Category Archives: Property values

Benicia City Council member speaks out on Valero Crude by Rail

Repost from The Pioneer, Cal State East Bay

Benicia Council member Tom Campbell interviewed by Cal State University newspaper: “Transportation plan in ‘uncharted territory’”

By Kali Persall, Managing Editor, July 13, 2016
Photo by Kali Persall/The Pioneer

Benicia residents will have to wait a few more months for a final decision on the Valero refinery’s controversial proposal to transport more than two million gallons of crude oil by train into the city, daily.

The three-year-long Crude by Rail initiative is currently awaiting review by the Surface Transportation Board, an offshoot of the U.S. Department of Transportation that regulates railroad activity across the country.

The Benicia City Council, which voted 3-2 in March to allow the project to progress to the STB for a second opinion, will reconvene on September 20 to review the case again, according to Benicia City Council member Tom Campbell.

According to the proposal, which was created in 2013, approximately 70,000 barrels of Canadian tar sand and bakken crude oil from North Dakota would be brought into Benicia by 100 railroad cars on the Union Pacific Railroad every day. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that one barrel of crude oil contains 42 gallons, which can be converted to 12 gallons of diesel and 19 gallons of gasoline.

The project also includes the construction of a service road and an offloading facility, the implementation of 4,000 feet of underground pipeline and the replacement of underground infrastructure at the refinery.

Cities, counties and states are currently preempted from controlling what is transported by railroad, meaning the city of Benicia cannot look into any of the potential dangers that could occur during transportation of the crude oil. Until the oil reaches the city limits, the city has no say in that aspect of the project, explained Campbell.

According to Campbell, Valero is trying to extend the railroad’s preemption to itself by arguing that a rejection of the project — and thus the rejection of the offloading facility that would need to be built — would impede indirectly on the railroad’s economic success by directly affecting Valero’s.

This preemption clause contributed largely to the Benicia Planning Commission’s rejection of the project in February.

Dozens of community members have spoken out against the project and the potential safety hazards that a derailment or malfunction could cause. Residents are also concerned about the possibility of their property values decreasing, which happened in Richmond when a fire erupted in the Chevron Refinery in 2012.

Conversely, the project has the potential to create an estimated 120 temporary and 20 permanent jobs, according to a final Environmental Impact Report for the project. Campbell estimates that property taxes could also increase to between $150,000 and $200,000 annually.

The STB will issue a declarative statement about what is considered off-limits for the city, either in favor of Valero’s petition or against, according to Campbell.

If the board votes “yes,” to the refinery qualifying for preemption, it would take away all of the rights of the city to have any say in the project. The city would be preempted from looking at whether the plan follows zoning or building codes, explained Campbell. In theory, the railroad could build the offloading facility wherever it wanted, even in a residential neighborhood.

According to Campbell, the issue is unprecedented, far-reaching and transcends anything the city council has handled in the past.

A declaration in favor of Valero’s petition would be “pushing the envelope further than it has ever gone before” and venturing into “uncharted territory,” stated Campbell. If this happened, the case would be escalated to the federal court system.

“I don’t think the STB is going to go anywhere near that, but there’s no telling,” said Campbell. “If they were to go down that route and decide something that extreme, which would have an effect on every city, county and state that has a railroad going through it.”

If the board issues a “no” declaration, Campbell said the city council’s vote depends solely on the aspects of the project that directly concern the city, such as the construction of the offloading dock.

Campbell believes the board will not reach a decision before September.

Valero Public Affairs Manager Sue Fisher Jones was unable to provide any additional details on the refinery’s next plan of action at the time of publication.

Realtors Advisory: Disclosure of Valero Crude by Rail prior to a sale

From an email to Benicia City Planners by Andrés Soto, for Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community
[Editor:  There has been much talk of the likelihood of falling property values if Valero begins shipping volatile and toxic crude oil on trains.  This would seem to strengthen the argument.  – RS]

Solano County Realtors Advisory: Disclosure of Valero Refinery and Crude by Rail prior to a sale

SolanoRealtors-disclosures_bFrom: Andres Soto
Sent: Thursday, April 14, 2016 11:12 AM
To: Christina Ratcliff, Amy Million
Cc: Elizabeth Patterson, Mark Hughes, Alan Schwartzman, Tom Campbell, Christina Strawbridge
Subject: For the Valero CBR record: Solano County Realtors Association Disclosures and Disclaimers Advisory

Dear Ms. Ratcliffe:

Please add the attached document, Solano County Disclosures and Disclaimers Advisory 4-1-2015 to the official record for the Valero Benicia Crude By Rail project.

This document advises both the Valero Refinery and the Valero Crude By Rail project be disclosed prior to a property sale. This document is dated since it refers to December 2014 as the most current information on the project.  [Editor: note however that the document is dated April 1, 2015.  – RS]

Perhaps there is an updated version. Certainly, approval of the appeal by Valero on the project will ensure these disclosures will continue.

These disclosures will certainly cause some prospective property purchasers to reconsider or choose not moving to Benicia due to the risks associated with such a dangerous activity and the possible negative impact on property values.


Andrés Soto
Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community

BENICIA HERALD LETTER: The high-risk cost of crude by rail

Repost from the Benicia Herald
[Editor:  An excellent perspective on the economic risks that local communities take on when they permit crude by rail.  No link is provided for this letter because the Benicia Herald does not publish Letters in its online edition.  (Yes, I still remember how to type! ) – RS]

The high-risk cost of crude by rail

By Kat Black, August 26, 2015

For the past few years, I have been listening to the Valero Benicia Refinery representatives and supporters of the refinery’s proposed Crude-by-Rail Project make statements supporting the project because of the large tax revenue Valero provides for the city of Benicia.  But when did tax revenue override health and safety?  Valero’s most recent propaganda cites the loss of over $300,000 per year because of the delay in the project, and further cites that as loss of pay for police and paramedics.   Notwithstanding that that particular claim is completely unsubstantiated, the people and business owners of the city of Benicia are entitled to due process under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), regardless of the time it takes.  This is the law.  To say Benicia is losing money because of CEQA is a simple propaganda ploy, an effort to make people believe they are less safe because the project has not yet been approved.  Why else would they quote police and paramedics?  Why didn’t they quote the library or other services?

There has been a lot of press on crude train derailments and explosions over the past few years.  We need to consider what the cost would be if this project is approved and a subsequent explosion were to happen, as has already happened in the U.S. and Canada.  If you are a property or a business owner, your property value would very likely decrease.  There is a local precedent for this: In August, 2012, there was a large explosion and fire at the Chevron refinery in Richmond.  In 2013, the County Assessor increased property values for all cities in Contra Costa County except Richmond, where property values were lowered.  The Assessor specifically cited the Chevron explosion as the precise reason for the devaluation.  The City of Richmond was subsequently hit with a $2.5 million deficit for the loss of property tax revenue.

Do you want to risk the devaluation of your property or the property tax revenue for the City?  The risks are just too high.  Stop Valero’s dangerous Crude-by-Rail Project!

Katherine Black
Benicia Resident