Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Vallejo Watershed Alliance annual planning meeting notes

The Vallejo Watershed Alliance is a partnership of public agencies and interested individuals working together to improve the greater Vallejo watershed.
Vallejo Watershed Alliance Attendees
* Doug Darling * Pam Sahin * Jennifer Kaiser * Gabe Lanusse * Michael Gordon * Liz Wilkie * Karen Jameson * Liat Meitzenheimer * Phil Stevens

Planned Outcome -
Agreement on projects/agreements to benefit the goals of the Alliance and schedule work day
options for the next twelve months.

Agenda -
◊ Presentation by Phil Stevens, executive director of the Urban Creeks Council
◊ Brainstorm Activity
◊ Calendar Posting (on monthly charts)

Presentation -
Phil shared experiences of the Urban Creeks Council, and encouraged the Alliance to think
very big in terms of restoration work.

Brainstorm Activity -
Partipants were asked to contribute ideas about what the Alliance should focus their efforts on during the coming year. The tasks were divided into action items and research or outreach items. Action items were placed on the calendar; research items are to be discussed at upcoming Alliance meetings.

Research/Outreach Items -
• History of Hanns ranch family (Marianne Butler has good contact for this)
• Watershed map layers (streets, sub-watersheds)
• Lake Chabot history
• Bring birders to Chabot, BRSC corridor. Explore partnership opportunities (workdays,
species Ids, photo gallery on web) with Audubon Society
• Bird box maintenance: partnership with Green Academy (monitoring and cleaning to be
done December-Feb)
• Continue with bat box project
• Talk to Robin Leong about possible Flyway Festival/bird box monitoring connection

Calendar -
September 2013
* Coastal Cleanup Day
* Seed bed prep in uplands (small patchwork)
* CC grant: blackberry removal

October 2013
* Seed bed prep (weeding) in uplands
* Mulching/jut mats for erosion sites
* Collect acorns if ready
* Loma Vista Harvest Festival

November 2013
* Collect acorns
* Mulch/jut mats on blackberry removal sites

Nov and/or Jan: rice hull path

December 2013: No work day

January 2014
* Cottonwood cuttings in corridor (on last year’s list)
* Clean bird boxes
* Rice hull path
* Planting on erosion control sites
* Riparian and upland plug planting

Jan thru March: week and clean planting areas

February 2014
* San Francisco Bay Flyway Festival
* Planting on erosion control sites
* Plug planting

March 2014
* Planting on erosion control sites

March thru May maintenance: tube repair, weeding, watering if needed, replanting
Tule removal at Lake Chabot

April 2014
* Tables at Farmers Market for Earth Day
* Lake Chabot trail work? (if needed by GVRD)

May 2014 Needlegrass seed collecting (late May-early June)
* Loma Vista Spring Festival

May through July: weed planted areas

June 2014
* Weeding
* Needlegrass seed collecting (late May-early June)
* Lake Chabot trail work? (if needed by GVRD)

July 2014
* BBQ and cleanup at Blue Rock Springs Park

* 2014 Annual planning meeting at Lake Chabot

Friday, August 2, 2013

Around two tons of mercury released from Bay Area petroleum refineries every year according to 2007 report

Carquinez Cancer Alley []

For an unknown period of time, the 5 petroleum refineries in the Bay Area have not kept any records about their mercury waste, estimated during 2007 to be 3700 pounds every year, contributing to one of the most pervasive cancer clusters in the United States nicknamed the "Carquinez Cancer Alley", and contributing to the incidence of mental and physical disorders caused by mercury in the unborn.
Recently, the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board has found the 5 petroleum refineries to be in contempt of the public ecology, and during 2007 were fining them with a penalty of $1000 per day until they figured out a way to explain where all the mercury waste goes.
Unfortunately, before 2007, all 5 Bay Area refineries have "excused" themselves from explaining why they never kept records of where the mercury waste goes, in contempt of the Clean Air Act, and their lawyers have helped write a methodology to account for mercury waste that will not negatively impact investors shares. In other words, there is a strong chance that, since 2007, they have manipulated the data, the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board has accepted the petroleum refinery's methodology as official governmental policy, and the public never notices the difference.

This is a call to anybody who is opposed to mercury in our common eco-system.
We need verified, independent, mercury testing conducted by an assembly of Bay Area and Sacramento Delta residents. We are all in danger... the unborn are being affected by autism, nerve damage and loss of cognitive intelligence, we suffer from the politics of collusion between governmental entities and petroleum companies, there is the danger to our water, fisheries, habitats, farmlands, and our long-term survival!
All Communities across the eastern San Pablo Bay Area are especially affected by the actions conducted by the 5 refineries, including Antioch, Hercules, Richmond, Benicia, Vallejo, Suisun, San Pablo, Martinez, and all other in between!
* Secure the report by the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board documenting the estimates for mercury waste emissions of the 5 Bay Area petroleum refineries.
* Substantiate the science connecting autism with mercury.
* Contact and invite comment from anti-mercury advocacy organizations across the USA for studies, speakers to invite, and advice.
* Invest in inexpensive environmental monitering systems.
* Produce fliers based on the information collected.

Bay Area Petroleum Refinery Mercury Air Emissions, Deposition, and Fate (2009) []

2007-05 "The Case of the Missing Mercury" from "Econews" newsletter of the "Northcoast Environmental Center":

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Environmental Justice Case Study: Richmond, California

from West County Toxics Coalition and the Chevron Refinery (1999) []:
 Special thanks to Henry Clark and Lucille Allen of the West County Toxics Coalition for their generous help in providing invaluable primary and secondary source material. Thanks also to Anne Simon of the Environmental Law Community Clinic in Berkeley, California. This page was compiled by Scott Sherman at the University of Michigan. For comments, questions, and other feedback, you may reach me at my e-mail address:
Background -
Since 1989, there have been 35 major industrial accidents in Contra Costa County, California. This makes it one of the most dangerous places to live in the nation. In fact, between 1989 and 1995, there were over 1900 different incidents reported in the county, making it the eleventh worst area in the entire United States with regards to toxic accidents.
One of the worst industrial offenders is Chevron. The oil company operates a refinery and other industrial facilities in Richmond, California. Chevron stores over 11 million pounds of toxic, explosive, and corrosive chemicals at this refinery, often very close to large population centers. When it accidentally releases these chemicals into the environment, Chevron endangers the lives of the local community members.
In fact, Chevron had 304 accidents between 1989 and 1995 -- major fires, spills, leaks, explosions, toxic gas releases, flaring, and air contamination. The people of Richmond are subject to severe injuries and illnesses. As Henry Clark, leader of the West County Toxics Coalition, reported after a toxic release in 1992, "There's stuff here that's deadlier than (in) Bhopal." (Bhopal was the site of the Union Carbide chemical leak in 1984 that killed 2,000 people and injured 20,000 more.) Richmond was an area waiting to explode.

Problem -
In 1993, Chevron made plans to increase its chemical storage and the number of hazardous chemicals in the Richmond area. It claimed that it was just trying to comply with the mandates of the Clean Air Act. In the company's opinion, it was all part of the process of developing a cleaner burning gas to stop the air pollution problem in the San Francisco Bay Area. Unfortunately these changes were going to pose increased risks to the local community. This community was mostly poor and mostly African American. It was a clear case of environmental injustice.
The stage was set for a confrontation. The local citizens were going to battle for their lives -- for their health, for their safety, and for the future of their town.

Key Actors -
The West County Toxics Coalition
Up to 1000 members of the Richmond community have come together under the banner of this community organization. Led by Henry Clark, the Executive Director of the West County Toxics Coalition, these citizens have been fighting toxics since 1986. The group is an outgrowth of the National Toxics Campaign.

Communities for a Better Environment (CBE)
An environmental group based in the San Francisco Bay Area, CBE has provided much technical and scientific assistance to local community groups. CBE helped provide scientific information and expertise about the Chevron refineries and other industrial plants to the residents of Richmond.

Golden Gate University Environmental Law and Justice Clinic
Golden Gate University Law School in San Francisco helps provide legal information and expertise to local community groups that cannot afford expensive corporate attorneys. The school has established an Environmental Law and Justice Clinic where students, under the direction of a supervising lawyer and faculty member, can assist in resolving local environmental disputes through legal means. The clinic was instrumental in providing legal information to the citizens of Richmond in their fight against Chevron. Other public interest law organizations also provided pro bono legal services to the Richmond community. These included California Rural Legal Assistance in San Francisco and the Environmental Law Community Clinic in Berkeley.

One of the largest oil companies in the world, Chevron operates refineries and industrial plants in Richmond, California, in close proximity to a poor, African-American community. Chevron is a large multinational corporation, with profits in the billions of dollars. Chevron is also one of the wealthiest companies in the world -- a member of the Fortune 500. The company has spent millions of its dollars on a populist advertising campaign to promote its concern for environmental issues. "Do people care about the environment?" Chevron asks in its ads. Then it answers its own rhetorical question: "People do." (Community groups have responded with protest signs that say "Do people destroy the environment? People do.")

Richmond, California is located on the San Francisco Bay, just across the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge from wealthy Marin County. However, Richmond itself is anything but wealthy. The community that lives within the zip code 94801 is one of the poorest in the state. According to the 1990 United States census, 44.2 percent of all Richmond children under 18 years of age live in poverty. Not coincidentally, this is the same zip code in which Chevron owns and operates its refinery. The red pin below shows the location both of this community and of the Chevron facilities.

The Richmond community (zip code 94801) is mostly made up of African Americans and other ethnic groups, as the following table indicates:
Ethnic Composition of Richmond, California [Source: 1990 U.S. Census data]
- Ethnic Group  
- Total Population in Richmond Zip Code 94801  
- Percentage of Total Population
White   6435     26.9%
African American     11672     48.8%
Native American, Eskimo, or Aleut 182     0.8%
Asian or Pacific Islander     1956     8.2%
Other     3659     15.3%

The education level of the Richmond community (zip code 94801) is also very low, as the following chart demonstrates [Source: 1990 U.S. Census data]:
Educational Attainment of Richmond Adults (age 25 and above) in zip code 94801
- Education level attained  
- Total number of Richmond adults over 25 years of age who have attained this level of education (All races)
- Percentage of total adult population over 25 years of age in Richmond
Less than 9th grade     2481     18.0%
9-12th grade, no diploma     2819     20.4%
High school degree (or equivalent)     3170     22.9%
Some college, no degree     2751     19.9%
Associate degree     783     5.7%
Bachelor's degree     1158     8.4%
Graduate or professional school     657     4.8%

Strategies -
The West County Toxics Coalition used several strategies in its successful fight against Chevron:

1. Try To Work It Out with the Polluter:
The first strategy was to sit down at the table with Chevron. The citizens of Richmond wanted to express their concerns for their health and safety. Rather than choosing an antagonistic strategy, the citizens hoped to cooperate with the corporation for an agreeable solution for all parties involved. Thus, Henry Clark and his cohorts sat down with Mike Hannan, plant manager of the Chevron facilities in Richmond.
Essentially, the members of the West County Toxics Coalition asked for a policy of zero net emissions. The citizens were completely supportive of Chevron's cleaner burning fuel programs, so long as the development of these programs did not endanger their health. They did not want any increased risks to the Richmond community. Therefore, they requested some mitigations from Chevron: the repair of leaking pumps and valves, the shutdown of older parts of the Chevron plant, etc.
Chevron refused to cooperate. This strategy was unsuccessful.

2. Lobby the public officials:
What could the citizens of Richmond do next? Chevron refused to listen to their concerns. The local residents thought of an alternative strategy: They would lobby the Planning Commission for the City of Richmond. After all, Chevron needed a land use permit from the city in order to carry out its operations. The residents believed that they had a strong case to present to this Planning Commission with hard scientific data to document the risks to their health and safety from Chevron's operations. Because of this detrimental impact of Chevron's presence in Richmond, the West County Toxics Coalition urged that Chevron must put up 10 percent of the cost of its Clean Fuels Program into a community development fund. This would give citizens of Richmond over $50 million!
The Planning Commission agreed with the citizens. They ordered Chevron to pour $50 million into community development in order to be granted the new land use permit. This strategy was successful because of the power and influence of the community organizing, as well as the hard scientific and legal expertise behind the citizens' efforts. The West County Toxics Coalition had the power of numbers behind them -- mobilizing hundreds of citizens to these Planning Commission boards, and working with the local environmental groups like CBE and the Golden Gate Law Clinic. These were the two other successful parts of the citizens' strategy:

3. Mobilize hundreds of concerned citizens:
The West County Toxics Coaltion was able to successfully lobby the Planning Commission in Richmond because it could rally hundreds of committed, impassioned citizens. This is the foundation of any good community organizing effort. The WCTC urged citizens to make phone calls to public officials and make their voices heard. They started letter writing campaigns, demonstrations, and protests, all of which attracted media and turned the tide of public opinion away from Chevron.

4. Find allies with legal and scientific expertise:
Too often community groups do not have access to legal power or scientific data that will support their cause. By making allies with so many groups in the San Francisco Bay Area, WCTC was able to overcome these traditional barriers to power. For example, the Golden Gate Law Clinic helped interpret laws like CEQA (the California Environmental Quality Act) to the community's advantage. Scientists at CBE were able to provide the Planning Commission with powerful evidence that the reformulated fuel plan would have detrimental impacts on children and other vulnerable local residents close to the refinery.

Strengths and Weaknesses of these Strategies -
The West County Toxics Coalition did an outstanding job of mobilizing the community. It quickly attracted the attention of local media and activists to the nature of the problem. It put pressure on public officials to rule in its favor. Moreover, it scored a great coup in recruiting important allies from the legal and scientific community. All of these were important in the success of the Richmond citizens' efforts.
However, the victory would prove to be short-lived. The citizens of Richmond may have been excellent in resource mobilization with regards to people power, but Chevron had the power of money. Chevron appealed the Planning Commission decision at the City Council, and had the decision overturned. The wealthy corporation argued that the citizens were trying to "extort $50 million" and denied that it had any responsibility to mitigate the problem.
The citizens still won a historic battle (see Solutions below), but it was not as large as anticipated. Chevron did not respect the West County Toxics Coalition and it tried to discredit their efforts altogether. Chevron had a history of giving local politicians large campaign contributions, and it always threatened to leave town if the citizens became too disruptive. So the strategy was weak in its ability to deal with the larger problem of corporate control of City Hall. Perhaps a future strategy for the West County Toxics Coalition would be to mobilize their resources to elect their own local candidates to City Hall. They could take power into their own hands, rather than being dependent on public officials who are beholden to Chevron.

Solutions -
In a historic agreement, Chevron agreed to pay up to $5 million to community development projects in Richmond. This money would help fund such important local projects as:
- the Martin Luther King, Jr. Health Center
- more jobs and job training for local community members
- reduced toxic emissions in the area
- pollution prevention measures
- safety improvements at the Chevron plant,
- community beautification projects around the Chevron facilities, and
- police and youth athletic leagues.
The West County Toxics Coalition had succeeded in getting millions of dollars for the local community. Chevron did not pay the full $50 million that the citizens had initially demanded, but they still had achieved a major breakthrough. Chevron had promised comprehensive economic benefits for members of the fence-line communities. The full details of the project are ennumerated in a Memorandum of Understanding reached on June 2, 1994.
In the aftermath of this agreement, the West County Toxics Coalition has continued to work with local citizens, scientific experts, and legal advocacy organizations to win further concessions from Chevron. In 1996, the citizens managed to shut down a dangerous Chevron incinerator that had been jeopardizing the health and safety of local residents for almost three decades. Working with Greenpeace and local community organizations, the residents of Richmond were able to mobilize enough support to close down the hazardous facility. They sent more than 1500 letters to the California EPA, urging an Environmental Impact Report, plans for immediate closure of the incinerator, and community participation in the project. Two weeks later, Chevron announced it would shut down the incinerator by 1997. The residents of Richmond are currently working in close collaboration with the California EPA to finalize plans for the closure.

Recommendations -
Other communities involved in environmental justice struggles could learn a lot from the successes in Richmond, California. The West County Toxics Coalition has been successful for a number of reasons:
- its emphasis on forging alliances with scientific and legal experts
- its mobilization of up to a thousand community members around an issue
- its organizing efforts to influence the opinion of public officials
- its attempts to attract media attention to its cause.
In the future, Richmond residents may find that another good strategy is to take power into their own hands. They may wish to work towards electing a local candidate for City Council, as well as other candidates sympathetic to their cause.They may also choose to increase media attention to their cause. In the progressive circles of the San Francisco Bay Area, they may find many more allies willing to support them, if only people are made aware of the injustices being perpetrated.Finally, they should persist in trying to work in cooperation with Chevron in constructing a common vision for the future of Richmond. It is in the best interests of both Chevron corporation and the residents of Richmond to prevent pollution, reduce toxic emissions, and provide jobs. Citizens of Richmond should continue to sit down at the table with employees of Chevron in order to construct a positive, proactive vision of the future. Rather than fighting each other -- pouring time and resources into costly, energy-draining battles -- they should work together to fight the common problems they share. As Richmond residents have discovered with their victory in the "Clean Fuels" case, Chevron has a lot of power and money that could be used for the good of the community. It's better to have a relationship of goodwill and unity than one of antagonism and division.

Glossary -
* Clean Air Act  -- A federal law, passed by the United States Congress in 1970, that sets national standards for healthy air. Large metropolitan areas (like the San Francisco Bay Area, where Richmond is located) must make their own plans to comply with these environmental regulations.
* Zero net emissions  -- A policy where a company does not increase its release of pollutants into the atmosphere. For instance, Chevron could develop a new form of cleaner burning gas, so long as there are no overall increases in pollution during the process. There should be no increased risk to the community. Hopefully, the corporations can even halt the emissions of hazardous chemicals coming out of the plants!