Vallejo Times-Herald: Valero’s controversial crude oil plans ranked 4th in top 10 stories of 2014

Repost from The Vallejo Times-Herald

Times-Herald’s Top 10 local stories of 2014

By Times-Herald staff report, 01/01/15

Two wake-up calls by Mother Nature, the passing of a father-figure icon, and a longtime symphony conductor’s surprising ouster were among this year’s news stories in Vallejo.

From a devastating earthquake to the drought, controversial one-year’s notice to Vallejo Symphony maestro David Ramadanoff, to a school board election that isn’t over to a new police chief, a horrific fire truck accident that avoided a fatality, and Valero’s crude oil plans, the 2014 Top 10 Stories list is presented below in its crowning, year-end glory by the Times-Herald staff.

10. The drought

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a statewide drought and the state announced cities would get only 5 percent of their allotment from the State Water Project.

In February, American Canyon council members declared a Stage 1 Drought Emergency and asked all customers to reduce water consumption by 20 percent.

The situation’s seriousness engendered unprecedented cooperation between Napa and Solano counties, with ways considered for Solano to share its reasonably stable Lake Berryessa water source with Napa County in what officials were by March calling a natural disaster. The problems especially impacted American Canyon because it relies most heavily on the State Water Project’s North Bay Aqueduct, which nearly had to be blocked by rocks to prevent falling water levels to allow salt water into the Delta. These plans were abandoned in May.

Stage one drought conditions persisted, however, and by July the state adopted emergency water regulations, and American Canyon officials declared a Drought Emergency Stage 2 mandatory compliance water alert. Authorities enforced a list of prohibited water uses including hosing down driveways, watering lawns, washing cars during the day and filling swimming pools.

Solano County water providers also took action in August to comply with the state’s first-ever emergency regulations mandating water conservation. Benicia mandated outdoor watering restrictions and Vallejo limited landscape watering to three days per week. By October, Benicia had reduced its water use by 18 percent.

9. North Mare Island plans

The future of North Mare Island became a hot-button issue as the city council began a “request for qualifications” process in July for proposals on how to develop more than 150 acres north of G Street.After dismissing three projects for “falling short if the city’s expectations,” the council In November heard information on eight proposals, which include three Indian casino projects, each along the lines of the $800 million Graton Casino & Resort that opened last year in Sonoma County. Other proposals involve industrial parks or mixed-use hotel and conference center projects on the city-owned land between Azuar Street and the Mare Island Strait.

The push to redevelop North Mare Island moved forward in early July when the city council approved the approval a $893,000 contract to demolish three former Navy buildings. The project is part of the city’s overall plan to accelerate the removal of up to 30 abandoned former Mare Island Naval Shipyard structures. Since the base closed in 1996, the buildings have been considered eyesores and an impediment to redevelopment activities.

8. Measure E and the school board election. 

The name “Richard Porter” became well know in the city of Vallejo during 2014, as the school teacher early on in the fall sought election to the Vallejo City Unified School District Board of Education, only to change is mind and cancel his campaign.

Porter — who filed candidacy papers in August — suspended his campaign in early September to teach math and science at the Mare Island Health & Fitness Academy. Despite halting his campaign, more than 7,000 Vallejo voters decided to elect him, placing him second out of three available seats.

Due to state law, Porter can not serve on the board of education and teach in the district at the same time. Porter opted to stay as a teacher at the academy — refusing to be seated as a trustee — creating a vacancy on the board.

The board recently decided to seek a provisional appointment to fill the vacancy, while several community members have asked the board to appoint fourth place finisher Ruscal Cayangyang to fill the empty seat.

While receiving over 60 percent approval from the Vallejo electorate during the November election, Measure E — the school district’s $239 million general obligation bond, which would have helped to renovate various school district sites —failed to receive the required 66 percent approval to pass.

7. Vallejo Symphony gives notice to David Ramadanoff 

The Vallejo Symphony Orchestra board of directors, citing stagnant season ticket sales and attendance, proclaimed David Ramadanoff’s 31st year leading the VSO as his last, upsetting many musicians and classical music supporters.

The symphony’s Jan. 25 concert at Hogan Auditorium and April 12 at Touro University’s Lander Hall will end Ramadanoff’s tenure in Vallejo while the board seeks a replacement.

6. New police chief Andrew Bidou 

Benicia and Vallejo police departments swapped chiefs this year. Andrew Bidou took the Vallejo’s helm in October, replacing Joseph Kreins who led the department for more than two years.

Kreins, who retired from the position, then took over Benicia’s police department as an interim until a permanent chief is hired.

While in Vallejo, Kreins implemented many changes to the department, including community outreach, technology upgrades and policy overhaul.

Bidou, 45, was among 37 candidates for the job. His education and familiarity with the area were cited as reasons he was picked.

5. Fire truck rolls over 

The Vallejo Fire Department’s tiller truck was involved in a violent traffic collision in August with three other vehicles, which began in the intersection of Maine Street and Sonoma Boulevard.

“The fire truck was responding to a code 3 (emergency) when a collision occurred with the fire truck and at least another vehicle in the intersection,” said Michael Nichelini, a sergeant with Vallejo Police, hours after the collision. “The (VFD) truck rolled down the street, at least once, after the collision.”

The ladder truck, when rolling, took out various street signs along Sonoma Boulevard finally coming to a rest in the intersection of Pennsylvania Street and Sonoma Boulevard after striking a fire hydrant and crushing another vehicle.

The crushed vehicle was flipped on its roof and the driver in the crushed vehicle required extraction.

Much of Sonoma Boulevard looked like a war zone, as glass and pieces from at least three vehicles and the fire truck were scattered in a two-block radius, while the fire truck was twisted into two directions after the collision and rollover. Firefighters Walter Trujillo, Mitchell Stockli, Frederick Taylor and Daniel Saballos, along with those in the other vehicles, survived the collision.

4. Valero’s crude oil plans 

The Valero Benicia Refinery’s controversial proposed rail terminal project fueled debates in the community over crude-by-rail safety issues. If approved, the project would allow Valero to import up to 70,000 barrels of Bakken or Canadian tar sands oil daily by train. In June, the city released the project’s environmental impact report, leading to packed public hearings over the summer. People as far away as Roseville attended to voice opposition or support for the project, which would increase oil train traffic through the Sacramento Valley. 

The city also received letters from state and local officials — including State Attorney General Kamala Harris — criticizing the project safety analysis as inadequate.

3. Homeless fires

A series of wild and structure fires were attributed to the homeless population in Vallejo this year.

The blazes destroyed several abandoned buildings on Mare Island, the now-razed “Badge and Pass Office” on Tennessee Street, and acres of vegetation along State Route 29. One of the structure fires also claimed the life of a Benicia man in October at a garage next to 1117 Florida St., which is known to be used by squatters.

Vallejo Fire Chief Jack McArthur said the department is working with police and city to design a reaction to the issue concerning homeless-related fires, and the safety concerns of the homeless population in the city.

2. Philmore Graham dies

Vallejo lost a legend this year. Philmore Graham, founder of the Continental of Omega Boys and Girls Club, died in June. Graham was 75.

He founded the club in 1966 with just five boys in his garage, and later churned out high school and college graduates who brought pride to their hometown, including ballplayer CC Sabathia, former pro football player Bobby Brooks, scriptwriter Gregory Allan Howard, and most recently Denver Broncos running back C.J. Anderson.

“Everything that we are and everything that we do is because of him,” Superior Court Judge Robert Rigsby, who is also an Omega alumnus, said in a June interview.

Graham suffered from Alzheimer’s in his last years, and had moved to Southern California several years ago to be closer to his daughter, Diedre.

1. South Napa earthquake

The magnitude 6 temblor — the strongest to hit the Bay Area in 25 years — rattled walls and nerves at about 3:10 a.m. Aug. 24, causing damage mostly in Napa and Solano counties.

Centered four miles northwest of American Canyon and six miles south-southwest of Napa, the quake caused brick chimneys to crumble all over the area and did particular damage to many of the older, non-reinforced masonry buildings in downtown Napa and Vallejo, including some on Mare Island.

While few and only minor injuries were reported in Vallejo, nearly 200 were hurt in Napa, two seriously, including a child who was critically injured by a collapsing chimney.

The 400 block of Vallejo’s Georgia street was closed for weeks following the partial collapse of a brick building, the repairs to which remain unfinished at year’s end.

There were a few reports of looting in Vallejo, but in American Canyon officials told of residents replacing items that had fallen out of broken store windows.

The governor issued an emergency proclamation extending relief to Napa, Solano and Sonoma counties. In Napa, some 69 buildings were red tagged. In Vallejo, 155 buildings were yellow-tagged for partial use, and 11 were red-tagged as unsafe to occupy. On Mare Island, crews demolished quake-damaged chimneys on historic officers’ mansions on Walnut Avenue.

The Napa Valley wine industry alone suffering estimated losses of $80,300,000.