Richmond Design Board GivesQualified ‘Yes’ to Chevron Plans

By Richard Brenneman
Friday February 01, 2008

Posted Sat., Feb. 2—Richmond’s Design Review Board (DRB) voted Thursday to approve Chevron’s plans to upgrade its refinery, but before the vote was taken, few folks had anything nice to say about the world’s seventh largest corporation. 

The DRB’s approval was hedged with a set of lengthy conditions after members accused the firm of arrogance and indifference to the community. 

“You got greedy,” said Ted J. Smith, the board’s oldest member. “All you’ve done is take out of this community and screw us every time you get the chance.” 

Smith, an African American, chided the company because none of the Chevron representatives at the meeting “look like me.” 

Board member Donald L. Woodrow insisted that the company provide extensive mapping of the soils down to bedrock at the refinery site and reports on how soils and the plant would be affected by the impacts of a major earthquake on the Hayward Fault. 

“It will be earthquake safe,” promised Dean O’Hair, the oil company’s Richmond external affairs director. He said all construction wold meet current building and seismic codes. 

Woodrow was less than reassured, and the proposed condition remained. 

Chair Bob Avellar said he wanted approval contingent on the company’s grant of access to complete the last unfinished stretch of the Bay Trail in the city. 

During the public comment period earlier in the meeting, Bruce Beyaert, an ardent supporter of the trail and chair of the Trails for Richmond Action Committee, said negotiations with the company had stalled for two years, only to be rekindled as refinery project approval deadlines approached. 

Woodrow said the company should provide the access, cofund the design costs and pay for operating costs, all of which were included in his motion for approval 

Member Diane Bloom added the proviso that the trial siting decision would come back to the board for approval. 

Avellar added conditions for approving geodesic domes the company planned to install on new storage tanks included in the project, and called for an increase in number of trees planted to screen both the tanks and the periphery of the refinery. 

When she suggested the board ask the company to plant trees in other cities and outside Contra Costa County wherever winds carried particulates from the refinery, Smith shook his head. “I won’t vote for trees outside Richmond. I’m not looking out for anybody else.” 

Woodward then said the company should also reexamine options for using the site to generate solar and wind power to offset some on the company’s energy needs. 


Comments heated 

Most of the public comments earlier in the meeting were critical of the oil company. While most focused on concerns about pollution, one speaker raised a key financial issue. 

“I’m concerned about the very nice-looking hokum we’ve received,” said Contra Costa County Assessor Gus S. Kramer, speaking from the audience. 

He blasted a the company’s expensive color mailing which promised “millions in new revenues for the City of Richmond” from the project. 

He countered the corporate claim by citing the company’s own appeals to have the refinery’s property taxes slashed by two thirds for the prior three tax years. 

“I don’t want you to think that Richmond is going to get this windfall of services,” Kramer said. 

He got no response from company officials. 

Chevron representatives, including former plant manager and now Chevron Vice President of Marketing Curt Anderson, found themselves before a largely skeptical audience, with their only outright support coming from the business and labor communities. 

The next step in the project is a public meeting called by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, which will be held starting at 6 p.m. Feb. 13 meeting at the RRC Social Hall, 3230 MacDonald Ave. 

Within city government, the proposal now goes to the Planning Commission, with a likely appeal to the City Council regardless of which way the commissioners come down. 

The refinery issue could be the DRB’s swan-song, as the city council has already voted to merge its functions with the Planning Commission.