Category 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).

UPCOMING MEETINGS

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 to move forward with regulation of Valero refinery

The Valero Benicia refinery | Scott Morris / Vallejo Sun.

Residents felt that state and regional regulatory agencies had not followed through on enforcement.

Vallejo Sun, by Ryan Gellar, December 20, 2023

BENICIA – The Benicia City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to begin a community engagement process to create stronger regulations of the Valero refinery and other industries in the city through an industrial safety ordinance.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the council chambers were filled with community members who expressed concerns about deficiencies in Valero’s fence line monitoring, accident reporting and the company’s dismissal of community input.

Many felt that state and regional regulatory agencies have allowed delays in monitoring programs and had not followed through on key avenues of enforcement. Mistrust was also fueled by a revelation in 2022 that the Bay Area Air Quality Management District had discovered that Valero illegally released toxic emissions for 16 years but the agency failed to notify Benicia residents until three years after the discovery.

In 2018, the city council considered adopting an ordinance to regulate the refinery similar to legislation in Contra Costa County and Richmond, but instead formed a cooperative agreement with Valero which is set to expire in 2025. After four years of the cooperative agreement, residents said that it has not provided sufficient oversight of industrial practices in the city.

Mayor Steve Young encouraged residents to define the areas where the current agreement falls short to indicate a direction for provisions that could be included in an ordinance.

Benicia resident Terry Mollica, who was involved in the drafting 2018 ordinance proposal and spoke on behalf of the Benicia Industrial Safety and Health Ordinance working group, said that the deficiencies are too numerous to list at the meeting. But he highlighted a key issue that the working group found to be particularly problematic.“It has absolutely no enforcement mechanism,” Mollica said. “In fact it includes a provision that allows Valero to unilaterally terminate the entire cooperative agreement at any time if it thinks it is being over-regulated.”

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Benicia Mayor Steve Young on the record, Part 2

Stephen Golub Interview with Mayor Steve Young (continued)

By Stephen Golub, March, 2023 (About Steve Golub). Previously appearing in the Benicia Herald, no online presence.

INTERVIEW PART 2 (See also Interview, Part 1)

SG: Benicia recently wrapped up a sometimes contentious process of finalizing and then submitting housing plans to the state, as mandated by state law. What would you like Benicians who haven’t followed the issue closely to better understand about the process and results?

Benicia Mayor Steve Young About Mayor Young.

SY: The State has passed a variety of laws recently addressing the housing shortage that is directly tied to things like homelessness, housing affordability, and climate change (through longer commutes as people cannot find housing near jobs). The state has identified the resistance to new housing in suburban locales such as Benicia as being a real problem and have put strict accountability on cities to plan for new housing across income levels and throughout the community. That is what we have attempted to do through the Housing Element process.

Benicia author Stephen Golub. About Steve below.

SG: Are there any lessons learned from that process? Anything you think could have been done differently, including how this experience might inform future city planning?

SY: We might have been able to start the process earlier and had more time to consider the relative benefits of different sites. With 25% of the City consisting of open space, and all of it off limits to development, our choices were constrained.

SG: Back to Valero: In recent years, Valero has put hundreds of thousands of dollars into political action committees, seeking to influence Benicia’s city council and mayoral elections. What are your thoughts on this? 

SY: I have consistently fought against their outsized involvement in our elections. There is NO place for corporate or union involvement in local elections, and the Supreme Court’s Citizen United ruling was a terrible one, opening the door to this type of unregulated political spending. Instead of spending hundreds of thousands in each election, and turning much of the community against Valero’s candidates of choice, those dollars could have been spent in so many more productive ways. Hopefully, after the last two elections, they will come to the same conclusion. But I am not holding my breath. This is a fight that, sadly, will probably go on every two years.

SG: More generally, what should the city’s relationship with Valero be? How might we plan to adjust to eventual changes in or cessation of its refinery’s operations, especially in view of climate change, pollution, health or economic factors? 

SY: Valero remains the most important company in town, and the largest employer and taxpayer. Since my election, I have been having monthly one on one meetings with their general manager to discuss issues of mutual concern like a possible water reuse project in place of selling them 60% of our raw water. Other topics regularly covered include air monitoring and how they can improve their reporting to the City and community about unplanned flaring and other similar incidents.

SG: Is it time to reconsider an Industrial Safety Ordinance, which the City Council voted down 3-2 in 2018? Do you feel it might strengthen the city’s hand in dealing with issues such as the refinery’s 15 years of undisclosed toxic emissions, which we only learned of last year, or the recent reports of foul odor in certain neighborhoods, including those close to the refinery?

SY: I would want to see that a new ISO would be additive in value. Valero is already highly regulated,  a fact I am becoming increasingly aware of through my service on the board of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD). However, BAAQMD can also do a better job as was demonstrated by the egregious, unreported 15 year release of toxic gases by Valero and the four year delay in BAAQMD reporting the issue to the City. But there has been an ISO in Contra Costa County for many years covering the other four Bay Area refineries, and it seems to be working well and effectively without significant pushback from the refineries.

SG: Back to climate change. As a waterside community, Benicia stands to be affected. What plans or actions might the city government initiate to adjust to this reality?

SY: There is no stopping the effects of climate change short of a major decrease in the use of fossil fuels. One of the more immediate effects will be on rising waters which will continue to threaten our wastewater treatment plant, marina, and downtown. And a climate change caused drought has not gone away despite a wet winter. We need to secure our water future, and it can be done with a water reuse project to use recycled waste water for Valero’s industrial purposes while saving our drinking water. If we can pull this off, we can become self sufficient in water.

SG: Like any community, Benicia is not immune to racial justice challenges and related concerns. What is the city doing to address such matters? What else might it do?

SY: Benicia was the first city in Solano County to hire a part time diversity officer and form an advisory group (CURE) to address issues of equity and diversity within the City. as well as addressing community wide concerns like the La Migra “game” held annually at the High School. The Library has also been holding a number of lectures and programs on this topic.

SG: What major challenges do you see Benicia facing in the years to come, above and beyond those we’ve already covered?

SY: How to pay for existing services in a period of high inflation with flat revenues, and how to retain and recruit excellent staff if our salaries are not competitive.

With the departure of Erik Upson, Benicia needs a new City Manager. What is the process for replacing him?

Given the short notice we got about Erik’s retirement, we moved quickly to interview four highly qualified internal candidates before selecting Mario Giuliani to be the interim City Manager. We are hopeful/confident Mario can prove up to the many challenges facing a City Manager and we will be able to remove the interim tag later this year.

SG: I understand that the brush-munching goats are back! Or they soon will be. What is your opinion on the goats? How do folks find out whether and when the goats might come to their neighborhoods?

SY: I, and most all Benicians, love the goats. They are so popular, in fact, that they are becoming more expensive and harder to schedule. Check with the Fire Department for specific information on their locations.

SG: You recently had a rather bad bike accident. Are there any lessons or advice you’d like to share with fellow cyclists?

SY: Follow the rules of the road (I wasn’t), don’t speed and bike carelessly (I was), and always wear a helmet (thankfully, I was). I was very fortunate that my injury was not much worse.

SG: Thanks very much.

See also INTERVIEW, PART 1 

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.

Benicia Mayor Steve Young on the record…

Stephen Golub Interview with Mayor Steve Young

By Stephen Golub, March, 2023 (About Steve Golub). Previously appearing in the Benicia Herald, no online presence.

INTERVIEW PART 1   (…and when you’re done, here’s Part 2)

SG: Where are you from, originally?

Benicia Mayor Steve Young More about Mayor Young.

SY: I grew up in Burbank, in the San Fernando Valley.

SG: What kind of work have you mainly done during your career?

SY: I managed a variety of local government programs in the fields of affordable housing, neighborhood improvement and military base conversion in California and Virginia.

Benicia author Stephen Golub. More about Steve below.

SG: I understand that some time ago you and your family lived in Costa Rica. Could you say something about why you moved there, what you did while there, and why you returned to the United States?

SY: We moved to Costa Rica primarily to give our daughter the experience of going to high school in a foreign country, living in a different culture, and learning a new language; while we spent time exploring all of the beautiful country as well as some of the rest of Central America, much time was spent trying to become established as residents and becoming comfortable with the uniqueness of the country. We returned after four years when my daughter entered college in the US and to help care for my aging parents.

SG: When and why did you first move to Benicia?

SY: We moved to Benicia in 2012; we fell for it for the same reasons most do: small town, waterfront setting, open and friendly people.

SG: I believe that your first major involvement with Benicia’s city government was on the Planning Commission. What made you decide to apply to join it?

SY: Knowing literally no one when I moved here, and having spent my career in local government, I hoped to both meet new people and use my government experience to help serve in a volunteer position.

SG: When you were on the Commission, what was your reaction and actions regarding Valero’s Crude by Rail plan? (For those new to Benicia or otherwise unfamiliar with this issue, for four years until ultimately defeated by a unanimous 2016 City Council vote, the Valero Refinery sought to bring two 50-car trains a day carrying up to 70,000 barrels of crude oil into Benicia from Canada and North Dakota.)

SY: Given the long time between hearings on this project, I had ample time to research a number of issues related to rail cars, fracked oil, and the possible impact of these train cars on backing up traffic in the Industrial Park. I eventually had the chance to ask a variety of detailed questions of the staff and Valero, not all of which were answered to the satisfaction of the Planning Commission. My questions triggered other questions from Commissioners and helped lead to the unexpected unanimous rejection by the Planning Commission of the Valero request and the EIR [Environmental Impact Report].

SG: What made you decide to run for City Council and then for Mayor?

SY: My exposure to local government on the Planning Commission motivated me to step up and run for Council in 2016. And I saw an opportunity in 2020 to add my experience, ideas, and leadership.

SG: What are you most proud of from your two years in office (so far) as Mayor?

SY: Working with the City Manager to help navigate the COVID pandemic through a contentious time and helping bring back our civic celebrations. Also adding a new level of transparency and communication with the community with my extensive use of social media.

SG: What has been your biggest challenge(s) as Mayor?

SY: Internally, trying to get the City to be more communicative with the community as well as our upcoming fiscal challenges. Externally, trying to get people to understand that maintaining the level of services like they have come to expect comes with rapidly increasing costs that the City is not able to meet with existing revenue.

SG: One of Benicians’ biggest concerns is the state of our roads. Measure R, which would have funded road repair, narrowly lost when on the ballot in November. What, if anything, do you think should be done now to address the situation with the roads?

SY: There is a citizen driven sales tax initiative being proposed by a variety of community leaders that would set aside the same amount of funds strictly for roads and related infrastructure. It is our best chance to actually fix all our roads over a 10 year period.

SG: Another challenge is water charges. What, if anything, should be done to address that?

SY: Unfortunately there is not a magic bullet for this that will bring down water charges. Treating water and wastewater is highly regulated and expensive, and requires a number of employees with specific skills and licenses. And many of our pipes are quite old and failing. There are too few ratepayers to spread (and lower) these costs. More growth and customers may lead to more ways to spread those costs.

SG: There also is the question of Benicia’s large stretch of land known as the Seeno property (named for the land owner). What are your thoughts on whether and how that should ever be developed for housing? Do you see alternative uses for it? 

SY: I would like to withhold my specific preferences on that in deference to the planning/visioning process that is currently underway, and that may eventually come to Council for decisions. But I can say ,that, as one member of the community, I would hope to see a mixed use development including multifamily and single family housing, in addition to some localized commercial development. Ideally, we would have direct micro transit options to downtown and a few locations in Vallejo.  And perhaps some office or R/D uses along the East 2nd street frontage.

INTERVIEW, PART 2

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.