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  Ghosts and Ghost Writers
September 17, 2003

Weirdness is no stranger to Richmond. On September 16, the City Council was scheduled to hear the inside story from the FBI, the Navy and the Coast Guard about terrorist threats to the ChevronTexaco Richmond Refinery and what relationship, if any, there is between those threats and Richmond’s impending acquisition of Point Molate.

Meanwhile, ChevronTexaco officials have continued to meet with selected City Council persons, one-on-one, in private, to push for a delay in the scheduled turnover and to discuss secret deals. It appears that this tactic has resulted in at least a one-week delay of the scheduled vote of the City Council to accept the deed, and there appear to have been discussions about the prospects of ChevronTexaco exchanging other properties to the City of Richmond in substitution for Point Molate. Clearly, there are those on the City Council who are on the inside and there are those who have been frozen out of the process. I have not been among those selected to meet with ChevronTexaco.

Certain Richmond officials and City Council members had either invited, or acquiesced to Chevron’s tender to invite (depending on which version one wishes to believe), the U.S. Coast Guard and the FBI to explain to the City Council the nature of terrorist threats to the ChevronTexaco Richmond refinery and how this relates to the transfer of Point Molate from the Navy to the City. I was among several City Council members who requested that Navy representatives be requested to appear also.

As it turned out, the FBI declined the invitation. They had, it seems, higher priorities.

On behalf of the Coast Guard, Commander Greg Philips appeared, representing and carrying a letter from his boss, Captain Gerald M. Swanson, Captain of the Port/Federal Maritime Security Coordinator for Northern California. The City Council (who on a 8-0-1 vote in July, with me abstaining, recently voted to oppose the Patriot Act) listened with rapt attention to Commander Philips, who summarized a letter (attached as a PDF file) that could have been ghost-written by ChevronTexaco.

The letter and Commander Phillips remarks were, in my opinion, factually inaccurate in several ways:

  • The letter stated that Point Molate has been owned and operated by the U.S. Navy since 1941 as a secure facility. In fact, Point Molate was closed by the U.S. Navy eight years ago, and for the last seven years, security has been minimal. For the last two years security has been non-existent. Even before, whatever security existed, was largely the result of people living and working at Point Molate, rather than a formal security presence.
  • The letter concluded that anything but industrial uses would adversely affect security. In fact, limiting the area to industrial uses, which are typically occupied only during the day, would decrease security.
  • Commander Phillips stated that Point Molate protected ChevronTexaco’s western flank. In fact, there are miles of shoreline making up ChevronTexaco’s western and northern flank, outside the Point Molate boundary, that have no security whatsoever.

In subsequent discussion, Commander Phillips acknowledged that 24-hour uses at Point Molate would, in fact, have security advantages and that ChevronTexaco had other, perhaps more serious, vulnerabilities than Point Molate. He confirmed the obvious -- that the Richmond ChevronTexaco refinery was a potential terrorist target of opportunity, but he said that there was no knowledge of any specific or imminent threats.

There were four representatives of the Navy including two civilians involved with the base closure and disposition process, a Navy captain, and no less than Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Wayne Arny. Against the background of the intrigue that has recently surrounded Point Molate, Secretary Arny was a breath of fresh air. He confirmed that until very recently, including the two years since 9/11,ChevronTexaco had virtually no contact with the Navy regarding Point Molate. Recently, he said, an old friend of his who had become a lobbyist had been hired by ChevronTexaco to contact him, and he was aware of the letter from ChevronTexaco CEO David O’Reilly to the Acting Secretary of the Navy. Arny went on to opine that security of the refinery was neither the Navy’s responsibility nor the City’s responsibility, although, “Neighbors should try to help each other.” No one from the Navy had any information to offer about security issues related to Point Molate or articulated any concerns. Arny said that the Navy was prepared to proceed with the transfer without provisions, restrictions, or requirements for security related to ChevronTexaco. He likened Chevron’s concerns to those of Navy installations that were being encroached by urban development. The Navy solution, he said, was to either buy the property or purchase an easement restricting development.

There is no clear reason why the vote of the City Council to accept the transfer was delayed, except that some undefined and undisclosed deal was cut with ChevronTexaco by unnamed persons to delay the vote. Today (September 17) the City released an invitation to the transfer ceremony, now scheduled for September 23 at 2:30 PM (see attached PDF file). That means that a special meeting will have to be convened between now and then to vote on acceptance of the deed before the conveyance ceremony can proceed. Why this vote could not have taken place last night was a mystery for several City Council members, including myself.

What will happen between now and then is anybody’s guess.