Letter to the City Council
Hazardous Pet Coke Transported through Richmond in Open Rail Cars
by Karen Juster Hecht
Over the last few months I have learned that pet coke is being transported in open rail cars through Richmond. It is apparently being gathered from the area refineries and shipped to China from the Levin Richmond terminal and the Sims Metal facility. Disturbingly, China has been burning this material, which is banned in the U.S.—obviously a major health hazard worldwide.
At these facilities, prior to shipment, these huge piles of pet coke sit waiting to be loaded, totally uncovered. It is a shocking sight to encounter the enormous piles and to see the huge transports of open rail cars, loaded to overflowing, traveling within yards of Marina Bay and other residences. The black pet coke dust, of course, travels from these piles into our homes and businesses... and into our lungs.
Pet coke dust is a health hazard and is being regulated in many areas, including Chicago.
I have seen some of these transports and it is alarming—long strings of rail cars of mounded pet coke traveling immediately adjacent to housing throughout Richmond.
I would hope that there wouldn't be any question of Richmond acting swiftly and decisively to prohibit the transport of pet coke in open rail cars through our city and to prohibit these huge open piles. I understand that there is a balance between residential and business concerns, however, with these unrestricted conveyances of pet coke, to the detriment of the health and well being of Richmond residents, it seems the balance is out of alignment and needs to be readjusted by the City. Additionally, and of huge concern, if this isn't regulated, it will take a terrible toll on Richmond residential property values (which will of course then affect the City's tax revenues).
Richmond resident Karen Juster Hecht, who works in Richmond as a family law attorney, wrote this letter to the Richmond City Council, and agreed to share it on this website.
Final Report Released by Chemical Safety Board
Report Faults Chevron
by Robert Rogers
The fire that stemmed from a corroded pipe at Chevron’s Richmond refinery in August 2012 resulted from regulatory shortcomings and a flawed safety culture within the company and was compounded by an inadequate emergency response by company crews, according to a final draft report released Thursday by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board.
The CSB, a federal investigatory body that has released numerous reports on the fire over the past two years, will hold a public meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday [Jan. 28] in the Richmond City Council chamber.
Continue to the full Contra Costa Times story.
Preceding the public meeting, there will be a 5pm rally at Richmond Civic Center.
Sat. 2/7, 11:30am, Demand a Fracking Ban in California
March for Real Climate Leadership
Tell Governor Brown you want fracking shut down! We'll be meeting at Oscar Grant Plaza (near 12th St. BART) and marching to a rally at the Lake Merritt Amphitheater, with plenty of music, dancing, and creative energy along the way.
From a letter by march organizers: "If Governor Brown really cares about climate issues, how can he ignore the emissions from fracking, the billions of gallons of oil industry wastewater injected into aquifers, and the health problems associated with fracking in the Central Valley, Los Angeles and beyond?" We deserve better; we demand real climate leadership.
Help us prepare at art parties every Sunday in Oakland, or email firstname.lastname@example.org to help with BART Blitz leafletting beforehand. Visit the March for Real Climate Leadership website to learn more.
Analysis of RPA's 2014 Election Victory from Labor Notes
Unbought Slate Wins against Democrats-for-Chevron
by Jane Slaughter
It's not often that a city council race in a city of 100,000 draws national attention. It happened in Richmond, California, this fall because one big corporation was so shameless in its open attempt to buy the election.
But even more remarkable was the fact that the corporation got beat. Up against the Democratic Party establishment, plus $3 million in campaign spending by Chevron—the third-largest company in the world—a grassroots group won.
Continue to the full article in Labor Notes.
Jane Slaughter, formerly Labor Notes' editor, worked on the RPA campaign for six weeks this fall.
Mon. 2/2 Hearing in Sacramento
EPA Proposal to Reduce Smog
Ground-level ozone is a component of smog which is most hazardous to the health of humans, crops, and trees. According to the EPA, thousands of studies have documented the respiratory and cardiovascular harm caused by ozone, especially for the 26 million Americans with asthma, even at levels below the current standard of 75 parts per billion. Now the EPA is holding hearings on its proposal to lower this standard.
The Sierra Club's Ratha Lai, a staunch friend of the RPA, is reaching out for concerned citizens to attend the EPA's Sacramento hearing. The Sierra Club is providing the bus, leaving from Richmond BART on the morning of February 2 and returning that evening. "There will be a huge rally," Ratha says, "and we will get folks to do sidewalk chalk art around our clean air messages." Please contact Ratha to reserve your seat on the Sierra Club bus, or to help out with phone-banking (Tuesday and Thursday nights at the Berkeley Sierra Club office, 2530 San Pablo Ave.) to build a good turnout for this crucial hearing.
Poll Biased to Favor School Privateers
Teacher Notes Misleading Claims for Charters
This article was submitted as a response to one of the questions included in the poll of voters reported on in the last issue of the RPA Activist.
by Mary Flanagan, United Teachers of Richmond
Here is their question regarding Charter Schools:
According to a Stanford University study, poor students, and those who speak English as a second language faired [sic] better in charters schools, do you support Charter schools in Richmond to better prepare students to take advance [sic] of the Richmond scholarship fund?
This misleading question is clearly designed to elicit a response to promote charter schools.
What Standford study claims that ELL students benefit from Charter Schools?
Continue to the full article.
From The Nation: "Pothole Progressives" in City Government
Meet the Group of Feisty Urban Progressives Who Want to Transform the Country One City at a Time
by Steve Early
A century ago, working-class radicals frustrated with the pace of change often scoffed at their more patient comrades in city government, calling them “sewer socialists.” The latter, however, numbered in the hundreds, and, in their heyday, were quite influential in cities both large and small. After being elected to municipal positions on the Socialist Party ticket, they labored mightily to improve local services, from public sanitation to street repair. They even encroached on private markets by expanding public housing and experimenting with municipal ownership of utilities.
The national expansion of popular democracy sought by these left-wing reformers was, sadly, never achieved under their party banner. But several decades later, their many ideas for putting government to work for the people found traction during the New Deal. Programs to promote social equality and economic opportunity first tested at the state or local level became a Depression-era lifeline for millions of Americans nationwide.
Continue to the full article in The Nation.
From TomDispatch: Fighting the Fossil Fuel Giants
The Climate for 2015
by Rebecca Solnit
It was the most thrilling bureaucratic document I've ever seen for just one reason: it was dated the 21st day of the month of Thermidor in the Year Six. Written in sepia ink on heavy paper, it recorded an ordinary land auction in France in what we would call the late summer of 1798. But the extraordinary date signaled that it was created when the French Revolution was still the overarching reality of everyday life and such fundamentals as the distribution of power and the nature of government had been reborn in astonishing ways. The new calendar that renamed 1792 as Year One had, after all, been created to start society all over again.
In that little junk shop on a quiet street in San Francisco, I held a relic from one of the great upheavals of the last millennium. It made me think of a remarkable statement the great feminist fantasy writer Ursula K. Le Guin had made only a few weeks earlier. In the course of a speech she gave while accepting a book award she noted, "We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings."
Continue to the full TomDispatch article.
Pre- & Post-Ferguson
Real Police Reform Takes Root in Richmond
by Steve Early
In the wake of a Missouri grand jury decision not to indict Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown on August 9, it can be difficult to imagine a city in the United States where a police department and a largely black and Latino population work together productively.
But it's happening in Richmond, California, a gritty town in the San Francisco Bay Area best known for its massive Chevron refinery and, in past years, for its high crime rate.
Thanks to a decade-long experiment with “community policing,” violent crime in Richmond is down. Last year, this city of 100,000 had only 16 killings—the lowest number in 33 years—and far fewer unsolved homicide cases.
Gun use by the Richmond Police Department (RPD) itself is also way down. Despite making thousands of arrests and confiscating one gun or more every day in the city, the RPD has averaged less than one officer-involved shooting per year since 2008. On September 6, The Contra Costa Times ran a story, citing these and other statistics. It was headlined: "Use of Deadly Force by Police Disappears on Richmond Streets."
Continue to the full CounterPunch story.
Opposition to Kinder Morgan’s Permit
School Board Wary of Crude-by-Rail
Wednesday evening, 12/3, the WCCUSD Board unanimously passed a resolution calling on the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) to reconsider its permit to Kinder Morgan for crude-by-rail shipments coming into Richmond. Andrés Soto of Communities for a Better Environment brought the resolution to the Board. The Richmond City Council passed a similar measure in October, and as a result, City Manager Bill Lindsay sent a letter to BAAQMD making a case for reconsideration, review, and revocation of the permit.
This recent incident may have helped persuade the Trustees: On Friday, a rail car derailed off BNSF tracks near the Richmond Parkway, where Pennsylvania Avenue ends near Peres Elementary School. A reader submitted the photo above to the Richmond Standard (Chevron's PR organ), which ran a story on Wednesday. Other media coverage was woefully scant.
Important Step Forward in Saving Doctors Hospital
County Supervisors Forgive $9M Debt
by Mike Parker
The Board of Supervisors made a step toward saving Doctors Hospital on Tuesday, December 2. It passed a resolution waiving $9 million debt repayment. Eduardo Martinez, Melvin Willis, representing ACCE, and Mike Parker, representing the RPA, spoke at the Board along with several nurses and representatives of the CNA in support of this step.
Credit was given to the Richmond Council for providing leadership and for breaking the impass with its designation of $15 million in Community Benefits Agreement funds if others contribute. Supervisor John Gioia was one who responded. Now others are coming to the table to maintain a full service hospital in West County.
This does not mean Doctors is saved yet. There is still a lot of work to do. This issue has to come before the other cities in the County—El Cerrito, Pinole, Hercules, San Pablo—to contribute a share. We need to look for ways that the major corporations in the County, especially the ones that handle hazardous materials, also are required to contribute. Ultimately the County Board of Supervisors itself is responsible for finding the ways to keep Doctors open on a sustainable basis--not just make a contribution to it.
Gioia's motion passed 3-2. (Gioia, Glover, and Mitchoff voted yes; Anderson and Piepho voted no.) There was general recognition that Doctors was in financial difficulty due to low reimbursement rates while having to serve a low wage and indigent population. Nonetheless, Piepho, who shed tears in an earlier discussion about the County's program providing shelter and treatment of pets, suggested that the County giving money for the hospital was an illegitimate "gift."
On the Decision in Ferguson
Black Lives Matter
by Nicole Valentino
The grand jury verdict is still fresh, and we are still processing our emotional reactions to it. Immediately, although we are not surprised, we are outraged by the decision of the grand jury in failing to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the Michael Brown killing in Ferguson, Missouri.
We are outraged that Prosecutor Robert McCullough could still bring a case against Darren Wilson, but he has said that he would not. We are outraged that while the protesters and sympathizers are being asked publicly to be peaceful, to remain calm, and to practice restraint and tolerance, there was no such restraint and good judgment on the part of Darren Wilson when Michael Brown attempted to surrender and was killed, allegedly in cold blood.
US Attorney General Eric Holder is quoted as saying "It does not honor his memory to engage in violence or looting." We say, it does not honor the memory of Michael Brown to let his killer go free without any serious repercussions or legal consequences. What happened in Ferguson tonight is a travesty of justice to say the least.
Black lives matter. Black lives matter in Ferguson, Missouri. Black lives matter in Richmond, California. Black lives matter everywhere.
The Campaign Coordinator’s Perspective
Why Did Progressives Win Richmond?
by Mike Parker
What made us able to turn around the hit pieces and the essential ingredient in our victory is that we have been organizing and building for 10 years, and we have built roots through everyday community activity. We have built alliances with unions and other organizations with whom we share basic values. The Bobby Bowens Progressive Center, located in the Iron Triangle and staffed entirely by volunteers, has become a community center, regularly used by all kinds of local groups. We have trained leaders and supported leaders developing through other organizations. It was organization that enabled us to put together all the individual factors above.
Our basic values have been simple: a progressive movement in Richmond prioritizes improving the health and quality of life of working people and those disadvantaged in the society. It is independent of corporate money, and it supports diversity in our city while unifying on those issues that improve the city as a whole. Our power comes from empowering still more people.
Continue to the full article.
City Council Urges BAAQMD to Stop Crude-by-Rail
Richmond’s 107,000 are in Danger
At its last meeting before the election, October 28th, Richmond City Council unanimously* passed a resolution calling on the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) to "review" and "if feasible, revoke" the permit given to Kinder Morgan to bring in crude oil by rail through Richmond. The resolution also instructs the City Attorney to research and report back on options for restricting the use of tanker trucks carrying Bakken crude oil through city streets. A sobering Richmond Confidential report by Phil James notes "If you go to the website explosive-crude-by-rail.org and zoom in on Richmond, what you'll find is disconcerting. According to the 1-3 mile buffer zone on the map, the entire city and its 107,000 residents are in danger if trains carrying crude oil explode."
* Councilmembers Bates and Boozé were absent for the vote although present for the meeting, having left the chamber.
See Nick Despota's article on the Sunflower Alliance website for more information.