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Confusion In General Chemical Investigation Scope
January 16, 2002
General Chemical Events Relating to CUP Hearing and Audit (see PDF file for better formatted version) Tom Butt January 16, 2002

I am having trouble assimilating the events related to the General Chemical investigation. My recollection was that I wrote a resolution directing the Planning Commission to undertake a review of CUP 95-4 and that it was passed unanimously by the City Council on December 11, 2001. The West County Times agreed and on December 13 reported:

"After passing an industrial safety ordinance, the City Council decided to take advantage of an existing regulatory weapon Tuesday night, directing the Planning Commission to look into revoking or changing the company's operating permit … The panel will consider the item at its Jan. 3 meeting."

Imagine my surprise when I read in the January 15 West County Times that:

"General Chemical Corp. agreed Monday to pay for a comprehensive audit into the company's safety procedures and management practices following a pair of caustic releases late last year. In response, Richmond officials abandoned plans to conduct a revocation-modification hearing to re-evaluate General Chemical's operating permit."

I was surprised because I was under the impression that the mayor and city manager could not reverse what the entire City Council had ordained. However, when I checked the City Council Minutes for December 11, there was no mention of the resolution passing:

"In the matter directing the Planning Commission to hold a revocation/modification hearing for CUP 95-44, General Chemical. Vice Mayor Butt gave an overview of the item. The following individuals spoke on the matter: Supervisor John Gioia. The Coty Council requested staff to submit a report that includes information regarding the number of Richmond residents that are employed by the company. Mayor Anderson reported that a Town Hall meeting will be held Monday, December 17, 2001, 6:30 p.m., City Council Chamber."

I still believe the resolution passed, and I am requesting the city clerk to review the tapes and re-check the item.

At the City Council meeting of January 15, 2002, there was complete confusion about the Planning Commission CUP hearing. Ultimately, the mayor stated that it would be placed on the January 22 agenda.

What I am requesting is that when the audit is performed, either the auditing consultant or another qualified consultant also review the CUP to make a compliance determination. I am also requesting a compliance review of the February 5, 1996 “Settlement Agreement and Release Concerning General Chemical Corporation Richmond Oleum Risk Reduction Project” entered into by General Chemical Corporation, Communities for a Better Environment, West County Toxics Coalition and Contra Costa Building and Construction Trades Council.

I have no objection to a delay and possible cancellation of the actual Planning Commission CUP hearing, depending on the compliance report rendered. In any event, the Planning Commission would have to have a staff report prepared prior to a hearing, and due to the technical nature of the subject, the staff report would likely have to be prepared by a qualified consultant.

The problem with an audit is that it is intended to address only the cause of a specific incident. Furthermore, since undergoing the audit is voluntary for General Chemical, it is possible that they or other “stakeholders” may manipulate it to determine or limit its scope. The review of the Conditional Use Permit is a much broader undertaking that may reveal potential problems other than the two specific incidents, and it requires no consent from General Chemical.