As the Chemical Safety Board nears a decision on what material to recommend Chevron use to replace pipes damaged in the Aug. 6 refinery fire, the City Council unanimously approved a measure Tuesday night to increase “transparency” on the issue.
Vice Mayor Jim Rogers and Councilmember Tom Butt proposed the increase in participation by the public in the city’s issuing of permits to rebuild the refinery’s No. 4 crude unit.
“Since there is substantial community interest in it, it seems to me that it would be appropriate that there would be a hearing from the public prior to making the decision,” Rogers said.
During the discussion, City Manager Bill Lindsay said he would not have to wait for the report findings from the Chemical Safety Board before issuing permits to Chevron.
The decision from Lindsay came after a meeting last Monday that included city representatives, representatives from Chevron, the CSB, and other government agencies, who discussed the proposed pipe material that should be used in rebuilding at the refinery.
In an email sent out to councilmembers and the mayor last Wednesday, Lindsay said that the city would wait for an analysis “completed and approved” by the city’s metallurgical expert before issuing building permits to repair the refinery pipes.
Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said she initially felt that calling for another public meeting was unnecessary. In a resolution that the council passed on Nov. 20, a public meeting was called for after the CSB released its findings.
But as McLaughlin mentioned Tuesday night, the report from the CSB, planned for mid-December, now may be pushed back to mid-January. This then complicates the ability for Chevron to rebuild the damaged portion of the refinery, which according to Butt could cost hundreds of workers at the refinery their jobs.
Lindsay said after the meeting that he and the councilmembers are in agreement that, “nobody wants a delay.” Lindsay also added that rebuilding the pipe is complex. “Piping material is just a piece of this whole thing,” he said.
After Chevron submits a technical analysis, Lindsay said he would forward that information to the CSB, and other government agencies, to get their input on the matter. After consulting with the organizations, the city’s metallurgical consultant, and a third party peer review, the issue would then be taken to a public forum.
Councilmember Nat Bates said he thought that a study session would serve just as well for this kind of discussion, rather than scheduling a separate meeting.
“Give it to the city manager, who is obviously much more qualified and knowledgeable than any of us combined,” he said. “But you want to politicize this thing and when you do that, the intelligence level of this council is about negative 100.”
Bates voted to add the meeting anyway.
Another controversial item discussed at the meeting was not on the council agenda.
Last Friday morning, a press release was sent out from a representative with the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment urging the City Council to vote to adopt a housing plan. But the item did not make it onto the agenda released that afternoon.
The housing plan included a proposal for changes in policies regarding rent stabilization, rehabilitating substandard housing, and increasing affordable housing.
According to an article published in the Contra Costa Times on Monday, the vote on the proposal was moved to a later meeting because state law requires that the city consult with Native American tribes 90 days before adopting new housing policies.
Christy Leffall, a coordinator from Urban Habitat who conducted the discussion, said she had heard another story from City Associate Planner Hector Rojas. She said Rojas told her that he preferred to wait until the beginning of year, when the new council will be sworn in, so all of the councilmembers will be on the same page.
Before the meeting, representatives from ACCE and the Richmond Equitable Development Initiative gathered outside the council chambers. Approximately 25 people were in attendance, including McLaughlin and Councilmember Jovanka Beckles, who spoke on why they were disappointed that the vote was held to a later meeting.
“I am upset it didn’t come up today,” McLaughlin said. “Our staff can do a lot better.”
The vote on the plan will now take place at the Jan. 15 council meeting.