Richmond establishes deadline for Chevron
to compensate city for refinery fire
By Robert Rogers Contra
Costa Times - contracostatimes.com
Posted: 05/22/2013 06:43:59
AM PDT May 22, 2013 8:53 PM GMTUpdated: 05/22/2013 01:53:41
-- A divided City Council on Tuesday voted to enter talks with
Chevron Corp. for a compensation package stemming from last
summer's fire at the company's local refinery and to hire a
high-powered law firm if an agreement is not reached within
"We can take a free bite at the apple without sending
Chevron into lockdown mode," said Councilman Jim Rogers,
who proposed the item. "If we don't get there, we pursue
City Manager Bill Lindsay released a document earlier this
month announcing the city's intent to hire San Francisco-based
law firm Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, which represented
victims of the 2010 San Bruno disaster caused by a Pacific
Gas & Electric Co. gas line rupture. The firm remains in
litigation stemming from the San Bruno fire and has handled
more than 200 cases for clients seeking damages.
The council stopped short of hiring the firm immediately,
an option supported by Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and Council members
Jovanka Beckles and Tom Butt.
"Acting smart after you've been burned over and over
again is to take the kind of action that makes it clear we're
serious," McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin noted that Chevron in the past has retained legal
counsel in disputes with the city, most recently when appealing
property tax assessments.
Without the needed four votes to hire the firm immediately,
McLaughlin and her progressive allies joined Rogers' substitute
Vice Mayor Corky Boozé and Councilman Nat Bates dissented.
"This motion is ill-conceived," Bates said, arguing
that he would rather hear about the progress of talks before
committing to hiring the firm.
The council motion calls for automatically retaining Cotchett,
Pitre & McCarthy in 30 days if the city does not reach
a compensation agreement with Chevron. The firm would be retained
on a contingency basis, meaning it will not be paid by the
city unless it helps secure compensation from Chevron.
Lindsay intimated that he preferred Rogers' approach over
immediately hiring the firm.
"I think that it would be appropriate to engage Chevron
in some additional conversations before you file the lawsuit," Lindsay
said. "You reserve your rights at any time to move forward
with a lawsuit. It's worth some conversations first before
you take the step of retaining legal counsel."
The Aug. 6 fire sent more than 15,000 residents to area hospitals
with respiratory discomfort and other symptoms. The fire occurred
when a corroded pipe ruptured in a refinery crude unit.
The state Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA)
found that the refinery was guilty of 11 "willful" violations
and fined the corporation about $1 million, the highest fine
in the agency's history. The U.S. Chemical Safety Board's investigation
found that the pipe was recommended for replacement by Chevron
inspectors as early as 2002.
No one on the council speculated about how much they believed
Chevron owed the community for the health and economic effects
of the fire.
In an email statement Wednesday morning, Chevron spokeswoman
Melissa Ritchie said the corporation, " ... looks forward
to continuing its ongoing discussions ... regarding how Chevron
U.S.A. and the city can be effective community partners now
and in the future."
Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726 or email@example.com
and follow Twitter.com/roberthrogers.