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|Chevron Lawsuit Strategy before Council |
McLaughlin, Beckles, Butt Stand Firm
Bates, Booze, Capitulate to Chevron
Myrick, and Rogers, Back-off
On May 21 the City Council backed down from its plan to enter into a legal services agreement with the law firm, Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy.
Having the lawyers that reached the San Bruno settlement with PG&E would give the city a lot more leverage in getting Chevron to pay for damages and costs of the August 6 fire.
"The first person who blinks loses" is common wisdom among experienced sales negotiators. Experienced labor negotiators understand that you do not back away from your strongest position until you have an agreement. Chevron has been lawyering up and spending money on its PR in preparations for these negotiations. The city started firming up its side as appropriate and then the city council blinked.
The City had signaled Chevron that it would hire lawyers at least weeks ago unless Chevron came up with a decent deal. Certainly Chevron got the message when the City released information about the proposed legal service agreement on May 7. Chevron had its chance to move quickly with proposals that would meet the City's requirements. To start blinking and backing down now, to disarm your legal force, is only to encourage Chevron on its current course.
Mayor McLaughlin read from the originally proposed legal services agreement reminding us that Chevron knows how negotiations are handled: Referring to its continued legal challenge of property tax assessments while it was engaged in discussions, Chevron replied "While we remain committed to the mediation process, until an agreement is reached we are obligated to take the necessary steps to preserve our legal rights."
Understanding the Council actions
At the May 21 City Council meeting, we caught a clear glimpse of how susceptible some of our City Council members and City officials are to pressure from Chevron.
The hard evidence we have for this is scant, since so much of the discussion was held in closed session out of the public view, but from what we did see, here's what can be pieced together. You can draw your own conclusions.
At the May 7 City Council meeting, there was an agenda item, H-22, as follows:
"Approve a legal services agreement with Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, LLP to prosecute a civil action on a contingent-fee basis as directed in closed session." The closed session referred to must have occurred prior to May 7, as the agenda was published on May 3. The item was placed on the agenda's consent calendar by the City Attorney, indicating a likelihood that it was recommended by both the City Attorney and the City Manager, and also that it was anticipated (but not guaranteed) to be non-controversial among the City Council members. The City Council never got to this item that evening, however, due to time constraints and an overly long agenda.
It soon became clear that this item was about a potential lawsuit against Chevron, though no mention of this fact was made on the May 7 agenda report. The City Council apparently directed the City Manager in closed session on May 7 to release the statement providing the rationale for entering into a Legal Services Agreement with Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy LLP to the press. By the morning of May 8, we all read about it in the newspaper. see released statement
The statement providing the rationale summarizes the damage done to Richmond by the Aug. 6 Chevron refinery fire, outlines the goals to be accomplished by filing a lawsuit, and asserts the City's intention to take the necessary steps to preserve its legal rights while still being open to negotiating a settlement with Chevron. This would clearly signify a positive step and bold move to leverage better safety precautions at the refinery as well as monetary restitution to the City of Richmond for damage from the fire.
This item appeared again with the same wording on the May 21 City Council agenda as G-37. However, the attitude of most of the City Council and staff had clearly changed during the intervening two weeks. First of all, before the May 21 meeting even got off the ground, Councilmembers Bates and Booze tried unsuccessfully to take it off the agenda altogether. When the item was heard, about 20 public speakers urged the Council to approve it and vigorously pursue all legal remedies to achieve the best possible outcome for the City from Chevron. As one speaker noted, when it comes to legal issues, Chevron always plays hardball, so we have to play hardball, too.
Mayor McLaughlin's motion to go ahead and hire the law firm right away (as was clearly recommended by staff on May 7, and which could allow the lawsuit to be filed) while continuing to attempt mediating a settlement, failed. The Mayor, Councilmembers Beckles and Butt voted "yes". Councilmembers Bates, Booze and Rogers voted "no", and Councilmember Myrick abstained.
Councilmember Rogers' watered down motion to prepare the contract with the law firm but have it take effect 30 days from now, if necessary, passed 5-2, with Bates and Booze dissenting. For those wanting to push harder against Chevron, this appeared to be the only way to retain the possibility of legal recourse. During the next 30 days, the City will proceed with negotiating and if a satisfactory deal isn't reached, the City can theoretically still file the lawsuit at that time.
The question remains, what had changed between May 7 and May 21? McLaughlin, Beckles and Butt all stood firm on the direction that appeared to be a sure thing on May 7, while Bates, Booze, Myrick and Rogers backed off. What new information could have surfaced? Since we are not privvy to closed session discussions, we can only make an educated guess that the answer is heavy pressure from Chevron.
Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy LLP is an outstanding, high profile law firm that successfully represented San Bruno in the aftermath of the PG&E pipeline explosion. The firm is willing to take Richmond's case on a contingency basis with no cost to the City, so its attorneys must be confident of being able to achieve a good outcome. No doubt Chevron will do whatever it can to prevent the City from working with this firm.
What kind of tactics did Chevron employ to induce 4 council members to hold back? Was it sweet-talking ("Oh, don't worry, you don't have to file a lawsuit against us, we can talk amicably and come up with a good settlement amongst ourselves..."), or strong-arming ("If you hire this law firm and sue us, we'll leave Richmond, smear you in your re-election campaigns, stop donating to local non-profits, and/or take some other hurtful action against you..."), or some of both?
Now we have to watch carefully what happens in the next 30 days. Based on past experience, we can be pretty sure that whatever Chevron might offer to do voluntarily without an actual lawsuit pending will be meager at best. Remember, this is a corporation with a squadron of high-powered lawyers driven by the mandate to maximize profits. So the big question is:
Will there be at least four Council members who have the fortitude to resist Chevron's next round of threats and follow through with the Council's stated readiness to go ahead with the lawsuit on June 21?
It was clear Booze and Bates did not want to move in the direction of hiring the legal firm at all, while the "wait and see" strategy of Myrick and Rogers sends a message that the council is willing to back away from its original stance -- not a good position from which to start negotiating.
Now's the time for the people of Richmond to put pressure on their elected officials, especially Councilmembers Myrick and Rogers, and remind them that their primary responsibility is looking out for the health and well-being of the community. Booze and Bates are already die-hard Chevron apologists. McLaughlin, Beckles and Butt have shown they're not cowed by Chevron's threats, and we need to thank them and tell them to stay strong.
|Wednesday, July 29 morning
Holding Chevron Accountable at Shareholder Meeting in San Ramon
A coalition of human rights advocates, environmentalists, and frontline communities from Richmond to the Ecuadorian Amazon will protest outside Chevron's annual shareholder meeting in San Ramon. We need your help to hold Chevron accountable. Please respond ASAP if you can support in any way.
Here's how you can support:
Promote the online action
demanding that Chevron CEO John Watson resign. Sign the petition
Attend the demonstration the morning of May 29th in San Ramon. We will be greeting shareholders with a massive protest as they enter at 7:30am and meeting them as they leave at 10:30am. One way to get there is to join 350 Bay Area's six-mile Bike the Math ride. Click here
Promote the demonstration via social media. Facebook event:
Coming from Ecuador
Servio Curipoma, a cacao farmer who lost both his parents and his sister-in-law to cancer that doctors attributed to drinking water contaminated by toxic crude, will be traveling from the Ecuadorian Amazon to the shareholder's meeting to hand Chevron CEO John Watson a thick stack of petitions and a pink slip. He will be speaking for the 30,000 people in Ecuador who are still suffering as a result of Chevron's contamination.
Demand Watson's Resignation
|Fire CEO Watson|
This is just one of many reasons that Watson has failed and should resign. Environmental and human rights watchdogs have labeled Chevron a "corporate criminal on the run" and with additional spills in Brazil, explosions in Richmond, California and Nigeria, Chevron's safety continues to worsen.
Rather than take responsibility for Chevron's bad actions and respond accordingly, time and again Watson's response has been to throw millions of dollars into "green-washing" ads and thousands of lawyers to attack their critics. He has launched an unprecedented attack against Chevron's own shareholders and used Chevron's wealth to "buy" political campaigns and pressure government.
The action attempts to represent a wide variety of concerns and lists ten different reasons ranging from the criminal investigation and poor safety record at the Richmond refinery to Chevron's political campaigning and pressure on local and national politics.
Help us to give Watson the pink slip.
|Promise Scholarship Proposal
How would you spend $ 4 - 5 million a year on education in Richmond?
Councilmembers Jael Myrick and Jim Rogers wants to give college scholarships to graduating Richmond seniors. Their proposal for a "Pride and Purpose Promise Scholarship is on the agenda next Tuesday. Tom Butt has his own version and suggests "This would be a great program to convince Chevron to fund as a part of the Fire Settlement. It could have a dramatic impact on education and kids' futures in Richmond and its publicity value for Chevron would be beyond value."
First of all, yes - if there is to be one - The Promise Scholarship Fund should be privately funded. But no, letting Chevron off the hook for the August fire and its culture of willful negligence (as reported by the US Chemical Safety Board) is not the way to fund it. Chevron, at a minimum, needs to pay retributions and be ordered to undergo rigorous periodic third party safety inspections as condition of the Fire Settlement. Chevron - as a totally separate matter - might wish to fund The Scholarship Fund, especially for its "publicity value."
Secondly, who says - if we get $4 - 5 million from Chevron for enhanced educational programs in Richmond - The Pride and Purpose Promise Scholarship Fund is the enhancement educators, parents, and the community want? Sure, a guaranteed college scholarship for Richmond high school graduates would be great in an environment of plentiful resources for quality public education.
In the current environment of scarcity, though, it would make a lot more sense to hold community-wide education speak-outs to which the public is invited to find priorities for use of that kind of money. Certainly, plenty of research suggests the biggest bang for the buck results from sinking resources into early childhood and elementary school programs, for example.
In any case, politicians should not cut side deals with Chevron for funding educational programs without community input. The series of meetings sponsored by the WCCUSD as part of the strategic plan effort they have underway does not suffice as community input, but does point to another opportunity. Priorities determined through city-wide education speak-outs in Richmond and funds negotiated by the city with private donors to support those priorities could immensely influence WCCUSD and have an impact beyond Richmond. The performance requirements for students who enter into the Promise Program require close coordination with the school system, in any case.
Finally look at where they have been tried elsewhere. The New Haven Connecticut Promise Program succeeds because it is part of a comprehensive school reform. It is an eight year program which students join as freshmen. Those who keep their end of the promise receive the scholarship assistance promised when they graduate. Throughout the program, students maintain attendance and grades. They participate in supervised community service. They never get expelled. In return, students receive full scholarships to public two- and four-year public postsecondary institutions or up to $2500 a year to certain in-state private schools. They maintain their grades once in the post-secondary programs they choose.
Click here for information about the New Haven program.
Passes Resolution to
Close Prop 13 Loopholes
Proposition 13 was intended to protect homeowners, particularly the elderly, from being forced out of their homes by property tax increases. However large loopholes for commercial enterprises actually end up creating a bigger burden for homeowners and renters. The result over years is that commercial tax breaks mean a reduction of road repairs, street lighting, code enforcement, and inadequate funding for education, and community safety.
Councilmembers Booze complained about the eight minutes for the public to speak on this issue. At first he seemed to listen and learn something but in the end he clearly did not, or pretended he did not , understand that this was about closing loop holes that cheat all residents of services they need.
Prop 13: Residential Property Pays More
Big Money Interests May Mobilize Against Richmond
An imaginative approach that could help hundreds of homeowners whose houses are "underwater" could be threatened by big money threats of legal action. When the housing bubble burst, many people who bought homes at a high market rate found that their homes were worth far less than what they owed or were able to pay. All too often banks foreclose, throw out the residents and then resell the property for much less than the homeowner owed.
If the banks would simply resell the property to the homeowner for what the market value of the home, the homeowner could afford to stay and the house would be properly maintained, neighborhood stability would be increased, and neighborhood blight would be avoided.
The mortgage holder would still get about the same as with an eviction. It could be be win-win in each case but banks hate the principle that they might not be able to do what they want ACCE has promoted a way to make this happen. But its a little more complicated as Robert Rogers explains in this excellent article in the Contra Costa Times.
Eminent domain could be used in battle against foreclosures in Richmond
RICHMOND -- Millions of Americans have lost their homes, and millions more could meet the same fate in a foreclosure crisis that continues to hammer communities across the country. Now, a San Francisco investment firm thinks it has found a remedy to the epidemic that has for years vexed national and local leaders -- and a willing partner in a Bay Area city that is no stranger to pursuing radical ideas.
The idea is to use the tool of eminent domain, which usually is associated with government taking private property from people, to keep families in their homes. Under a plan now taking shape, Richmond would seize underwater mortgages and work to refinance them under terms the homeowners could afford.
Mortgage Resolution Partners (MRP), the investment firm pitching the untested idea, already struck out in San Bernardino County and Salinas, where local leaders, after initially embracing the idea, got cold feet in the face of threatened lawsuits and fears that the home loan market would dry up.
But Richmond, which last year tried to become the nation's first city to tax sugar-sweetened beverages to fight obesity, appears to have no such reservations. City and Mortgage Resolution Partners officials are working on the details of a plan that could make Richmond the national testing ground for the use of eminent domain to stabilize foreclosure-ravaged communities.
But like the so-called "soda tax" that was overwhelmingly rejected by Richmond voters in November, this proposal faces fierce resistance from a deep-pocketed industry that sees plenty to lose if the strategy takes hold. Many legal challenges await the city that tries to knock down the first domino, including arguments that the plan tramples on basic property rights.
See full article here
Saffron Strand needs volunteers for its 4th Annual Conference for the following:
1. Set-up on Sunday, June 16 at 2:00 p.m.
2. Room monitors for workshops and help at the registration table on June 17 & 18
3. Clean up on June 18 at 3:00 p.m.
For vendor applications please email at firstname.lastname@example.org, Attn:Ruth Hopper/ for Information, Attn:Courtney Cummings
Hosted by Richmond Native American Pow wow Committee
RPA Activist Info
is for Richmond community members who want to be active in taking on the problems of the environment, racism, joblessness, housing, and crime to create a healthy Richmond. We believe that community involvement means more than voting every two years. It means regular communication with the candidates we elect, letting them know our issues and positions, supporting them as they try to take our issues forward. It means we attend meetings, use email, phone our neighbors, or go on marches building an organized movement to create real change.
Comments and columns are welcome. Articles and columns are the views of the author, unsigned text the views of the editor, Mike Parker, and not necessarily those of the RPA. Send photos, articles, and comments to RPAactivist@gmail.com or call 510-595-4661. Longer articles of analysis and archives of past newsletters can be found on our website.