Community Action makes a difference
Why We Won
Justice was Served
Justice was served by the Board's decision. While the community is suffering from high unemployment, foreclosures, loss of vital safety-net services and threats of more lay-offs, Chevron posted profits of $7.8 billion and $5.1 billion for the previous two quarters and has a very strong cash position. Justice requires that Chevron's share should be more-not less
Chevron is able to use its surplus cash to invest in lawyers, lobbyists, "experts", and PR firms to bully local, state and national governments to get legal loop holes and judgments. As individuals, most of us cannot afford the legal and political costs to get our property taxes reduced. The county and cities cannot afford the legal and expert costs to prepare assessments that withstand legal challenges and to fully defend the community from avaricious attacks Courts. Appeals board hearings are not neutral when Chevron gets a bigger part in writing the rules and has the overwhelming advantage in interpreting them.
Chevron won its appeal for the 2004, 2005, 2006 with a very similar case. (That decision is now being appealed in the courts by both sides.) Even though one person was on both Appeal Boards, in both cases the decision were unanimous. Why this complete reversal when the playing field is not level?
Not having a Chevron Agent on the Appeals Board certainly helped
In the earlier case Joe Fisher, leader of Black American Political Action Committee (BAPAC) of Contra Costa was on the Appeals Board. BAPAC had received large contributions from Chevron as well as campaign contributions which it distributed to favored candidates who supported Chevron's policies. See East Bay Express article.
Another difference between this appeal and the first appeal was that this time the Richmond Progressive Alliance worked hard to keep the proceedings in the public's eye. Citizens wrote letters and attended the hearings and county workers received flyers describing the impact a Chevron victory would have on them. Public rallies kept the issue in the press. Chevron-man was booed when he spoke in favor of the 1%. Articles appeared frequently in the RPA newsletter, the CC Times, Richmond Confidential and the Chronicle. These activities helped focus attention on the crucial importance of the outcome and thus supported the county lawyers as they went about their job. Thanks to all those who worked with us to keep this issue in front of the public and giving support to the exceptionally hard-working and underpaid county lawyers and the refinery assessor and major witness, Mr. Yu.
The Occupy movement helped create the political climate of a much greater understanding of how the 1% were using the laws, lobbyists, and political contributions to increase their unfair share.
Kissing-up to Power Does Not Work
In the last few city council meetings, when the issue of Chevron's appeal came up, Council members Booze and Bates made it a point to praise Chevron and emphasize how much Chevron gave to the community in taxes and contributions. Their attitude seems to be that since Chevron is so big and so powerful, we have to support its policies. Booze absented himself when the Council voted to request Chevron to drop the appeal. This may be the influence of Chevron's substantial political contributions, past and future. Or perhaps its a case of political "Stockholm Syndrome" in which captives come to identify with their captors or where people who are abused defend their abusers?
Chevron is a corporation. Its bottom line is profits. The people who run it are human and should be treated as such, but the decisions are based on corporate needs not human needs. Corporations don't respond to people being nice to them. They respond only to things that affect their bottom line. Their "positive" PR strategies, their support and cooperation for community projects ultimately are intended to create a political climate that allows them to conduct their business in a way which benefits their bottom line.
In the days before the announcement, Chevron is rumored to have offered assurances to the city that it would not require the city to pay back all the money that they expected would be owed to them. They were trying to appear to be the "good guys." In reality they were attempting to exert control over our city government with a "favor" in exchange for benefits to them in the future. This amounts to an attempt to usurp our democracy. If they genuinely wanted to help the city and its people they would never have brought the appeal to lower their taxes, potentially bankrupting the city.
It is not over
Even though we won, Chevron cost the County millions in legal defense. Chevron will probably appeal and keep appealing. Chevron can afford the cash for lawyers- the County cannot. Chevron may well press for a compromise so the County can save the costs of litigation. The County and Richmond must stand tough against the bully technique. If Chevron wants to be a good neighbor let it start by dropping all of its tax appeals.
Let's enjoy these moments of people's victory. But remember that the big picture has not changed. It just depends on our willingness to organize.