Don Gosney: If Transparency Is Such A Good Thing, Why Is It Being Denied?


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blogimage.jpgEverywhere we turn these days we’re hearing or reading about the need for transparency in government.  No longer will we accept backroom deals or elected officials settling issues without bringing them before the public for review.  This is why we have the Brown Act to help ensure that a government OF the people is actually a government BY the people.

That’s why we should all be concerned when our elected leaders and the people working for us place items on an agenda and do it in such a way that makes us wonder if they, too, believe in transparency.

On the City Council Agenda for Tuesday July 29th there are two serious issues on the CONSENT CALENDAR that should raise concerns.  They should raise concerns because they’re complicated, they’re expensive and because they are far reaching.  They should also raise concerns simply because items of this magnitude require presentations, discussions and input from the public before being voted on.  Consent calendar items should be reserved for accepting minutes of meetings and paying utility bills—not for major items.

These are the two items on tonight’s agenda:

F-9. APPROVE an agreement with Pacific States Environmental Contractors, Inc. (Pacific States) to provide remediation and abatement services (bid Alternative 6) for the Point Molate former United States Naval Fuel Depot IR Site 3 in an amount not to exceed $9,241,094.50, with a 10 percent city-controlled contingency in the amount of $924,109.45, for a total approved amount of $10,165,203.95 and for a term from August 2014 to August 2015, utilizing funds received through the 2008 Early Transfer and Cooperative Agreement (ETCA) with the United States Navy (Due to meeting schedules, this item was not reviewed by the Finance Standing Committee) - Engineering Services Department (Craig Murray/Chad Davisson 307-8188). [386 Pages]

F-17. (1) ADOPT the post-collection service agreement; and (2) APPROVE collection franchise agreement amendment with Richmond Sanitary Service/Republic to provide enhanced recycling and bulky item services - City Manager's Office (Bill Lindsay 620-6512). [190 Pages]

Three and a half years ago, at the request of the Mayor, the Council approved a resolution establishing the Point Molate Citizens Advisory Committee to review ALL major decision making documents and provide input and advice to the Council on all things related to Point Molate.

As part of the Early Transfer process where the Navy turned over the Former Naval Fuel Depot Point Molate to the City and put in an escrow account $28.5 million for the clean up of the site.  The City spent in the neighborhood of $4.5 million for a required insurance policy but has, for the most part, done very little to actually remediate the site.  The City has hired consultants, advisors, and a host of attorneys to the point where there is now only about two thirds of the funds that are left.  This suggests that the money that was set aside by the Navy may be insufficient to actually clean up the site.  When this money is gone, where will the City come up with the necessary millions of dollars to finish the job?  [The $28.5 million figure was set through an exhaustive investigation of the remaining cleanup and the expected costs to remediate the site.]

The problem with this agenda item is that the Council has NEVER received a report from the PMCAC or staff with regards to the state of the site with regards to the remaining contamination; they have never received a report delineating what needs to be done; they have never received a report suggesting cleanup options and they have never been made privy to the scope of work or the bidding for this $10.1 million contract.

And worse yet, the public was not made aware of any of this in a way where they could provide comment.  Furthermore, this was not even brought before the Council’s Finance Committee for their review!

The PMCAC—a committee appointed 100% by the Mayor—is made up of citizens with little to no technical expertise on the remediation of a petrochemical complex.  To date, they have spent the bulk of their efforts in using a settlement from the Cosco Busan oil spill to reopen the Point Molate Beach and Park.

When the Committee was created by the Mayor (to replace the existing Restoration Advisory Board), emotions ran hot to ensure that the site was developed in a way that the a subset of the community wanted (NO casinos).  When applicants were selected by the Mayor, emphasis was given to selecting applicants who shared the development ideals of the Mayor and her associates and little emphasis was given to expertise on the technical aspects involved with the environmental restoration of the site.

The committee meets in the bowels of the Community Services Building.  While not impossible, it is not easy to learn of their meetings or to get copies of the documents.  Because of the acoustics of the room they meet in, and the recurring failure of the Committee members to understand that their meeting is a public meeting designed for the public to hear what they are saying, it is often difficult for the very few members of the public in attendance to actually hear what’s going on.  [Sometimes, rather than use the provided microphones, the Committee members will have private conversations with each other where the public cannot hear them.]  When there are presentations, many of the presenters stand directly in front of the public—seemingly on purpose—blocking the public’s view of the presentation being given.

Although this is a very informal meeting, when it comes to allowing the public to speak and offer critical information that members of the Committee need, they throw up a countdown clock on the projector screen limiting the public’s comments.  To be blunt, some members of the Committee have made the public (or some members of the public) feel very unwelcome at their meetings and seem to discount the information being presented based on who is presenting the information.  Point Molate is such a political hotbed that emotions run high and politics plays a role in the individual actions of some Committee members..

As a City Council agenda topic, this issue needs to be pulled from the Consent Calendar so a full presentation can be made to the Council and the public.  Spending $10.1 million without discussion should never be allowed.

What’s strange about this bid is that it’s for well over $9 million yet it’s an amount accurate down to the penny.  With so many unknowns (given that the contamination is deep below the surface), how can a bid be so accurate?  Even so, the City wants an additional $924,109.45—just in case.

Keeping in mind that this agenda topic runs 386 pages and was given to the Council and the public less than four days ago, can we all really be expected to review the full set of dcuments?  The entire packet runs 1286 pages.  What are the chances that the members of the Council fully read the entire packet—especially the technically challenging part relating to this project?

Now we come to Agenda Topic F-11 which delineates a negotiated agreement for the recycling options and fees for the people of Richmond and the rest of West County.

This item has come before the Council earlier this year when that version included a $985,000 new fee (tax) on the people.  It, too, was originally placed on the Consent Calendar as if it were routine.

I was partially responsible for having it pulled at that time mostly because the Council and the public had never been given a report by those members of the Council sitting on the JPA that negotiated the deal.  How is the Council supposed to vote on such an important issue when they’re never given a report by their fellow Councilmembers explaining what’s in the deal and what it means to the people of Richmond?  And why was it kept a secret from the people it will most affect?

Several more times since it was first pulled from the Calendar there was talk that it was being revised and would be brought back.  Like Item F-9, this item was slipped onto the Consent Calendar just a few days ago and it’s unlikely that without a presentation for the members of the Council and the public, the details will go unread.

Let me make it clear that I am not against either of these issues in their present format.  What I’m concerned about is that they’ve been placed on the Consent Calendar so there will be no discussion or review.  Likewise, there is no opportunity for the public to weigh in.  And, most importantly, considering the enormity of this agenda packet and the issues before the Council right now (especially the Chevron Modernization—which only took up 50 pages of the packet), it would be very easy for these two important issues to slip through the cracks.

While pushing for transparency, should the Council simply and routinely accept the Consent Calendar without fully knowing the details of the items placed on that calendar?  Should the Council accept these items without a presentation or comments from the people?

Don Gosney
Richmond Resident


Don Gosney served from 1994 thru 1996 on Mayor Rosemary Corbin’s Blue Ribbon Advisory Committee to draft the Point Molate ReUse Plan and then served from 1996 through 2010 as the only elected Community Co-Chair (along with the Navy Co-Chair) of the Point Molate Restoration Advisory Board representing the Point Molate community in the environmental restoration of Point Molate.  The Point Molate RAB was nationally recognized for their excellence and for the manner in which they engaged their community.

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  • posted about this on Facebook 2014-07-30 10:53:32 -0700
    Don Gosney: If Transparency Is Such A Good Thing, Why Is It Being Denied?
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