By John Geluardi
Newspaper reporters who cover the city of Richmond like to say it’s a great town to write about because of the “Three Cs,” which refers to crime, corruption and Chevron.
The Richmond City Council has long been an easy date for any organization or business willing to plow money back into re-election campaigns.
In 2003, the council was cutting such sweet deals with city employee unions, particularly the police and fire unions, that the city found itself $35 million in debt. The financial meltdown cost hundreds of employees their jobs and critical city services were cut to the bone.
This year it was the Chevron refinery that was cutting backroom deals with the City Council so the oil giant can upgrade its facility to refine cruder oil or “dirty crude”, the type that can be drilled off the California coast. The council approved the upgrade by a pencil thin majority, but not without striking a deal. Chevron, which spewed 60,819 tons of toxins over troubled Richmond in 2003, promised to pour $61 million into public safety agencies, job training and local healthcare facilities.
And here’s the sweet spot, $10 million of that would be distributed by a special committee of three council members, Nat Bates, Harpreet Sandhu and Ludmyrna Lopez, who─ surprise, surprise ─ just happen to be up for re-election. That $10 mil could have bought a lot of support from the cash hungry nonprofits who have ready infrastructures to provide campaign troops and votes for council members who know what’s what.
But Richmond citizens are learning to yell and throw their hands around when the wolf is trying to get into the hen house. The public outcry was so great about the cozy cash distribution dealio that the council majority voted to rescind it. And now the Chevron upgrade is coming under fire. Three environmental groups have filed a lawsuit against Chevron on the basis the upgrade will increase pollution and cause health problems.
Chevron, of course, says that’s just crazy talk.