On Wednesday, March 21 the Richmond City Council voted 8-1 to have Mayor Gayle McLaughlin ask the California State Lands Commission (SLC) to require Chevron to allow San Francisco Bay Trail access to land on the south side of the I-580 corridor near its Richmond refinery.
The trail, begun in 1987, now has acquired more than 260 miles of the 500 miles needed to allow bicyclists and pedestrians to circle the bay without competition from automobiles. The Chevron property would add a vital Richmond link, crossing I-580 at Point Richmond near the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge.
Chevron has used homeland security considerations as its excuse for not following through with a trail completion plan recommended in a 2001 feasibilty study.
With the recent completion of the last addendum to an environmental impact report (EIR) from the Chambers Group of Irvine, the SLC is set to review the renewal of the company’s latest 30-year lease on tidal lands beneath the Chevron Long Wharf.
Councilmember Tom Butt said he moved the council resolution “to put Richmond on the record as supporting a Bay Trail right of way as a condition of the lease’s renewal.”
The city has long had what former Richmond mayor Rosemary Corbin has called “a complicated relationship” with Chevron, which provides more than 1,200 jobs at the 2,900-acre refinery.
Chevron established the Richmond refinery in 1901 and built the Long Wharf in 1902 on submerged tidal lands that belong to the state, though the wharf is off-limits to the public. The Lands Commission has leased the property to Chevron since 1947.
Tankers at the Long Wharf unload crude oil and feedstock chemicals that travel through pipelines into the refinery. Finished products—gasoline, jet, and diesel fuels and lubricating oils—are piped back out to ships. The Richmond plant has the capacity to refine up to 240,000 barrels of crude oil per day, said Chevron communications specialist Camille Priselac.
Priselac confirmed on Monday that Chevron paid for preparation of the Long Wharf EIR, but she said that the SLC chose the Chambers Group which prepared the report.
To the dismay of the Richmond City Council and Bay Trail supporters, the EIR concluded that the SLC cannot require Chevron to allow the Bay Trail to cross its property as a mitigation of the Long Wharf’s environment impact because the proposed trail routes lie outside the Long Wharf area.
So for the moment, only hope connects the Long Wharf and the Bay Trail.
The San Francisco Bay Trail was authorized by state law in 1987 to create a 500-mile route around San Francisco and San Pablo bays, going through nine counties and 47 cities. The trail provides hikers, bikers, and others with recreation opportunities and alternative routes for avoiding car traffic. By the end of 2006, more than 260 miles of the trail were complete.
Richmond contains 24 miles of completed trail, with 17 miles still in the works. Public agencies, businesses, environmental groups and residents are working to close the gap.
Some of the Richmond shoreline, inland from the submerged tidelands where Chevron’s Long Wharf is located, is part of a proposed Bay Trail spur from Point Richmond on the south side of I-580 to Western Drive north of the freeway. The spur would continue up the San Pablo peninsula to Castro Point, Point Molate, and the Point San Pablo Yacht Harbor.
Existing Caltrans bike trails that cross the freeway near the Richmond-San Rafael bridge are far from ideal for a family outing.
One trail allows cyclists to travel west from Point Richmond’s Castro and Tewksbury streets to Western Drive north of the bridge, but cyclists must ride part-way on the freeway shoulder.
Bicyclists Dan Weinstein and Dan Doellstedt were riding on that shoulder when a car going 65 miles per hour plowed into them in September 2006. Weinstein died, and Doellstedt suffered a severe spinal injury.
Another Caltrains bike trail runs under the bridge just west of the toll plaza, connecting the freeway’s north and south sides.
Bruce Beyaert, steering committee chair of the Trails for Richmond Action Committee (TRAC), is passionate about closing the 17-mile gap in Richmond’s Bay Trail. Beyaert was a Chevron employee for 33 years, holding jobs that included working as worldwide environmental planning manager, and retired from Chevron in 1992.
According to Beyaert, “Six years ago, Chevron was very cooperative and co-funded with the city a feasibility study to plan Bay Trail access to Point Molate. Now they disavow the study and refuse to cooperate.… They dug in their heels, and they’re hiding under the skirts of homeland security.”
Beyaert is skeptical of the homeland security argument.
He cited numbers from a Caltrans study of average daily traffic in 2005 at the bridge’s toll plaza. “We’re adding bikes and pedestrians alongside a freeway corridor with 77,000 vehicles going by, and Chevron’s saying that pedestrians and cyclists pose a grave risk to the refinery’s security. We don’t see it that way. It’s only an incremental contribution compared to 77,000 vehicles. It’s insignificant.
“If al Qaeda comes to shoot a rocket launcher at Chevron’s Long Wharf and its pipeline,” said Beyaert, “it’ll more likely come on a panel truck than a bicycle.”
The 2001 feasibility study identified four options for creating Bay Trail access between downtown Point Richmond and Western Drive north of I-580. Beyaert suggested that if Chevron is concerned about security, it could build Bay Trail access on its property and simply install security measures to protect the refinery.
Priselac of Chevron said on Monday that “we continue to advocate for the trail on the north side of the freeway for safety and security reasons, and we’re happy to work with the Bay Trail and others to come to a conclusion that helps us with our safety and security.”
Councilmember Tom Butt seemed dubious: “In 2001, Chevron objected stridently to having the trail on the north side of 580, and they agreed that the south side was the right place for it. The costs and impediments to putting the trail on the north side are considerable, but quite frankly, as long as Chevron is willing to pay for it and put it in, we won’t object.”
Asked why Chevron preferred a southside route in the 2001 study but now prefers a northside route, Priselac said, “The discussions in 2001 were prior to 9/11, and since 9/11, the refinery’s had to comply with new safety and security regulations that we’re following from the U.S. Coast Guard. So we’re advocating for the north side of the freeway, which is already the established access.”
Priselac explained that both the south and north routes would travel over Chevron pipes, but the southside route would “come onto the refinery property and go through an operating area.” Chevron wants to work on improving the existing Caltrans access.
What does the Richmond City Council want from the SLC?
Councilmember Tom Butt explained it this way: “We’re looking at the possibility of two potential actions from the SLC. They can make the right of way a mitigation requirement under the EIR, but both Chevron and the SLC’s in-house legal counsel have said that this is not possible.
“Or the SLC can simply make the Bay Trail right of way a part of the lease. In return for leasing public lands to Chevron, the state would ask for whatever amount of money, whether $1 per year or more, plus [asking Chevron to] dedicate part of the land to public use as the Bay Trail.” This solution is the one he thinks might work.
In a March 11 e-mail update to constituents, he encouraged locals to support Richmond by writing to California SLC members lieutenant governor John Garamendi, state controller John Chiang, and finance director Michael C. Genest to ask them to make sure the Bay Trail route is built into the renewed Chevron Long Wharf lease.
To read about Chevron’s Richmond refinery, go to www.chevron.com/products/about/richmond.
To read the Chambers Group EIR, see the State Lands Commission website at www.slc.ca.gov/Misc_Pages/Project_Updates_Home_Page.html.
To learn more about the Bay Trail in Richmond, see TRAC’s Web site at www.pointrichmond.com/baytrail/trail.htm.
To read Councilmember Tom Butt’s March 11 comments on the Chevron Long Wharf EIR, go to www.tombutt.com/forum/2007/070311.htm.