New Refinery Monitoring Tool

Big thanks to all the presenters who inspired us at the RPA’s Earth Day event, Activating Environmental Justice.               

And many thanks to panelist Cheryl Holzmeyer who just introduced us to the Refinery Monitoring Tool.

Produced by Air Watch Bay Area this new, online, interactive tool allows you to see current data on air pollution in Richmond, Crockett, Rodeo, and Benicia. You can also sign up for daily air quality alerts or use the website (or a downloadable app) to report smells and pollution events to the Air Watch Bay Area website and/or to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

This tool was created by the The Fair Tech Collective at Drexel University in Philadelphia in collaboration with the Community Robotics, Education, and Technology Empowerment Lab at Carnegie Mellon University.

RPA Statement on Point Molate

The recently announced settlement of the Point Molate litigation is a far cry from what the RPA has been firmly advocating for many years, namely maximizing public involvement in determining the future of this precious and unique resource owned by the City. We had no position on any particular use or project but we felt it crucial that we make it possible to hear all proposals for development so that the public could weigh-in with full information.

We believe that the settlement itself is greatly unbalanced. Upstream and its partners get a significant sum of money (in the tens of millions) from the City in a relatively short time, and no public review of settlement terms before they were finalized.  All the City gets is an end to the litigation, yet it is losing not only a lot of money, but also any opportunity for a comprehensive and inclusive public process on what the future of Point Molate should look like.   

The City Council had voted three times in open session (2012, 2016 and 2017) to direct staff on conducting an open public process to determine appropriate land uses and a whole array of potential development options for all of Point Molate--including innovative combinations of commercial, educational, research and development, parks, agricultural, historical preservation, etc. with or without some housing.

But instead of an open process, the Council in closed session voted to accept settlement terms that mandate residential land use for most of the buildable land, thus sharply curtailing the scope of the public process that was being planned.   (Most of Point Molate consists of unbuildable hillsides, and was always earmarked as open space.) In closed session the Council bypassed open hearings on zoning and planning. 

From statements of different Councilmembers we know that the City Council’s vote on the settlement terms was split.   (Councilmembers are allowed to state their vote on an issue once the decision has become public.)  We thank Councilmembers  Eduardo Martinez, Jovanka Beckles, and Melvin Wills for refusing to support the settlement.

This is not the end of the RPA's advocacy on the Point Molate issue.  In coming weeks, the RPA will invite its members to take action to help ensure that the land is used for public good, not private profit.  Stay tuned.

More About the Settlement

The RPA acknowledges that the Richmond needs more housing, especially affordable housing, and we openly advocate for more transit oriented residential and mixed use development at vacant sites in the city’s core, with an emphasis on maximizing affordability.  One example is the large residential development downtown on Nevin between 21st and 23rd Streets that was approved a few years ago and is now breaking ground. The desirability of extensive housing at Point Molate, however, given its remote location and access constraints, has been controversial and was supposed to be fully vetted in the public process that now is moot unless this settlement agreement is reversed through legal action.

The settlement mandate paves the way for Pt. Molate to be an enclave for luxury development.  For developers, the fastest way to make profits at a beautiful setting in the Bay Area’s tight housing market is by putting up high dollar residences, as other types of development require lengthier planning and lead time. 

In every respect the settlement is a setback for progressive values. It did not even require that the development include affordable housing units (inclusionary housing). It specifically allowed the far-too-low current in-lieu fee.   This means that if housing is built under the terms of the settlement (market rate sales) it will almost certainly be all luxury housing.

There are many bad scenarios possible from this bad agreement.  Luxury housing is one when in fact our need is for more affordable housing in our urban center accessible to transportation supported by parks on the shore. Problems with access and infrastructure may mean that nothing gets built and that the city is saddled with costs for maintaining the property through a decade or more of attempted sale under the settlement terms but has to give half the sales price to Upstream. 

The public is not privy to confidential information and advice given to City councilmembers in closed session, in making their decision, so we can’t fully understand what motivated each person’s vote. 

Thoughts about Decision Making

Councilmembers were in a in a tough position, undoubtedly facing intense pressure behind closed doors with skewed information biased towards the Mayor's preferred outcome of implementing the ​least community-friendly proposed scenario in the 1997 Base Reuse Plan at all costs.  Perceived or exaggerated legal risks may also have been a consideration, though the case overall has always been very strong and clear-cut in the City’s favor—see below for a brief summary of background information on Point Molate. ​We a​lso know that ​a  strong-arming approach in closed session ​ was expected by Pt Molate community advocates and many attempted to encourage the council to exhibit strong political will in spite of this​.

In any event, nothing should have prevented the Council from insisting on bringing the proposed settlement to the public before finalizing it.  Union and other negotiators will generally walk away from the table if the other side says that you have to decide now or the deal is off.  Yet the City’s negotiating team agreed to Upstream’s demand for finalizing a settlement in closed session without public review.

A number of RPA members and community members who have devoted thousands of volunteer hours over the years researching and advocating for community participation in outcomes at a casino-free Point Molate, and who have acquired in-depth knowledge on all aspects of Point Molate, including legal ones, met with all of the RPA endorsed council members after rumors of a settlement began to surface. They urged caution and at a minimum no decision on settlement terms until after the City had determined appropriate land uses at Point Molate via the extensive public process that was being planned.  And the RPA steering committee, at its March 15 meeting, voted to call for no settlement until after this public process was completed.

This issue also brings into focus questions about how elected officials make their decisions and how we as an activist movement can hold our elected officials responsible. The RPA is planning to examine these questions in the immediate future

Gayle McLaughlin' Statement on Point Molate

Read more about the Point Molate fight.

Prop 70 - A Corporate Attack on Climate Policy

California’s environmental and environmental justice communities are unanimously opposed to Proposition 70, which they are characterizing at a Big Oil attack on California’s climate policy.

According to the No on Prop 70 coalition, if passed Prop 70 “would seize funding that is currently used to fight pollution and improve community health. It would subject this funding to a two-thirds vote in 2024, and by doing so, it would hold these climate investments hostage to the lobbying of corporate interests. Prop 70 would lead to budget gridlock, undermine California’s progress on climate change and clean air, and increase the power of corporate interests.”

California decided to stop requiring a two-thirds vote for budgeting because it introduced gridlock and dysfunction. It also increased pork barrel projects because a minority of legislators were able to delay the process and extract compromises in exchange for their votes. By requiring a two-thirds vote over climate funding, Prop 70 would enable powerful lobbyists to block good climate programs and to fund wasteful projects that only benefit corporate interests.

Phillips 66 Tar Sands and the Bay

Richmond has been battling Chevron’s refinery emissions for decades. But did you know that just north of us in Rodeo the Phillips 66 refinery is planning a huge expansion that would double the number of tankers bringing crude oil into the Bay? To make matters worse, according to Baykeeper:

“The oil arriving at the Phillips refinery will likely be dirty, heavy tar sands oil. This type of oil is difficult, if not impossible, to remove after a spill. In 2010, when tar sands oil spilled into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River, response crews were unable to completely remove the oil from the riverbed, even after five years of cleanup efforts. If tar sands oil spilled in San Francisco Bay, it could irreparably smother bottom-dwelling life forms that are critical to the Bay’s food chain.

“The Phillips refinery also has a poor track record of oil spills. [In September 2016,] oil was spilled during the unloading of a tanker ship, causing large oil slicks in northern San Francisco Bay. Over 100 nearby residents sought treatment at hospital emergency rooms for exposure to unidentified fumes, and Vallejo officials urged community members to stay indoors with their windows closed. Until recently, the refinery denied any responsibility for the oil spill that is now linked to the nearby air quality complaints.

“More than doubling the number of oil tankers on their way to Phillips 66 via the Bay would increase the risk of spills. What’s more, the oil tankers will need to navigate through a San Francisco Bay shipping channel that is scheduled for less frequent dredging than in the past, due to new budget concerns raised by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. While the exact effects of reduced dredging on tanker traffic are unclear, it is possible that the risk of tankers running aground will increase."

Phillips is pushing this proposal because San Luis Obispo, concerned about oil spills and health impacts, recently quashed the company's efforts to bring more oil into their SLO refinery via train.

Bring Pt. Molate Out from Behind Closed Doors

What happens with Pt. Molate may well determine what kind of city Richmond becomes. It is a remarkable shoreline property owned by all the people of Richmond. We are entitled to have the major say in what it becomes, and any decision about the destiny of Pt. Molate should go through the established public planning process, not be quietly decided behind closed doors.

Therefore, the RPA steering committee unanimously supports the city council proceeding with the promised community meetings on the future of Pt. Molate before further settlement negotiations with Jim Levine/Upstream, LLC. After the community meetings, if there are further settlement negotiations between the city and former Pt Molate casino developer, they will be in line with what the people of Richmond want for Pt Molate.

A City has a right to decide how it wants to develop, especially with an important public asset like Pt. Molate. Land use decisions should be determined publicly because they are critical to how a city develops, and for whom. In April, 2012, the City Council approved the 2030 General Plan under resolution 52-12 that included the provision that Pt. Molate’s future land uses be put to a public planning process so residents have the primary say in what happens there.

In September 2016, the city council voted to hold community meetings to fulfill this promise. They asked the Pt Molate Community Advisory Committee to work on the design of the community meetings with Planning Dept Director, Richard Mitchell, but Mayor Butt subsequently dissolved the citizen’s advisory committee.

To ensure that comprehensive and inclusive community meetings on Pt. Molate would occur, Council members Willis and Choi received a unanimous vote in November of last year to pursue the public meetings through another citizen’s advisory body, the Planning Commission. Willis and Choi’s agenda item directed the Commission to work with Mr. Mitchell to offer the scheduled community meetings to Richmond residents late this spring.

At the start of 2018, the Planning Commission took up the charge and held a public hearing to how to do effective community outreach and organize comprehensive and accessible public planning meetings for Pt. Molate. However, not long afterwards Mayor Butt announced in his email posting that the city had reached a settlement agreement “in principle” with Jim Levine/Upstream, LLC, the proposed Pt Molate casino developer.

Now, city council members are under intense pressure to approve a rushed settlement deal with Jim Levine, even though the strength of Levine’s lawsuit appears to be overblown. While there are various past studies on Pt. Molate to draw from, a publicly-vetted plan to fulfill the 2012 Council resolution has yet to be done.

Let the City Council members know that any further settlement negotiations with Jim Levine/Upstream, or any other private developer, must be guided by an open public planning process that involves the people of Richmond. The future of this magnificent 400-acre public land on the SF Bay should not be decided by any backroom deal. Pt. Molate deserves to be looked at within Richmond’s overall future direction, including the kinds of development and community benefits Richmond residents need now and in the decades ahead.

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!

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.

A Toxic Tour with Tales of Resistance

The following is an excerpt from a recent article from BeyondChron.org, authored by Steve Early:

Every several months, [Andres Soto] conducts what’s now called a “Toxics and Resilience Tour” of Richmond.” Soto’s tours, by bus and on foot, began as a mobile history lesson for students from the RYSE Youth Center. Then a member of the RYSE board, Soto discovered that many young people in Richmond “don’t know which came first—World War II or the Vietnam War” and know even less about their own hometown history…

As a boy growing up in a Mexican-American immigrant family, Soto had early exposure to the industrial hazards he campaigns against today.  He recalls seeing Richmond refinery flaring, off in the distance, for the first time at age ten. He thought the pulsating glow “was so cool—like a fire-breathing dragon.” On weekends, he would go with his father, as many Richmond families once did, to deposit trash at the city dump, located in North Richmond.

At that stop on his toxic tours today, Soto describes those long ago outings as a foul-smelling but exciting “male adventure.” The dump “contained 100 years worth of garbage, a mountain of it, 185 feet tall, piled up like a modern-day midden” or the  “shell-mounds” left behind more discreetly, on the shores of San Francisco Bay, by Native-Americans who were, Soto points out, far better stewards of the land.

Click here to continue reading.

Something stinks: Richmond compost facility

As environmentally conscious folks, many of us gladly fill up our green bin every week, and giddily anticipate free compost giveaways at Richmond's Earth Day celebrations. But what if our city’s compost facility is not that green?

At the beginning of this year, Contra Costa County health officials issued a cease and desist letter to Republic Services’ Richmond composting facility. City and County agencies had received some 400 calls about foul smells emanating from the site, including some people reporting nausea, headaches and throat irritations. When county health officials visited the site, they saw seven fires burning – not a good sign. Also, it turned out that Republic Services was handling 350,000 tons of materials when they were only permitted for 1/10 that amount.

A few months later, the California Water Board found that the facility was in violation of other regulations; one of the slopes on the landfill had failed, threatening local water resources. Then in September, Cal Recycle (the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery) notified the City Council that because of the fire problems at the facility, the landfill had been put on a list of facilities that chronically violate state minimum standards for solid waste handling. And as a result, the CCC Health Services Department was going to put the facility under a strict compliance schedule.

The landfill’s Land Use permit is apparently expiring soon, and needs to be re-permitted; the City should take this opportunity to ensure that Republic addresses these issues, for the sake of our environment, residents and facility workers.