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  Chevron and Richmond
November 19, 2005

The relationship between Richmond and Chevron may have recently moved onto ground never before plowed. What was for nearly 100 years a very cozy relationship began to slip in the late 1990s and the first years of the second Millennium as Chevron distanced themselves from a long tradition of social and governmental involvement in the City. For example, Chevron refinery managers were a mainstay of the Richmond Rotary Club for decades. In fact, a former refinery manager, Carl Raefus, was a former president of Richmond Rotary and served as “secretary for life” for many years thereafter. Dorr Etzler, former head of Chevron Research, served as both club president and district governor.


Similarly, Richmond’s top Chevron managers used to serve as officers and directors of the Richmond Art Center Board and other civic non-profits. Sometime in the 1990s, after Chevron’s major modernization was completed, the refinery manager simply disappeared off Richmond radar, to be replaced by “external affairs” people who were, themselves, often hard to find until they showed up on TV explaining that the latest release constituted no hazard to the public. Hands on participation in Richmond community organizations flagged. Monetary contributions still flowed, but the magnitude was noticeably reduced and the distribution diminished. The official word was that the Richmond refinery was in financial trouble with the home office and had to concentrate on production lest it be closed. Community engagement was viewed by management as frivolous and indulgent.


Perhaps the relationship between Richmond officials reached a nadir in 2004 when Chevron actually sued the City (and lost) over Point Molate. Previously, Chevron had stiffed the City over a half year of increased utility user taxes. What was once a solid relationship with the City Council began to rapidly unravel.

When several City Council members tried to repeal the Certified Inspection Program in 1997, it went nowhere (see news clips from 1997 that follow). Simply adding an audit function barely passed in 1967 on a 6-3 vote with Bates, Griffin and Anderson voting no and Butt, Powers, Corbin, Evans, Marquez and McIntosh voting yes.

When the Certified Inspection Program came up earlier this week, the City Council voted unanimously to repeal it, including Bates, Griffin and Anderson, who had previously opposed even adding the audit function. The City Council has never in over 100 years done anything like that when Chevron is concerned. Even the West County Times, usually a conservative bastion, editorialized in favor of the repeal.

In the long run, however, the Certified Inspection Program is not so much about substance as about perceptions. Although Chevron and the City abused it (some believe egregiously) for decades, there is little evidence of abuse from a building code enforcement standpoint in the last eight years. My motivations for voting to repeal it are that I believe everyone should be treated equally and that there is a fatal flaw in the CIP that undermines CEQA review of projects, already a sore point with many and an abuse that was recently confirmed by the California Court of Appeals. It also appears to be contrary to California law pertaining to the circumstances under which cities can amend the California Building Standards Code --- but that’s another story.

The good news is that Chevron seems to be knocking on the door to join the community once again. Dean O’Hair and Jim Brumfield are smiling a lot more and have become Chevron’s kindler and gentler community faces – even if the refinery manager is still invisible. Maybe there isn’t even a refinery manager, and a computer in San Ramon controls the whole thing over the Internet. In a previous era, Chevron would have packed the City Council chamber with hundreds of employees, vendors, retirees, pensioners, and recipients of charitable largesse to defend Chevron to the bitter end and protest repeal of the CIP. Instead, only Dean O’Hair spoke, and only half heartedly it seemed. The same night, Chevron presented a check for $100,000 to the Richmond Library, and donations of similar magnitude have been forthcoming to a variety of City and non-profit causes. I actually felt a tinge of sympathy – or maybe even guilt – when I joined my colleagues in that unanimous vote.

What would really be nice is if Chevron would take a small fraction of the tens of billions in recent windfall profits and build an enduring monument to themselves in Richmond – maybe something like the Chevron Community and Swim Center at the Richmond Municipal Natatorium or the Chevron Library.

Chevron's sweet deal

Posted on Fri, Nov. 18, 2005

HOW'S THIS FOR A CASE of letting the fox guard the hen house? For the past 13 years, Richmond has been allowing Chevron to issue the building permits for its construction projects at the refinery and conduct its own inspections to verify that the work complies with building and safety standards.

Silly us. We thought that was what the city's planning department was supposed to do. As it turns out, in an effort to reduce the burden of inspecting hundreds of minor building and maintenance projects at Chevron, the city instituted the Certified Inspection Program in 1992. The program called for the city building inspector to deputize a Chevron employee to carry out project inspections and to issue permits. Chevron, which is the only entity that uses the self-inspection program, has been doing so ever since.

The way things are now, virtually no city oversight exists over refinery projects. Some projects may have even avoided review under the California Environmental Quality Act. This should raise safety concerns.

Also, allowing Chevron to conduct its own inspections unfairly cuts the city and residents out of the process. Chevron's self-inspection and permitting came to light earlier this year when the Contra Costa Building and Trades Council asked the planning department for permit documents on a turbo generator under construction at the refinery. The planning department did not release the documents until seven months later. When it did, they showed the generator had been built without city approval, design review or environmental review.

On Tuesday, the City Council instructed the city attorney to write a new ordinance that will ensure greater oversight over Chevron projects. At the meeting, 23 people spoke in favor of the repeal. Only one, a Chevron employee, spoke up for the existing ordinance.

Chevron officials say self-inspection is not uncommon and is consistent with the state building code. While that may be true, the potential for conflict under the existing ordinance make it imperative that it be changed.

While there is no evidence of wrongdoing on Chevron's part, it makes no sense for the city to trust any entity to police itself.

At the very least, Richmond should set guidelines for making sure that any significant projects come before the city's own review process to make sure the public is involved.


Repeal puts closer watch on Chevron

 Posted on Thu, Nov. 17, 2005

The Richmond City Council has unanimously repealed a city ordinance that allowed Chevron to self-permit and self-inspect nearly all refinery construction projects.

After 23 speakers urged repeal of the ordinance, the council on Tuesday directed the city attorney to compose an alternate ordinance that would assure greater oversight of Chevron's construction projects. One speaker, a Chevron employee, spoke in favor of the ordinance.

The council will take action on the new ordinance next month.

The Certified Inspection Program was instituted in 1992 and was designed to lessen the city's burden of inspecting the hundreds of maintenance and building projects, many of them minor, that occur each year at the refinery.

A Chevron employee deputized by the city building inspector would carry out project inspections and issue permits. The city would review the projects once they were completed.

Chevron is the only entity in Richmond that uses the self-inspection program.

Several council members said the project gives Chevron too much discretion in constructing projects and that in some cases the projects may have been able to avoid review under the California Environmental Quality Act, which examines project code standards, environmental impacts and project alternatives.

"The more I learned about this program, the more concerned I became," said Councilwoman Maria Viramontes who co-sponsored the repeal with three other council members. "Normally building permits are issued prior to construction and this program did not guarantee that."

Chevron's self-inspection and permitting status came to light earlier this year when the Contra Costa Building and Trades Council asked the Richmond planning department for permit documents related to a turbo generator that was under construction at the refinery.

The planning department withheld the documents for more than seven months, according to Greg Feere, the chief executive officer of the trades union.

When the city finally released permit and inspection reports in August, the documents showed that the generator had been built without city approval, design review or environmental review .

"The city was sandbagging us in violation of state law," Feere said,. "When they finally released them, we wondered how a major project like this could be built without any impartial review. It's a classic case of the fox guarding the hen house."

The city has since revised its public records policy to assure that information requests are responded to within the time prescribed by state law.

Feere said the trades council requested the turbo generator documents because of the large number of out-of-state, nonunion workers that Chevron brought in to work on the project.

Through the law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo, the trades council requested dozens of Chevron building permits going back to 1993, when the city first adopted the program. The documents showed that it was standard for city officials to trust Chevron to follow building and safety standards and then review them after construction.

The problem is that if the city planning department doesn't know about construction projects prior to construction, it's impossible to request environmental impact reports, said attorney Kevin Golden, who represents the trades union.

Chevron External Affairs Manager Dean O'Hair said the program is consistent with state law and that Chevron has not violated any building codes or avoided state environmental reviews.

"This is not some exotic process that was created for Chevron," he said. "It's pretty clear there's a misunderstanding here about what the program is. Self-inspection is not uncommon and it is consistent with the state building code."

O'Hair added that Chevron will comply with whatever inspection ordinance the City Council adopts.

New City Attorney John Eastman agreed that the ordinance, in itself, did not allow Chevron to avoid environmental impact reports.

Councilman Tom Butt, who tried to repeal the self-inspection ordinance in 1997, said it doesn't appear there has been any significant breach of state building codes.

"It's more a case of whether the ordinance makes sense," he said. "The way it is now it's flawed because the public and the city are cut out of the process until it's too late."

Contact John Geluardi at 510-262-2787 or at jgeluardi@cctimes.com

Refinery's Self-Inspection Criticized
March 5, 1997

San Francisco Chronicle  Wednesday, March 5, 1997 

Richmond -- Two City Council members demanded yesterday that a self-inspection program at the Chevron Corp. refinery be discontinued and outside safety monitors be brought in. 

Chevron has conducted its self- inspection program under a measure approved by the council in 1987. 

In a news conference yesterday, Councilman Tom Butt and Councilwoman Donna Powers harshly criticized the program and said they want to reform it or repeal the measure that permitted it. The two provided no specifics on what changes they wish to make. 

Butt also claimed to have documents listing $15 million in violations at the refinery. He said the report was compiled by a man who worked briefly as a deputy building inspector and then was laid off because of his report. 

Chevron spokesman Hal Holt said the accusations are ``absolutely ludicrous and ridiculous.'' He said Chevron would not tolerate any conditions that would endanger its employees or the neighboring community. 

Holt also said the man was laid off because the firm was downsizing, not because of his report. According to Holt, the critic's description of the report was exaggerated.


Powers, Butt Attack Chevron Self-Inspection Law
March 6, 1997


Thursday, March 6, 1997
Section: News
Page: A01
Caption: PHOTO. A view of Chevron in Richmond. (MARK DuFRENE/Times). 

RICHMOND A city policy that allows Chevron to inspect its own buildings is drawing fire from some City Council members and environmental activists who say the company is hiding serious safety problems at its Richmond research division. 

They accuse the company of firing an inspector who wrote up the company last year for violations that would cost more than $15 million to correct. Company officials acknowledge the problems were the most serious recorded during the 10 years the city has allowed self-inspections. 

Councilman Tom Butt and Vice Mayor Donna Powers, who presented their charges at a news conference Tuesday, said they will introduce legislation to transfer inspections back to the city or to an independent agency hired by the City Council. 

"It's like the fox guarding the henhouse," Butt said. 

Chevron spokesman Hal Holt denied that the company fired the inspector or let him go out of revenge. He was laid off with 180 other employees as part of a company restructuring, he said. 

Holt said the company has worked diligently with the city to make sure its facilities are safe. 

"It's absolutely ludicrous that we are being accused of a cover-up," Holt said. "Safety is our No. 1 concern." 

He said the problems noted in the 1996 report could be attributed to codes changing since the buildings went up. 

He added that Chevron is in the process of giving inspections back to the city since there is little construction planned at its facilities in the coming years. 

At issue is a 1987 ordinance that allows Chevron's Research and Technology Co. to inspect Chevron facilities and report violations to city building officials. The company's five inspectors are officially working for the city but are paid and supervised by Chevron. 

Butt and Powers released city and Chevron documents showing numerous problems with electrical systems and safety equipment at the facility. 

Fire alarms 

The documents included a report to the city by one of the company's former inspectors, Terence Keefe. Keefe outlined a series of possible violations from overloaded electrical outlets to outdated fire alarms and fire extinguishers. 

Keefe could not be reached for comment. 

The alleged violations were viewed Oct. 15 at a few of the buildings at the research division. Though he did not inspect all of the company's buildings, Keefe's report states the problems were probably "prevalent throughout" the facility. 

Keefe, a certified electrical engineer according to the California Bureau of Consumer Affairs, was laid off by Chevron on Dec. 31, two months after the inspection. The company restructured Research and Technology late last year, and Chevron told Keefe on Dec. 4 he would not be returning to his job. 

Butt and Powers said they see something more sinister than restructuring. 

"A strange thing happened: A deputy inspector actually took his job seriously," Butt said. "He was a highly qualified individual and he issued $15 million in code violations. So they fired him." 

Holt said Keefe is still being paid and is in a pool of employees who may be offered a job with Chevron if a place can be found for him. 

"In the Chevron world, we want employees to notify us of deficiencies," Holt said. "He would not be punished for deficiencies." 

Told the city 

He acknowledged that inspectors have never found such serious violations in the 10 years the company has been inspecting itself. When the problems were found, Holt said, a Chevron manager reported the violations to city officials. He said the company has all along given quarterly reports to the city on its building inspections. 

City officials had the option of sending their own workers to review inspections by Chevron employees, Holt said. 

Chevron has asked the city for a seven-year grace period to clean up some of the violations found during the October inspection, according to city documents. Holt said many of the buildings cited are between 14 and 60 years old and do not conform to current codes. 

"The codes were different then," he said. 

In a statement, the company said it is spending millions to upgrade wiring and modernize fire safety equipment. 

Powers said an independent agency hired by the city would be the best judge of whether Chevron was obeying codes. 

Environmental activists like Julia May of Citizens for a Better Environment agree. 

"We need independent overview," May said. 

Powers and activists acknowledge they are also uneasy with the city taking over the program. They say Chevron's political influence reaches into city government; they worry city inspectors will be subject to pressure from elected officials who have received contributions from the company. 

"A lot of city people work very closely with Chevron," said Lucille Allen of the West County Toxics Coalition, "so I'm not sure that would be any better." 

Any plan to restructure the program faces a council that has been unwilling to tamper with the inspections. A similar proposal by Butt died in committee last year. 

However, Powers and Butt said they would re-introduce legislation to repeal the ordinance in the next day or two. Powers said she believes four council members would be willing to support the plan. Getting the fifth and deciding vote, however, could be tough in an election year, she said. 

Similar ordinances exist for refineries in Benicia and unincorporated areas of Contra Costa County. Richmond's ordinance is a carbon copy of one used in El Segundo. 

In 1987, Richmond council members said they wanted the plan because city building inspectors weren't qualified to inspect the refinery buildings. The council said the city didn't have the money to hire and train employees to handle the safety program. 

Under the agreement, Chevron paid for the inspectors and gets a break on building fees. It also made a one-time payment to the city to make up for building fees that had not been paid to that point. 



Chevron May Lose Privilege
April 17, 1997



Thursday, April 17, 1997
Section: news
Page: A03

RICHMOND For the past 10 years, the city has given its largest business the authority to conduct safety inspections of its own construction and renovation projects. 

That may soon change. 

On a preliminary vote, the City Council has approved a change in city law that would take away Chevron's authority to inspect any renovation, repair or construction at its Richmond refinery. 

Other companies as well as homeowners must open their doors to city inspectors whenever they install new equipment, build an addition or make a structural repair. 

But a 1987 law allowed the city to "deputize" Chevron employees, giving them the authority to conduct inspections and report any violations to the city. 

That amounted to, "the wolf guarding the henhouse," said Councilwoman Donna Powers. 

Councilman Tom Butt, who proposed the changes, agreed. 

"It's a matter where one property owner in the city of Richmond enjoys a privilege that no other property owner has, and that is the privilege of checking its own plans, inspecting its own work and rendering reports to the city of Richmond," Butt said before the vote at Tuesday's meeting. "All this amendment does is put some of that control back into the city." 

A Chevron spokeswoman said she had not seen the amended ordinance and could not respond to its specifics. However, "In general, we would not be opposed to such a thing," said Marielle Boortz. 

Three council members tried to delay action on the ordinance. 

Nat Bates, Richard Griffin and Irma Anderson argued that it should be referred back to the council's economic development committee, which discussed it several months ago. 

That committee should then give the council a formal recommendation, which it did not do before, they said. 

"When you start talking about ordinances and amendments, someone needs to go through this with a fine-toothed comb," Bates said. "I'm not prepared to vote on that tonight." 

Butt said the committee did not forward a recommendation because they did not get the vote of three of its four members to do so. He and others argued that the issue had been discussed enough. 

The council voted 6-3 to approve the ordinance on a first reading, and refer it back to the council's public safety committee for discussion of any changes. 

It will take a second vote to make the changes final. 

Bates, Griffin and Anderson voted no. Supporting the changes were Butt, Powers, Mayor Rosemary Corbin and council members Alex Evans, John Marquez and Lesa McIntosh. 

When they approved the original ordinance in 1987, council members said that the city's own inspectors didn't have the technical expertise to evaluate the refinery. 

Technically, the ordinance does not mention Chevron, but only "the industrial property owner." Chevron officials have argued that others could have taken advantage of it.