Not in Our Back Yards (or Anyone's)
More on Deadly Trains in Richmond
By Patsy Byers
You read it here first, if you read the RPA Activist #131 (3/5/14): "Deadly Trains in Richmond." After this newsletter broke the story, other Bay Area television, internet, and print media have added detail: Mile long 100-car trains loaded with crude oil are rolling in to Richmond. In mid-March, KPIX showed video of the crude at Richmond's BNSF rail yards (leased by Kinder Morgan) being transferred from rail cars to tanker trucks for the drive to a local refinery. (In this case it was Tesoro in Martinez.) We don't know the type or source of the crude: Canadian tar sands or fracked Bakken shale? Commercial confidentiality agreements trump the public's need to know that information.
The rapidly rising quantities of crude crossing the state by rail prompted joint hearings on emergency response to rail accidents by the California Senate's Environmental Quality and Natural Resources and Water Committees on Wednesday. They revealed that our state is woefully ill-prepared to cope with possible accidents. Local firefighters and emergency responders lack the numbers, training, equipment, and other resources to be effective in the event of a raging crude fire, explosion or spill. California's current reserve for clean-up of inland oil spills stands at a whopping $13,000. The true public costs to support private profits are staggering.
Earlier, the Activist noted that Kinder Morgan, the largest pipeline company in the U.S. and a huge chemical transporter, had quietly converted its Richmond facility from ethanol to crude oil. This conversion and the off-loading operation rely on permits issued (in September and February) by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD). It undertook these actions without requiring updated Environmental Impact Reports (EIRs) or any public hearings. Richmond organizer Andres Soto from Communities for a Better Environment says that CBE's legal staff and Earth Justice's staff are currently researching that decision and working to develop a strategy to address the "rolling bombs."
Richmond already pays a heavy price for its involvement with crude, and the communities closest to the tracks and at greatest risk are among those already most severely impacted: Atchinson Village, the Iron Triangle, and North Richmond. We also need to think about those farther back the line, in other cities, with old bridges, and in rural areas where emergency response would certainly be slow and inadequate.
And remember those who live along or drive on the highways, or ride the Capitol Corridor, and those all the way back to North Dakota or Alberta or wherever it is, who live where both sides of the tracks are now, clearly, wrong.
The KPIX anchor scoffed at Richmond's claim that it couldn't regulate what came in to the rail yard here, but, in fact, rail transport is controlled at the federal level. However, we can make our position clear; we can fight for more responsible choices from the agencies charged with protecting our health and environment; and we can promote a vision of a fossil fuel free future and work to bring it to fruition.
On Tuesday March 25, Mayor Gayle McLaughlin has scheduled a study session where oil industry analyst and investigative reporter Antonia Juhasz will give a presentation on the dangers of transporting crude oil by rail, followed by the introduction of a resolution calling on Richmond staff "to draft a letter to our congressional delegation calling on them to take steps to halt the movement of crude oil in the US by rail until this mode of transport is fully regulated such that the health, welfare, and safety of people and the environment are protected." [Click this link to read the Resolution in its entirety.]
Richmond Hears About Oil Train Disaster
Speaking with her was Antonia Juhasz, an oil industry expert. Antonia explained there have been more accidents in the last year than in the last 20 years. This is the result of a combination of the huge increase in shipping by rail combined with the increased volatility and danger of fracked oil. Juhasz pointed out that the US National Transportation Safety Board says the US is virtually incapable of regulating the movement of crude-by-rail, and where feasible,these trains should be rerouted to avoid "populated and other sensitive areas." It is thus unthinkable that companies like Chevron, Valero, and WesPac want to introduce crude-by-rail of Bakken and other sources to our area. We should instead support this proclamation, reduce our consumption of fossil fuels, and reject such increasingly hazardous sources of energy.
Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and Jovanka Beckles awarded a proclamation to Marilaine Savard representing the committee in Lac-Mégantic that is trying to keep these trains from ever again going through their town or any populated area.
Proclamation expressing solidarity with the City of
North Shore Development?
While the discussion of the General Plan is supposed to be about zoning the whole area, debate at Tuesday's Council meeting will likely focus on two parcels, marked on the map as Freethy and Murray. Here are the reasons why I oppose commercial development of the North Richmond Shoreline
The Richmond Core
Richmond suffers from the legacy of development determined by the greed of speculators and developers only interested in the quickest buck and who, in the past, found a receptive and pliable political leadership. The Hilltop project helped gut our core commercial areas.
In response, Richmond has adopted a strategy of redeveloping its core areas, restoring them to vitality and thereby, attracting investment and development that will benefit all of our residents, especially those who have been most heavily impacted by unemployment, drugs and crime.
Development on the North Shoreline is a loser because it will divert scarce investment resources from the core, increase the GHG footprint and will stretch already thin governmental infrastructure, public safety and street maintenance resources even further. And development will result in the loss of resources available to us from an ecological and aesthetic point of view that is in easy reach by bicycle and could be a draw for people to visit Richmond from any place reachable by BART, AMTRAK or car.
The North Richmond Shoreline is an extremely important natural resource because it provides habitat to a large variety of flora and fauna that make their homes in its sub-tidal (areas always covered with shallow water), tidal marsh and marsh upland/coastal prairie. In addition, the area serves as a "refueling" station for migratory birds using the Pacific Flyway.
The marsh areas are where the tidal/bay, land and air are in constant interchange. Marsh areas are important incubators of all sorts of life, from the flora that anchors it to the bacteria and fungi that feed on the decaying eelgrass and reeds, to the little critters that feed on the bacteria and fungi and in turn supply food for the larger critters that depend on the marsh for that food source and shelter. These are the spawning grounds for commercially and recreationally important species of shell fish, fish and fowl and the feeding way stations for those migratory species.
We can quantify the cost of the loss of habitat on commercially important species. We don't know what the ultimate outcome of the loss of those migratory species would be. But we do know that biological diversity is tremendously important and many scientists suspect that our ultimate survival as a species may depend on the conservation of robust diversity.
Human beings need beauty in their lives. Study after study has shown the linkages of the outdoor experience to human mental and physical health.
Escape from the built environment and the opportunity to revel in the natural environment, lies just beyond our doorsteps in the North Richmond Shoreline. We have now been granted this opportunity to preserve the shoreline, not because of any grand schemes on the part of environmentalists, but because the area has been abandoned by the same forces that abandoned the core area of Richmond
Open space advocates have been trying preserve the shoreline as well as the bay it surrounds, since the founding of the Save the San Francisco Bay Association in 1961. Today, an offshoot of the Save the San Francisco Bay Association (now known as Save the Bay), Citizens for East Shore Parks, has taken on the task of preserving the Richmond Shore Line.
The North Richmond Shoreline offers marvelous views of both the natural world and the built: sunset over the Bay, the last rays of the sun fading behind Mt. Tam and Mt. Hamilton; a flight of Brown Pelicans, swooping in low over the water to settle in after satisfying themselves on anchovies; the antics of the Coots and Cormorants in sharp contrast to the refined decorum of an Egret stalking the near shore shallows; the evening fog creeping over the east side of the West Bay hills; tufts of fog, rolling like huge cylinders of fluffy cotton under the Golden Gate Bridge; fog claiming the bridge itself, until just the two suspensions towers poke out of the undulating white mass; and the smell of salt water mingling with the scent of the Blue Gum Eucalyptus, Bay Laurel and Coastal Sage.
All of this is accessible for the members of Richmond's communities, many of whom may never have the opportunity to jet off to some exotic island locale. Just beyond our doorsteps lies an opportunity for our children to learn about the complex, interconnected web of life and to understand that they are part of it. This is there for the people of Richmond, if we act now to preserve the shoreline.
Sea Level Rise
I think it is imperative that any zoning ordinances, written to guide future development, must take into consideration the implications of sea level rise. First, all coastal environments are dynamic; although the interior of the Bay is relatively sheltered. We got to see drama unfolding on our TV screens, of apartment complexes falling into the Pacific Ocean as the coastal bluffs on which they were built were eroded by storm wave forces hammering the San Mateo Coast in Pacifica. We will not have such high drama. Once the North Shore properties are built on, there will be tremendous pressure exerted on future decision makers in Richmond to preserve the value of those properties and protect them from the encroaching Bay, at tax payers' expense. It is time for this generation to show some responsibility and not bequeath more problems onto our heirs through our short sightedness.
In the consideration of sea level rise, we must take into account, that the three phases of the Bay shoreline environment will move inland and upland. What today is sub-tidal may be too deep to support eel grass and the habitat the eel grass anchors. What today is salt marsh, will be constantly inundated and become sub-tidal; what today is dry most of the time will become salt marsh; what will be marsh upland areas will be pushed much further upland than what exists today. These three distinct bands represent important, unique, interdependent habitat areas that need to be preserved for the health of the entire ecosystem by allowing enough room in our zoning planning for these changes to take place.
I don't say that all shoreline development is improper. I think that large scale development and the infrastructure to support it, is improper. What might be OK? Low cost structures that support recreational use and access to the shoreline. Responsible community agriculture can be conducted on lands that are today dry enough to be tilled and away from sensitive upland habitat areas.
The General Plan is about zoning and must be done cautiously. Zoning should not be determined for the allowance of a specific project as that sets a precedent for developers to promote anything that fits in that zoning classification. We don't need more Hilltop projects which help gut the core city. We need to rebuild the city. For projects, there are large vacant tracts in several places east of the Richmond Parkway. There is a large vacant tract just above the former temporary Richmond City Hall on Marina Way. In fact, the warehouse that used to house city offices is probably available.
Richmond Progressive Alliance Treasurer
Member of the Board of Directors of Citizens for East Shore Parks
and it's Expand the Park Committee