Category Archives: Local elections

ENDORSEMENT: Mariko Yamada for California State Senator

By Roger Straw, May 21, 2016

June 7 primary election – Yamada for Senate, District 3

Benicia Independent joins Mayor Elizabeth Patterson and the California League of Conservation Voters in endorsing Mariko Yamada for State Senate District 3

Mariko Yamada State Senate 2016As a member of the State Assembly, Mariko Yamada took notice of Benicia and represented us well.  Now, having termed out of her Assembly seat, she is in a tight race for California Senate.

I once told Mariko I’d vote for her for President – she’s that good! I made an early financial commitment and helped sponsor one of her first meet and greets here in Benicia last December.  Please vote for Mariko Yamada in the June 7 primary!

Her opponents are being heavily supported by independent groups representing oil interests and other big money lobbyists.

See her campaign site ( for details on her rich personal background and her plain-spoken progressive stance on the issues.  Here’s a map of District 3 – its huge, including the cities of Benicia, Martinez, Napa, Petaluma, St. Helena, Fairfield, Vacaville, Davis, Dixon, Woodland, etc.

ENDORSEMENT: Mae Torlakson for California Assembly

By Roger Straw, May 21, 2016

Whose “hit pieces” to believe?  Support Mae Torlakson for State Assembly

I have about 10 huge full color mailers that arrived in my mailbox from Mae Torlakson’s opponent, and half of them are nasty hit pieces. Unfortunately, I have about the same from Torlakson’s campaign. Who to believe?

I met Mae here in Benicia early in her campaign, and I stand behind her. She is endorsed by nurses, teachers, the California League of Conservation Voters, most of our current elected officials and the Democratic Party.  The issues page on her website does not mention crude by rail, but she has a strong position on environmental issues, beginning with the following:

Environmental protection is a global issue. We need to collaborate with other states and other nations to tackle this pressing need. We need to take decisive action to combat global warming and other forms of environmental degradation. We want a world where our children and our grandchildren can be outdoors and breath fresh air and enjoy the beauty of our majestic mountains, our fertile valleys, and our astoundingly scenic and rugged coastlines.

California has been a leader in environmental protection through progressive policy, regulations and laws. We must do all what we can to reduce our carbon footprint and protect our environment.

In the Assembly, I will work to invest in alternative energy and transportation to greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Torlakson’s opponent Tim Grayson is a minister of a very conservative church and former Mayor of Concord with a questionable ethical record there.  His website issues page mentions global warming and assures us he thinks it’s real (he thinks this is an issue?), but he was a Republican when he stood with climate change deniers and big oil when they tried to repeal California’s landmark Global Warming Solutions Act.

Assembly District 14 includes the southern portion of Solano County, including Vallejo and Benicia, and much of Contra Costa County.  Here’s a map:

California Assembly District 14 map


Please vote for Mae Torlakson in the June 7 primary.

ENDORSEMENT: Steve Young for Benicia City Council

City Council elections – we’ve got a great new candidate!

By Roger Straw, Benicia Independent, May 20, 2016

Benicia Planning Commissioner Steve Young, candidate for Benicia City Council
Benicia Planning Commissioner Steve Young, candidate for Benicia City Council

No, this is not me with a “new look.” This is Planning Commissioner Steve Young. Steve is running for City Council this fall. I’m happy to endorse him, and I wholeheartedly recommend him to you.

Steve was thorough and critical in his study of the massive documents associated with Valero’s crude by rail proposal over the last 3 years. He doggedly questioned City staff and consultants as the Planning Commission made its way to a unanimous decision to turn down Valero’s proposal in February. He continues to monitor Valero’s appeal to the City Council. If the issue has not been settled by November, we need Steve there with a strong no vote.

We are all invited to Steve’s Campaign Kickoff party on Friday, May 27, 5:30-9:30pm at Ruszel Woodworks – 2980 Bayshore Road, Benicia, CA 94510. Come meet the candidate and enjoy the company of others who are supporting Steve. Please RSVP here.
, not 4:30pm as previously posted here.)

More info about Steve and his campaign: Also check out Steve on Facebook.

– Benicia Independent Editor, Roger Straw

EDITORIAL: Valero wins one; attorneys wrangle; opponents get testy

By Roger Straw, April 29, 2016

Valero wins one; attorneys wrangle; opponents get testy

Catching up on recent events

RDS_2015-06-21_200pxSorry, I had to take a little break.  When the Benicia City Council voted 3-2 to put off a decision on Valero’s crude by rail proposal (CBR), it was just a bit too much.

I was deeply discouraged by the majority’s need for yet more information.  Three Council members wish to hear from the federal Surface Transportation Board (STB) before making the decision whether to permit a rail offloading rack on Valero property – a project that would foul California air and endanger lives and properties from here to the border and beyond, a project that would clearly contribute to the ongoing effects of global warming.

So I was one discouraged 3½ year supposedly-retired volunteer.  I was in no shape last week to send out my Friday newsletter.

Here, as best I can summarize, is news from the last 2 weeks:

Valero wins one

You will recall that Valero appealed the Planning Commission’s unanimous February decision on crude by rail to not certify the environmental report and to deny the land use permit. Then at the Benicia City Council’s opening hearing on the appeal on March 15, Valero surprised everyone by asking for a delay in the proceedings so that it could ask for guidance from the federal Surface Transportation Board (STB).

City staff recommended against Valero’s request, rejecting the proposed delay as unnecessary and risky, given that the City and Valero could end up with a “stale” environmental report that requires yet another time-consuming revision and more hearings.

Opponents also argued against the delay, noting that the request would be carefully framed by Valero in its own favor, submitted for review to an industry-friendly STB, and result in a judgement that would still be subject to final review in a court of law. Opponents also pointed out the possibly that the delay was a Valero political tactic, given that this is an election year with three members of City Council up for re-election.

At the most recent City Council hearing on April 19, contract attorney Bradley Hogin disclosed that he was not involved in the staff decision to recommend against the delay, and that he disagreed with his employers. Given every opportunity by Council members, Hogin argued at length in favor of the delay. During verbal questioning, Council did not give similar opportunity to Hogin’s bosses to argue against the request for delay.

And guess what, 3 members of Council were convinced by the pleasant instruction of their outside attorney Hogin that we would do well to hear from the STB before rushing (3 years into the process) to judgement.

Win one for Valero.  Council will resume consideration in September.

The attorneys wrangle

We are asked to believe that the big issue here after 3 years of environmental review has nothing at all to do with the earth or the health and safety of you, me, our neighbors or the lands and wildlife.

Supposedly, according to Valero’s attorney and contract attorney Hogin, it’s all about “federal preemption.”  Supposedly, our city officials have no legal authority to impose conditions or mitigations or deny a permit in this case.

However, according to California’s Attorney General and environmental attorneys, “federal preemption” does not prohibit City government from making such land use decisions based on local police powers and the legal requirement to protect public health and safety. Federal preemption protects against state and local authorities regulating railroads. A refinery, says our Attorney General, is not a railroad. Go figure.

Anyway, Valero’s attorney has written several letters on preemption and taking issue with the Attorney General. The Attorney General has written several letters, sticking by its argument. Environmental attorneys have written several letters making similar arguments.

In addition to the letters, Valero’s attorney and Mr. Hogin have testified at length under questioning by City Council members. Environmental attorneys have been given only 5 minutes each to speak at hearings, with little or no back and forth questioning from City Council members.

Everyone I have talked to expects this decision to end up in court, whether or not the STB issues a ruling, and regardless of which way they rule.

Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community gets testy

Like me, I suspect, members of our local opposition group, Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community (BSHC) were highly disappointed and discouraged by the Council vote to delay for Valero and the STB.

In interviews and online statements that followed the April 19 Council vote, some BSHC members were quick to presume that the 3 Council members who voted for delay would also support Valero when it comes to a final vote in September.

Of course, a 3-2 vote favoring Valero in September is not the only possible outcome. Some would say that the next 5 months might best be spent respectfully reminding Council members of facts of the case, and encouraging them to make the right decision.

Those of us who have spent countless hours opposing Valero’s dirty and dangerous proposal have known all along that it is an uphill battle, that the odds are against us, that big business prevails all too often against the interests of health, safety and clean air.  But look what happened at our Planning Commission.  There is hope.

It seems to me that the presumption of a negative outcome can only serve to harden Council members’ attitudes and opinions.  But I may be wrong.

Some will continue to argue that Council members should be made to feel the public’s disappointment, that outrage and pessimism is understandable, and that an obvious implication is that unhappy voters will have their say in November.

I’m convinced that hardball politics and small-town respect for decision makers will need to co-exist over the next few months. Come September, we shall see.