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Media Coverage
Chevron May Lose Privilege
April 17, 1997



Thursday, April 17, 1997
Section: news
Page: A03

RICHMOND For the past 10 years, the city has given its largest business the authority to conduct safety inspections of its own construction and renovation projects. 

That may soon change. 

On a preliminary vote, the City Council has approved a change in city law that would take away Chevron's authority to inspect any renovation, repair or construction at its Richmond refinery. 

Other companies as well as homeowners must open their doors to city inspectors whenever they install new equipment, build an addition or make a structural repair. 

But a 1987 law allowed the city to "deputize" Chevron employees, giving them the authority to conduct inspections and report any violations to the city. 

That amounted to, "the wolf guarding the henhouse," said Councilwoman Donna Powers. 

Councilman Tom Butt, who proposed the changes, agreed. 

"It's a matter where one property owner in the city of Richmond enjoys a privilege that no other property owner has, and that is the privilege of checking its own plans, inspecting its own work and rendering reports to the city of Richmond," Butt said before the vote at Tuesday's meeting. "All this amendment does is put some of that control back into the city." 

A Chevron spokeswoman said she had not seen the amended ordinance and could not respond to its specifics. However, "In general, we would not be opposed to such a thing," said Marielle Boortz. 

Three council members tried to delay action on the ordinance. 

Nat Bates, Richard Griffin and Irma Anderson argued that it should be referred back to the council's economic development committee, which discussed it several months ago. 

That committee should then give the council a formal recommendation, which it did not do before, they said. 

"When you start talking about ordinances and amendments, someone needs to go through this with a fine-toothed comb," Bates said. "I'm not prepared to vote on that tonight." 

Butt said the committee did not forward a recommendation because they did not get the vote of three of its four members to do so. He and others argued that the issue had been discussed enough. 

The council voted 6-3 to approve the ordinance on a first reading, and refer it back to the council's public safety committee for discussion of any changes. 

It will take a second vote to make the changes final. 

Bates, Griffin and Anderson voted no. Supporting the changes were Butt, Powers, Mayor Rosemary Corbin and council members Alex Evans, John Marquez and Lesa McIntosh. 

When they approved the original ordinance in 1987, council members said that the city's own inspectors didn't have the technical expertise to evaluate the refinery. 

Technically, the ordinance does not mention Chevron, but only "the industrial property owner." Chevron officials have argued that others could have taken advantage of it.