Chevron claims appeals board member unable to make fair decisions
By Lisa Vorderbrueggen
Contra Costa Times
Posted: 04/15/2011 12:59:07 PM PDT
Updated: 04/15/2011 06:19:46 PM PDT
Chevron has challenged the selection of a former Contra Costa County general counsel to sit in judgment of its property tax appeals that could cost the county, cities and schools millions of dollars.
The oil refiner filed a rare formal objection against Arthur Walenta, alleging that an ex-county attorney who relies on the public agency for his pension and benefits is inherently biased in favor of his former employer.
Walenta is one of three members of the Contra Costa Assessment Appeals Board assigned to hear Chevron's appeal of its 2007-2009 property valuation. He worked for the county from 1963 to 2000, including a 10-year-stint as counsel for the appeals board.
The panel settles property tax valuation disputes between landowners and the assessor's office.
"This is ridiculous," said Supervisor John Gioia, of Richmond, who appointed Walenta as his representative on the appeals board. "It would appear Chevron is trying to cherry-pick who will hear their appeal. Mr. Walenta is a well-qualified individual known for his unimpeachable ethical standards."
The challenge is not intended to "besmirch or be critical of the character or the reputation of Mr. Walenta," said Chevron spokesman Dean O'Hair. "But when you have a long-term relationship with the county counsel and the county, and the counsel is representing the county in this case, it seems like it would be difficult for him to hear the appeal."
Walenta rejected Chevron's allegations in a response filed Thursday, He asserted that his actions on the appeals panel, and any effect on the county's financial footing, have no bearing on his personal finances.
He recently waived the small meeting stipend and travel reimbursements members of the appeals board receive.
The retired county attorney collected nearly $174,000 in county pension payments in 2010. Appeals board decisions would not affect his vested pension benefit.
In Contra Costa, each of the county's five supervisors appoints an appeals panel member. But in 19 California counties, the supervisors hear tax disputes directly.
"If a county's financial situation, and the possible impact of that situation on the personal income of a member, were considered to be a legitimate ground for disqualification of a (board) member, then every supervisor in each of those 19 counties would be subject to the same challenge," Walenta wrote.
One or more other appeals board members will hear Chevron's objection to Walenta and decide about the final composition of the panel soon, according to an Assessment Appeals Board staffer.
The spat flared up in the protracted dispute between Chevron and the county assessor over what constitutes a fair value for the Chevron petroleum refinery in Richmond.
The oil company successfully appealed to the Assessment Appeals Board its 2004-2006 valuation, which triggered a refund of $18 million from the county's property tax beneficiaries including cities, schools, fire, water and other special districts.
Chevron and the county are countersuing the appeals board decision in Superior Court.
And some of the county's cities are contemplating a lawsuit challenging the county's refund allocation methodology, arguing that since they aren't home to the Richmond refinery, they shouldn't have to pay. The state will repay the refunds for school districts under dollar guarantees.
The county has estimated the 2007-2009 appeal could result in the repayment to Chevron of up to $60 million, a bill the county most likely will insist should be shared among all property tax beneficiaries.
For comparison purposes, though, the dollar amount surpasses the county's nearly $50 million deficit next fiscal year, or 3.4 percent of its $1.2 billion budget.
Chevron has also appealed its 2010 assessed valuation, which won't be heard until after the resolution of the 2007-2009 dispute. Hearings could start late this summer or early fall.
The refinery and the county could also settle the dispute before it goes to the Appeals Board.
"We know the county and other local agencies face difficult financial challenges," O'Hair said. But the company's position is that Contra Costa's assessment was higher than it should be and Chevron has a right to appeal just like any other property owner.
Many homeowners and businesses, including MediaNews, the parent company of the Contra Costa Times and the Bay Area News Group, are seeking reductions in their assessments which would reduce their property taxes.
Assessor Gus Kramer described Chevron's appeal as much deeper than that of a typical homeowner or business.
"Chevron wants the refinery, which is valued at between $2.5 billion to $3.5 billion, depending on who you talk to, to be lowered to less than $1 billion," Kramer said. "They are asking for significant reduction."
Contact Lisa Vorderbrueggen at 925-945-4773, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.ibabuzz.com/politics or at Twitter.com/lvorderbrueggen.
Chevron CEO made $14 million in 2010
By CHRIS KAHN AP Energy Writer
Posted: 04/14/2011 01:46:25 PM PDT
Updated: 04/14/2011 01:53:44 PM PDT
NEW YORK—Chevron Corp.'s top executive was paid $14 million last year, according to an Associated Press analysis.
John Watson, 54, who was promoted to CEO and chairman of the board last year, received $7.2 million in 2009 when he served as vice chairman.
The increase in compensation came mostly from a 150 percent jump in a performance-based cash bonus to $3 million, and from stock options worth $5.5 million, up from $2.6 million in 2009. Watson also received a 56 percent salary increase to $1.47 million and a 57 percent increase in stock awards worth $3.8 million, according to an SEC filing on Thursday.
Watson was granted $220,496 in perks such as contributions to an employee savings plan, financial counseling and use of company aircraft.
The compensation is below that of Watson's predecessor, David J. O'Reilly, who was paid $15.2 million in 2009. It's also less than the $21.5 million that Exxon Mobil Corp. Rex Tillerson made in 2010.
Chevron, based in San Ramon, Calif., is the second-largest petroleum company in the U.S. behind Exxon Mobil Corp. In Watson's first year at the top, Chevron nearly doubled company earnings to $19.1 billion and boosted its stock value 19 percent.
The Associated Press formula calculates an executive's total compensation during the last fiscal year by adding salary, bonuses, perks, above-market interest the company pays on deferred compensation and the estimated value of stock and stock options awarded during the year. The AP formula does not count changes in the present value of pension benefits. That makes the AP total slightly different in most cases from the total reported by companies to the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The value that a company assigned to an executive's stock and option awards for 2010 was the present value of what the company expected the awards to be worth to the executive over time. Companies use one of several formulas to calculate that value. However, the number is just an estimate, and what an executive ultimately receives will depend on the performance of the company's stock in the years after the awards are granted. Most stock compensation programs require an executive to wait a specified amount of time to receive shares or to exercise options
Chevron expects higher 1Q profit compared with 4Q
The Associated Press
Posted: 04/11/2011 03:46:52 PM PDT
Updated: 04/11/2011 03:47:46 PM PDT
SAN RAMON, Calif.—Chevron Corp. on Monday said it expects to post a higher first-quarter profit than it reported for last year's fourth quarter, due in part to rising oil prices.
Chevron did not offer a specific profit forecast in advance of its quarterly report on April 29.
The company said the outlook for its exploration and production arm has been improved by the rise in oil prices, which have soared more than 30 percent since mid-February as traders worry political violence in the Middle East and North Africa could disrupt crude supplies.
Chevron got $88.23 per barrel for crude oil during January and February, up almost 11 percent from its fourth-quarter average of $79.56, and up 20 percent from the first quarter of 2010. Natural gas prices are also higher than they were in the fourth quarter, although they have fallen from first quarter 2010 levels.
However, Chevron said it expects a "slightly lower" first-quarter profit at the portion of its business that includes oil refining, compared with the fourth quarter. The company cited reduced gains from asset sales, largely offset by higher U.S. profit margins.
The projections are based on the first two months of the first quarter, Chevron said.
Analysts surveyed by FactSet expect Chevron to post a first-quarter profit of $2.86 per share, on average.
Chevron updated its first-quarter expectations after its shares fell $1.88, or 1.7 percent, to close at $107.78. In after-hours trading, the stock fell a further 28 cents