliminary results as of early Wednesday morning.

The city of Benicia’s Measure A, which would raise the transient occupancy tax from 9 percent to 13 percent for a period of 12 years, was passing by a wide margin — 5,114 yes votes to 1,449 no votes, with all eight precincts reporting.

The proposal would generate an additional $250,000 per year, according to an analysis from City Attorney Benjamin Stock.

Another Benicia proposal, Measure B, was also passing by a healthy margin, 4,782 yes votes to 1,811 no votes. Measure B would impose a three-quarter-cent sales tax for 12 years, which would generate an estimated $5.4 million annually.

Both Measures A and B need a simple majority to pass.

The Benicia Unified School District’s Measure C was winning, with 3,998 yes votes to 2,554 no votes. The 61 percent approval was above the 55 percent needed to pass. A yes vote supported authorizing the district to issue up to $122 million in bonds, requiring a levy of approximately $60 per $100,000 in assessed value.