Where do you go to protest wealth inequality? For about 30 people, many Richmond residents, the answer was simple on Tuesday: Go to the million-dollar-plus Lafayette estate of Chevron Corp. CEO John Watson.
About 30 protesters stood in the rain in front of Watson’s home, criticizing the CEO as an example of what they called “corporate welfare” and undue influence of the richest Californians on the state’s tax code.
“In the city of Richmond where I live, where most of us live, Chevron has been there since 1906,” said protester Andres Soto. “And what we’ve seen is that it is a bad neighbor.”
The protest marked the release of a report produced jointly by labor and activist groups titled “Meet California’s 1%: How Wall Street banks, big corporations and the super rich are killing the recovery.” Among other claims, the report charges that the state’s wealthy elite has avoided paying its fair share of taxes. The protest was organized by the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), a nonprofit community organization that mobilizes protests and advocates for tax reform. Soto said Chevron uses its profits in part to fight legal and legislative battles to pay less in taxes to help the communities in which it operates.
The protesters were escorted by local police as they chanted and circled a block in an affluent Lafayette neighborhood. Several men wearing black jackets and slacks stood at the end of Watson’s driveway between the house and the protesters. It was not clear whether Watson was home.
Chevron spokesman Justin Higgs released a statement late Tuesday criticizing the report and noting that Chevron is the largest payers of corporate income tax in the state.
“A strong California economy is in everyone’s best interest,” Higgs wrote. “To this end, Chevron is the largest payer of corporate income taxes in California. We are also responsible for 1 in every 225 jobs in the state. And, as one of California’s oldest companies, we are committed to helping the state’s economy regain its footing. Unfortunately, this report offers misguided analysis and flawed conclusions rather than viable solutions. Many of the companies criticized in the report are the backbone of the state’s economy and will help drive job creation and economic growth going forward.”
Last week, the Contra Costa County Assessment Appeals Board ruled against the energy giant in a multimillion dollar tax dispute. Chevron’s lawyers had argued that the property tax bill levied by the county on the Richmond refinery was too high, but the three-person board ruled that Chevron’s property was actually undervalued, and that the corporation must pay $27 million more for tax years 2007-2009.
Protesters Tuesday said the decision didn’t cool their anger against Chevron, or the need for tax reform.
“The 1 percent need to have their power and wealth capped,” said protester David Gesinger. “If we had a tax system where 95 percent of all money you made over $5 million, then you wouldn’t have egregious bonuses, golden parachutes, etc.”