The following is from yesterday’s Berkeley Daily
I have a correction to the E-FORUM
Of Design Review, Code Enforcement and the City Attorney's Priorities,
February 2, 2008. There were not three city attorneys at the
Design Review Board hearing, only two. There were three
Planning Department staff members, including the planning director.
I asked for a complete list of conditions of approval
voted on by the Design Review Board on January 31, but I have yet to
Richmond Design Board Gives Qualified Nod to Chevron
By Richard Brenneman (02-05-08)
Richmond’s Design Review Board (DRB) voted to approve Chevron’s plans to
upgrade its refinery, but before the vote was taken Thursday night, few
folks had anything nice to say about the world’s seventh largest
The DRB’s approval was hedged with a set of lengthy conditions after
members accused the firm of arrogance and indifference to the community.
“You got greedy,” said Ted J. Smith, the board’s oldest member. “All
you’ve done is take out of this community and screw us every time you
get the chance.”
Smith, an African American, chided the company because, he said, none of
the Chevron representatives at the meeting “looks like me.”
Chevron Vice President of Marketing Curt Anderson, a former manager of
the Richmond refinery, kept his composure, as did the other members of
the oil company’s contingent who appeared before the board.
“We are very pleased and excited about the project and the benefits that
will come from it,” Anderson said.
But board members and the overwhelming majority who rose to make public
comment voiced skepticism and criticism of the oil company, which the
next morning would announce record profits of $18.7 billion.
The DRB meeting was marked by tensions between the board and city staff,
with two attorneys and Richard Mitchell, the city’s director of building
While board members said they were entitled to consider issues of public
safety, the repeated advice from staff was to focus solely on design
Citing a charge to the board by Mayor Gayle McLaughlin to consider
public health and safety issues in their deliberations, board member
Donald L. Woodrow repeatedly raised his concerns that Chevron hadn’t
provided adequate information about seismic hazards.
Woodrow insisted the company provide extensive mapping of the soils down
to bedrock at the refinery site and reports on how soils and the plant
would be affected by the impacts of a major earthquake on the Hayward
“It will be earthquake-safe,” promised Dean O’Hair, the oil company’s
Richmond external affairs director. He said all construction would meet
current building and seismic codes.
Woodrow was less than reassured, and the proposed condition remained
when it came time for a vote.
Chair Bob Avellar said he wanted approval contingent on the company’s
grant of access to complete the last unfinished stretch of the Bay Trail
in the city.
During the public comment period earlier in the meeting, Bruce Beyaert,
an ardent supporter of the trail and chair of the Trails for Richmond
Action Committee, said negotiations with the company had stalled for two
years, only to be rekindled as refinery project approval deadlines
Woodrow said the company should provide the access, co-fund the design
costs and pay for operating costs, all of which were included in his
motion for approval
Member Diane Bloom added the proviso that the trail-siting decision
would come back to the board for approval.
Avellar added conditions for approving geodesic domes the company
planned to install on new storage tanks included in the project, and
called for an increase in the number of trees planted to screen both the
tanks and the periphery of the refinery.
When she suggested the board ask the company to plant trees in other
cities and outside Contra Costa County wherever winds carried
particulates from the refinery, Smith shook his head, saying “I won’t
vote for trees outside Richmond. I’m not looking out for anybody else.”
Woodward then said the company should also re-examine options for using
the site to generate solar and wind power to offset some of the
company’s energy needs.
Most of the public comments earlier in the meeting were critical of the
oil company. While most focused on concerns about pollution, one speaker
raised a key financial issue.
“I’m concerned about the very nice-looking hokum we’ve received,” said
Contra Costa County Assessor Gus S. Kramer, speaking from the audience.
He blasted the company’s expensive color mailing which promised
“millions in new revenues for the City of Richmond” from the project.
He countered the corporate claim by citing the company’s own appeals to
have the refinery’s property taxes slashed by two thirds for the prior
three tax years.
“I don’t want you to think that Richmond is going to get this windfall
of services,” Kramer said.
He got no response from company officials.
Chevron’s appeal to the county’s Assessment Appeals Board was filed in
December and seeks tax reductions for 2004-2006 that would result in a
rebate of $60 million.
Against an assessed value of $2.5 billion in 2004, the oil company seeks
a reduction to $600 million, with comparable figures of $2.6 billion and
$940 million for 2005 and $2.7 billion and $1.4 billion for 2006.
Chevron’s only supporters were from the business and labor communities,
while many nearby residents raised fears of toxic contamination and
complaints of strong odors from the plant.
Henry Clark of the West County Toxics Coalition charged Chevron with
perpetrating environmental racism, which he defined as the practice of
siting dangerous plants near poor communities of color.
Anyone who voted in favor of the company would also be guilty, he said.
Chevron officials said the replacement of two “reformers” designed to
raise fuel octane content, along with the refinery’s power plant and its
hydrogen production facility and power plant, won’t increase pollution
from the facility.
The changes, they said, will replace outmoded and inefficient facilities
with modern, less polluting equipment.
Chevron VP Anderson said the result will produce no increase in
greenhouse gases, and that significant emissions of volatile organic
compounds cited in the project’s draft environmental impact report had
been “reduced to insignificance.”
Company officials said concerns raised by audience and board members
that the refinery might be used to process Canadian tar sands were
unfounded, since the plant could only process lighter forms of crude
Sherry Padgett, one of the leaders in the drive to clean up polluted
sites in southeast Richmond, said she was concerned because she hadn’t
heard estimates of how much additional toxic waste might be stockpiled
or buried in the community, and said the documentation before the board
didn’t address multiple breaches of a contaminated pond near the
Asked about her concerns by Smith moments later, Chevron’s O’Hair
dismissed them as “not part of this project” and “not part of Chevron
Board member Bloom said she was distressed at having to vote on a
complex project less than a week after receiving a massive amount of
documentation. She said she had perused one massive volume only to
discover shortly before the meetings that there were two more volumes on
a computer disk affixed to the back of the volume.
One major concern repeatedly raised by board members was the vagueness
of Chevron’s plans and their lack of detail. While some members at first
indicated a desire to spend more time looking through the documentation
and even floated the idea of outright rejection, they accepted the staff
recommendation to add conditions—something they couldn’t do if they
voted against the project.
The design board is slated for abolition, as the result of a contentious
City Council vote.
The next step in the project is a public meeting called by the Bay Area
Air Quality Management District, which will be held starting at 6 p.m.
Feb. 13 meeting at the RRC Social Hall, 3230 MacDonald Ave.
Within city government, the proposal now goes to the Planning
Commission, with a likely appeal to the City Council regardless of which
way the commissioners come down.