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McLaughlin and Butt Fire Back

The following appeared in today’s West County Times:

Reader's Forum: Dissenting view on Chevron refinery vote

From the community

Gayle McLaughlin and Tom Butt
Guest commentary

Article Launched: 07/25/2008 11:04:03 PM PDT

NOT SINCE 1994 when another billion dollar Chevron project was up for approval, has the Richmond City Council rolled over so completely as it did on July 16 when a five-person majority (Maria Viramontes, Nathaniel Bates, Ludmyrna Lopez, John E. Marquez and Harpeet Sandhu) certified a fatally flawed EIR, gutted essential conditions from a use permit and adopted a "Community Benefits Agreement" — all these actions leaving stunned Richmond residents asking "Who is representing us?"

Like the previous Planning Commission hearing, Chevron tried to pack the house of the City Council meeting with its shills by prepping, feeding and T-shirting union members and staff of Chevron-funded charities. This time, speakers for Chevron and the community were alternated, denying Chevron the opportunity to hog the first few hours of testimony. With perhaps a single exception, all speakers supporting Chevron were directly or indirectly on the Chevron payroll, but they were still outnumbered three to one by community members asking for clear controls on pollution and for environmental justice.

What made this post-2 a.m. decision by the majority so appalling is that it had all been worked out ahead of time in detail behind closed doors with Chevron officials, lobbyists and key city staff.

After a few perfunctory questions by each of the five, the pre-arranged motions were read by Viramontes, and votes followed in rapid succession.

Much of the EIR and Conditional Use Permit (CUP) discussion involved highly technical arguments about building the capacity for pollution-intensive refining operations, and it's perhaps too easy to chalk this up as simply difference of opinions among experts. But when the majority and the special consultant hired by the city manager in April categorically supported opinions favoring Chevron, while rejecting wholesale the opinions of the experts representing a half-dozen community groups, it was a sign that something suspicious, if not pernicious, was going on. The Times was right in calling for an end to the "secret oil deal."

From the beginning, Chevron maintained that it could not and would not process heavier (dirtier) crude oils after the project's plant modifications were in place. But faced with a report to shareholders that it was, in fact, designing modifications to the Richmond Refinery specifically to process heaver crudes, Chevron spokespersons launched into a lengthy explanation of how the uncertainty of future world oil markets required them to build in flexibility. The community's valid insistence on re-circulation of the EIR due to this failure to disclose health and environmental impacts of refining heavier crude, supported by extensive and well-documented research findings, was ignored by the majority.

The community groups also insisted that a cap on oil quality refined in Richmond is a necessary preventive measure to protect the health of residents in neighborhoods already overburdened with toxic impacts of heavy industry.

The crude cap also would send a strong message to Chevron that it's time to begin in earnest the inevitable transition from fossil fuel processing to renewable energy production, which all global warming experts tell us is necessary for our survival. All of this fell on deaf ears.

The final insult was the Community Services Agreement, characterized as a $61 million gift to Richmond, an amount remarkably similar to the $60 million property tax refund Chevron is still fighting for with the Contra Costa Assessment Appeals Board (Times, Nov. 29). The tax refund, if sustained, would require Richmond to pay back millions of dollars long since spent. Said Chevron's Dean O'Hair, quoted by the Times, "Local agencies got money they shouldn't have received."

The Community Benefits Agreement was negotiated between members of the council majority and Chevron and sprung on a few other surprised City Council members minutes before the July 15 hearing.

No public input or even public comment was allowed. Although gigantic flaws in the agreement came to light under questioning by other council members, the majority shut their ears and soldiered on to adoption.

Examples of egregious provisions are as follows:

·  $14.6 million for "Alternative Energy Funding" is in fact a simple business venture by Chevron. Chevron will spend this amount for renewable energy projects producing electricity it intends to sell to the city, retaining greenhouse gas offsets and tax credits for itself.

·  $6 million for "Environmental Benefits" will not come to the city at all. The "Environmental Benefits" are in fact watered-down versions of legitimate mitigations removed by the council majority from the conditional use permit. The money would be used by Chevron to pay for things like tank domes to reduce VOCs and ground level air monitoring, which the original CUP would have required anyway.

·  $5 million for the Bay Trail will not come to the city either. In the majority's version, $3 million of it is Chevron's grossly overestimated value of a small piece of land for a trail easement, and $2 million is for security upgrades along the trail to benefit Chevron, not the city. There is no money for the original CUP requirement for Chevron to donate right of way and pay for construction of a Bay Trail connection to the Point San Pablo Peninsula, replacing a dangerous bike route along I-580 that resulted in one death and one serious injury two years ago.

Stripped of all its scams, the Community Benefits Agreement is worth maybe $6 million, about the same amount Chevron used to buy off the City Council in 1994, not adjusted for inflation, which would make it even worse.

Richmond has been taken to the cleaners by this secret deal which sacrifices our health, environmental justice and democratic processes for a few paltry million dollars.

The majority have subverted all the practices of good government in favor of secrecy, irrationality, arrogance and self-righteousness. With their naivety and inexperience, they tried to play with the big dogs but were way over their heads. Ultimately, they embarrassed themselves and sold out the people they are supposed to represent. The numerous community members still present when the 2 a.m. votes were taken loudly voiced their disgust with this brazen display of corrupt politics.

Three of the majority are up for re-election this November when the City Council shrinks to seven members, and there is an opportunity for Richmond voters to rid themselves of this majority that continues to position themselves with Big Oil, big business, big industry and big developers and operate in secrecy to support flawed and irrational policies against the best interests of Richmond.

McLaughlin is mayor of Richmond and Butt is a member of the Richmond City Council.

Contra Costa Times July 25 letters

Letters from our readers

Article Launched: 07/24/2008 11:02:17 PM PDT

As the Times reported on July 18, "Chevron refinery plan approved," a narrow Richmond City Council majority approved Chevron's plans for expanding its Richmond refinery.

The council had the opportunity — indeed, the obligation — to ensure the project not proceed without important public health and environmental safeguards in place, to be negotiated in a public and transparent process.

However, the council majority (Maria Viramontes, Nat Bates, John Marquez, Ludmyrna Lopez, and Harpreet Sandhu) betrayed the communities they were elected to represent.

Ardent concerns expressed by Richmond families, neighborhood groups, environmentalists and even State Attorney General Jerry Brown fell on deaf ears.

Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and council members Tom Butt, Tony Thurmond and Jim Rogers displayed integrity and courage to insist that Chevron act responsibly in its expansion plans.

A distant light shines in the darkness of this disgraceful decision. In November, if Bates, Marquez, and Sandhu have the gall to ask voters to return them to the council, Richmond voters have a golden opportunity to restore democracy, decency and accountability by saying "never again" to them.

Kay Wallis