Category Archives: Valero’s Community Advisory Panel (CAP)

Stephen Golub: Benicia, Don’t Let the Fox Guard the Henhouse

Benicia resident and author Stephen Golub, A Promised Land

By Stephen Golub, originally published in the Benicia Herald on May 5, 2024

In recent weeks, I’ve reached out to a number of persons familiar with the Contra Costa County (CCC) and Richmond Industrial Safety Ordinances (ISOs), which seek to bolster those localities’ protection from fires, explosions and toxic emissions at the four refineries in that county.

Since it is situated in Solano County and not Contra Costa, Valero is the only Bay Area refinery not covered by such an ordinance. Benicia is the only refinery town in the area not protected by one. To their great credit, Vice Mayor Scott, Councilwoman Birdseye, Fire Chief Chadwick and other personnel are spearheading the City’s drive, unanimously endorsed by the City Council, to draft an ISO for Benicia. The Benicia Industrial Safety and Health Ordinance citizens’ group, to which I belong, is seeking to make the resulting law as strong as possible.

My look at other Bay Area ISOs is intended to bolster both of those efforts.

For now, I’ll focus on three key overlapping considerations that, in my opinion, have so far emerged from my ISO conversations:

My first point regards the crucial citizen Oversight Committee (or whatever name is eventually used) that, as part of the ISO, will keep its administration and enforcement on track. The Committee should comprise independent operational, scientific, environmental, safety and health experts, as well as representatives from affected communities within Benicia and beyond.

I suggest this approach in contrast with simply involving all potential “stakeholders” with some sort of interest in the ISO, since persons employed by, affiliated with or aligned with Valero are unlikely to back strong oversight. Who sits at the table will determine what gets done.

More specifically, let’s involve people who have expertise regarding Valero and other refineries’ operations but who are not beholden to them, as demonstrated by their professional or community track records.

Let’s certainly engage Benicians who have been affected by the emissions, odors, vapors and even residues from the refinery’s repeated incidents and accidents.

Let’s also include non-Benicians, such as those representing citizen or government groups in CCC, Richmond, Martinez and other neighboring communities, as well as representatives of Bay Area environmental organizations.

This brings me to my second point, implied by the first:

The Oversight Committee should not include Valero. Nor should it involve the affiliated “Community Advisory Panel” (CAP), which very rarely involves the community in its meetings and which largely supports the refinery’s perspective. While individuals affiliated with these two entities may mean well, it is inappropriate for a company to influence the very body that oversees the safety and health aspects of its operations.

Let’s also bear in mind that when we’re talking about Valero decision-making, we’re talking not about our fine neighbors and friends who may be employees, but instead about a huge Texas-based corporation.

There is nothing wrong and much that is right with consultation with Valero and listening to its valid concerns. But there are plenty of opportunities to do so, outside of it having membership in the Oversight Committee.

Or to put the matter more simply: Benicia can’t have the fox guarding the henhouse.

To my simple mind, it’s self-evident that Valero should not oversee itself. After all, you wouldn’t want a neighbor who regularly violates local and national safety/health-oriented regulations controlling efforts to prevent those violations, would you? And that’s even assuming the neighbor is committed to proper community oversight, something that can’t be said of Valero in view of its apparently intense opposition to an ISO.

CAP has also demonstrated keen opposition to the very idea of an ISO, as indicated by its hostile reception when Scott and Birdseye attempted to engage it in a constructive way at one of its meetings. This has large ramifications for the Oversight Committee.

Again, why put the fox in charge of the henhouse?

Against this backdrop, it’s puzzling that the City’s “Engage Benicia” ISO outreach site and the community survey it includes feature CAP in several questions, even in terms of a potential ISO role. Perhaps this is due to the laudable even-handedness with which the City is approaching this effort, despite opposition from Valero and CAP. But in visiting the site ( and participating in its survey,  which I heartily encourage, Benicians should be aware that there’s less to CAP than its title implies.

My third point is that the Oversight Committee has a tremendous potential to connect Benicia with likeminded citizens and governments across the Bay Area regarding health and safety concerns. By virtue not just of its membership but also its outreach, it can share information, advocacy and efforts concerning common problems and solutions experienced by CCC, Richmond, Martinez and other areas. That’s yet another reason for the Committee to comprise independent individuals, rather than Valero or its affiliated parties.

In suggesting these paths, I speak only on my own behalf and not as a member of BISHO. If you’re interested in learning more about Valero’s violations and the many reasons the City and your fellow Benicians are working toward a strong ISO, please check out this site:

Join the BISHO movement

There is a group of concerned citizens of Benicia who also support the adoption of a Benicia Industrial Safety and Health Ordinance (BISHO). To learn more about the effort and add your support, visit

Subscribe to the Benicia Herald and keep local news alive!

The Benicia Herald  does not have an online edition. To support our local newspaper, please subscribe by email at or by phone at 707-745-6838.