Steve Early Reports from Torrance

In case you missed it, check out this thoughtful piece by Steve Early which appeared in Counterpunch. Steve was in Torrance, CA last month to speak at 350-person rally organized by Torrance Refinery Action on the third anniversary of a giant explosion at Exxon Mobil’s facility there. People were eager to hear about how Richmond is working to hold Chevron accountable for its pollution. His piece reflects on the continuing struggle to implement a just transition that provides both a cleaner, safer environment and keeps workers whole.

Refinery Safety Campaign Frays Blue-Green Alliance

A Report From Torrance

Nothing ignites a local environmental justice campaign more quickly, in California, than a refinery fire or explosion affecting down-wind neighbors. Three years ago, an Exxon-Mobil facility was rocked by a huge explosion in Torrance, a city of 145,000 just south of Los Angeles.

According to a Justice Department lawsuit, the blast catapulted a 40-ton piece of equipment perilously close to a tank containing 50,000 pounds of hydrofluoric acid, a highly toxic and volatile chemical, used, with additives, in only two California refineries. If released in the air in large enough quantity, Modified Hydrofluoric Acid (MHF) can form a ground-hugging cloud, able to drift for miles. Anyone exposed to it would suffer choking, searing of the eyes and lungs, internal organ damage or possible death.

When the U.S. Chemical Safety Board tried to investigate this “serious near miss,” Exxon-Mobil balked at supplying data on cost-cutting measures that may have contributed to the accident or the health impact of showering Torrance residents with so much chemical ash. Some citizens filed a private lawsuit citing “numerous fires, leaks, explosions, and other releases of dangerous pollutants” in “an outdated refinery” located “in a densely populated area.” State regulators issued 19 citations against the company and assessed fines of $565,000 for its February, 2015 explosion.

Meanwhile, the narrowly avoided release of a hazardous chemical led to formation of the Torrance Refinery Action Alliance. With growing local and regional support, the TRAA seeks to eliminate MHF use, in any form, at the Torrance refinery, now owned by BPF Energy, and a Valero refinery in Wilmington, CA.

To continue reading click here.

News from Gayle for California

Many of you have already heard the story: A couple of weeks ago, Gayle went to Martinez to officially turn in all the filing paperwork for her candidacy for California Lt. Governor. When she arrived, the clerk asked Gayle where her check was, assuming that like all other candidates in this race she was just going to pay to get on the ballot. Gayle smiled and reminded the clerk that her supporters turned in over 14,000 signatures in lieu of the filing fee, something that shocked the clerk until they got confirmation from the Secretary of State’s Office.

Then there was more good news: at the recent California Democratic Convention in San Diego, many corporate-free progressive Democrats voted to block an endorsement of the big money candidates. Although Gayle is running as an independent and therefore not looking to be the Democratic candidate for Lt. Governor, what was telling was that there was not enough support for any of her Democratic opponents to win. Similarly, the Dems were not able to coalesce around a choice for Attorney General or Senator (Feinstein: you are officially on notice!)

Next up: statewide outreach driven by volunteers. This Wednesday, you are invited to come to the Bobby Bowens Progressive Center between 5:30-8:30PM for a text bank for Gayle McLaughlin's campaign for Lt. Governor.  RSVP here to attend.  There will be a phone bank on Wednesday, 3/14 at the same time.  RSVP here to attend that one. If you can't make either, visit Gayle's website and scroll down under Volunteer to see all the options to host or attend events.  

Still Stinky: West County Landfill

Remember that huge problem with Republic Services’ West County landfill and composting facility? In early 2017 Republic got a cease and desist order from Contra Costa County health officials after the City and County received some 400 calls in 2016 about foul smells emanating from the site. People reported nausea, headaches and throat irritations, and when county health officials visited the site, they saw seven fires burning. It turned out that Republic Services was not only grossly mishandling the waste, but they were handling 350,000 tons of materials when they were only permitted for 1/10 that amount.

The facility has been under intense scrutiny by various agencies, including the California Water Board (which found the facility was endangering water quality) and the CCC Solid Waste Authority. The latest development is that a new report commissioned by the Solid Waste Authority found that the problems are continuing into 2018. The facility continues to process far too much waste than their permits allow, which contributes to dangerously elevated temperatures in the compost piles and ponded water. To date, the composting facility has been noticed 103 times for standard violations and noticed with 7 areas of concern.

Richmond deserves better!

Deportation Hotline Up and Running

Just as ICE was in the middle of last week’s 4-day raid in the Bay Area, in which over 230 people were arrested, Contra Costa County launched its rapid-response deportation defense initiative. 

One of the centerpieces of this program is a free hotline which can be accessed 24 hours per day. People can call the hotline to report ICE activity, or if someone they know has been detained by ICE. Dispatchers will be on call to verify raids or dispel rumors, provide legal observation and accompaniment to family members left behind, work with family to gather information to support legal defense due process services and coordinate with assigned attorneys for individuals in bond and removal proceedings.

The hotline comes from Stand Together Contra Costa, a coalition effort with the County to ensure that all families, regardless of immigration status, are afforded the due-process rights established by the U.S. Constitution. The program was approved by the Board of Supervisors last year in response to the growing hate and discrimination toward immigrant families. 

The free, 24-hour hotline number is: 925-900-5151

The program's website,, provides services in 10 different languages.  Please share these resources with those you think may need assistance.

Other free services provided by Stand Together Contra Costa include legal help, trainings, and workshops.  Those interested in being trained as a legal observer can attend Stand Together’s training tonight, March 6 from 6:30 – 9pm at Catholic Charities of the East Bay – Family Services Center (3540 Chestnut Ave, Concord).

We Need You

2018 is off to an inspiring start: here in Richmond we are resisting the pernicious spread of charters and defending our neighborhood public schools. In January we became the latest city to sue oil majors such as Chevron for the local climate impacts they are causing. And although our residents are suffering from coal dust, we are fighting back.

Our work is done through the energy, passion and contributions of volunteers and activists like yourself. Please renew your membership today (at the last membership meeting, we voted to raise dues to $5/month). And if you can afford more please support us. THANK YOU!

A New Sheriff In Town (Please!)

The RPA may be gearing up for Richmond citywide races, but one race that may go unopposed is the Contra Costa Sheriff’s race.

Judith Tannenbaum’s OpEd in the East Bay Times points out, “March 9 is a few weeks away, so there’s still hope that someone who better represents Contra Costa will file to run against the sheriff. However, even if Livingston runs unopposed, we must speak out against his record and speak out for a vision of public safety and justice that is more consistent with our values.” And excerpt of her OpEd is below:

My Word: Where are the candidates to oppose Contra Costa Sheriff Livingston?

Where is the sheriff Contra Costa County needs? Candidates have until March 9 to file for the June 5 election but, so far, only Sheriff David Livingston has signed up.

A sheriff, of course, runs the county jail system and decides how that system will operate. A sheriff can create a system based on the awareness that criminal acts are often a consequence of the racial and economic inequities that shape every aspect of life — from health care to education to workplaces to housing to transportation. A sheriff can learn from the people most affected by these inequities, listening to the personal stories that illuminate shared circumstances. And a sheriff can not only listen but also respond by providing alternatives to imprisonment, by recognizing that jail is no place for the mentally ill, and by offering the deep and substantive programming that encourages rehabilitation.

Or a sheriff can operate as David O. Livingston has, running our county jail system with the wrong-headed ideas and practices similar to those that resulted in three decades of nationwide mass incarceration.

For example, Sheriff Livingston contracts with ICE to hold immigrant detainees in the West County Detention Facility. At a time when SB54 is law and California a sanctuary state, this contract is a clear sign of how out of step our sheriff is with county and statewide values.

Click here to read the full OpEd.

RPA Gears Up for Election

This November, Richmond voters will be choosing its next Mayor, and as well as three City Councilmembers (Ada Recino’s, Eduardo Martinez’s and Jovanka Beckles’s seats are all up this year). The RPA membership has not yet made any 2018 endorsements for citywide races, but is gearing up now. At the end of the month, the RPA elections committee will make candidate questionnaires available to any candidates interested in seeking the organization's endorsement. As always, the RPA will not endorse candidates who accept corporate political donations.

In mid-March, the Richmond Progressive Alliance will hold a Candidates’ Night for members and the public to meet those running for citywide office. After a vetting process, the elections committee and Steering Committee will present a slate of candidates to RPA members at the March 31 membership meeting for vote. Stay tuned for more details!

Richmond Sues Chevron Over Climate Change

Last month Richmond became the ninth city to sue fossil fuel companies such as Chevron for the costs of adapting to climate change impacts. Such impacts include droughts, heatwaves and sea level rise. For example, the complaint asserts:

"Sea level rise endangers City property and infrastructure, causing coastal flooding of low-lying areas, erosion, salinity intrusion, higher risk of liquefaction during seismic events, and storm surges. Several critical City facilities, existing roadways, wastewater treatment facilities, residential neighborhoods, industrial areas including the Port of Richmond and the Chevron Refinery, highways, rail lines, emergency response facilities, and parks have suffered and/or will suffer injuries due to sea level rise expected by the end of this century …"

According to the complaint, the city “has already spent significant funds to study, mitigate, and adapt to the effects of global warming.”

Richmond’s suit is similar one filed earlier by Santz Cruz, Oakland and San Francisco. It suit does not seek a particular sum of money, but seeks to shift the cost of future damages away from taxpayers and onto the fossil fuel companies. These climate lawsuits follow the same legal strategies that were used to hold tobacco companies accountable for the effects of smoking.

Richmond is Covered in Coal

In case you missed it, the East Bay Express recently ran an article about the local public health impacts of the Levin-Richmond terminal in Richmond.

An excerpt:

In October 2014, Sylvia Hopkins first noticed the line of coal cars sitting on tracks close to her home in Richmond's Atchison Village. Shortly thereafter, she began to discover black, greasy deposits on her windowsills. "I went on the 'Toxic Tour' of Richmond in 2015," she said. "I saw the uncovered coal piles directly in the line of winds blowing from the bay."

Her lungs, she said, "are not what they were," and she lays blame directly on the coal and petcoke shipments going through the Levin-Richmond Terminal, a privately owned marine terminal that began exporting coal in 2013 and has been exporting petroleum coke, the byproduct of oil refining known as "petcoke," for decades. Records show the terminal has ramped up its coal and petcoke shipments during the last three years.

Hopkins was not the only one who noticed. Andres Soto, a longtime community activist who now is with Communities for a Better Environment, began seeing multi-car coal trains sitting on the tracks next to the BART station in Richmond four years ago. "And the Phillips 66 refinery in Rodeo is producing huge amounts of petcoke for export to Asia and Latin America," he said.

To read more, click here.

Coming Together for Richmond Youth

Richmond’s children, youth and young adults have long needed more life-changing services and opportunities. Now, local community based organizations, labor unions, and political leaders have come together and agreed to establish a Richmond Fund for Children and Youth in order to more effectively invest in our youth.

A diverse coalition including RYSE, SEIU Local 1021, APEN, ACCE and elected leaders including County Supervisor John Gioia and Richmond Vice-Mayor Melvin Willis have joined together to support two measures which will be on the June 2018 ballot:  

  • The Richmond Kids First Initiative and
  • A charter amendment revising Richmond Kids First

The goal of Kids First is to ensure that Richmond’s youth are physically, emotionally, mentally and socially healthy, educated, and live in stable, safe and supported families and communities.

The coalition has also explored how to raise additional revenue for the City to offset the costs of funding youth services under the Kids First Initiative.

What is the Richmond Kids First Initiative and the charter amendment revising Kids First?

The Kids First Initiative was drafted with input from local youth and youth-serving organizations and modeled after similar funds in San Francisco and Oakland.  Youth and adult allies went door-to-door and collected about 14,000 signatures to put this measure on the ballot.

Kids First creates a dedicated funding source from the City’s general fund to support expanded services for youth and establishes a City operated Department of Children and Youth.

The charter amendment revising Kids First would do three things:

  • Removes the restriction on how much funding the City of Richmond can receive as well as the requirement that the City must partner with a non-profit
  • Adds a new requirement that the dedicated funding set aside only occurs after the passage of a general tax measure which increases revenues to the City
  • Delays the start date for the funding set aside until July 2021, or one fiscal year after the passage of a general tax measure, if no tax measure is passed by December 2020.

How will youth programs and services be funded?

After discussions with local residents and studying what nearby cities have done, the coalition is currently recommending that a sugar-sweetened beverage distribution tax of one cent per ounce be placed on the November 2018 ballot.  Albany, Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco have recently passed a similar one cent per ounce tax.

This tax is different from Richmond’s previous 2012 soda tax measure which was a business license fee on retailers. Instead, the tax would be levied on the distributors of sugar-sweetened beverages.  

The tax would not apply to baby formula, milk products (like chocolate milk), 100% natural fruit and vegetable juices (including aqua fresca), medical beverages, weight reduction beverages, and alcoholic beverages.   The tax would also not apply to distribution of sugar-sweetened beverages to small retailers.

The RPA commends the coalition for finding a solution that supports kids, protects the integrity of the city budget and workers, and promotes health. The RPA Steering Committee voted to endorse the Kids First policy package (the Kids First Initiative, the charter amendment and the sugary beverage tax) in February.