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Negotiating With Chevron?

There was an interesting column from Contra Costa Times Political Reporter Lisa Vorderbrueggen in Sunday’s paper about how the mayor and one councilmember perceive their respective roles in anticipating the eventual City Council action on Chevron (everyone presumes that someone will appeal the Planning Commission decision, whatever it may be) :

Two approaches are described, each of which in my opinion, has merit. The one thing I take issue with is dealing in fear of litigation from Chevron. Viramontes is quoted as advocating a legally defensible position, which is, of course, a good thing. On the other hand, she states. “If Chevron takes the city to court and wins, the company will get its permits and the city will get nothing.”

The last time I checked, Chevron doesn’t have a very good track record in litigation with the City of Richmond. Chevron sued over the Point Molate EIR and lost. CBE sued over the Chevron LPG Project and won. See the following:

Personally, I would be more concerned about a lawsuit from CBE or the attorney general than a lawsuit from Chevron.

Contact information for Lisa Vorderbrueggen:


Lisa Vorderbrueggen

Political reporter/columnist

Contra Costa Times/MediaNews

2640 Shadelands Drive, Walnut Creek, CA 94598

925-945-4773 (office)

925-674-5101 (pager)

925-933-0239 (fax)

email: lvorderbrueggen@bayareanewsgroup.com

blog: www.ibabuzz.com/insidepolitics/

Equal passion, disparate styles

CCT Staff

Article Launched: 04/21/2008 10:11:26 AM PDT


The Richmond fracas over a proposed $1 billion Chevron oil refinery upgrade illuminates the disparate styles of the City Council's two most powerful women and offers a window into a prospective 2010 mayoral contest.

Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, elected two yeas ago, refuses to meet privately with Chevron representatives.

It's the city's job to dictate the operating conditions, not capitulate behind closed doors under the weight of corporate domination, she says.

"I'm representing a city of 103,000 people," said McLaughlin, a social justice and environmental activist who protested last month at Chevron's gates. "I'm not here to make deals with multibillion-dollar oil giants."

In contrast, Councilwoman Maria Viramontes, who approaches her duties as an elected representative with equal passion, is immersed in negotiations with all the parties.

Viramontes said she took on the role out of necessity. The city needed someone to help steer the highly charged project toward resolution, she said, and its mayor recoiled from the job.

"Gayle has the right to be an ideologue but if that's what she wants, she should have stayed a councilmember," Viramontes said. "If you're going to be the mayor of Richmond, you have to be the mayor of all of Richmond."

The city's voters elected a council to do a job and that includes negotiating a Chevron deal that protects public health and brings in jobs and tax revenues, Viramontes says.

And it can't do it without doing everything in its power to secure Chevron's cooperation or, in the absence of that, a legally defensible position, she says.

"If Chevron takes the city to court and wins, the company will get its permits and the city will get nothing," Viramontes said.

Richmond is lucky to have two impassioned leaders.

But widely differing opinions abound about the effectiveness of each woman's governing styles. It's a debate almost certain to resurface if they run against each other.

Critics say McLaughlin listens only to supporters and operates from a rigid, philosophical perspective that plays well at rallies but doesn't lend itself to complex public policy decisions.

"Being a philosopher doesn't solve the problems of an urban city," said one West County official. "Like them or not, Chevron is one of the biggest taxpayers in the county. You have to meet with your friends and face your adversaries if you want to solve the bread-and-butter issues of your community."

The mayor's activist stance makes her "irrelevant," said another West County leader. "She's not even in the room."

Activist Sherry Padgett firmly rejects the idea of McLaughlin as immaterial and points to the mayor's support in the vast Bay Area environmental community.

"Gayle represents the grass roots, the everyday citizen," Padgett said. "She gives us a voice in Richmond. She has made great progress in getting these discussions opened to the public."

She's happy to hear that McLaughlin isn't in "the room."

No matter how messy or protracted, Padgett says talks with Chevron should occur in the full view of the public.

"All the work (Viramontes) has done for the public is commendable," she said. "But she says, 'I'm going into this room to talk with these power brokers, and trust me, I will come up with the best deal.'

Perhaps she will. But how do we know? Why her? Why not all of us?"

That debate over governance style is as old as democracy itself but it won't take until 2010 for the Chevron issue to make an impact on the local election scene.

The city Planning Commission is set to vote on the project in June and most expect the decision will be appealed to the City Council. It's unclear when the council would vote.

But in November, five council seats are up for re-election, including those held by John Marquez, Harpreet Sandhu, Tom Butt, Tony Thurmond and Nat Bates.

The board will also shrink from nine to seven members, leaving only three open seats. (The state demanded the cut a few years ago as part of a financial bail-out package.)

The closer the Chevron vote stretches toward the Nov. 5 election, the greater the chance it will become the centerpiece of both the incumbents' campaigns and those of the as-yet-to-declare challengers.

In 2004, 15 people ran for five open council seats. Could Richmond top that figure?