A proposed extension to the legally mandated time period for public review of the Chevron modernization project DEIR failed at Tuesday’s Richmond City Council meeting. Why? Vice Mayor Jovanka Beckles went missing.
The extension had been strongly supported by Beckles’s own political organization, the Richmond Progressive Alliance and Communities for a Better Environment.
The special meeting of the City Council ran for six hours. Beckles left in the middle of the debate on the final item regarding the DEIR review period…and never came back. As a result, the item failed.
CBE and the Richmond Progressive Alliance have strongly advocated for an extension of the 45-day DEIR review period. Tuesday night revealed no change in that strategy. Several representatives from CBE stood before the Council proclaiming that they had discovered flaws in the DEIR. These flaws required further investigation, which they claimed could not be accomplished within the remaining timeframe.
When the Council finally started to consider the extension request, the meeting had already been extended thirty minutes beyond its obligatory 11:00 pm ending time. The Council had voted to extend the meeting to accommodate additional speakers.
City Manager Bill Lindsay indicated that his staff saw no value to the process by extending the review period. Councilmember Jim Rogers attempted to broker a deal by offering a substitute motion to grant an additional 15 days instead of the 45 additional days proposed. However, members of the CBE speaking at the meeting rejected this proposal as a good compromise.
Community members speaking against the proposed extension claimed that the proposed additional review period was nothing more than a veiled attempt by RPA supporters to move the final approval deadline past the November elections. They further claimed the extension would give the RPA something to use as political fodder in the elections. Finally, they argued that the RPA wanted the delay in the hope of changing the makeup of the City Council in November so that a new council could end the project completely.
In order for Rogers’s substitute motion to be approved, it would have to draw the support of at least four council members. As the vote drew near and the clock ticked closer to half-past midnight, Beckles made a bizarre decision. With only minutes until the conclusion of the discussion, the RPA member and current Vice Mayor took leave from the proceedings and did not return. This left only five council members for the final vote. The seventh member of the Council, Tom Butt, had seized his chance to vacate the premises several minutes earlier. This meant that Rogers, Mayor McLaughlin (the leader of the RPA), and Councilmember Jael Myrick were the only votes left that would fall in favor of giving additional time to review the DEIR.
When Rogers pressed for a vote on his motion, it failed for lack of a majority. No extension was granted.
After the vote, quiet fell over the apparently weary audience members who remained. The only sound that broke the silence was the bustle of papers being shifted and the hushed question of several CBE representatives…. “Where did she go?”