$90M Shake down: Richmond Council approves Chevron Modernization Plan

After years of contentious claims, unsubstantiated research, court orders, demonstrations, and legal fees, Richmond City Council didn’t get the shake down it wanted, but did get $90M and other costly guarantees it extorted from Chevron in quid pro quo before it approved  the Chevron Richmond Refinery Modernization Project. The project could finally move forward Tuesday after Chevron agreed to increase community investments and add additional safety upgrades. According to the Richmond Standard story by Mike Aldax:

The council voted 5-0 with two abstentions in favor of a plan that invests $90 million in community projects in Richmond and North Richmond over the next 10 years. The funds will be spent on numerous community initiatives, including $35 million for scholarships for West Contra Costa Unified School District students. The plan also includes job training programs and sets aside 60 acres of refinery land for what would be the largest solar installation in the county, according to refinery GM Kory Judd.

Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and Vice Mayor Jovanka Beckles abstained from the final vote after failing to win council support for a number of amendments endorsed by city Planning Commission, the Richmond Progressive Alliance and the environmental group Communities for a Better Environment.

One of their conditions called for Chevron to commit $27 million to keep financially struggling Doctors Medical Center open. The city’s expert consultants called the conditions “factually unsupported by evidence on record” and outside the legal scope of the modernization project.

The $1 billion project will replace a 1960s era hydrogen plant with a modern version that is 20 percent more energy efficient and inherently safer. The project will also create 1,000 construction jobs and 1,300 indirect jobs.

As was the case at earlier hearings, Tuesday’s council meeting drew hundreds of supporters of the project, many wearing distinctive blue and white shirts and carrying placards urging council approval. Council’s vote in support of the project – which followed a lengthy public hearing – drew heavy sustained applause from members of the audience.

“This is a win for the city, the community and our workforce,” Chevron Richmond spokesperson Nicole Barber said following the vote, adding that the decision “is an example of what happens when we work together with the city and the community.”

“We call on those who oppose the project based on political purposes to listen to the majority of this community and City Council and allow this project to proceed without delay,” Barber said.

Chevron made multiple concessions during the approval process, including accepting an alternative endorsed by Attorney General Kamala Harris that caps the refinery’s greenhouse gas emissions and reduces levels of sulfur processing.

The alternative and other concessions made by Chevron mean that the refinery will “operate at a lower throughput” than its current operation and that health risks to the community will “go way down,” according to Jennifer Hernandez, the Holland & Knight attorney hired by the city to vet the project.

Chevron also upped its investment in Richmond and North Richmond for a third time Tuesday, from $60 million to $90 million over 10 years. See the full list of what the money will be spend on below this report.

The project approved Tuesday was supported by a long list of city and state agencies, including the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, the Contra Costa County Health Services, Richmond NAACP, the East Bay Leadership Council; and the Council of Industries. U.S. Rep. George Miller, who represents the region in Congress and has been a frequent critic of Chevron, also called council members before the meeting to support the project.

Before the project can move forward, the company needs to get Contra Costa County court approval to lift a 2009 judgment that halted the earlier project for having an incomplete environmental impact report.

As part of the agreement with the city, Chevron agrees to spend $40 million on initiatives to directly improve air quality. They include:

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Chevron Richmond has also agreed to providing payment guarantees to Richmond, which should help with the city’s $6 million budget deficit. They include:

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What follows is a list of community investments, leading with scholarship money for Richmond high school students wanting to continue their education.

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