Council vote avoids ‘unnecessary delays’ to Chevron Richmond Refinery Modernization Project review

Environmental group's settlement with air district over Chevron modernization doesn't clear path for construction.
The graphic shows two main components of the Chevron Richmond Refinery Modernization Project.

The majority of Richmond councilmembers made it clear Tuesday they want to avoid unnecessary delays in the vetting of the Chevron Richmond Refinery Modernization Project.

The council voted 5-2 to adopt an ordinance that ensures its members will vote on the billion-dollar project by July 31, before council breaks for the August recess.

The vote follows the Planning Commission’s approved request for 30 additional days to review the extensive final environmental impact report.

Concerned over possible attempts to unnecessarily delay the project review process, councilmembers Tom Butt, Nat Bates and Jael Myrick moved to set a firm deadline that would allow City Council to vote on the project with or without a recommendation from the Planning Commission.

The deadlines ensure there will be a public comment hearing on the project at city council on July 22, as well action by city council on the EIR certification and conditional use permit on July 29.

When the city began working on the project application in 2011, Butt said, council unanimously committed to “process it without overdue delay…and to get it right.”

“I think we are to the point where those two items have converged, and we need to get on with it,” said Butt.

Butt said he believed the ordinance might be unnecessary, as he was told the Planning Commission would “wrap up their work” by July 10.

Councilman Jim Rogers said updating a refinery that is operating on 60-year-old technology is long overdue.

“This has been going on for a while,” Rogers said. “There’s potential here for a project that can actually make the air cleaner, can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, provide a ton of jobs and we need to move on that.”

Planning Commissioners questioned the need for the ordinance, as did Mayor Gayle McLaughlin.

“We take our responsibility to evaluate the current application and make a decision about the EIR and conditional use permit very seriously, as we do with every land use decision that is brought before us, and we do not understand the rationale for curtailing our permitting powers in a way that appears tailored to this one application,” Planning Commission Chair Sheryl Lane said in a letter to council.

The mayor argued the commissioners were “not asking for extra time” but “sufficient time.”

“Curtailing their power is not in the interest of good government,” McLaughlin said, adding that the commissioners she appointed make up “the best Planning Commission we’ve ever had.”

But Myrick countered that the ordinance was “necessary as a backstop to make sure the council has some ability to make certain we are dealing with this in a timely matter.”

The ordinance received support from members of local building trades unions.

“Our members have suffered greatly by this project being down for six years; it’s a clean project,” said Tom Baca, secretary of the State Building & Construction Trades Council of California. “I’m sure everybody is aware we have a 60-year-old project running right now while we try to move this forward.”

Darnell Lewis, a lifelong Richmond resident who recently earned a job at the Chevron Richmond refinery after becoming a journeyman, said he no longer has to drive two hours to reach work.

“Now I’m right at home at Chevron; I started last Monday,” Lewis said. “I think it will be great for the community and for the youth, the young adults around here, to have an opportunity to give back to the community by doing something good and working inside the refinery.”