Category Archives: Benicia Independent

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

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:

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  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

Benicia Independent announces new directions

‘BenIndy’ will return to more frequent focus on issues other than COVID-19

The Benicia Independent, by Roger Straw, May 25, 2022

Roger Straw, The Benicia Independent

Friends, family and neighbors near and far – it’s been a looong and sometimes lonely road here at the wheel, driving and maintaining the clean-energy vehicle known as the Benicia Independent.

Now, having passed through a challenging 25 month public health journey, the time has come to reconfigure the roadmap – again.

The BenIndy on COVID-19

In April of 2020, the BenIndy was overtaken by the urgency of reporting on the deadly pandemic sweeping into Benicia and Solano County.

At first, your BenIndy staff of one – that’s me – collected, analyzed and published Solano County COVID data five days a week M-F.  More than a year later in June of 2021, the County cut back to 3 days a week, and although I complained that we ought not be slacking off, I followed suit and began posting my COVID report on MWF.

Just two months ago, on March 14, 2022, the Solano County Health Department cut back to informing the public about COVID only on Mondays and Thursdays.  Again, I expressed disappointment, but switched to a twice a week posting.

As of today, over more than two years, I have published 416 Solano/Benicia COVID reports, keeping residents informed as the virus mutated and surged – and killed 425 of us.  (425 Solano residents.  The County does not disclose City data on deaths and hospitalizations.)

I have been tired of this for a long time, but I carried on due to the danger and severe threat to public health.

The world beyond COVID-19

Meanwhile, like everyone else, I have been alarmed by historic news from Ukraine.  I’ve not posted nearly often enough about our U.S. Supreme Court poised to take over the private health decisions of women.  Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump are threatening the very basis of our democracy.  And my deep and abiding concern for sensible gun control and racial justice has spiked, again, with the devastating news from Buffalo NY and Uvalde TX.

Of course, that’s not all.  There’s a world of nearby news: it’s electoral campaign season again here in Benicia, with our Big Oil political action committee amassing over $200,000 to once again pollute our polls and elect a puppet City Council.  Vallejo news and Solano County and California news is compelling and important.

So it’s time for me to let go of the daily, weekly, interminably ongoing COVID report.  I’ll archive for public access the spreadsheet I’ve kept that shows the spread of COVID here from April 2020 to May 2022.  Check it out at BenIndy COVID SPREADSHEET
And the 416 individual updates are archived here: DAILY COVID POSTINGS ON BENINDY.

New Directions

I will renew and strengthen my Benicia coverage, including:

    • an expanded focus on Benicia Black Lives Matter
    • coverage of Benicia’s 2022 electoral campaigns, including the run for City Council by my favorite candidate, Kari Birdseye and the powerful Valero PAC that will surely oppose her
    • continuing stories on Benicia environmental concerns, with a close eye on the SF Bay, the Carquinez Strait, the air around us and our not-so-friendly neighbor, Valero Benicia Refinery

I will also return to peace and justice themes writ large, national and international issues that have motivated me for over 50 years in my professional and retirement life:

    • Racial Justice and the resurgence of white supremacist ideology and expression
    • Gun violence and sensible gun control
    • Organized threats to our democracy in swing states and the federal government
    • Gender justice and LBGTQ rights, with a serious focus on women’s health issues and the right to safe and legal abortion
    • World order, peace, freedom and international justice, including opposition to authoritarian and fascist powers
Limits and personal needs

Of course I’ve set the bar higher than my 73-year old body and retirement needs can begin to attain.  We all know that it’s important to accept some limits and attend to personal needs as well as the critical calls to vigilance, resistance and service.

So I’ll never do it all.  But at least I’ve given myself clarity and permission to move in a good direction.

Help where help is needed?

If there’s anyone out there reading this far down in the story who would like to assist me, I’d welcome turning a one-person operation into a team approach.  In particular, if you would like to pick up on COVID reporting, that would be nice.  Or if you’d like to become a regular contributor on any of the themes I’ve highlighted, let’s talk.  Write to me at rogrmail at gmail dot com.

Who knows?  Maybe the BenIndy will see another 15 years?!

Solano County Public Health Officer answers questions about increasing number of youth with COVID-19

By Roger Straw, June 2, 2020
Are young people the main carriers for Covid-19?  –  NJ MMA News, photo: Getty Images

On May 27, I asked Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson to ask Solano Public Health Officer Dr. Bela Matyas a number of questions about recent increases in the number of our youth who are showing up positive for COVID-19.  The Mayor passed my questions on to Dr. Matyas that day, and on May 31, he replied with answers to all eight questions – see below.


Solano County is reporting an upward trend in confirmed cases among young persons 18 and under, adding (as of today) 26 more positive cases over the last 20 days, having reported only 6 over the 5 weeks prior. (Latest update…)


  1. How serious are these youth cases?   ​
    • The youth cases are mostly asymptomatic, although a few have been mildly symptomatic.
  2. How old – teens or young children?
    • While we have had a few young children, most of the youth are older teenagers.
  3. Any of them hospitalized?
    • None have been hospitalized to date.
  4. Are any of them showing symptoms of the “pediatric multi-system inflammatory syndrome likely linked to COVID”?  (See Nearly 200 Cases of Severe Child COVID Syndrome…in NY, NJ)
    • ​None so far.
  5. Surely the increase can be partially explained away as a result of more testing, but that doesn’t mean the numbers are any less serious.  Right?
    • The increased numbers are apparently the result of increased testing of asymptomatic household contacts of cases and testing of asymptomatic persons at the recently opened Optum sites in Vallejo and Vacaville; we are likely uncovering a phenomenon that has been present all along.  As to seriousness, the percentage of positive youths we are seeing seems to match statewide and national numbers.  These individuals, while not themselves experiencing serious illness, are nonetheless able to spread the virus to others.
  6. Is the County conducting contact tracing for these youth?
    • Yes, just as for all positive cases.
  7. Does the County have sufficient staffing for contact tracing?
    • So far, yes.
  8. What can the County and cities do to intensify communication with our young people and parents?
    • Presumably, utilizing social media and school-based communication systems.


I sincerely hope that parents and youth reading this will take note, and that the County and its cities and school districts will intensify communication about the serious reality of COVID-19 transmission among youth, and from youth to their elders.

See also: “Are young people the main carriers for Covid-19?”   NJ MMA News

Headlines in search of stories… coronavirus in Benicia & Solano County

By Roger Straw, April 23, 2020

Those of you who are familiar with the Benicia Independent know what it is and what it isn’t.

I’m a one-person journalist.  For over 13 years here on the BenIndy, I have published news and opinion from a Benicia California perspective.

I am NOT an investigative reporter.  Mostly I repost interesting and important stories written by others.  I am an environmental advocate and an old time liberal on issues of race and gender, peace, justice, poverty and more.  I tend to focus on a single issue for weeks or months – or even years – at a time.  I’ve reported at length on hazardous oil trains, gun violence and the need for gun control legislation, local and national electoral politics, and so on.

Recently I’ve  taken on the COVID-19 pandemic here in Solano County.  And that’s where I want to take you today.

Every day now since the second week of March, I’ve posted Solano County’s numbers of confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths.  Most days I spend hours combing through local, regional and national news about the virus and posting it here on the BenIndy.

Your response has been amazing.  At the height of our successful effort to stop our local refinery from importing dirty and dangerous crude oil by rail, almost 1,800 of you paid a visit to my pages one day – a record for the BenIndy that lasted for about 5 years.  Since I started reporting on COVID-19, more than 3,000 of you have checked my pages on 9 occasions, and on April 1 you set a new all-time record of 8,105 views.  A huge and unexpected leap!

Thank you!

Now what does all that have to do with the title of this piece, “Headlines in search of stories… coronavirus in Benicia and Solano County”?

Here’s the deal: every morning I get up and flip back and forth through about 7 local and national news channels on the tv.  I spend about an hour like that while I drink too much coffee and lean my sore back on an electric heating pad.  And I take notes – ideas about important stories that I really SHOULD cover on the Benicia Independent.

Now if I were an editor in chief with staff, I’d assign reporters to make phone calls and conduct interviews and come back with stories, important stories that really should be written.

Alas, that’s not me, and that’s not the BenIndy…

So, with all that lengthy introduction, here is my list of headlines in search of stories.  Please.  Someone out there – please get on the phone or otherwise track down the information that the public needs to know, for instance…

  • There’s a NATIONAL crisis in nursing homes – how many are sick in Solano County’s congregant facilities?  Where ARE our nursing homes and retirement facilities?  (None here in Benicia – so where do Benicians go when we get old and in need of care?  And how are those facilities doing???)
  • Testing in Solano County long term care facilities – numbers, results?
  • Solano has recorded 3 coronavirus deaths, 2 among those aged over 65.  Did they die in a hospital?  And before that, were they living at home or in a long term care facility?
  • Solano County is testing fewer than 50 per day – why?!!!
  • Today’s news: Contra Costa, Napa, Sonoma and San Francisco are expanding testing – why not expanded drive-through testing in multiple cities in Solano?
  • Unemployment numbers in Solano and Benicia?  Local numbers on those unemployed? And local numbers of unemployed with no health insurance?
  • Bolinas and SF Mission District are testing EVERYONE – why not here in Benicia?  (Yes I know Bolinas is tiny and wealthy, but can’t we think big?  Who are a few philanthropists and billionaires with ties to Benicia who could fund such a project?)
  • Reopening moves are beginning to appear in Bay Area counties.  Who is planning the reopening of Solano County, and what are the plans?  And will they be open to public comment?
  • Coronavirus and guns – with schools closed, March was the first month with NO SCHOOL SHOOTINGS in the US since 2002.  Rather a bittersweet statistic – do we celebrate, or weep?  (This despite an uptick in gun purchases.  And what’s that all about?!)
  • Surely there is a dire fiscal impact of the coronavirus lockdown on Benicia and Solano governmental cash flow and operations.  Details needed, and possible solutions.

Etc., etc…  You get the idea.  But who can take it on?  The huge problem with all this is the horrific times our local news media, journalists and reporters were suffering even before the pandemic.  Too many cutbacks, too few local journalists, too few local newspapers, and now too many absences, too much loss of revenue during these historic pandemic times.  (So yes, there’s another headline in search of a story.)

Roger Straw
The Benicia Independent