Category Archives: Valero Benicia Appeal

ABC7 VIDEO: Benicia City Council Considers Valero Refinery’s Plan to Ship Crude Oil by Rail

Repost from ABC7 / KGO News, San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose

Benicia City Council Considers Valero Refinery’s Plan to Ship Crude Oil by Rail

By Katie Marzullo, March 16, 2016 11:37AM

BENICIA, Calif. (KGO) — Benicia considered a controversial topic Tuesday night, transporting crude oil by train. Opponents say it’s an environmental catastrophe waiting to happen, but supporters say it’s safe.

Tuesday is the city council’s first pass at hearing Valero’s proposal to move crude oil by rail. The planning commission rejected it last month and Valero appealed. It’s an hours-long process to reintroduce all of the reports council members were still asking questions late into Tuesday night.

The Valero refinery in Benicia already brings crude oil into the facility by pipeline and ship and it wants to add rail. Members of Benicians For a Safe and Healthy Community have been opposed since the beginning.

“Air emission impacts, traffic impacts, as well as the risk of catastrophic explosion here in Benicia that could destroy the economy and estroy the culture of this community for generations to come,” said Andres Sotos, a member of Benicians For a Safe and Healthy Community.

The city might not have a choice. Staff and consultants point to federal laws that don’t allow cities to regulate railroads. But others say Benicia has every right to reject Valero’s proposal.

“I’ve never seen a city, and I’ve been on the city council. I’ve never seen a city give up their permitting power and I think it’s the wrong direction for the city to take,” said Benicia resident Jan Cox Golovich.

Last month, the planning commission unanimously rejected Valero’s plan. Now it’s fate is in the hands of the city council. Valero is optimistic.

“We believe it can be done safely and we’re looking forward to making that case to the city council in our appeal,” said Valero director of health and safety Chris Howe.

Valero wants to move 70,000 barrels of crude oil by rail and rely less on shipping. Public comment on the issue is scheduled for April 4.

Benicia City Council public comment will be on April 4, 6, 18 and 19

By Roger Straw, February 9, 2016
[Editor:  UPDATE – Note additional hearing date of Monday, April 18. This new date is IN ADDITION TO the previously scheduled hearings.  – RS]

Benicia announces City Council dates for hearings on Valero Crude by Rail appeal

Hearings will begin on March 15 and continue for public comment on April 4, 6, 18 and 19

The Benicia City Council Agenda for March 15 included staff recommendations on Valero’s appeal of the Benicia Planning Commission’s unanimous February 11 decision to deny Valero Crude By Rail.

Staff is recommending that Council begin the hearings on March 15 and continue for public comment on Monday, April 4, Wednesday, April 6, and Tuesday, April 19 if needed.  Note that these dates for public hearings are NOT CONSECUTIVE EVENINGS as was the case in previous hearings.

Staff recommended the Council hear city staff and representatives of Valero on March 15, and then ask questions. UPDATE ON MARCH 11 – The Planning Commission has been granted 15 minutes to present its case at the March 15 City Council meeting. Chair Don Dean will represent the Commission.

Other documents released today include the following:

Written public comments are encouraged now!  Send your thoughts to the City Council by email directed to Amy Million, Principal Planner, Benicia Community Development You may also send your letter Amy Million by mail to 250 East L Street, Benicia, CA 94510, or by Fax: (707) 747-1637.

And mark your calendar now, so you don’t forget.  Please plan to attend on Tuesday, March 15 for the presentations, and again on Monday, April 4, Wednesday, April 6 and Tuesday, April 19.  All meetings will be held at 7:00 p.m. in City Hall Council Chamber, 250 East, L Street, Benicia.

Chair of Benicia Planning Commission to speak at March 15 City Council meeting

By Roger Straw, February 12, 2016

Commission votes to send a representative, will get 15 minutes

At its meeting on March 10, the Benicia Planning Commission was granted 15 minutes to present its case at the March 15 City Council meeting. Chair Don Dean will represent the Commission.

This would seem to be an adjustment in the agenda.

Previously, the public notice on the March 15 hearing stated that “Staff presentations and Valero presentations will take place on March 15, 2015.”  An email from the City confirmed that “The City and Valero will present at the Council’s March 15 meeting.”  The City’s website says “The City Council will open the hearing on the appeal on March 15, 2016 for Staff and Applicant presentations. ”

The appearance to the public was that staff, in full support of Valero’s proposal and in opposition to the Planning Commission’s denial of the project, was engineering a pro-Valero opening night at City Council, giving voice ONLY to itself and Valero.  This may not have been the case.

The Planning Commission had not taken formal action to name a representative to speak at the hearings until last night. So it may have been due to an abundance of procedural caution that the City failed to name the Commission as a presenter on the 15th.

At any rate, it is a welcome bit of news that Chair Dean will be allowed to speak on that first night of hearings.  It is only right that the Commission’s views get a hearing as Council members’ deliberate.

Valero’s appeal: ok, this was expected. What’s next?

By Roger Straw, March 1, 2016

We’ve been expecting this for years. Get on with it!

Yes, this pep talk is for myself – but it might work for you, too: This is no surprise. Stop worrying over Valero’s attorney-driven shock and awe.

Yes, for a week or two, we entertained a slim hope that Valero would do the right thing.  A huge turnout of local and distant residents showed overwhelming opposition.  Our Planning Commission arrived at a unanimous decision to turn down the EIR and deny the project.  Oil train projects across the Strait in Pittsburg, in San Luis Obispo and in Washington state have been stopped or met with official disapproval.  Oil prices are down.  And this is a Benicia City Council election year.

We dared to hope.

But yesterday, Valero showed its hand: it will disregard the public’s concerns for health and safety.  It will rely on an unproven federal exemption to muzzle local decision-makers and to allow dangerous and polluting railroad traffic uprail from Benicia.  It will rely on that exemption with legalese and not-so-hidden threats of litigation, hoping the City of Benicia would rather be sued by environmentalists than by the corporate legal muscle of the largest refinery in the U.S.

Valero showed its hand: corporate profit trumps all.

And so many of us thought Valero was a “good neighbor.”

Clearly Valero is not Davis’ good neighbor, nor Sacramento’s. Clearly not neighbor to the Feather River Canyon or Donner Lake or the lands and inhabitants of the Upper Midwest and Alberta, Canada.  Mother Earth is Valero’s neighbor, but it doesn’t seem to matter.

I have been openly critical of the Crude By Rail proposal here in Benicia since my editorial in the Benicia Herald in June of 2013.  At every turn, I have politely invited Valero to consider withdrawal, to do the right thing.  My voice and that of a growing tide of concerned citizens, the voices of California’s Attorney General and other attorneys, the detailed studies of environmental experts, and the unanimous vote of a Planning Commission that studied the proposal for months – all these ignored.

So … our disappointment is real, but we need to forget it and move on.  Remind yourself: this is exactly what we expected.  Now comes the real test.

Sure, we’re tired.  Yes, we need new energy, new volunteers, more yard signs, more letters, and stamina for yet another series of long nights at City Council hearings.  That’s what we signed on for.

We will soon have yet another chance to STOP Crude By Rail.

So what’s next?

For now, we know this (check for updates later):

  • Benicia City Council will consider the appeal on Tuesday, March 15 at 7pm.  This will only be a formal setting of dates for public hearings on the matter. Still, you may want to show up to send a signal.
  • Sometime in late March or April, the City Council will hold a series of hearings much like those recently held by the Planning Commission.  Stay tuned for those dates and plan to attend.
  • Sign the petition if you haven’t already done so.
  • Write to Benicia’s City Council members.  Send your email to City Planner Amy Million at  Be sure to note that your comments are “for the public record on Valero Crude By Rail.”
  • Benicians For a Safe and Healthy Community needs your help. Please go to their Facebook page and their website,