Category Archives: Local elections

LETTER SERIES: Nancy Lund – Elizabeth Patterson for Mayor

[Editor: Benicians are expressing themselves in letters to the editor of our local print newspaper, the Benicia Herald.  But the Herald doesn’t publish letters in its online editions – and many Benician’s don’t subscribe.  We are posting certain letters here for wider distribution.  – RS]

Mayor Patterson’s committment

By Nancy Lund, Benicia
October 7, 2016

Dr. David Schultz wrote on Facebook: “Her (Elizabeth Patterson’s) re-election TRANSCENDS everyday politics.  She places the common good above all.”

This election presents an opportunity for you to choose a person who has been steadfast on environmental issues (crude by rail), as well as future development of open spaces (Seeno and Arsenal properties).

These are just two examples of her commitment to preserving the small town feel of Benicia while encouraging diverse development that contributes to our financial stability.  She has clearly stated her goals for the next four years, in contrast to her opponent whose goals are woefully missing from public review.

You have my vote, Elizabeth, as I know I can trust your commitment to the welfare of Benicia now, and in the future.

Nancy Lund, Benicia

LETTER SERIES: Steve Young on Seeno land use

[Editor: Benicians are expressing themselves in letters to the editor of our local print newspaper, the Benicia Herald.  But the Herald doesn’t publish letters in its online editions – and many Benician’s don’t subscribe.  We are posting certain letters here for wider distribution.  – RS]

Development of the Seeno Property

By Steve Young, Benicia Planning Commission
October 6, 2016

Recently, a land use application has been submitted for development of the Seeno property, the 526 acre site located at East 2nd Street and Lake Herman Road.

The latest version of this development proposal, now called the Northern Gateway, also has a new lead developer (Schwartz Development) who has done projects with the Seeno family before.

This proposal, as described to me by the developer, calls for the construction of up to 900 single family homes along with some limited commercial and industrial parcels.

There are several problems that I see with this proposal.

First, although they insist there is adequate water for 900 homes, the City is in the middle of an extended drought and we are being asked to save water wherever we can.

Second, the developer has no intention of building either a school or a firehouse. If they don’t build these facilities, the obligation would fall upon the rest of us for those necessary amenities. Students would have to be transported to either Robert Semple elementary school (which is among the oldest properties in the District and is lacking in many amenities) or Benicia Middle School or Benicia High School, both of which are overcrowded.

Finally, the developer bragged that the homes would sell very fast, as they would be priced between $400-415,000. This price range is well below the Benicia median home price, and the addition of that many homes at that price level would not improve the property values of the rest of Benicia homes.

By contrast, at a recent candidates forum, Mark Hughes and Lionel Largaspaeda spoke in very positive tones about the possibility of the growth this project would bring.

I am not reflexively anti-growth, but object to this reactive form of planning.

This parcel will eventually be developed. But it is the City which should decide what type of development will ultimately go there, rather than simply reacting to a developer’s proposal, which is more focused on maximizing profit than in developing the last significant parcel in the City in a way that best serves the community.

LETTER SERIES: Mariko Yamada – Elizabeth Patterson for Mayor

[Editor: Benicians are expressing themselves in letters to the editor of our local print newspaper, the Benicia Herald.  But the Herald doesn’t publish letters in its online editions – and many Benician’s don’t subscribe.  We are posting certain letters here for wider distribution.  – RS]

Re-elect Elizabeth Patterson

By Mariko Yamada, Assemblymember, 4th Assembly District (Ret.)
Candidate, 3rd Senate District
October 4, 2016

As a public servant for over 40 years, I’ve had the privilege of working at the federal, state, regional and local levels of government
from Los Angeles to Washington D.C. to San Diego, and for the last 22 years here in Northern California. Over the decades, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and interact with literally hundreds of public officials from the east coast to the west coast, and up-and-down the State of California, during some of our country’s best times as well as some of our worst.

So when I say that Benicia is very fortunate to have Mayor Elizabeth Patterson at the helm of the city, I believe I have credible comparative evidence on which to make this claim.

Elizabeth is both smart and knowledgeable, characteristics highly desirable in a leader. At the same time, when she doesn’t know about a particular topic (which I have found to be rare), she seeks to learn all she can, and does so quickly, asking all the right questions. Elizabeth is energetic and hardworking, sets high standards for herself, and expects the same from others, especially those who also serve her Benicia constituents.  I know, because while representing Benicia in the California State Assembly for four years, Mayor Patterson was as cordial as she was clear and exacting about the needs of her city — and those needs always came first.

What I admire most about Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson are her courage, her integrity and her values, particularly around issues of the environment. Her work to address the hazardous materials left behind at the Benicia Arsenal and her leadership in the fight against the Valero expansion are testimony to her consistent leadership in protecting public safety and public health.

Sadly today, political valor is becoming rarer and rarer in the public domain. Honesty, doing what you say you’re going to do, and upholding the public trust in the face of unrelenting pressure isn’t “rewarded” with large political donations or being part of the “in-crowd”. Yet, Elizabeth Patterson has demonstrated, time and again, that her background, experience and temperament resonate with the voters. She is tenacious, authentic, and highly principled – and the only woman mayor in Solano County.

Benicia has been the beneficiary of Elizabeth Patterson’s many years of unselfish public service. She is poised and ready to continue her work on your behalf, and deserves your votes to return as your mayor for four more years.  Please join me in supporting Elizabeth Patterson for mayor of Benicia.

Mariko Yamada,
Assemblymember, 4th Assembly District (Ret.)
Candidate, 3rd Senate District

Grant Cooke: Benicia’s future is with Patterson, Young and the new economy

Repost from the Benicia Herald

Grant Cooke: Benicia’s future is with Patterson, Young and the new economy

By Grant Cooke, August 17, 2016
Grant Cooke
Grant Cooke

If Valero’s crude-by-rail, or CBR, project goes through, it will do irreparable damage to Benicia. If the three councilmembers—Mark Hughes, Christina Strawbridge and Alan Schwartzman— continue their support for the project, they will do an extraordinary disservice to the city.

I respect those who work on behalf of local government; however, in this case, the legacies of three pro-Valero councilmembers will be that when Benicia needed them, they stood down. They just didn’t have the vision or the ability to do what is right and best for the city.

While the same can be said for numerous elected officials in other American small towns, particularly those dominated by a fossil fuel company, it’s a painful thing to witness. What makes Benicia’s situation more painful, is that the city is gifted with a bright and forward thinking mayor and is nestled on the edge of the most innovative and financially robust center in the world.

Yet, the pro-Valero majority on the council mirrors the city’s self-inflicted company town identity. This fossil fuel dependence holds the city back from partaking in the Bay Area’s knowledge-based economy and its prosperity.

The company town malignancy is intensified by a remarkable and insulating geography that creates the city’s beauty. The town has an idyllic and picturesque quality that is enhanced by a touch of eccentricity and bohemian romanticism left over from the halcyon days of the Gold Rush.

This combination allows for a complacency in the social milieu that is on the one hand charming, but on the other, remarkably short-sighted. In fact, it’s just plain dumb, since it allows for the tacit acceptance of the status quo and masks the reality that problems are coming and action needs to be taken.

For a half-century, Benicia has allowed the refinery to prosper, hardly inhibiting its use of the atmosphere as a garbage can. For most of this time, the refinery has been the largest source of tax revenue, exercising dominant economic and political influence. Which is a pity, since the rest of the Bay Area embarked on a scientific, technological and economic renaissance that is unparalleled in human history.

Now, the era of carbon generated wealth and dominance is in decline, particularly in densely populated areas where growing number of residents are pushing back, protective of their health and well-being. Carbon-generated wealth, usually from extraction industries, is being overtaken by knowledge-based wealth. High-tech workers are transforming the communities throughout the Bay Area. Cities like Richmond that were mired in the death grip of the fossil fuel industry, are now undergoing gentrification and renewal.

So where does that leave Benicia? If the pro-Valero councilmembers have their way and Valero’s CBR project is approved, then the city will continue to be dependent on the refinery and the fossil fuel industry.It’s clear from the evidence that crude-by-rail transportation is unsafe, unhealthy, and disruptive, but it won’t matter if the project is approved and the 50-car trains take over the Industrial Park, cutting off access and exit for most of the existing businesses. Once the trains loaded with toxic and volatile Bakken crude start to roll, there will be no “do overs,” and the city’s future will languish.

There is no doubt that the fossil fuel and oil industries are in decline. Oil prices are dropping as too much supply hits the market. Renewable energy is cheaper, more plentiful and when connected to smart grids far more flexible and cleaner. Vehicles are getting more efficient and transitioning to hybrid, electric, and hydrogen power. The fossil fuel era with its environmental destruction, social and political upheavals, and corrupt power politics is winding down.

So by approving CBR, Benicia will be locked into a decline—all the while the rest of the Bay Area flourishes as the new knowledge-based economy expands.

As an interesting aside, in the last three months, Valero, Inc. made $19.6 billion in gross revenue and $87.8 billion for all of 2015. As part of the company’s second-quarter earnings announcement, Joe Gorder, Valero’s CEO, said “We are also encouraged by ample supplies of medium and heavy sour crude oils in the market…”

So, if there is plenty of supply, and the refinery’s current crude delivery process is creating substantial profits, why does the refinery still want to ship explosive Bakkan crude by trains through towns that oppose it? And why do they claim it’s necessary to bring it to a loading area with a potential blast zone that includes an elementary school?

Admittedly, Valero’s CBR project is not simple. There are key issues at stake, including the tax revenues versus the city’s right and responsibility to protect the health and well-being of its residents. Many people are involved to various degrees in the decision. Unfortunately, the town’s residents can’t vote on the project, since the decision is solely in the hands of the city council.

The pro-Valero CBR faction has tried to diminish the importance of the decision by claiming the opposition is simply a ruckus stirred up by passionate environmentalists opposed to Big Oil. The intent is to frame the local election, and opposition to the project, as simply a one issue ballot. But the reality is far different. It’s not merely a CBR issue, or whether the refinery is good or not for the city, but a clear and simple question of what is to be Benicia’s future? Will the city – pushed by the three pro-Valero councilmembers – be locked into fossil fuel’s decline, or will it have the wherewithal to step into the 21st century and join the Bay Area’s booming knowledge-based economy?

If Benicia is going to survive as a chartered city, it has to go where the future beckons, which is to the new economy. If it dithers, the city will be passed over, as the new economy leapfrogs to Vallejo and other cities along the Interstate 80 corridor.

Three decades in, the scientific and technological Renaissance is just getting started, powered by a steamroller of venture capital. Silicon Valley is awash with cash and opportunity, and the Bay Area’s great universities and national laboratories are brimming with patents just waiting for implementation. High-tech and green tech startups and businesses are growing exponentially each year. Chinese and other foreign buyers are trolling Northern California for the newest inventions and technology.

The Green Industrial Revolution will continue to grow, pushing out along the region’s main transportation corridors. Eventually it will extent from Palo Alto to Sacramento. Just as Apple overcame Exxon, the new economy will push out the fossil fuel industry in the Bay Area. Within a couple of decades, the Bay Area refineries will lock their gates, unable to withstand the shifts in the energy markets and the expenses of offsetting carbon emissions.

What the fossil fuel industries in the Bay Area—and by extension those cities that have cast their lot with them—are not realizing is that there is a generational and workforce shift taking place. The older work force who had a high tolerance for the fossil fuel and heavy industrial manufacturing industries are being overtaken by a tsunami of high tech workers. These young folks are sophisticated, intelligent and extremely sensitive to health and recreation. (Just visit San Francisco’s marina green on the weekend). Their lifestyles are far different than the established group. High-tech workers live in denser neighborhoods, drive efficient autos and take public transportation. (Visit Emeryville, or the area around Pleasant Hill’s BART station.)

Above all, tech workers have enormous amounts of money that is rapidly changing the real estate market and the Bay Area’s lifestyle. As these workers mature, they will pressure politicians for the things they value, which is certainly not carbon emissions or refineries.

Rarely in life does time and circumstance allow us to decide our fate. The future is often veiled and clouded, and usually clarity only comes with necessity, too often calamity. This is true for individuals as well as cities. Cities, especially small company towns, rarely have the visionary leadership and the ability to break loose from the status quo, until like Stockton or Vallejo they implode.

Benicia’s fate is remarkably unambiguous; stick with the old fossil fuel industry and go down with its decline, or join the Bay Area’s Renaissance and prosper. Throughout the world, other cities have faced much harsher realities and have been successful in transitioning to a new economy. Melbourne, Copenhagen, Berlin and Bristol leap to mind. In each, change was driven by strong visionaries who understood that change was the best option and who had the leadership skills to pull the cities and their residents forward.

Does Benicia have similar visionary leadership? That is clearly central to November’s local election. There are two councilmembers up for re-election—Tom Campbell and Christina Strawbridge. Mayor Elizabeth Patterson is being challenged by Vice Mayor Mark Hughes. Three councilmembers – Strawbridge, Hughes and Alan Schwartzman who is not up for re-election – favor Valero and its CBR project.

Mayor Patterson has shown time and again that she understands the dilemma the city faces and why its future lies with the new economy. She clearly has the vision, talent and leadership required to move the city forward, and should be re-elected. Councilmember Campbell also understands that Benicia’s future prosperity can’t be dependent on Valero’s CRB project and he should continue.

Steve Young, a new challenger for a council position possess exceptional talent and leadership skills, and clearly understands that the city’s best interests are to reject Valero’s CBR. As a member of Benicia’s Planning Commission, he spent countless hours on the issue, painstakingly doing the research and leading the commission through the pros and cons as each member came to agree that the CBR project was not the town’s best option.

Patterson and Campbell were outvoted by the three other councilmembers, and the council failed to accept the Planning Commission’s recommendation, instead giving Valero the opportunity to reopen the issue with the Surface Transportation Board. Cluttering the decision was some questionable recommendations from the city staff, goofy advice from a consulting attorney, and bullying from Valero’s high-powered lawyer. In short, the whole process reeked of the misinformation and strong-armed tactics so common when an oil company puts pressure on small town politics.

Given his remarkable dedication to Benicia and the work required to bring the whole CBR permitting process into the public light, Steve Young has clearly shown that he has the intelligence, talent and leadership skills needed to help the city transition away from the past and embrace the future.

For Benicia, come the November election, Mayor Patterson and Tom Campbell should be re-elected. Steve Young should be the newly elected councilmember.

Grant Cooke is a longtime Benicia resident and CEO of Sustainable Energy Associates. He is also an author and has written several books on the Green Industrial Revolution. His newest is “Smart Green Cities” by Routledge.