About 50 protesters, including some top Richmond elected officials, demonstrated outside county government buildings in Martinez Thursday before filing into a hearing aimed at resolving a tax dispute between Chevron and the Contra Costa County Assessor’s office.
At issue are property valuations of Chevron’s 2,900-acre Richmond refinery, which were used to determine taxes owed by the refinery from 2007-2009.
“We’re here to make Chevron feel ashamed of their actions and to realize that if they sincerely want to be a good neighbor they have to drop their property tax appeal,” said protestor Michael Beer.
Chevron’s lawyers have countered that the refinery was worth about $1.8 billion in 2007, and $1.15 billion in 2009, while the county assessed it at more than $3 billion during the same period. Chevron spokespersons have said the appeal aims to establish a more fair and consistent method by which the refinery is valued.
If the appeals board rules with Chevron, the county could have to refund nearly $60 million, severely impacting public services, according to County Assessor Gus Kramer.
Among those at the demonstration, which was organized by the Richmond Progressive Alliance, were Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles and Henry Clark of the West County Toxics coalition.
The protesters marched through the streets of downtown Martinez, toting signs and chanting as they passed by the storefronts and restaurants. Then they held a rally on the steps of Peter L. Spinetta Family Law Center, with a procession of speakers addressing the crowd with a megaphone.
McLaughlin said it is “obscene” that Chevron should be looking for property tax savings while recording robust profits in recent years.
The protesters then filed into the County Board of Supervisors’ chambers, where they sat silent as the three-person appeals board met with attorneys for Chevron and the Assessor’s Office.
Both sides haggled over what evidence was admissible in determining the fair valuation. Attorneys for the Palo Alto firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman filed a 9 a.m. rebuttal and introduced an expert witness who said Chevron’s valuations were inconsistent with those of comparable industrial properties.
County attorney Kevin Lally said Chevron’s case was “fraught with materials that don’t satisfy evidentiary standards.”
Hearings are expected to continue into next year.