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Media Coverage
Time To Level Inspections
May 2, 1997


Friday, May 2, 1997
Section: Opinion
Page: A13
Column: Editorials 

A short delay for further study of minor changes should not hold back the Richmond City Council from passing an ordinance to reassume responsibility for inspections at Chevron. A final vote is scheduled for May 13. The measure should pass. 

The time is right. Chevron is not presently embroiled in any major public controversy involving safety or how the refinery is running its business. 

The aim of the measure is right. It will do two things in this respect. First, it will return a responsibility for this sole exception to the city where it belongs. Second, it will remove even the appearance of favoritism if, indeed, not the reality so that all property owners are treated the same. 

Last month, the council voted 6-3 to approve the ordinance, then referred it back to the public safety committee for discussion of any changes. The measure was supposed to come up for a final vote Tuesday night, but was delayed until May 13 for further study. Fair enough, but any changes should be minor. As drafted and approved by a majority, the ordinance fairly addresses an imbalance put succinctly by Councilman Tom Butt, who proposed the change: 

"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. All this amendment does is put some of that control back into the city." 

No one should object to this restoration of equal treatment. Chevron doesn't. "In general, we would not be opposed to such a thing," said Marielle Boortz, speaking for the refinery. 

For reasons that seemed reasonable at the time, the Richmond City Council passed a law in 1987 permitting Chevron to "deputize" one of its own employees to conduct inspections and report any violations to the city. Council members at the time said the city's own inspectors didn't have the technical expertise to evaluate the refinery. Actually, the transfer of inspection authority 10 years ago did not mention Chevron by name. It referred as does the amendment now awaiting a vote only to "the industrial property owner." Chevron officials have argued that others could have taken advantage of the exception. 

Have the city's inspectors now improved their expertise to the point they can now take over the job? Doesn't matter. The amended ordinance says a city building official shall contract with a qualified individual to act as a deputy inspector to manage the "Certified Inspection Program" for the property owner. 

Fine. But won't the cost of the safety contractor be an added expense for the city? 

No. The cost of the deputy inspector will be reimbursed to the city by the industrial property owner in this case, Chevron. The refinery, of course, now pays for its in-house inspections. 

As now written, the new arrangement requires the industrial property owner (Chevron) to come up with an agreement, acceptable to the city attorney, which indemnifies and holds the city harmless from any claims arising from any work performed under the certified inspection program. 

This amended ordinance, essentially, is a repair job of an older arrangement that had begun to look too cozy. It is not and the point needs to be emphasized taking back from Chevron a privilege it had abused. With that in mind, and for the sake of fairness to all, now is the time to recall a principle on which this nation is founded and its corollary: Equal protection of the law carries with it equal treatment.