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Contra Costa Times Skewers Viramontes Five For Chevron Agreement

Perhaps with a fatal case of buyer’s remorse for the highly criticized 11th hour secret deal made with Chevron, City Council candidate for re-election John Marquez felt compelled to mass-mail an explanatory letter (click here for a copy) to Richmond residents defending his approval of the Chevron Energy and Hydrogen Renewal Project EIR, Conditional Use Permit and Community Benefit Agreement (CBA).

Marquez, Bates and Sandhu, the trio of Viramontes Five who are up for re-election must have been convinced by Chevron, and their leader Viramontes, that they would be welcomed as heroes by appreciative Richmond residents. What were they thinking?

Regarding the agreement, the Contra Costa Times wrote, “…some City Council members — especially Maria Viramontes and John Marquez — should be ashamed of their secret dealing with the company.”

Marquez, in both his mass-mailed letter and in emails to people criticizing his votes, has pointed out the various benefits to the community from the CBA , but the Contra Costa Times correctly points out that, “Community fund installment payments are conditioned on timely approvals of the expansion project, and legal challenges to the project would endanger the community funding. This is hardly an altruistic contribution — it's a payoff,” and, “…the proposed amounts aren't enough to build and maintain the Bay Trail or to sustain services long-term. Others carry no benefits to the city, and funding for an alternative energy project that Chevron would sell to the city under one scenario is nothing more than a business venture.”

The Bay Trail will not receive $5 million to provide access to Pt. Molate.  Rather, Chevron will make a small land easement available, which they grossly overestimate to be a $3 million value, and Chevron will allegedly spend $2 million in security upgrades for their own benefit.

Nothing in the Chevron CUP mentions anything whatsoever about light crude being capped at 28 API, or Chevron agreeing to cancel their Federal and State Permits that allowed them to process the dirtiest crude available.  There is no mention at all about any restrictions on any parameters of oil quality entering the refining process.  One piece of equipment (SDA) will have a slightly reduced capacity, but there are ways Chevron can use this and other equipment to start refining heavier crude.

Marquez is working like a beaver trying to dig himself out from under this huge mistake in judgment just two and a half months from election day, but like a modern day Sisyphus, the hole seems to keep falling back in on him.

Copied below are the following documents:

  1. “Try Community Input,” West County Times editorial, August 22, 2008
  2. “Council Members Helped Craft Chevron Agreement, West County Times, August 18, 2008
  3. John Marquez response to email from Jeanne Kortz

Incidentally, Earth Justice has sent a demand letter (click here) to the City of Richmond stating, “Pursuant to Government Code section 54960.1, APEN and CBE demand that the City Council cure its [Brown Act] violation by voiding its approval of the “Community Benefits Agreement.” If the City Council does not remedy this violation of the Brown Act within 30 days, APEN and CBE will commence a suit in court to remedy the violation.”

Try community input

MediaNews editorial

Article Launched: 08/21/2008 11:02:07 PM PDT

WE ARE PLEASED that Chevron is making a major financial contribution to the Richmond community where it operates the Bay Area's largest refinery. But the way the company struck it's $61.6 million community benefits deal smells — and the stink is coming from both sides of the table.

On the same July night that the City Council approved Chevron's controversial proposal to modify its plant to enable refining of crude oil with higher sulfur content, it also approved the "Richmond Community Benefits Agreement." While the city could not legally extract money from the company as a condition of approval, there is little doubt that both sides see the contribution as a quid pro quo.

On Chevron's side, it ties its contributions to the issuance of specific permits for its project. Community fund installment payments are conditioned on timely approvals of the expansion project, and legal challenges to the project would endanger the community funding. This is hardly an altruistic contribution — it's a payoff.

On Richmond's side, some City Council members — especially Maria Viramontes and John Marquez — should be ashamed of their secret dealing with the company. As Times reporter Katherine Tam reported last week, they bypassed their city staff and negotiated details of the community agreement directly with the company. The public and city staff only saw the final document the night that the council approved it along with the refinery improvements. Such an important deal should have been exposed to the full sunshine of public review.

Then there's the issue of spending oversight. Some $10 million of the money is to go toward a fund to benefit nonprofits and community groups. An advisory board overseeing that fund is to consist of two members appointed by Chevron and three current or former members of the City Council. Those five are to then appoint two members from the community. Quicker than you could say "political opportunity," the council majority appointed three of its members who backed the Chevron deal — Nat Bates, Ludmyrna Lopez and Harpreet Sandhu — to serve on the committee. Bates and Sandhu are up for re-election in November. Critics rightly complained: Officials running for re-election should not be doling out funding to the same sorts of groups from which they will be seeking support.

From a macro level, the community benefits agreement directs money to worthy causes: $6.8 million for job training and placement, $11.3 million for public safety, $6 million to Brookside Health Clinic, $10 million in financial aid to area nonprofit groups, $5 million for the Bay Trail, $14.6 million for alternative energy projects and $5 million for other environmental mitigations.

But as Councilman Tom Butt and Mayor Gayle McLaughlin have noted, the proposed amounts aren't enough to build and maintain the Bay Trail or to sustain services long-term. Others carry no benefits to the city, and funding for an alternative energy project that Chevron would sell to the city under one scenario is nothing more than a business venture.

This could have — and should have — been a model for community support. Perhaps community input would have helped.

Council members helped craft Chevron agreement

By Katherine Tam
West County Times

Article Launched: 08/18/2008 11:37:02 AM PDT

Several Richmond council members were heavily involved in negotiating a deal for Chevron Corp. to give the city $61.6 million for police, job training and other programs — a deal that the council approved July 17 along with the oil giant's highly contentious plan to modify its refinery.

They talked to Chevron about what programs ought to be funded in a "community benefits agreement" and how much money would be appropriated.

Council members John Marquez and Maria Viramontes received a copy of the nearly completed agreement two days before the full council and the public got a glimpse, according to records obtained by the Times.

Accusations have circulated widely about the deal's genesis after a council majority approved the agreement — and Chevron's project, which had been the subject of months of heated public debate.

Supporters embraced the deal as critical revenue for the city, while opponents — who claim Chevron's refinery project will increase pollution — lambasted it as a "sellout."

Chevron wasn't required to fund city programs as part of its application to replace decades-old equipment, Viramontes said, and making such an agreement a provision of the permit would have opened the city up to a possible lawsuit. So officials asked the company to give money voluntarily, a request they said had to be carefully negotiated.

"It's hard to have a conversation about a community benefits agreement when legally you cannot demand it of them," Viramontes said. "It was challenging for council members to even have a meeting to talk about it with Chevron."

Councilman Tom Butt, Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and some residents believe a majority of the council crafted an agreement without the rest of the council or the public until the council began its two-day decision-making hearing on Chevron's project July 15. That day, Chevron presented a signed nine-year agreement to the city.

"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," Butt and McLaughlin wrote in a joint statement.

A meeting of five council members constitutes a quorum and violates California's open meetings law if public notice is not given.

Marquez, Viramontes and council members Nat Bates, Ludmyrna Lopez and Jim Rogers, who all voted yes on the agreement, said they never held such a meeting. Harpreet Sandhu, the sixth council member who approved the agreement, could not be reached for comment.

A Times review of city records, including council members' e-mails, obtained through a public records request, did not find documentation showing a council majority met together to develop the Chevron agreement. Under the request, council members were to provide documents on this issue including e-mails from private accounts.

But records clearly show a few council members played substantially larger roles than others in the negotiations. Chevron consultant Tom Powers e-mailed Viramontes and Marquez copies of the nearly completed agreement July 13, two days before the council's hearing.

Other council members, including some who voted for it, said they did not see the agreement until the day of the hearing. Lopez said she saw a draft in the weeks preceding the hearing but could not remember if it came from Chevron or the city.

Chevron sent a copy of the nearly finalized agreement to Marquez and Viramontes because those were the two with whom the company had the most conversations, said refinery spokesman Dean O'Hair. Chevron wanted to see if the two were on board, as a gauge for whether the full council might accept it, he said.

The idea of striking a community benefits agreement took root more than a year ago while Chevron's project was under review. Officials wanted Chevron to invest more in Richmond to help lower its homicide, unemployment and poverty rates.

City Manager Bill Lindsay and his staff met with Chevron multiple times. By late 2007, crime reduction, job training, solar energy projects and other programs were listed for funding, according to the documents reviewed by the Times. Dollar figures surfaced earlier this year, coming in at $40 million in March and $49.4 million in late June, records show.

The depth of individual council member discussions with Chevron varied. For example, Bates said he talked to Chevron about funding for police, health care, environmental benefits and community groups.

"The city manager can negotiate, but we (council members) had a different formula and approach of where we wanted to go," Bates said. "When you come in for permission for a permit, it's not contingent upon how much money you give to the city. We wanted to squeeze out as much as we could. I think citizens are going to recognize that agreement was a good agreement."

Others, including Rogers, McLaughlin and Councilman Tony Thurmond, played smaller roles, either having limited conversations or none at all.

McLaughlin, who did not speak to Chevron, objects to the deal and said the city should require that Chevron invest in the community through fees. Discussion of such a community benefits agreement should have come up only if Chevron's project were approved, and a committee of residents should have given input, she added.

"It totally locked out the public process. The whole process was done in a backward way," McLaughlin said.

Chevron had conversations with council members one-on-one or in pairs; the most would have been three council members, O'Hair recalled. These included sit-down discussions and less-formal conversations, and the dollar amounts in the final agreement came from the input Chevron received, he said.

A city draft circulated in early July. Lindsay e-mailed Butt the city's draft July 2 and Viramontes on July 3. The deal totaled $49.4 million then and was structured differently. Bates, McLaughlin, Rogers and Thurmond said they did not see the city draft.

At one point, county health officials and Supervisor John Gioia weighed in, offering guidelines to the city for a Chevron-funded health program that would serve Richmond's poor.

Reach Katherine Tam at 510-262-2787 or ktam@bayareanewsgroup.com.

Kortz Email and Marquez Response

Dear Ms Kortz:

This past year, I heard from non-profit organizations requesting financial help from the City to provide services to the residents in the Iron Triangle and other low income parts of the City. They were told the City did not have enough resources to provide help.

I also heard from residents about their need for jobs, temporary or otherwise; they want jobs and training for these jobs.

I also heard the need for more public safety personnel and crime prevention services. By voting for the Chevron Hydrogen Renewal Project, I met the needs of those most impacted residents.

By the way, Friends of John Marquez has been the name of my campaign committee for many years. Furthermore, I did meet with the State Attorney General and he never mentioned to me his wishes for a new EIR. That was a rumor started by opponents of the project to intimidate the supporters. If you read the Conditional Use Permit (CUP) and the Community Benefits Agreement (CBA), you will find that the Bay Trail will receive $5 million dollars to provide access to Pt. Molate; and that Light Crude was indeed capped at 28 API which is the lowest point of light crude. In return for that Cap, Chevron agreed to cancel their Federal and State Permits that allowed them to process the dirtiest crude available. As we know, those permits would supercede any local controls or caps. Also, review of the CUP will reveal that greenhouse gases must be reduced to zero, 50% at the refinery. Violation of any part of the CUP is cause for revocation proceedings.

Finally, my letter was not intended to be an apologetic message or to insult the intelligence of anyone. it was intended to provide factual information that can be substantiated by reading the CUP and the CBA, instead of relying on E-Forums or newspapers. Thank you for your time.

John E. Marquez
Vice Mayor, City of Richmond

-----Original Message-----
From: Jeanne Kortz <sportif@earthlink.net>
To: johnemarquez@aol.com <johnemarquez@aol.com>
Sent: Sun, 17 Aug 2008 1:59 pm
Subject: Nice Try

Dear Vice-Mayor Marquez,
I received your "Paid for by the Friends of John Marquez" message. I have to 
tell you that I am so upset that you voted in favor of the Chevron Hydrogen 
Renewal Project. You can't tell me that Chevron is not going to use heavier 
crude oil and that it is not going to cause more pollution. 
If you did meet with Attorney General Brown, who wanted a new EIR, why did you 
vote in favor of Chevron before a new EIR report was issued? What happened to 
the Bay Trail access to Pt. Molate plan? Why was this thrown out? The jobs that 
will be created by this project are temporary jobs. Why were all the terms and 
conditions for Community Benefits done in secret? 
I don't trust you or the others who voted for the Chevron Hydrogen Renewal 
Project. Of course, Chevron should update their infrastructure, but not to 
refine dirtier crude oil. In fact, Chevron should be working on alternative 
energy sources (they claim they are working on alternative energy sources in 
their "greenwashing" propaganda, but we all know this is just a tiny percentage 
of their production). Oil and the internal combustion engine are ancient 
technologies, and we can't rely on it any longer.
Chevron has made record profits to the tune of it being obscene! Why is it that 
Chevron cannot give more money back to the City that they take gross advandtage 
of? This City could be so great if it were not for the stinginess of Chevron, 
and the rolling over like lap dogs of politicians like you.
I do hope to the powers that be that you and your cohorts do not get voted back 
into office for next term. I will certainly make sure of this by telling all 
those who vote in Richmond not to vote for you or the others that voted in favor 
of Chevron.
Shame on you for insulting the intelligence of the people of Richmond by sending 
out your apologetic message.
Jeanne Kortz
116 Bayside Court
Richmond, CA 94804