Category Archives: Davis CA

DAVIS ENTERPRISE: Benicia hears oil-train concerns from Davisites

Repost from the Davis Enterprise
[Editor:  I know Lynne as a strong advocate against Valero’s Crude By Rail proposal.  Her fair-minded coverage of both sides of the debate in this article is amazing and admirable.  A good overview of the hearing on Monday.  – RS]

Benicia hears oil-train concerns from Davisites

By Lynne Nittler, April 06, 2016

BENICIA — Davis was well-represented at a Benicia City Council hearing Monday for Valero Oil’s crude-by-rail project. Of the approximately 48 people who spoke, 12 came from Davis or Dixon, and another six were from Sacramento.

The speakers voiced their opposition to the oil company’s proposal to expand its refinery and accept 100 rail cars daily full of North American crude oil on a route that comes directly through downtown Davis.

The hearing continues with more public testimony tonight plus April 18 and 19 at the City Chambers in Benicia.

The evening began with a rally of those opposed to the project counter-balanced by a gathering of Valero workers and supporters of the project. A busload of 23 people from Sacramento stopped to pick up seven more in Davis, arriving just as the hearing began in the packed chambers.

Officials were allowed to speak first, beginning with Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor, who also represented the Sacramento Area Council of Governments. He traced Yolo County’s effort over the past three years to communicate the serious safety concerns and to offer possible mitigation measures that were acknowledged but not addressed in the EIR.

He said 500,000 of the 2.4 million residents in the SACOG area — the counties of Yolo, Sacramento, Sutter, Yuba, Placer and El Dorado — live in the blast zone of the railroads, i.e., within a quarter-mile radius of the tracks. Of those, 260,000 are residents, 200,000 work in the area and 28,000 are students.

While acknowledging that Valero and its jobs are important, Saylor emphasized that this project “requires a shared commitment to protecting public safety.” He said the project should not be approved until the safety concerns are resolved.

Matt Jones of the Yolo Solano Air Quality Management District represented all seven districts that have responded jointly in writing to three versions of the environmental impact report for the Valero project. He said the EIR documents the impacts correctly, but fails to offer or respond to any mitigations, even when the Sacramento Metropolitan AQMD offered staff time to work out an off-site mitigation plan.

Jones reminded the Benicia council that San Luis Obispo County is examining a similar crude-by-rail proposal, and Phillips 66 has voluntarily offered such off-site mitigations.

Eric Lee, a city of Davis planner, made a plea for Benicia council members to uphold the decision of their Planning Commission, which voted on Feb. 11 not to certify the final environmental impact report and denied Valero’s permit.

He added that Davis believes that legally, the local jurisdictions are not pre-empted by federal rail regulations and that up-rail cities are entitled to have their comments addressed in the EIR.

He concluded by saying that the city of Benicia has a legal obligation to safeguard the public.

“I continue to be concerned about the Valero crude-by-rail project regarding the significant air quality impact,” state Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, wrote in a letter to the Benicia council, read by her representative, Alex Pader. Wolk recommended specific steps, and if said they cannot be met, then the project should not move forward.

She reminded the council members that her own obligation is to protect the public from harm, which she has done with two pieces of legislation on oil-train safety, and said their obligation to safeguard the public is no less.

Marilyn Bardet, spokeswoman for Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community, encouraged the council members to use their ethical judgment, and read all the material from the past years, plus what is pouring in now, to inform themselves at this crucial juncture in the decision-making process. She urged them to uphold the decision of the Planning Commission.

After a break, a mix of speakers pro (12) and con (16) spoke for up to five minutes each.

One Valero proponent said America has a tremendous thirst for oil; therefore, don’t we have a responsibility to produce it?
Jasmine Powell, a resident of Benicia, said Valero never risks its outstanding safety record as indicated by its high OSHA ratings.

Michael Wolfe, senior vice president of an engineering services firm, said California crude is increasingly scarce and Alaskan crude is running out as well. Valero is seeking to purchase North American oil to avoid importing more foreign oil. California already imports more foreign crude than any other state, Wolfe said.

Seven other Valero workers and supporters spoke of their trust in Valero’s high safety standards.

On the other side, Frances Burke of Davis spoke of the Planning Commission’s work as “epic,” and made an eloquent plea for the up-rail communities not to be dismissed as collateral damage.

Don Mooney , an environmental lawyer from Davis, said in his 25 years in environmental law, he had not seen a case with more uniform opposition, where so many have stood opposed for the same reasons.

Katherine Black simply read the list of officials and organizations opposing the project for five minutes, including all seven air quality management districts, all 22 cities and six counties who belong to SACOG, the California Office of Spill Prevention and Response and the California attorney general.

The Benicia City Council will hear more testimony tonight.

KCRA TV3 ON BENICIA CITY COUNCIL HEARING: Residents remain concerned over crude oil trains in NorCal

Repost from KCRA TV3, Sacramento

Valero crude oil gets another shot at NorCal railways

Benicia City Council begins another week of public comment on new proposal

By Vickie Gonzalez, Apr 05, 2016, 12:41 AM PDT
KCRA 2016-04-05
[Link takes you offsite to KCRA’s video.]
BENICIA, Calif. (KCRA) —Crude oil traveling through Northern California is getting another chance of becoming a reality as an oil company offers a new proposal to the Benicia City Council.
Valero wants two 50-car trains to transport tens of thousands of barrels of crude oil daily to its refinery in Benicia, passing through cities like Davis, Sacramento and Roseville, a request that has met with stiff controversy.

The Benicia City Council began a week of public comment on the proposal Monday after the city’s planning commission voted down Valero’s request in February despite the city hall’s support, causing the oil refinery to appeal the decision.

Valero Health, Safety and Environment Director Chris Howe said if the permit is approved, the added energy supply could be up and running following six months of construction.

Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor said the oil would pass through Davis and Sacramento stations, which are the top two trafficked passenger rails from San Francisco to Chicago.

“Right across the rail you see low-income housing. Just feet from us is the downtown core and there is student housing,” he said.

Saylor serves on the board for the Sacramento Area Council of Governments.

He said of the 2.4-million residents in the six county region of Sutter, Yuba, Placer, Yolo, Sacramento and El Dorado counties, close to 500,000 are within a quarter-mile radius of a railway:

-260,000 are residents
-200,000 work in the area
-28,000 are students in the area

“That quarter-mile is relevant because that’s the blast zone,” Saylor said.

The supervisor appreciates the energy value this could bring, as well as the potential jobs, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of safety.

“If there is cost associated with improved safety, then that cost seems a reasonable factor for Valero,” Saylor said.

A major issue is railways are federally governed. Local jurisdictions are prohibited from imposing additional safety requirements and Valero maintains it has met every federal regulation.

However, Saylor wants the oil refinery to take added safety measures and bear the burden of risk as opposed to the community doing so, something Valero is not required to do.

Monday’s public comment at Benicia City Hall included groups of Davis and Sacramento residents who made the trek to Solano County.

“I think it’s often (that) decisions are made in favor of big money and power,” Davis resident Jean Jackman said.

A bus of dozens of Davis residents were among the organized groups.

“Those oil tanker cars are not certified for the highly flammable crude oil that they are planning to transport,” Davis resident Kathleen Williams-Fosseahl said.

Valero said that’s not true and will use higher-quality trains to transport crude oil, a much-needed staple in California regardless of the opposition.

A decision ultimately will be made by the city of Benicia. The city council is expected to vote later this month. Public hearings are scheduled to continue through the week.

YOLANO CLIMATE ACTION: Update on Valero Crude-by-Rail and Next Steps

Repost from Yolano Climate Action

Update on Valero Crude-by-Rail and Next Steps

Posted: March 26, 2016 in Rail Transport of Oil

Linda Maio, Vice Mayor of Berkeley, spoke to the Planning commission.
Linda Maio, Vice Mayor of Berkeley, spoke to the Planning commission.

After three years of study, the Benicia Planning Commission voted not to certify the final EIR and denied the Valero Crude-by-Rail on February 11, 2016.    Read about the Planning Commission Resolution here.

Listen to the Chairman’s report to the City Council here.

Valero appealed the decision to the Benicia city council who began their hearing on March 15 and will take public testimony on April 4, 6 and 19.   There are two steps residents can take now.

A. Write letters:

The public may send letters for the city council members to:

Amy Million, Principal Planner, Benicia Community Development Department, by email:
You may also send your letter Amy Million by mail to 250 East L Street, Benicia, CA 94510, or by Fax: (707) 747-1637.  Please include a request that the letter be added to the record for the Valero Crude-by-Rail Project.

Suggestions for letters:

  1. Write your first letter.  If you have not commented during the last three years, here is your chance to comment on your concern, such as the risk of spill or explosion in the event of a derailment with reference to the habitat of city of Davis or even the proximity to your home, the added air pollution, the additional ghg emissions, the lack of proof of liability coverage, the location of the tracks through downtown Davis, etc.
  2. Past letters – yes! Do not assume the city council has read what you wrote in the past three years.  They have access to those documents, but that does not mean they’ve put in the hours and hours to read the thousands of pages of testimony!    So by all means use ideas and language from past letters.  Refer them to past letters for more details if you summarize, if those points are still the ones you want to emphasize.  It’s good to refer to past documents and ask that they be included in the record.
  3. Photographs are excellent. If you have any photos showing how near the tracks are to where you live or work, include them.  Better yet, email high resolution photos to with information about the location and subject of the photo.  We may be able to use the photo in a powerpoint of Davis.
  4. New arguments are ok! It’s also fine to introduce new thoughts and concerns in your letters and spoken testimony now.
  5. Critique of EIR process ok. It’s a great idea to mention whether we felt our letters were carefully considered and the responses to them were thorough and taken seriously.  If we were disappointed by the responses, describe why.  (Hint:  Scanning through the pages, they scarcely replied to any of the letter comments to the Revised EIR; they just acknowledged the comments, or dismissed them as unrelated, etc.)  We’re critiquing the company who conducted the EIR.

B. Ride the bus to the Public Hearing on April 4th in Benicia

  1. Ride the bus so we have a Davis contingent on April 4th. Please see the Yolano Climate Action post for bus sign-ups.  There will be a Davis pick-up at Caffe Italia at approximately 5:15.  You do not need to speak.  Your silent presence is very helpful.  We have a group of 7-8 of us who will speak.
  2. April 4 agenda available after March 28. The content of the April 4 meeting is not yet announced. It will most likely address two issues:  1) the Valero proposal to refer the federal preemption decision to the federal Surface Transportation Board (STB has pros and cons), and 2) the beginning of testimony from the public on whether to certify the FEIR and/or approve the project.  Staff will make recommendations on March 28 and an agenda will be posted before Ap. 4 so we’ll at least know the order.  We will not know any protocol about speaking, although there will not be sign-ups like last time.  So…on  April 4 & 6 & 19
    1. We each will get only a given number of minutes to speak (not more than 5, maybe less) and only one time to speak during this 3-day testimony period. I think.
    2. Davis residents may not want to address the Valero proposal to refer the federal preemption decision to the Surface Transportation Board.
    3. We may prefer to save our time to stay with what concerns us most directly: Crude-by-rail is too dangerous to go through our neighbors every day or any time.
    4. It’s impossible to tell at this point and probably until Ap. 4 and maybe not even then, when we’ll get to testify. Maybe no time for testimony on the FEIR and project on April 4?  But we  have to be prepared and present just in case.

DAVIS & SACRAMENTO: How to participate in Benicia oil train hearings April 4th

From an email by Lynne Nittler, Davis CA, March 26, 2016

Still time to participate in Valero-Benicia Oil Train Decision

YolanoClimateActionCentralAfter three years of study, the Benicia Planning Commission voted not to certify the final EIR and denied the Valero Crude-by-Rail Project on February 11.

This decision came about through the sustained efforts of Benicians for a Healthy and Safe Community with consistent support from individuals in Davis and Sacramento who wrote letters and testified during all the stages of the Environmental Impact Review process.  The involvement of many uprail agencies (7 Air Quality Management Districts, lawyers from Sierra Club, NRDC, Forest Ethics,  Stanford Law Center, the CA Attorney General, etc.) and governmental bodies (City of Davis, Yolo County, Sacramento Area Council of Governments, etc.) were instrumental in the Planning Commissioners decision-making. Many hundreds of pages of written comments were submitted.

Valero appealed the decision to the Benicia City Council.  Public testimony will be on April 4, 6 and 19.

Concerned Davis residents are encouraged to write their specific concerns to the Benicia City Council.  Hints for letter-writing ideas and where to send the letters are found at the website below.

Residents are also invited to reserve a space on the bus heading to Benicia on April 4th.  There will be a pickup at Caffe Italia parking lot at approximately 5:15pm to arrive in Benicia around 6pm.  The bus will leave Benicia at 9pm.  Riders do not need to testify.  We need a large Davis contingent present to show our concern about the prospect of oil trains coming through our downtown.

For more details, read “Update” and “Ride the bus” posted at  For questions, contact Lynne at lnittler at sbcglobal dot net.