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Media Coverage
Union Drops Bid For Richmond Ordinance
May 30, 1996


Thursday, May 30, 1996
Section: news
Page: A03

RICHMOND A union group promoting a new hazardous materials ordinance in Richmond has abruptly withdrawn the proposal from consideration by the City Council.

The Contra Costa Building Trades Council faxed a letter to council members Tuesday saying it understood that two council members would be disqualified from voting on the ordinance.

To pursue the "critical public safety protection afforded by this ordinance," the union group will instead try to collect enough signatures to put it on the ballot, said the letter from Greg Feere, chief executive officer of the Building Trades Council.

Though the letter doesn't specify, Building Trades Council attorney Tom Adams said Wednesday that his group believed the disqualified members would be Donna Powers and Tom Butt, two of the ordinance's main supporters.

But according to a written ruling by a state watchdog group, only Butt would be disqualified.

City Attorney Malcolm Hunter told the council Tuesday that the state Fair Political Practices Commission determined Butt would have a conflict of interest but Powers and Evans would not. Hunter had requested a formal opinion on the matter.

Butt's disqualification is based on the fact that he owns more than $1,000 in Chevron stock.

He could not participate in any decision "that would have a foreseeable and material financial effect on the business in which he has the investment," wrote commission attorney Steven G. Churchwell.

The proposed ordinance would require city permits for companies that handle hazardous waste or materials whenever they undertake a construction project costing $250,000 or more.

It would also require steamfitters working at such plants to have a certification usually attained only by union members.

The proposal drew a storm of criticism from plant managers, non-union contractors and non-union workers.

Chevron officials have strongly opposed the ordinance, saying it could shut down the Richmond oil refinery.

Hunter had told the FPPC that Powers' husband, Tom Powers, worked for the Building Trades Council in a voter registration drive last year, but was not working directly on the ordinance a point disputed by the union group's Feere.

"Nothing in your facts indicate that Mr. Powers' business will be materially affected by the decision," the letter said. "The services he provided to the union are unrelated to the ordinance in question. Thus, no conflict of interest would exist based on the council member's interest in her spouse's business."

Evans worked for Powers in the same voter registration project, and so worked indirectly for the union, the letter said. He would not be able to vote on anything that had a "material financial effect on Mr. Powers' business," but that seems not to be the case in this instance, according to the ruling.

The union might try to get the ordinance on the ballot in Richmond as early as November, Adams said.

But City Clerk Eula Barnes said the group probably would not have enough time.

The council would have to vote prior to its mid-July recess to hold a special election, since elections for Richmond candidates and measures are scheduled only in odd-numbered years.

And the promoters of the ordinance would have to collect 4,800 signatures from registered voters in time for the city clerk to send them to the County Elections Office by Aug. 9.