Valero rail project opponents to gather before Thursday meeting

Planning Commission slated to review draft environmental report on crude-by-rail plan

A draft version of the environmental impact report on the Valero Crude-by-Rail Project is the subject of a Planning Commission hearing at 7 p.m. Thursday. Numerous groups are expected to make the hearing a “standing-room-only” event.

Among the many expected to attend will be a Benicia and Bay Area resident with “a lifelong interest in social justice” who has followed the proposed plan to bring crude oil to Benicia by train since the first days after it was proposed.

Andres Soto listened to speakers at a community meeting on the proposed project and “was shocked this city was trying to push this through as a negative declaration.”

At the time, Benicia was considering that a mitigated negative declaration would be a sufficient way to address any environmental impacts of the project to extend railroad tracks in Valero Benicia Refinery’s property so the company can replace some of its crude oil shipments by marine ship with delivery by train.

According to the California Environmental Quality Act, a negative declaration is a “written statement briefly describing the reasons that a project will not have a significant effect on the environment and does not require the preparation of an environmental impact report”; a mitigated negative declaration is the same, “with the addition of identified mitigation measures and a Mitigation Monitoring Program.”

However, intense public interest in the Valero Crude-by-Rail Project prompted the city to abandon the mitigated negative declaration and examine and address the project’s impacts through a more extensive environmental impact report.

Now that a draft version of that report has been released and further public comment is being gathered, Soto and other residents are again mustering to oppose the project.

Soto’s joining of Thursday’s rally and his voluntary participation in Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community are just the latest of his community activity roles.

While a student at Contra Costa Community College in San Pablo, he became involved in the United Farmworkers movement to gain rights for those who worked in lettuce fields and vineyards. He earned a political science degree from the University of California-Berkeley, with the thought of becoming an attorney.

“I didn’t,” he said. “I had children to raise.”

Instead, he became active in his hometown of Richmond, spending 15 years as a parent advocate in the local school district, developing jobs and conducting workshops for the city.

He was hired by Contra Costa County in 1991 to work in its Youth Violence Prevention program, addressing the escalating violence that peaked in the late 1990s before it began to decline.

That 10-year project was at a time when shooters gradually changed from using cheap “Saturday night special” revolvers to semi-automatic guns. That encouraged Soto to seek ways to reduce the illegal selling and distribution of those weapons.

He continued that effort by pushing through through land-use policy changes when he was hired to do similar work by the Pacific Center for Violence Prevention, part of a statewide program.

Along the way, he became involved in a civil rights lawsuit against Richmond police stemming from an incident in 2002 when family friends were pepper sprayed and beaten by officers. Soto also is a founding member of the Richmond Progressive Alliance, a group that helped get another co-founder, Gayle McLaughlin, elected Richmond’s mayor.

Though he has moved to Rancho Benicia, into a home that formerly belonged to his mother, he remains active in Richmond, hired by the Communities for a Better Environment just before the 2012 Chevron Refinery explosion and fire.

He said joining Benicians for a Safe and Healthy Community and becoming part of its steering committee was a logical extension of his earlier work. He often is the spokesperson for the organization.

An hour before the first portion of the July 10 hearing before the Planning Commission, the group and other allied organizations — such as the Sunflower Alliance, which Soto co-founded — carried sunflowers and waved to passersby as a reminder of the one-year anniversary of the fatal Lac-Megantic train explosion in Quebec, Canada.

He said Thursday’s rally won’t be as visible as the event last month, but that members will help people fill out comment cards, get their seats in City Hall early, and prepare to address the Planning Commission.

The hearing will focus on the environmental impact report, which Soto said is flawed. He said his organization is worried that combining light, fracked crude with heavy and sour Canadian tar sands crude to make Valero’s proprietary blend “is dangerous and unstable, and the EIR doesn’t touch upon that.”

While the draft EIR contends that replacing marine shipments with those by rail would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Soto said electrifying ports so ships don’t have to idle their engines would also accomplish such a reduction. “It’s used in San Francisco already,” he said.

He and other agency members challenge the document’s calculations that minimize the chances of rail accidents that could pollute surrounding areas or cause explosions, that the impacts to traffic also are erroneously minimized. He expressed hope that comments on the draft would force a recirculation of the final environmental report.

Soto said his organization and others are gaining support. They’ve spoken with residents during the Benicia Farmers Market and with individuals who are members of other organizations in uprail cities that also worry about oil-carrying trains passing through their communities.

“The drumbeat is beating our way,” he said. “I believe the Planning Commission will see through this and see our side.”

The Planning Commission meeting starts at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Council Chamber of City Hall, 250 East L St.

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  1. Bob Livesay says

    Soto coul;d be right on the planning commissions decision. But he could also be wrong. Either way it goes to the council on appeal. At that point the council will make a decision. That decision will then be followed by law suits. This could go on for a while. All along the crude situation will be changing every say. Not at all driven by emotion or agenda driven ant fossil fuel ideals. North Dakota Bakken is in the process of requiring energy companys to treat the crude to make it less volatile. There will be stabalizing equipment just like in Texas at the Eagle Ford formation. Couple that with the only cars that Valero will use to bring crude to Benicia and you can see a much different picture. The CPC1232 approved car by the AAR and many other organizations. His group does not want to hear any of that. I wonder what he thinks of the council decision in Richmond. Extortion of 90 mil for Chevrons project to be approved Against the ideals of that council group. Money for approval. We will not see that in Benicia. This project will move forward on its merits not money. That answer would be interesting. If he approves of that I would assume he would approve of all mitigated issues in the DEIR. Would also like to hear that groups answer on that. It is about time the local residents stand up to this group and make your voices heard loud and clear. Also flash that “V” sign for Valetro every where you go. Show your support for Valero and this very clean and healthy project. I believe there are more locals for than against. We shall see how the Planning Commission sees this big project.

  2. Thomas Petersen says

    “The drumbeat is beating our way,” I think this about sums it up. The support of the proponents is unfocused and flaccid, at best. The voices of the overwhelming amount of local residents that are against this Valero project, will not cease to be heard. If nothing else, this exemplifies that citizens throughout this great republic will not bow down to the attempts of large corporation to steamroll their will through communities. Let’s not forget that if Valero chooses to abandon Benicia, it will not be without significant investment to shut down their operation. It would equate to cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face. If you see the C1 sign about town, know that it stands for community first.

  3. Bob Livesay says

    Valero has pulled out of other areas. It could happen anywhere Valero decides it is not welcome. The silent majority is in first place at present. The vocal crowd is just what it is vocal. Giving out uninformed info and using scare tactics. Review the comments on ,the city web page. You will find out one person dominates the comments. That is not a majority put a agenda driven person with repeat comments. It is not working and will not work. Remember money bought the Richmond council that will not happen here. Housing prces are on the rise in Benicia and will continue to go up. ,The only reason they have not kept pace with CCCounty and other counties is one reason. The word is Solano and not Valero. Flash that “V” sign.

  4. Thomas Petersen says

    Fact: If Valero gets it’s way, this will definitely not be the last we will hear from them. They will push for more concessions in the future. Head down this path, and Benicia will resemble Richmond on many levels in due course. Refineries, in general, are the stigma of many communities that have seen better days. Make no mistake about it. The voice of the denial-set is foolish indeed. C1 t-shirts are on the way.

  5. Bob Livesay says

    Richmond started downhill after WW!!. Refineries have been in Martinez for over 100 years. In Benicia for 45 years. See no downhill in either place. Just Richmond If anyone knows the history of Richmond it was a very lively town until about 1970 or so. A Macys, J C Penney, Woolworths and Montgomery Wards on NcDonald Ave. Very proiductive shopping and mfg. city. What happened? I tell you what happened the Liberals took overrand there goes the city. Richmond cannot blame the refinery. Without it Richmond would be a ghost town filled with empty houses and abandoned business. A pure dump. the refinery has saved Richmond. If the Liberals hAD THEIR.

    • DDL says

      Bob Livesay said: I tell you what happened the Liberals took over and there goes the city.
      Bob, you cannot blame liberals for the failings of every city that has gone south. There are many examples to counter that argument, such as:
      Vallejo……. Oh wait, they filed for bankruptcy.
      Half moon Bay… oh no, wait … Stockton. Oh sorry both of them did as well.
      OK, Oakland, no sorry bad example.
      Chicago, wait, murder capitol USA.
      Well then there is Detroit, oh, no sorry, another bad choice.
      Well then how about Atlanta? No sorry unemployment just went up to 7.6%.
      Ok, sorry I can’t think of any, Bob, but still you can’t blame the liberals, they mean well.

  6. Bob Livesay says

    way Chevron would be gone and there goes the City of Richmond. Folks who do not know the history should do some homework and then get it right. Benicia is not even close to Richmond. They sold out long ago. Valero is governed by regulations and has to live within those guidlines. I cannot believe anyone would compare Benicia to Richmond. They must be living in an other world. I assume some of the commentors think the anti fossil fuel group is going to win. You will get the surpise of your life if it goes to the council. Lots of things are on the table so keep your eyes open. There very well could be some surprises in store. Just why do you think the mayor was desparately trying to find candidates to run against the two incumbents and could not get any. If you have not figured that out you are so out of touch it is very sad.

  7. Thomas Petersen says

    Benicia does not want to become like petro-chemical slice’s of heaven like El Segundo with it’s endless groundwater contamination; or San Ardo with its’ visual blight; or Martinez with its’ tweakers and halfway houses. This is what happens to towns that travel further down the heavy industry path. Benicia will become a dump like the places mentioned above. Just a simple fact.

  8. Bob Livesay says

    Benicia has had industry in its town since the mid 1800′s. Seems to me it has done very well. Even had to have a recovery after the arsenal closed. Guess what Benicia should be the picture of what a good city is and can be. Do some research on Martinez and then make a comment. The anti fossil fuel fools crowd is just what it is fools. Anti fossil fuel fools loaded with Liberals and do nothings.

  9. Thomas Petersen says

    The utter blindness of the proponents of “heavy industry at all costs”, never cease to amaze. Valero, the sole industry in Benicia that could level this town with a single spark, or contaminate the environs for decades to come, is beyond reproach for this type of slack-jawed and programmed automaton (SJPA). Those that criticize heavy industry, and the numerous and well documented failings of such, are held up as something akin to ones that would drown kittens by these folks. The SJPAs are senseless few, really. It is truly sad that we live in a society where we have folks that are so jaded and, or have such antipathy towards potential realities, that they are just willing to take it lying down whilst biting a pillow. Is big oil really in danger? Please!

  10. Bob Livesay says

    Scare tactics. Tell us the last town that was leveled by a refinery. You cannot. So stop your nonsense. I assume you will speak at Thirs. meeting or are you going into hiding in Richmond.. Stop it.

  11. Thomas Petersen says

    Another problem with the SJPA set, is their unvarying, almost mechanical, predictability.. Not too mention the inability to differentiate between the literal and the figurative. Oh, and also the penchant for wrapping affronts in effrontery. In other other words, fail..

  12. Bob Livesay says

    I was at the meeting last night. Well attended and all in good behavior. The main room was packed with Valero supporters the overwhelming group in attendance. The room was locked for admittance untill 6:15PM so there was no advanced stacking of the main room.. It is very apparent that the support has taken a major shift. to pro Valero.. No emotional remarks just the facts. This Three Rail Project will be judged by the facts on the project. That was very well presented and backed by the residents and the professionals. The opponets also made very good commets. Their problem seemed to be that they drifted away from the real issues. The DEIR is about the facts and not what ifs or emotional comments. The responsibility of the commission is to make the decision on the facts of the project. I trust that is just what they will do. Last nght the got very good information.

  13. Bob Livesay says

    Thomas were you at the gathering. If you were you would have stood out. The group was weak Thomas and they did need your help. I got it you and Peter were discussing plans to defeat the project. That is good and I do rerspect that. So I guess we will see you and Peter at the Sept. mneeting. I do want you to think about the date which is Sept. 11. I do hope you and Peter remember that date. Looking forward to seeing you two.