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Richmond leaders to sit on committee distributing $10 million from Chevron

Submitted by News Desk on Thu, 07/31/2008 - 4:26am

In a vote shouted down by the audience, Richmond city leaders appointed themselves to a committee that will decide how $10 million from a community benefits agreement with Chevron will be spent.

Council members Nat Bates, Ludmyrna Lopez and Harpreet Sandhu will sit on the committee. Councilman John Marquez will serve as the alternate.

Audience members shouted "Remember Pinole," alluding to the successful February recall of two council members in that city. The recall followed an intense citizen-led campaign that focused on the pair's ability to respond to local concerns and their ties to a local restaurant that was delinquent in hundreds of thousands in city loans.

In Richmond, the council members on the new committee will help decide which community groups receive $1 million a year from a community benefits agreement the city approved with Chevron on July 17. Critics blasted the deal, saying it was negotiated without full council or public input and constituted a bribe for the approval of the oil company's contentious plan to replace equipment at its refinery.

On Tuesday night, residents urged the City Council to hold off appointing anyone to the committee. Officials running for re-election should not be doling out funding, they said.

"It seems highly unethical to me that you will be distributing to community groups some millions of dollars of Chevron's money while you are running for re-election, while you are campaigning," Richmond resident Jeff Ritterman said. "I don't think this is ethical. I think it's an unfair campaign practice."

Bates, Marquez and Sandhu are up for re-election Nov. 4, along with Councilmen Tom Butt and Tony Thurmond.

Ritterman is one of 10 people who has pulled nomination papers for the council race. The deadline to formally file is Aug. 8.

Richmond City Attorney Scott Dickey said the committee's work does not constitute a political contribution that violates state campaign laws.

"None of the money outlined in the community benefits agreement is going to arrive before 2009," Dickey said.

Ritterman responded: "But promises can be made before 2009."

A council minority concurred with the audience's plea to hold off on appointing committee members.

Thurmond, who described the decision as premature, said, "Let's wait. The criteria for how an allocation will be made has not even been articulated to the community, let alone how we will decide how a community member can be on the committee."

The motion to appoint Bates, Lopez and Sandhu to the committee with Marquez as an alternate was approved in a split council vote. Bates called the suggestion that it constitutes a political or campaign contribution "quite absurd."

The new Richmond Community Fund Advisory Committee is to consist of three sitting or retired council members, two Chevron appointees and two community members who would be selected by the city and Chevron.

Chevron submitted a written copy of the community benefits agreement to the city July 15. A council majority approved it July 17.

The agreement, which was contingent on approval of Chevron's refinery project, calls for $6.8 million for job training and placement, $11.3 million for public safety, $6 million to Brookside Health Clinic, $10 million in financial aid to area nonprofit groups, $5 million for the Bay Trail, $14.6 million for alternative energy projects and $5 million for other environmental mitigations.

Butt and Mayor Gayle McLaughlin have criticized the agreement, saying the proposed amounts aren't enough to build and maintain the Bay Trail or to sustain services long term. Others carry no benefits to the city, they argue. And funding for an alternative energy project that Chevron would sell to the city under one scenario is nothing more than a business venture, they said.

In addition, they and Chevron project opponents said the agreement was negotiated between Chevron and some council members in secret without full council or public input. Councilwoman Maria Viramontes, who voted to approve both the Chevron retrofit and the community benefits agreement, disputed the charge.

Richmond resident Linda Newton told the council Tuesday night that she worried the committee does not fully represent the community.

"It seems to me a very unbalanced one, seeing as they all voted for the Chevron proposal," Newton said. "I'm concerned that all the citizens of Richmond need to be represented; all our voices need to be heard."

The council's vote to approve Chevron's project was 5-4. Bates, Lopez, Marquez, Sandhu and Viramontes voted yes. McLaughlin, Butt, Rogers and Thurmond dissented.

Reach Katherine Tam at 510-262-2787 or
The following is the Richmond City Council's vote on whether to appoint Nat Bates, Ludmyrna Lopez and Harpreet Sandhu to the Community Fund Advisory Committee. John Marquez is an alternate.

Nat Bates: Yes
Tom Butt: No
Ludmyrna Lopez: Yes
John Marquez: Yes
Gayle McLaughlin: Absent
Jim Rogers: No
Harpreet Sandhu: Yes
Tony Thurmond: No
Maria Viramontes: Yes