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Media Coverage
Hazardous-Materials Order Gets Hearing
May 4, 1996


Saturday, May 4, 1996
Section: news
Page: A03

RICHMOND Three City Council members who have proposed a new hazardous-materials ordinance heard Friday from contractors and industry representatives who said it would hurt business and threaten jobs.

"This ordinance puts in jeopardy the 1,500 jobs in the refinery and the thousands of jobs in the community generated by the refinery. It will shut the refinery down," said James Braden, manager of Chevron's services department.

Union representatives praised the draft measure, saying it would ensure the safety of workers and residents.

"You can look at 100 deaths or 100 jobs," said Greg Feere, business representative for the Contra Costa Building and Construction Trades Council. "What is really more important to the community?"

Both sides shared their reactions to the draft measure at a meeting of the City Council's finance and public safety committee Friday morning at City Hall.

The ordinance is in its preliminary stages, and a number of staff said they had only recently seen copies of it.

If passed by the Planning Commission and City Council, the law would:

*Require that companies handling hazardous wastes or materials get a special permit from the city before doing any construction project, repair or maintenance "turnaround" costing $250,000 or more.

*Apply only to facilities that handle large amounts of hazardous materials.

*Mandate that all steamfitters, pipefitters and welders have a special certification.

*Impose a penalty of up to $25,000 per violation or $25,000 for each day of a continuing violation if a company fails to obtain the required permit.

The new ordinance would repeal a section of city law passed in 1987. The existing measure requires permits for companies handling hazardous materials but contains so many exceptions that it probably has never been applied, some said.

"Cumulatively, it adds up to an ordinance that has really no effect," said Thomas Adams, an attorney for the Building Trades Council, who helped draft the new measure.

The council members who initiated the proposed measure are Nat Bates, Donna Powers, Alex Evans and Tom Butt.

Evans said he wants to protect the health of Richmond residents while ensuring the vitality of local business.

"My concern is, as I see these accidents, I sometimes question whether industry has the ability to ensure the safe operation of that plant," Evans said. "That plant may very well shut itself down as a result of an accident."

The company is as concerned about safety as residents and council members are, Braden said. "Permitting is actually a distraction to us doing our jobs well."

Others seemed primarily concerned about the worker certification requirement.

"I don't think it's a safety issue here today. I believe it's a labor issue," said Craig F. Andersen, an attorney for industrial contractors who work in the Richmond area. He called the certification test a "union exam."

Nonunion workers who came to Friday's meeting said that requiring the certification would be unfair.

"We're already doing a good job," said Rex Hoffman, a nonunion refinery worker at Chevron. Some workers are "really deficient in the ability to read and write, some don't speak English very well. Some grew up in the penal system. We feel this is discriminatory to us."

Of 1,000 refinery workers employed directly by Chevron, about 900 belong to a union, said Marielle Boortz, a government affairs representative.

But in its last major refinery shutdown, the kind of project that would require a permit under the proposed law, Chevron hired some 1,000 temporary nonunion workers.