Chevron mum on plans for competing Richmond ballot measure
By Katherine Tam
Contra Costa Times
Posted: 03/31/2010 12:37:42 PM PDT
Updated: 03/31/2010 05:43:54 PM PDT
Some fear competing measures will confuse voters, snuffing out both. Supporters of the city's measure are gearing up for a tough election season.
"None of us thought Chevron was going to sit around and give it up without a fight," City Councilman Jim Rogers said. "They have the legal right to attempt to confuse voters and we have the legal right to attempt to educate the voters."
Councilman Tom Butt received a call from refinery manager Mike Coyle saying that Chevron is mounting an effort to place its own measure on the November ballot to neutralize the city's measure, Butt said. He said Coyle did not give other details.
Refinery representatives declined to discuss the matter.
"Unless there's an initiative that's been filed, there's not really anything I can say about it," spokesman Brent Tippen said. And no initiative has been filed, he added.
Under the city's utility tax measure, voters will decide whether to limit residents and businesses to one method, instead of two, for figuring out how much they owe. They would continue to determine payments by calculating 10 percent of the amount charged for utilities, but the proposed measure eliminates an alternate flat-rate formula that is allowed under 1983 law.
Most utility users don't use the flat-rate method, which results in an approximately $14 million bill.
The Chevron refinery used the flat-rate method up until 2006, when it started using the 10 percent formula. City officials noticed Chevron's payments were $4 million a year less than before. Unsure which figures were correct, the city hired a law firm to obtain and analyze the refinery's data and verify whether its payments were accurate between 2006 and 2008. The confidential audit resulted in a settlement last year in which Chevron agreed to pay the city $28 million.
Some estimate the ballot measure could generate at least $10 million more a year.
A portion of that money could potentially go to local schools. Rogers and volunteers are collecting signatures to qualify an advisory measure for the November ballot that would funnel $1.5 million a year of that revenue toward three under-enrolled neighborhood schools to stave off closure.
Chevron has argued that the city's utility tax measure, which also would expand the definition of utility services to include gas used or consumed to produce energy or for other purposes, would hurt its ability to compete.
The refinery pays more in taxes, licenses and fees than competitor facilities, Tippen has said.
Information about Chevron's counter-initiative has been scant.
"I cannot remember a ballot initiative — local, state or national — where the originators were so embarrassed about it that they won't talk about it," Butt said.
Katherine Tam covers Richmond. Follow her at Twitter.com/katherinetam.