Local Meeting Examines a Possible
Future Without Chevron
City leaders said the time has come to plan for a future without
the company that has dominated the local economy for more than
A future without Chevron, the city’s largest taxpayer and
employer, was a reverberating theme at a community meeting
Friday night held by the Richmond Progressive Alliance, a local
activist group. About 50 people attended the meeting, which
featured Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, Councilman Tom Butt, and author
“Regardless of whether Chevron stays or leaves, the main thing
is that we are an independent agency as a city, as a municipality,”
said McLaughlin, a frequent critic of Chevron and the only
Green Party mayor of a U.S. city of more than 100,000 people.
“We are not under the domination of Chevron or any corporation
and we cannot go back into that kind of thinking.”
During her short remarks, McLaughlin alternately compared
the relationship between the city and the corporation to the
“Stockholm Syndrome” and an abusive marriage.
But the city would no longer be a victim, McLaughlin said.
“They can co-exist with us if they pay their fair share of
taxes and if they use the highest state of the art pollution
controls,” McLaughlin said.
The featured speaker was Juhasz, an author and activist with
expertise in petrol energy. Her most recent book, 2008’s “Tyranny
of Oil: The world’s most powerful industry – and what we must
do to stop it,” received rave reviews from leading critics.
Juhasz painted a grim picture of the multinational oil corporation,
accusing it of flexing its legal and political power to pursue
profitable – but environmentally devastating – operations spanning
The planned upgrades to the local refinery were the latest
example, Juhasz said. She noted that Chevron has been documented
as being the largest greenhouse gas producer in the state.
“The retooling that Chevron would like to do, which is the
source of so much controversy, would significantly increase
those greenhouse gas emissions, not to mention toxic pollutants,”
Still, Juhasz said she believes the Richmond refinery, one
of more than a dozen Chevron operates in the U.S., would not
be selected for closure.
“If (Chevron) does close a U.S. refinery, it will probably
be the one in Hawaii,” Juhasz said.
In January, the Contra Costa Times’ business editor declared
that he expects Chevron to announce plans to close the refinery
during a strategy unveiling in March.
Last year, Chevron was forced to halt work on a nearly $1
billion project to upgrade the refinery to allow for processing
of a larger range of oil products when a state judge sided
with environmentalists who’d filed suit. The suit alleges that
an environmental impact report filed by Chevron was incomplete.
Chevron representatives have countered that the project has
gone through proper channels and would generate jobs and revenue
in the city.
Chevron spokespersons have been measured in their public statements
since late last year, when they first publicly hinted at the
possibility the refinery may close. In recent weeks, the company’s
public stance has been noncommittal on the refinery’s future,
but that there may be an “opportunity” for improving relations
with local leaders and the public.
Public statements from Chevron’s representatives have emphasized
the corporation’s 108-year relationship with the city, which
was all-but-founded thanks to development by the company, then
part of Standard Oil.
Chevron has also embarked on a stepped-up philanthropic program,
including programs for underprivileged youth, funding more
than $2 million in Richmond projects last year alone.
At the same time, company officials have attended community
meetings and offered tours of the refining facility, including
one that brought along a handful of leaders from the Point
Richmond Neighborhood Council, in order to answer questions
and clarify the company’s position.
Chevron employs about 1,200 workers at its local refinery,
but for years the company has declined to specify how many
of those workers are Richmond residents. Councilman Butt said
he would guess only about 5 percent of employees at the local
refinery live in Richmond.
Butt criticized the corporation, saying that Chevron “doesn’t
have a heart” and exists solely to make money, which he said
was “what business is about.”
“But, I also have a job, as a Richmond city councilmember,”
Butt said. “My job is to get as much money as I can out of
Chevron while they’re here, and to try to protect the safety
and the welfare and the health of people who live in Richmond.”
Butt did acknowledge the possibility that Chevron will shutter
its local refinery, the largest on the West Coast and the source
of nearly half the city’s tax receipts, but said that decision
would be unaffected by local politics.
“Whatever Chevron does is going to be a product of their internal
economic and strategic planning,” Butt said. “They’re not going
to do it because people in Richmond try to get too much taxes
out of them. That has nothing to do with it, absolutely nothing.”
Butt said other possibilities include Chevron downsizing its
local operations, which would also have significant public
As Butt spoke, he drifted noticeably toward not only the likelihood
that Chevron would leave, but the potential long-term benefits.
“My gut feeling is,” Butt said before a lengthy pause, “it
Butt added again that it would not be because of local politics,
but due to weakened global demand for petrol products.
By the end of his remarks, with the virtually unified crowd’s
encouragement, Butt was ticking off a litany of possible benefits
from the loss of the city’s largest taxpayer. They included:
“no more (air pollution) sirens,” a new influx of residents
to a newly-opened up “waterfront community,” and a cleaner
and more diversified local economy.
He said the Feb. 23 City Council meeting would include a preliminary
study session on planning for the possibility of Chevron’s
Councilman Jeff Ritterman, a consistent Chevron critic, also
attended the event.
Residents in attendance ranged from wanting Chevron’s outright
exodus to calling for increases in taxes and regulation.
Resident Michael Beer said the time was now for solidarity
among residents to help impose restrictions on the corporation’s
“Richmond for many, many years has been in this thrall,” Beer
said. “It’s like a spell that Chevron had put on the city,
and (Richmond’s) beginning to wake up.”