Chevron chucked art from city fence, property records show
on June 16, 2023
Good fences make good neighbors — depending on who owns the fence.
On a chain link fence by Richmond Parkway separating the Chevron refinery and a neighborhood downwind of it, community volunteers, including Mayor Eduardo Martinez, wove technicolor wooden slats through the metal bars on Earth Day. The artwork was covered with messages saying, “Richmond deserves clean air + water,” “Chevron!!! A horrible neighbor!,” and “Land = Liberation,” and topped with ribbons blowing with the wind from the Richmond plant to nearby communities. That was until Chevron discarded the installation, “FENCELINES: A Collective Monument to Resilience,” from the 1,000-foot stretch of fence near the refinery, claiming it was illegally installed on company property.
The Richmond Art Center, which produced the project along with artists Graham L.P., Princess Robinson and Gita Khandagle, assumed the entire fence was on city property after receiving approval from the Public Works Department to install it. That approval was a condition of the center receiving a Community Services Department “Love Your Block” grant for the exhibition. Since then, the Art Center has said at least the lower part of the fence is surely city property.
Records in the Contra Costa Assessor’s office confirm that: The fence between Vernon Avenue and West Gertrude Avenue is owned by Chevron, while the fence between North Castro Street and Vernon Avenue is owned by Richmond.
If that’s the case, Chevron spokesperson Ross Allen said Wednesday, “We would have had no right to remove it from the property, and they would have had no right to put it on ours.” He added that the company is now reviewing the property boundaries and reaching out to the project organizers to hear their concerns.
After the San Francisco Chronicle broke the news last week that Chevron took down the community project, both sides initially claimed that the other was in the wrong.
“We’re pretty clear about where our property line is,” Allen told Richmond Confidential on Tuesday.
“They certainly never asked for permission or contacted us before doing this. But, you know, the way we treated it looked like what it was, which was the result of trespass and vandalism.”
The project, beyond receiving city and state funds from the California Arts Council, was also personally supported by the mayor, who attended the Earth Day community installation of the exhibition.
“We have the support of the mayor, for sure,” said Richmond Art Center Curator Roberto Martinez. FENCELINES organizers are working with the city to reinstall the exhibition on the city fence, making a statement that the community will not be erased and will continue fighting for clean air, he said.
“You know, perhaps part of the project, part of the installation, may have been on Chevron’s land, but not everything, right? Most of it was on city-sanctioned fences, and all of that got removed,” Roberto Martinez said. “There can be some argument made that, in effect, the trespassing and vandalizing actually happened the other way.”
Ironically, FENCELINES as an art piece questioned the concept of borders and property.
“The site was very intentional in making a statement but also in an attempt to rethink space,” Roberto Martinez said. By drawing the eye to the barbed-wire-topped fence separating the refinery and the residential neighborhood, the art asked viewers to consider what the fence is meant to protect, since pollution doesn’t respect borders.
“I think that what this project does is really bring to the foreground, you know, what is trespassing? What is vandalism? Can we consider the pollution of the air that comes due to the fault of Chevron as trespassing and vandalizing the health of our people?” he asked.
In a statement, Mayor Eduardo Martinez questioned why Chevron would pick this argument: “When you have an oil giant dominating our air, our global markets, and our collective well-being, the question of ownership over a chain link fence seems like an irresponsible distraction.”
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