The July 29th City Council meeting, for the first time in several months, found no one being thrown out of the chambers (partly because Mark Wassberg did not speak) although the Mayor threatened to clear the Council Chambers if the group continued to boo speakers. I guarantee that would not have flown because with some 600 to 700 people in the audience, there was no way the majority of the Council would have supported the Mayor in vacating the auditorium.
The big ticket item for the night was the Chevron Modernization Project where Chevron was appealing the decision in early July of the Richmond Progressive Alliance dominated Planning Commission’s to place unreasonable requirements on the Conditional Use Permit.
According to the City Attorney, these unwisely placed stringent conditions placed on the CUP contained items that were illegal.
Discussions continued from the previous July 22nd meeting where the remaining 82 speakers of the approximate total of 200+ speakers, yet to speak in expressing their positions on the project.
After the last speaker spoke, the public hearing was closed and the Council directed questions to several experts and others regarding the project. Although Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) was the lead group with Greg Karras as their spokesperson in opposition to the appeal, apparently the Mayor and the RPA chose to showcase their candidate for Mayor, Michael Parker, to provide the rebuttal and answer technical questions. It was clear from the beginning he was out of his league and represented little if any expert testimony of value other than sharing his personal views.
Likewise was Planning Commissioner Marilyn Langlois who seems to have been scripted by the Mayor and Vice Mayor as she, too, offered nothing of value as an expert witness.
On the other hand, City staff provided various experts like Stanford University Graduates Jennifer Hernandez and Dr. Shari Livicki. who have had years of experience in the field. Further testimony from Chevron’s Plant Manager Kory Judd, along with various state and county agencies who will oversee the construction as well as inspection of the project after completion, was impressive in assuring the project met the standards and would be monitored for safety. The crowd was heavily supportive of the project (75% to 25%?) but for me it was the various experts who supported the project. The difference between the two groups—RPA and Chevron—was a no contest as the RPA was viewed as little league baseball vs. major league baseball. Why Greg Karras, a capable man was not the spokesperson is a question only he and RPA can answer. However, it is safe to say his expert testimony would have been much more valuable than the RPA’s presenters. As the question and answer period concluded, the Council finally made a motion to end debate and vote.
On the motion by Councilman Tom Butt and seconded by Councilman Nat Bates, the three resolutions were voted upon independently and approved by the following super majority votes of the council (Butt, Bates, Booze, Rogers and Myrick) yes and (McLaughlin and Beckles) abstaining or not voting. From my personal points of view, Chevron’s financial 90 million dollar commitments and their promise to have professionals provide oversight of the project during and after construction were convincing and reassuring for me to vote to proceed with the project.
Here is the web site information Supplemental Agenda Report regarding the Community Investment Agreement. I might add that when we initially started the negotiations, the amount was 30 million dollars and later it was increased to 60 million dollars and after continued negotiations, the final amount came to 90 million dollars over a 10 year period of time.
It should be noted, CBE, RPA and other environmental groups may wish to seek remedies to nullify the vote tonight. However, there is a writ from the previous 2009 application and it is my understanding Chevron will move quickly to request the court to dismiss the writ and provide a decision by the end of the first quarter of 2015. Barring any further appeals, construction could begin almost immediately thereafter and is expect to take 18 months to 2 years to complete.
Please note: The above comments are my observations and analysis as one member of the Council with views of what is occurring inside and outside of City Hall. Please feel free to share these comments with others should you desire. If you wish to be added to my email list, kindly forward your request to Natbates@comcast.net.
Nat Bates, Senior member of the Richmond City Council