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General Chemical Inquiry Going Sideways
May 25, 2002

There is something very strange going on regarding an audit of General Chemical. Following releases and sirens in late 2001, (TOM BUTT E-FORUM, 11/29/2001, CITY FLUBS INDUSTRIAL RELEASE NOTIFICATION ONCE AGAIN, http://www.tombutt.com/forum/011129A.htm), the City Council moved to direct the Richmond Planning Commission to hold a hearing on General Chemical’s conditional use permit. 

Under suspicious circumstances, the mayor and city manager then met privately with General Chemical officials and came up with a plan to sideline the conditional use permit hearing. The plan involved an audit of unspecified scope to be conducted under the auspices of the Contra Costa County Department of Health Services. General Chemical would pay for the audit and have a seat at the table to decide what it would include. At the time, I agreed to the audit with the stipulation that it would include conditions of operation listed in the conditional use permit. (See TOM BUTT E-FORUM, 1/16/02) CONFUSION IN GENERAL CHEMICAL INVESTIGATION SCOPE, http://www.tombutt.com/forum/020116.htm).

On February 2, 2002, I wrote the city manager requesting certain items be included in the audit (see attached MSWORD file for the entire letter):

“The City Council agreed that I could request and expect that the General Chemical audit include an evaluation of whether or not certain conditions of Conditional Use Permit CUP 95-4 have been met. The stipulation, as I understand it, was that the questions would be posed and answered independently of any action involving a review of the permit by the Planning Commission, which is no longer mandated by the City Council … I am requesting that you arrange for your staff to type the referenced conditions into an electronic file and submit them to the County as a formal request for inclusion into the audit. Please keep me informed of the progress and particularly any action that would indicate a failure to include these into the audit … In addition, I am requesting that the audit ascertain whether certain conditions recited in the Settlement Agreement and Release Concerning General Chemical Corporation Richmond Oleum Reduction Project have been complied with…”

Since February 2, 2002, I have inquired several times about progress on the audit, and particularly about the items I requested to be included. On May 21, 2002, I received the following from Richmond Fire Marshal Don Perez:

“In a nutshell, the recommendations [of Tom Butt] were not included. As you may recall the scope of work for the audit was agreed upon by all the oversight committee members on 1/14/02. On 4/02/02 the Planning Dept. recommended the language needed to incorporate assessment of Gen. Chem’s CUP to the audit. On 5/02/02 Mr. Sawyer from the CCC Health Services Dept. advised us that your recommendations would not be included and the proper course of action would be for the recommendations  to be reviewed given the original committees agreement on 1/14/02.”

Here it is now six months after the release that triggered this action, and some four months after the audit was initiated, and I find out that the remarkably fast-acting Contra Costa Department of Health Services is just getting around to releasing an RFP for the audit. The audit is not expected to begin until August, 2002, and there is no word when it is expected to be completed.

I feel betrayed by the city manager, the mayor, and particularly the Contra Costa Department of Health Services. I feel as if this whole exercise is a slick conspiracy to avoid a public examination of General Chemical’s adherence to the conditions of its conditional use permit. I wonder how the citizens of Richmond feel?