Benicia City Council: 3 to 2 against Industrial Safety Ordinance
By Benicia’s ISO Working Group, submitted by Ralph Dennis
[See also Video: Benicia Council votes NO.]
Another 3-2 vote. Very disappointing, again. The Council majority voted again, 3-2, not to consider an industrial safety ordinance for Benicia. Now, we wait for a yet-to-be determined date in November or December for Council to reconvene and review the progress Valero has made toward its commitments.
It appears the Council majority on these votes thinks another one or two monitors will address Benicia’s “monitoring issue” and that the “communication issue” is already taken care of. What monitoring is out there, or soon to be, is in no way comprehensive or sufficient for our community. Better communication? Thank you, Valero, for sharing all that information at the July 17 Council meeting – after 14 months of Council’s two-step process, and more than 10 years of community requests for Valero to address air monitoring.
Disappointing Council vote, yes. But, now we at least know how many monitors Valero has, and where they are located. And, three are community monitors, not just for fence line. Valero even says it has mobile monitors available. Probably more information than any of us had 14 months ago, certainly 10 years ago.
But this is of little value unless Council takes the next step, uses the data from these monitors (and other monitors perhaps to come), as well as all the other information Valero committed to share on a real-time, easy to access and use, public web site with the City as a “partner”, to address community health and safety concerns. With or without an ISO, Council has already started this process, and Council cannot go back. Council now knows the resources are out there. We’ll see what Council does with them. Passage of a Benicia ISO is the most effective tool for ensuring the community’s health and safety.
So, what now? Over the next 6 months, let’s keep in mind what’s been left on the table or yet to be considered by virtue of Council’s 3-2 vote. What are the deficiencies an industrial safety ordinance would correct?
- Progress report. The minutes from June 19th Council state that there will be a progress report in November and then in December there will be (or should be) a meeting with choices of moving forward with an ISO or not depending on the progress report. What are the performance measures for that report? What choices will be presented to Council? More questions than answers, which is why Terry Mollica said, “we are kicking the can down the road” if we don’t have the rehearing to set the parameters and future steps and outcomes.
- Funding: For the City to meaningfully “communicate”, i.e., have knowledge, skills set, and be copied and comment on reports, the City will need to increase staff which requires funding. An ISO would provide the funding through fees assessed on businesses subject to the ISO. How will staff follow up without funding?
- Promises: The record is clear that Valero does not fulfill its promises and conditions of approval for permits. Watch and see….
- Confusion and misdirection: Valero distracts the staff, Council and public with their pat on their own back for their community contributions and their expressions of concern for public health protection. The City and community recognizes these actions on the part of Valero and its contribution to the City’s tax base. It is nice to have non-governmental groups receive Valero money, but the issue we are talking about is air quality.
- Monitors: There is great confusion about monitors – what they monitor, how they monitor, and when they do it. Council members in the 3-2 majority did not receive the benefit of Eric Stevenson’s recent meeting in Benicia discussing air monitors, nor do these Council members seem familiar with or understand the work of Air Watch Bay Area which is a data resource much more nuanced than understood. Will the City and public be kept in the loop as Valero acquires and installs air monitoring equipment? Will the City and public be asked for input?
- Regulations: It is true that we have good state regulations, but the recent KQED story where the California Public Utilities Commission found PG&E at fault because it did not follow those regulations, makes the point of why Benicia needs an ISO. When will state regulations be implemented? Will public utilities and private enterprises like Valero follow the regulations? Who will report to us, how and when? We should have reports of the required training, the fulfillment of the training, and periodic protocol reviews to be assured that new regulations are adequate, and that they are being followed.
- Missing in Benicia. Finally, as an important point of reference and comparison, the Mayor of Martinez says his city has a great relationship with Shell, who invites city people to training exercises, shares reports, and offers meetings and a myriad of other “communicating” actions. Without Contra Costa County’s ISO, his city would not be included in these ways. Absence of news is rarely news. That is, we won’t be seeing newspaper headlines like “Benicia did not get a quarterly report yesterday.” Or, “On Saturday, Valero did not train City Staff on emergency response.” Stay alert for what we DON’T hear over these next months.
So, the fight continues for a Benicia ISO. Let’s keep our eyes and ears open for the next piece of information that supports the need for an industrial safety ordinance in Benicia.