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Richmond, Ca Mayor on Chevron refinery issue

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In the wake of my interview with Chevron employee Dennis Roos I've gotten a number of email and calls updating me on the matter of the negotiations to restart the stopped construction of the improvements to the Richmond refinery.

One of them was this "Meet The Mayor" community meeting held Friday, August 7th at 5:30 PM. Here, one could ask questions of Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin for one hour, but my intent was to attend, film residents who were concerned about the project, pro and con, and after it was over, get the Mayor's direct point of view if she would give it to me. (Take note of that.)

To review, Chevron's planned upgrade of their giant Richmond oil refinery was stalled because environmentalists sued them in court regarding what was viewed to be an inadequate environmental impact report (EIR) regarding how emissions were going to be lessened over current levels. Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Barbara Zuniga agreed with their view and ordered planed construction stopped until Chevron could create a "better" EIR. The judge's decision threw over 1,000 construction employees out of work and threatened the future of Chevron in Richmond.

So I did arrive and sat next to a white-haired gentleman who as it happened gave me a copy of a letter I'd not seen from Richmond's Mechanics Bank. The letter stressed the importance of keeping Chevron in Richmond and arriving at a settlement to get the plant project going again.

So the meeting started and as the Mayor listened to people introduce themselves I explained that I was a video-blogger who wanted to ask her about the plant matter after the meeting was over if I could. She did say that was fine.

There were only two people who came to the meeting to talk about the refinery issue. The first person, an African American man, said that the Mayor seemed not to care about the people who need jobs and more about her own agenda (this is in the video). The Mayor said that she does did support a substitute to the the resolution voted on by the Richmond City Council two weeks ago calling for settlement talks (with California Attorney General Jerry Brown involved) so that all the workers can get back to their jobs and she's working to make that happen. The Mayor said doing this is important because Richmond has a 17 percent unemployment rate.

A few minutes later, and after a number of residents expressed concern for and presented programs to stop the violence plaguing young African Americans in Richmond (which was heart-breaking to see, no matter how many times I am presented with this issue), the man I was sitting next to, who's name was Richard Lompa, asked the Mayor about the bank letter, and explained that he didn't understand "why do we continuously bash Chevron" and quoted the letter written by Mechanics Bank President and CEO Stephen Foster which said the reason given for opposing Chevron doesn't stand up to scrutiny . He said no one would support Chevron putting out more pollution, and that it was as if she was plunging a dagger in the heart of the city.

The Mayor's response was that the judge made the decision and then she threw in that Chevron does not pay its fair share of taxes and talked about the company's court battle against Measure T which imposed a new tax structure for manufacturers like Chevron. She also pointed to Chevron's appeal of its property tax assessment.

After the meeting and people left the room, the Mayor did give me her time and put to rest the idea some have expressed that she was not talking to Chevron, stating that she talks to representatives of the firm every day.

Mayor McLaughlin then essentially repeated her claim that Chevron doesn't pay its taxes in response to my question that as a person trained and who's practiced economic development, tax reductions are a normal part of negotiations to make it easier for employers to maintain their business in a city. She asked if I was referring to the Measure T issue, and repeated what she said before regarding the firm not paying its fair share of taxes. Then, weirdly and after presenting herself well on camera but before I could deactivate it, suddenly turned and said "I have a community meeting" but I turned the camera to show that the meeting had ended long ago. Moreover, the Mayor agreed to give me just a moment of her time, and I gave her a platform to present herself; the Mayor didn't say she had more people to meet when we started the interview. She didn't have to essentially rain on her own parade but that's what happened as one can see and I'm really disappointed that she did that. I turned off the camcorder.

As I went outside, Mr. Lompa was talking to another person, but after he finished gave me his view. "The Mayor," he said, "was being shallow and not grounded with reality" regarding her repeating of the idea that Chevron has a $24 billion profit. He also said that he appeals his tax bill if he thinks it's not valid.

I agree with Mr. Lompa, but I'm really concerned that the good Mayor seems to have more of a personal agenda that may cloud her ability to effectively negotiate with Chevron. It's common practice for businesses to want and ask for tax reductions and its equally normal for city economic development officials (and that includes the Mayor) to structure rates that help businesses.

In all of my years in the public sector I've not seen or met a Mayor that didn't understand that, but Mayor McLaughlin's a new breed of activist city official. That's all well and good for getting elected but it seems to cloud one's ability to conduct the business of maintaining a municipality's economy. One can have their personal beliefs but when a city's unemployment rate is at almost 20 percent as is the case in Richmond, its a recession, and the job base has decreased by over 50 percent in the last two years, it's time to be more pragmatic and less antagonistic.
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