Protesters descend on Chevron tax hearings

eduardo martinez and henry clark protest chevron

Eduardo Martinez, left, rallies protesters as they enter the Board of Supervisors' chambers in Martinez Thursday (Robert Rogers/RichmondConfidential)

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.

mayor gayle mclaughlin protests chevron

Mayor Gayle McLaughlin addressed protesters in Martinez Thursday. (Robert Rogers|RichmondConfidential)

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.

10 Comments

  1. Joshua Genser

    I understand that if Chevron’s appeal is successful that it will have a serious on the budgets of public entities county wide. What I don’t understand, however, is why this would be Chevron’s fault. Every taxpayer has the absolute right to appeal its property tax assessment and no one should be excoriated for exercising its rights in an entirely appropriate and lawful manner. Chevron has, in fact, been successful in past appeals on the same issues, indicating that there is merit to its position. That Chevron makes a lot of profit is immaterial, because we’re talking about property taxes, not income taxes. I really worry when people try to politicize a judicial proceeding, like a property tax appeal, because where does it end?

    • Don Gosney

      I’ve heard tima and time again from some of these protestors that “we need the money more than they do” as if that’s any kind of rationale at all for Chevron pulling their appeal.

      with that logic, I should be able to go over to any of the homes of these protestors and take whatever I want from their homes because “I need it more than they do”.

      I’ve argued this for more than 15 years that when the refineries demand a revaluation of their property, a more realistic and honest look at their assets need to be made and their appeal needs to be rejected based on their erroneous thinking.

      An example of this was what happened after the Clean Fuels Programs in the mid ’90’s where all of our refineries spent in the neighborhood of $4 billion in capital improvements and then demanded that they get a property tax refund claiming that their refineries were worth less than claimed by the County. In particular, Shell in Martinez spent $1.8 billion on capital improvements and then claimed that their refinery was only worth $900 million. That means that the entire refinery had a negative net worth before all of that money was spent and then they only got 50 cents on the dollar for the money they spent.

      Arguments like this lack credibility and test the intelligence of the people.

      It’s arguments like this that should be used to defeat these appeals. Not saying that we need the money more than the shareholders of Chevron.

      By the way, I wonder how many of these protestors–including Mayor McGlaughlin, Councilmember Beckles and Retired school teacher Eduardo Martinez (shouting into the megaphone in the lead photo) have looked at the assets of their own pension plans to see how they might benefit from the profits these 1 percenters earn.

      I also have to wonder how effective they might be when they pretty much beg Chevron to drop their appeal and i the same sentence condemn them for being the 1%. I know that when someone approaches me asking for a favor and then spits in my face I’m not all that inclined to be generous towards them.

      Just my opinion, though.

      • Tony Suggs

        When a business or “corporation” uses every legal right and benefit under the state and federal tax codes,they are accused of using a tax loop hole. They are not being good “citizens.”

        A person, lets say someone in this country illegally, uses a locally passed ordinance or proclamation such as a sanctaury city, to receive benefits, they are treated like heros.

        Something is wrong with this picture

    • Jeff S

      I can see your point. However, I would say that there are two things to consider:

      1) The case rests on the issue of valuation of land/property. Needless to say, the legal and accounting factors involved actually make this a pretty complicated case. Chevron, much moreso than your average citizen can do many things on paper to strengthen the case to lower their taxes that have nothing to do with the actual value of the property. For a fairly digestible explanation, I would recommend Tom Butt’s summary of how taxation does/would/could work.

      2) The second point is related to this. Chevron does enjoy a number of resources that you or I do not. The fact that they can negotiate their tax liabilities (refer to the settlement on the proposed utility user tax… they will most likely use this same issue to negotiate a very favorable/unfavorable settlement with the City and County once again). Having leverage as a large entity in and of itself is not evil. But, it does mean that the utilitarian assessment of Chevron would be that they are not remotely as valuable to our community as they would like us to believe. If other small, medium, and large businesses were on that property instead of Chevron, you would expect to see equal or greater local jobs and tax bases created.

  2. Michael

    It’s getting boring replying to Josh and Don, always first out of the gate to cheer for corporate wealth and power. I’ve got to go now and shop for some kids who won’t be having much this holiday. Maybe I’ll get some time later to explain to these types why, although Scrooge was within his legal rights, he is the villain of the story.

    • Tony Suggs

      Michael,

      You are aware that Chevron and most other “corporations” donate hundreds of millions of dollars every year to charities and individuals?

      I will also bet that Josh and Don make charitable donations, just like I do every year.

      We just don’t run around tooting our own horn.

      Since when did power and wealth become something that is evil, regardless of who has it?

    • Don Gosney

      Why is it that your attacks always seem to be personal attacks rather than discussions on the issues? You know nothing about me or what I do for my community and I’m betting you know equally less about Josh and the many other people that disagree with the way you’re doing things yet you continue to attack us on a personal level. It’s like hatred is your mantra and blinds you to what’s in front of you.

      On this issue no one claim to have heard me say anything about the legitimacy of Chevron’s claims for a lower valuation of their property. As a matter of fact, I’ve been fighting them on this since 1996. How long have you been involved in this battle? What I’ve argued is the true value of their facility (as opposed to their fantasy land claim as to what’s really worth). What I’ve argued is that claiming that we need the money more than the shareholders do is a pitifully lame argument. What you’ve hear me say is that most of the shareholders of companies like Chevron are actually regular 99 percenters who have pension plans heavily invested in companies that produce returns on investments.

      What you’ve heard me say about this is that I disagree with your tactics. What you’ve heard me say is that a mob mentality and angry threats against people rarely win battles except when mob rule violently overthrows controlling entities. We see this in revolutions all the time–whether it be Russia, Cambodia, Iran, Egypt, Libya, Cuba, et al.

      While not always successful, I try to argue issues and not personalities.

  3. Don Gosney

    Just curious why it is that so often we see people attacking others on blogs and in comments on articles and they try to hide behind usernames or just first names so the world won’t know who they are. I couldn’t help but notice that Josh, Tony and myself all use our first and last names here while Michael is just a nondescript first namer. I’m pretty sure of who he is but I can’t be sure while he’s hiding like this. It reminds of those masked Occupiers we see in the video clips who hide their faces as if they’re ashamed of what they’re doing.

    • Jeff S

      Don, I can’t speak for anyone else. But, I don’t include my last name for many mundane reasons that are much less nefarious than your allusion to masked anarchists.

      Frankly, this is an internet discussion forum. Once, long ago, I thought it mattered to some degree what people write here. Once I learned that internet trolls (people who post with no intention of legitimate debate other than to occasionally appear reasonable) dominate these forums and that everyone but me knew it, their importance to me dropped in kind. Mostly, people like me post occasionally on threads like this so the wandering internet newbie is not fooled into thinking comments like yours represent anything more than what one person thinks.

      • Tony Suggs

        Is there a contradiction in the last post?

        You say you don’t speak for anyone else but then you state that “most people like you” occsaionally post to counter the the views of a “single person.”

        Are we not all just “single persons” with independant thoughts that sometimes we happen to agree with someone else?

        Our are we different groups of people that are told by a select few what to think,believe and protest?

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