Thursday, April 28, 2011

Transitioning to the new economy

by Constance Beutel
Published in The Benicia Herald, April 27, 2011
Last Thursday Benicia celebrated Earth Day. It was a well-attended event at the Veterans Memorial Building, with city staff and community groups providing information and demonstrations about everything from water-wise gardening to suitable California native plants for landscaping to energy-efficient construction and insulation techniques — and much more.

What especially interested me at the celebration were some of the conversations we had about sustainability. A few people wondered whether sustainability focused only on reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, or if there is a wider definition. Certainly, one of the major tasks of the Community Sustainability Commission is implementing Benicia’s Climate Action Plan that is specifically focused on greenhouse gas reductions. But as I explained last week, sustainability is defined as providing for today’s needs without jeopardizing the ability of future generations to provide for their needs — so it encompasses much more than the environment.

There are generally three fundamental components to sustainability: environmental, economic and social. The competition for resources, their conservation and the potential impacts of harmful resource utilization on the environment are critical considerations for us — but equally important are the economic and social viability of our communities.

Last month I had the opportunity to film Suze Orman and listened carefully to her analysis about the immediate outlook for the U.S. housing, financial and job markets. In essence, she noted that the country has lost about 20 million jobs since the start of the recession, and she estimated most of those specific jobs will not return. Why? She feels businesses have learned to operate “lean and mean” while taking the savings realized from reduced payrolls to the bank.

What that seems to mean for our economic sustainability is that we need ways of anticipating global economic trends so we as a community can leverage our knowledge and skills to remain economically competitive and viable.

We know the importance of small firms to our national economy. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, small firms:

• Represent 99.7 percent of all employer firms.

• Employ a little more than half of all private sector employees.

• Pay 44 percent of total U.S. private payroll.

• Have generated 64 percent of net new jobs over the past 15 years.

• Hire 40 percent of high-tech workers (such as scientists, engineers, and computer programmers).

• Made up 97.3 percent of all identified exporters and produced 30.2 percent of the known export value in fiscal year 2007.

• Produce 13 times more patents per employee than large patenting firms; these patents are twice as likely as large firm patents to be among the 1 percent most cited.

Here in Benicia, there are more than 450 businesses in the Industrial Park alone, employing about 6,500 people. This chart shows the distribution of enterprises.
We are fortunate that in promoting sustainable business in Benicia we have active community agencies and organizations: The city’s Economic Development Division and Economic Development Board, Planning Commission, Community Development Department and Community Sustainability Commission; the Benicia Chamber of Commerce and its committees, including the Benicia Industrial Park Association and BIZNET; and Benicia Main Street. In addition, there are many local and chapter professional and service organizations that serve our business communities, such as Soroptimist International of Benicia, the Rotary Club of Benicia, and many others.

Whether we are business owners or residential business and trade professionals, we are going to need reliable information and knowledge to better prepare and position ourselves for the transitions our economy is going through.

The good news is that City Council unanimously approved the Community Sustainability Commission’s recommendation to bring Dominican University of California’s Green MBA and Environmental Finance Center expertise to Benicia in the next two free lecture-workshop series.

The second series, titled “The Benicia Sustainable Economy,” will be offered this fall. It is a six-part program that draws from Dominican’s renowned Green MBA program. The topics covered will include principles of sustainable business; sustainable operations management; marketing tactics and strategies; and business, government and civil society.

The point of working with Dominican is to offer Benicians the opportunity to go deeper and more substantively into the elements of sustainable business. I know many residents will want to take advantage of this superb free educational opportunity funded through the Valero-Good Neighbor Steering Committee Settlement. And I know many will have ideas on fine-tuning the curriculum to meet your needs. If you’re interested and would like to help as we prepare this next series, email me at

A quick reminder: The first lecture-workshop series offered in collaboration with Solano Community College continues. Lecture two, “Understanding Climate Change,” was held Tuesday and the video of that lecture will be available on Benicia Public Library’s Green Business page (

The next lecture-workshops will be held May 10 from 7-9 p.m. (“Climate Action Plan and Benicia”), at the Benicia Public Library; May 24 from 7-9 p.m. (“Energy, Water and Waste: Conservation”) at Heritage Presbyterian Church, 1400 East Second St.; and June 7 from 7-9 p.m. (“Where are the Green Jobs?”), also at Heritage Presbyterian.

Let’s get to work!

Constance Beutel is vice chair of Benicia’s Community Sustainability Commission. She holds a doctorate from the University of San Francisco and produces video documentary and Internet video streaming.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Renewable energy bonds save Benicia money

by Kathy Kerridge

The Benicia Herald recently published a letter questioning the wisdom of spending $845,000 a year on renewable energy for a saving of $50,000 a year. He said it didn’t make sense. If those were the facts it wouldn’t. However, he left out the most important part of the equation.

The city through these projects will save 70% of its utility bill. That is not a trivial amount since the city spends $1.5 million a year on energy. What the city is doing is spending money to save $1,050,000 (70% of $1,500,000) per year in utility costs.

One way or the other we would be spending this money, either on utilities or on the bond. The difference between the cost of the bonds and the utility bill is where the $50,000 per year in savings is realized. This is a conservative figure.

This project also freezes 70% of Benicia’s energy bill. In these days of rapidly escalating costs I think that is the only sensible course of action. I don’t think anyone believes the cost of energy will be going down in the next 20 years in light of the increased demand from developing countries, the increasing costs of extracting fossil fuels, and our reliance for oil on unstable and often dictatorial governments.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Seeno Project: How they voted and why it matters

by Norma Fox

In Sunday’s Benicia Herald a writer accused me of using “scare tactics” regarding ozone and the Seeno project in an effort to “mislead the public” into voting for Dan Smith for City Council instead of the incumbents, Schwartzman and Hughes.

Is it “scare tactics” to simply state the facts?

1. Data collected from an Air District monitoring station, located in Benicia during 2008, revealed that Benicia was 4th worst in the Bay Area for ozone levels. (Ozone is a carbon-based gas that is caustic to the lungs and aggravates allergies and serious respiratory disorders.)

2. The environmental impact report for the huge and poorly designed Seeno business park confirmed that the project would have exceeded government-established ozone thresholds and greatly increased our already high level of ozone.

3. Regardless of that, both incumbents were quite willing to approve the Statement of Overriding Considerations in order to get the project approved. This "statement" is a required document that governing bodies must sign in order to approve a project that exceeds recommended thresholds for ozone. Their stated "overriding consideration" that they felt justified exposing the entire town to even greater ozone was the expected city revenue the project would generate.

Both incumbents have stated that they don’t believe any large business park development could ever be designed in such a way as to stay within the Air District’s ozone thresholds.

To me, this opinion does not reflect 21st century business thinking. In today’s world of global warming and environmental crisis we need city leaders who understand that the old business development models – sprawling business projects spewing high levels of ozone producing carbon emissions onto the community - are simply no longer acceptable, nor are they necessary. There are many innovative solutions emerging for large scale business developments that are carbon-neutral, healthy and sustainable. We need city leaders who understand these new models and the new constraints of the 21st century and who will set a higher standard for developers.

4. The letter writer then went on to claim that Mr. Schwartzman “did vote to deny the project until Seeno would agree to a specific plan and a development agreement.” Well, I can only assume that this person was not closely watching the Council votes as this project wound its way through the review process in 2008. The fact is that throughout this process, both incumbents consistently voted to accept the project and move it forward, and they never demanded a "specific plan" or a "development agreement," they stated they were quite content with non-binding "conditions of approval."

5. The pivotal vote that finally stopped this dangerous project from final approval occurred on Oct. 7, 2008. In a 3-2 split, Patterson, Campbell, and Ioakimedes voted “no” on the resolution to approve the final EIR Addendum and the Statement of Overriding Considerations, while Schwartzman and Hughes voted to approve it. The results of this split vote (no thanks to the incumbents) essentially meant that this flawed project was dead, because a project cannot be approved without an approved EIR.

Based on the record of the incumbents, and based on Dan Smith’s public recommendations at those Council meetings, I can confidently say that Dan Smith is the only one among the current candidates whom I know you can trust to always stand firm with Seeno and insist that the next business park proposal he presents to us in 2010 must be a 1st class 21st century project that provides high-end jobs for Benicians and does not sacrifice our community health and quality of life.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Vote for Smith

by Roger Straw, Oct. 31, 2009

In the summer of 2008, it looked very much like Albert Seeno would finally get his way with the city of Benicia. Many in our community were astonished that a majority on the city council were ready to approve staff's recommendation of Mr. Seeno's decidedly unworthy project proposal to grade and commercialize our beautiful hills north of town. Vocal opposition and expert critique had come forward, Benicia First! held a great series of public educational forums, and our small Green Gateway Group worked up an alternative vision for development north of our fair city.

At that time, many thought that only one or two votes on our five-member council could be counted on to listen and vote "no" on Seeno. Most everyone was sure that Mr. Hughes and Mr. Schwartzman would continue to support whatever proposal came forth from Seeno and Discovery Builders. I recall presenting the work of our Green Gateway Group at several council meetings in the fall, and I recall the indifference and dismissal of our group by city staff and council members, particularly a few very cynical and biting statements made by Mr. Schwartzman, questioning our motives and intent.

Not until Mike Ioakimedes took a stand alongside Mayor Patterson and Councilmember Tom Campbell for good air and a safe environment for Benicia's schoolchildren, did the Seeno train run off the tracks. When the project had all but failed, some very serious and creative negotiations resulted in a reversal of the vote to deny, and the train was back on the tracks again, this time with a very different look. The project would be overseen by a Specific Plan, a Development Agreement, and a citizen oversight committee, and would comply with new state laws AB32 and SB375. There would be a new environmental study, and protections for Semple School. Mr. Seeno committed to a number of other design characteristics, including LEEDS certified buildings, free public transit to and from the site, and a plan for proactive promotion and recruitment of green/clean technology users. The council voted 5-0 to reconsider, and everyone felt hopeful, but then Mr. Seeno pulled the project for the time being, citing the economic downturn.

At every point in this public process, Mr. Hughes and Mr. Schwartzman, honorable and respected in so many ways, could not bring themselves to stand up to the commercial interests and staff recommendations that drove the Seeno project, and would not give thoughtful citizens a decisive voice in planning and oversight.

I believe it is imperative that at least one of our city council incumbents be replaced. My vote in this election is strongest in unseating an incumbent if I vote only once, for candidate Dan Smith. Dan has worked as an advocate for open space for years in our community, and demonstrated his ability to say no when necessary to the powers that be. I reject outright Mr. Schwartzman's claim that it is somehow unfair or undemocratic to cast a single vote on Tuesday. "Bullet voting" means casting an intelligent single vote for the single most qualified candidate, and it is a time-honored and fair electoral strategy in the United States.

Please join me in voting for Dan Smith for City Council.

Dan's the One!

Dan is the man

by Jane Vanderwerf, Oct. 30, 2009

I've attended city council meetings periodically over the past couple of years and have seen council candidates Mr. Hughes and Mr. Schwartzman in action. My impression was that, when presented with a vote that forced them to choose between what a business wanted and what might be viewed by cautious people as protecting Benicia citizens' health, well-being and quality of life, their votes tended to be on the side of business. If you agree with this, by all means vote for one or both of these men. As for me (being one of those cautious people), I am voting for Dan Smith.

Mr. Smith is pro-business while at the same time being careful to ensure that both Benicia citizens and its businesses come out ahead in the process. He has served on the council before, in addition to having participated in other civic committees and volunteer organizations in town over the past 20-plus years. Dan Smith knows Benicia well and has a good feel for what its citizens want in terms of programs and services. If you are interested in maintaining Benicia's high quality of life and increasing the city's business tax revenues by electing a person dedicated to boosting First Street, the industrial park and our other commercial areas, vote for Dan Smith and only Dan Smith.

Please take the time to vote on Tuesday and remember, "Dan's the One."

Friday, October 30, 2009

Dan Smith answers Benicia Herald

Dan Smith, Candidate for City Council on Nov. 3, answers the Benicia Herald questionnaire.
Dan's Website ; Dan's Blog

Personal: Dan Smith
Birthplace: Anaheim, CA
Age: 52
Years in Benicia: 22
Job/Company: Community relations specialist/Currently freelance
Family: Wife Diana, daughters Jessica and Catherine

Political history

How did you get into politics?

I have engaged in political discussions since I was young. Shortly after moving to Benicia, I was encouraged to apply for a city commission by then-Mayor Marilyn O’Rourke. I had always been involved in coaching and playing baseball, so I applied and was appointed to the Benicia Parks, Recreation and Cemetery Commission in 1990. Then, when the city planned to replace the playground in City Park, I saw the proposed equipment and thought the park was too special for typical catalogue variety equipment. My wife and I and several other families worked together to organize volunteers to build the Playground of Dreams. It was a life-changing experience that has inspired me in politics and community work ever since.

When were you first interested?

When I was 10, I was affected by the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy. It compelled me to learn more and take a lifelong interest in politics. I later wrote editorials for my high school newspaper, including one urging President Nixon to surrender his tapes. I also took some Political Science classes while at Cal. As an adult, I read a great deal and engage in discussions to keep up on the politics of each city and county where I have lived.

What motivated you to run for Benicia City Council?

In the late 1990s, I was inspired by the work of Councilwoman Jan Cox-Golovich and other leaders I had admired through the years. As a newspaper journalist for 17 years, I had reported on several city councils in California, including Benicia’s. Many people were asking me if I would consider running. I also felt that too much power was being wielded by the city manager, who was also police chief at the time. The council was being led astray from our General Plan, so I ran for the first time and won in 2001. Then, in both 2005 and this year, I was asked again by many Benicians to run. I am proud of past achievements like the Playground of Dreams, the XPark skatepark and the 10,000-acre Tri-City Open Space and am driven to repeat those successes on behalf of the city I love.

What do you think you would bring to the Council, if elected?

I am a voice for young people and for the environment, two critically important aspects of society too often neglected in politics. In addition, I am an independent who endeavors to be consistent, yet weigh each decision on its own merits, on a case-by-case basis. Mayor Patterson and I agree on a great many things, but not always. We did not always vote the same way when I was on the City Council.

Finally, regarding the most important issue before the City Council, I will insist on a first-class project from the Seeno development that adheres to the components of the community-based agreement. With me on the council, I believe there will be a majority who will not accept a project that would violate our city’s General Plan with regard to environmental impact and sustainability. That is the key difference between me and the incumbents.

What issues in this race do you feel you’re most qualified to address? How, then, would you address those issues if elected?

I have been working on the Seeno project since the late 1990s when I was on the Economic Development Board and during my time on City Council 2001-2005. I am qualified to address that issue and, as I mentioned in my response to the previous question, I will insist on a first-class, sustainable business park.

I opposed the city’s takeaway of the scout houses when I was on the City Council, and I will push to get permanent housing as soon as possible for Benicia’s scouting programs at Mills Community Center. The troops are in temporary portable housing right now.

I have been a leader in preserving open space and creating trails throughout Southern Solano County for 15 years on the Tri-City Open Space group and other committees. I will continue to work toward creation of the county’s first regional park and completion of a Carquinez Shoreline Loop Trail. Both of these projects will improve quality of life and stimulate economic development in Benicia.

What direction do you think Benicia is heading during the next four years? Where do you see Benicia four years from now?

Benicia, unlike many cities, is in solid financial shape during this recession thanks to the 20% General Fund Reserve we approved when I was on the City Council with Tom Campbell. I think that will continue. We are closer to getting a good project from the Seeno company, which could be one way to create jobs and help Benicia in the next couple years, assuming we find ways to mitigate the environmental impacts on the East Second Street corridor, including Semple school.

I am concerned about the ability of our school district to provide the same excellent level of instruction that my children have benefited from here, with state funding per student being slashed dramatically. My record of improving city cooperation with the district in the Joint Use Agreement revision proves I am a strong advocate for the district at City Hall, which could be critical to the district’s continued success. I was a major force behind the city stepping up on maintenance of the community ball fields, used by everyone but owned by the financially strapped school district.

The county’s continuing public access at the Lynch Canyon open space and the opening of the bicycle/pedestrian lane on the Benicia-Martinez Bridge have been huge steps, suggesting that the aforementioned regional park and loop trail could happen by 2013 with an improved economy and enlightened leadership.

We have money in the Valero Improvement Project Mitigation Fund for possible land acquisition in our Arsenal, reviving the potential of a Civil War history park on Jefferson Street. With vision we can polish the jewel that is the Benicia Arsenal.

In what areas do you think Benicia has succeeded in the past? Where has it fallen short? How can it address those areas better, and what can it do to keep addressing the other areas well?

Benicia has done a pretty good job at preserving one of California’s most historic and charming cities as the Bay Area has exploded with growth and population. Traditions like the parades and the Holiday Open House may be the best things about Benicia along with its waterfront view and great weather. Staying around 30,000 people instead of building in Sky Valley was a superb, critical decision by the community. It protected the small town feel, which is fragile enough with the freeway bisecting two distinct residential areas.

Certainly the Library and the Playground of Dreams were two great successes of 1992. Our Community Park was completed a few years later and it is an award-winner. I think the improvement of the foot of First Street was a great accomplishment, especially after we saved and moved the old Lido building.

As for mistakes, I already mentioned prematurely taking away the scout houses and how it should be remedied ASAP.

In my opinion, we did not get good work from our environmental impact consultants on either the Seeno project or the Lower Arsenal Mixed Used Specific Plan. I believe there are even more shortcomings to the Arsenal environmental impact report than those the city has already tried to correct, and I think that dense housing as has been proposed in the Arsenal would be ill-advised. We need both the Council and staff to be more demanding of high-paid consultants, not allow them to submit subpar work.

We have fallen behind on what the Association of Bay Area Governments estimates should be our “fair share” of affordable housing time and again, too often allowing developments of only expensive single-family homes. We need to find appropriate places for affordable housing and commit to them, preferably as in-fill in residential areas but not in sizeable open space areas.

Sometimes it’s difficult for some organizations in town to work together, particularly ones that have common interest like the Chamber and Main Street or the Historical Society and the Historical Museum. Perhaps we can all try to think outside the box and keep the town’s best interests at heart. The formation of the new Arts and Cultural Commission may serve as a useful example of groups coming together for a common good.

Finally, why should Benicians vote for you over your opponents?

I am honest and hard-working. Children and the environment are my top priorities, and I have a track record that proves I will lead that way and vote for what is best for Benicia. I am accessible and work hard at communicating with Benicians through email, community meetings and the phone. I believe that, as your Councilmember, I will help to protect Benicia and encourage the City to thrive.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

David R. Archer for School Board

by Norma Fox

If you are dismayed that your ballot does not show any statement from David R. Archer, Benicia School Board Candidate, and you would like to know more about him and what he could offer to the Board, check out his blog at

A quick review of the questions and answers on that page will reveal that he brings an important set of skills and knowledge to the school board that it currently lacks.

His education and work experience are particularly strong in the area of financial expertise ( he is a Certified Internal Auditor with a Masters in Accounting and Information Systems). These skills and experience would be especially useful in guiding the board through the budgetary constraints and decisions it will face in the years ahead.

In addition, he has specialized training and experience in implementing strategic planning and organizational efficiency measures for large organizations.

It’s also nice to note that he currently has three children in our Benicia schools (elementary and middle school), and he is an active volunteer in youth sports coaching.

There are three positions open for the School Board on Nov. 3. Our two incumbents, Dana Dean and Rosie Switzer, both have proven records of quality service on the Board. It looks to me that David R. Archer would be a great complement to that team.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Why "Dan's the One"

by Jon Van Landschoot

Dan Smith is a true Public Servant. His efforts on behalf of our community and youth reach back nearly 20 years.

In 1992, Dan was the leader of the volunteers that built the wonderful Play Ground of Dreams. This park continues to be used, daily, by scores of our families.

Dan , as a past member for several years of the Youth Action Task Force, has long been a strong advocate for the Scouts and youth activities in our town. He was, and remains, a champion for helping our schools maintain and improve their sport fields.

Dan has chaired the Tri-City Open Space Citizens' Committee. This group actively seeks to promote a county-wide Regional Park System . Also, he was a driving force behind saving Sky Valley from being developed ( Measure " K " in 2003.) Dan is a big supporter of the efforts to make our First Street Green into a truly spectacular and inspiring waterfront venue. To Dan, Open Space is a cause, not a convenient campaign slogan.

Open Government is the essence of our Democracy. Dan pushed for, and voted into existence, our " Open Government " Commission in 2005. Not all members of the present Council supported such a commission. Nor, did the same council members support and sign the recent "Clean Elections " petition this past Summer. This effort was greatly aided by Dan's vigorous efforts to collect signatures to limit the money spent to influence our local elections. The current election limits are a direct result of the efforts of Tom Campbell , Dan and other concerned citizens .

The State Parks were "saved" recently , but still remain underfunded and in danger of cuts in the future. Dan was with the group who campaigned last year and this to "Save Our Parks ". He will not relent until the State parks are fully funded .

While on the City Council, Dan voted to create the Historic Preservation Review Commission , and helped Benica seek Certified Local Gov't status. Long a supporter of Historic Preservation in our quaint town, Dan continues seeking protection for our many assests that will enhance our draw as a tourism haven.

The City's budget is currently being hit by Sacramento's grabbing a lot of our share of local property taxes. Dan has long stressed the importance of a sustainable budget process and voted to require a 20 % General Fund Reserve. This is still the standard to which Dan holds firm. Past salary contracts passed during the reign of the former mayor have made the city's legacy cost rise dramatically . According to a Contra Costa Times article in September, we rank in the top ten of regional cities whose employees make over $100,000 annually. Dan is convinced that this path is not sustainable.

And finally, the Seeno Project ! Dan remains a tireless crusader for an environmentally sentive 21st Century project with an enforcible Development Agreement. None of the other candidates is so committed to " Getting it right " . Just remember who on the Council voted for the flawed Environmental Impact Report & Project each and every time . Dan opposes the removing of the hills and the massive traffic and pollution problems this unrefined project could bring to our town.
Dan stands with the community !

Dan is the " One " candidate who acts on his commitments all the time, not just around election time ! You often see Dan at civic events around town seeking to maintain and improve our life style.

In the Benicia City Council race, Dan is truly the " One ".

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Seeno project is the difference

by Norma Fox, Oct. 16, 2008

Wondering what’s the difference between the three leading candidates (Hughes, Schwartzman, and Smith) in the upcoming City Council election? They’re all well-meaning competent citizens with years of service to Benicia, so what’s the big difference?

The Seeno project is the difference!

When the Seeno project is developed (528 acres of open land, zoned industrial/ commercial, in the north corner of Benicia near Lake Herman Rd.) it will forever change the character of Benicia – for good or ill – depending on the degree of environmental and public health standards that our Council members insist upon.

Over that past couple of years, Mr. Seeno brought forward various versions of a mediocre Business Park plan, one that lacked any serious public transportation component for employees, and which would have snarled our traffic and vastly increased the extreme health-damaging effects of ozone in the air we breathe.

Throughout that process – while knowing that Benicia’s ozone levels are already fourth worst in the Bay Area, and knowing that Mr. Seeno’s plan would greatly exceed government established ozone thresholds – the two incumbents (Schwartzman and Hughes) were consistently willing to approve that project, demanding only cosmetic tweaks and non-binding promises from the developer.

Their response to the issue of increased ozone in our air (an invisible gas which instigates and aggravates everything from allergies to asthma and emphysema) was simply that it’s just an inevitable result of large developments and we just have to accept it.

By contrast, candidate and former Council member Dan Smith would attend those Council meetings and warn them not to vote for such a poor project, and urge them to require Seeno to go back to the drawing board and bring forward a fundamentally redesigned project, based on sustainability principles, that would not compromise our public health and our environment.

Early this year Mr. Seeno put the project on hold, but we can be sure he will be back with a new project proposal in the near future. And when that project becomes active again, Dan Smith is the only one in the choice of candidates who can be counted on to refuse to approve any elements of the Seeno project that will sacrifice our public health, our environment, and our quality of life on the alter of economic development.

Dan knows that we do not have to settle for less! Mr. Seeno can still turn a profit on a high quality “green” Business Park, one that conforms to Benicia’s rightful need for clean healthy air and respect for our environment.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Dan Smith answers Times-Herald

Dan Smith, Candidate for City Council on Nov. 3, answers the Times-Herald questionnaire.
Dan's Website ; Dan's Blog

1. Why are you running for Benicia City Council?

My most important reason for serving on the City Council again is that I am committed to Benicia being the best that it can be. That means working to achieve a safe, healthy Seeno project that won’t destroy our downtown; finding new ways to fill vacant storefronts downtown; protecting Benicia’s small town charm; preserving the historic Arsenal and protecting businesses there; and keeping my promise to youth and seniors for the Mills Community Center.

2. What are the most important issues facing Benicia and how would you address them?

I don’t think the Seeno project offered to Benicia this year was a good deal for the community. We didn’t have a development agreement or a project labor agreement. We didn’t have a solid mechanism to ensure Benicia taxpayers don’t pay to build another fire station. Still, the incumbents voted in favor of it. I want a project that pays for itself and doesn’t make East Second Street a mess of traffic and air pollution.

3. How will you work to assure the city maintains financial stability?

I was on the Council when we approved a mandatory 20 percent level for our General Fund reserve. That, combined with prudent spending on capital improvements and investment in our Industrial Park infrastructure, assures our financial stability. My record of service and vision for the future are reasons why I am endorsed by the Mayor, our County Supervisor, the County Democratic Party and numerous past or current members of the Council, Planning Commission and School Board.

4. How do you propose approaching future growth in the Arsenal district?

Developers in town have been proposing various dense housing proposals for the Arsenal. I don’t think those are appropriate for that area, and one reason is because of the industrial pipelines and existing businesses there. The Arsenal is not the place to address needs for our housing stock. We need to revise and recirculate the Arsenal Specific Plan and its Draft Environmental Impact Report to get the right uses out there.

5. What will you do to address economic development?

I want to develop the Benicia Business Park on the Seeno land, and I want to increase revenue by increasing the effectiveness of our tourist economy, particularly heritage tourism about military and railroad history in Benicia. We have the best Civil War history site on the west coast. It’s a place where the Pony Express stopped and trains crossed a river on the world’s largest ferry. These assets need to be marketed and showcased more effectively.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Solution to California's Debt Crisis

Toward a Solution to the Debt Crisis in California: The State Could Walk Away and Create Its Own Credit Machine

By Ellen Brown
Published in OpEdNews, July 13, 2009

Four Wall Street banks, which received $15-25 billion each from the taxpayers, have rejected California's IOUs because the State is supposedly a bad credit risk. The bailed out banks would seem to have a duty to lend a helping hand, but they say they don't want to delay an agreement on further austerity measures. State legislators are not bowing quickly to the pressure, but what is the alternative?

In the latest twist to the California budget saga, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, and JPMorgan Chase (which each got $25 billion in bailout money from the taxpayers) and Bank of America (which got $15 billion) have refused California's request for a loan to tide it over until October. Until the State can get things sorted out, it has started paying its creditors in IOUs ("I Owe You's" or promises to pay bearing interest, technically called registered warrants). Its Wall Street creditors, however, have refused to take them. Why? The pot says the kettle is a poor credit risk!

California expects to need to issue only about $13 billion in IOUs through September, and all its Governor has asked for in the way of a loan from the federal government is a guarantee for $6 billion. Total loans, commitments and guarantees to rescue the financial sector and stem the credit crisis have been estimated at
$12.8 trillion. But California has not been invited to the banquet. The total sum California needs to balance its budget is $26.3 billion. That is about the same sum given to Citigroup, Wells Fargo and JPMorgan in bailout money; and it is only about one-tenth the sum given to AIG, a mere insurance company. Corporations evidently trump States and their citizens in the eyes of the powers controlling the purse strings. California has a gross domestic product of $1.7 trillion annually and has been rated the world's eighth largest economy. Its 38.3 million people are one-eighth of the nation's population and a key catalyst for U.S. retail sales. When the California consumer base falters, businesses are shaken nationwide. If AIG and the other Wall Street welfare recipients are too big to fail, California is way too big to fail.

Fitch Rating Agency has downgraded California's municipal bonds to junk bond status,triple B. Why? AIG and Lehman Brothers had A ratings right up until they declared bankruptcy. California has never defaulted on its bonds, and it cannot arbitrarily decide to default; the State Constitution mandates that debt principal and interest must be paid as promised. California bonds lost their triple A rating only when the municipal bond insurers (Ambac and MBIA) lost theirs. It was these insurers, not the State of California, that got into hot water gambling in derivatives. The State Attorney General has opined that California's IOUs are valid and binding obligations of the State. In rejecting them, however, Wall Street may have ulterior motives. A lower credit rating can justify investors in demanding higher interest rates. The interest offered on the IOUs is substantially lower than the interest banks can get on triple B rated municipal bonds.

There may be deeper motives than that. Considering the enormous importance of the California economy to the country, and the relatively small sum it needs in loans, the refusal to support the State financially seems highly suspicious, especially when much more has been given to less creditworthy private institutions. The banks say they want to keep the pressure on California legislators to work it out among themselves, but what does that mean? The options are even higher taxes, even more cuts in services, or even more fire sales of public assets; in short, the sort of austerity measures expected of supplicants reduced to Third World debtor status. State legislators are understandably reluctant to crawl into that debt pit. Governor Schwarzenegger has refused to approve higher taxes, while Democratic leaders say further cuts in services could leave some Californians starving in the streets.

The Sun Could Shine Again on the Sunshine State

There is an alternative to that dark future, and perhaps it is to keep the public from waking up to it that arms are being twisted to accept the new burdens quickly. If Wall Street and the Feds won't extend credit to California on reasonable terms, the State could simply walk away and create its own credit machine. California could put its revenues in its own state-owned bank and fan these "reserves" into many times their face value in loans, using the same "fractional reserve" system that private banks use.
Many authorities have attested that banks simply create the money they lend on their books. Congressman Jerry Voorhis, writing in 1973, explained it like this:

"[F]or every $1 or $1.50 which people, or the
government, deposit in a bank, the banking system can create out of thin air and
by the stroke of a pen some $10 of checkbook money or demand deposits. It can
lend all that $10 into circulation at interest just so long as it has the $1 or
a little more in reserve to back it up."

President Obama himself has acknowledged this "multiplier effect." In a speech at Georgetown University on April 14, 2009, he said:

"[A]lthough there are a lot of Americans who
understandably think that government money would be better spent going directly
to families and businesses instead of banks; where's our bailout?,' they ask,
the truth is that a dollar of capital in a bank can actually result in eight or
ten dollars of loans to families and businesses, a multiplier effect that can
ultimately lead to a faster pace of economic growth."
If private banks can leverage deposits into multiple amounts of "credit" on their books, a state-owned bank could do the same thing, and return the profits to the public purse. One State already does this. North Dakota boasts the only state-owned bank in the nation. It is also one of only two states (along with Montana) that are currently able to meet their budgets. The Bank of North Dakota was established by the legislature in 1919 to free farmers and small businessmen from the clutches of out-of-state bankers and railroad men. By law, the State must deposit all its funds in the bank, and the State guarantees its deposits. The bank's surplus profits are returned to the State's coffers. The bank operates as a bankers' bank, partnering with private banks to lend money to farmers, real estate developers, schools and small businesses. It makes 1% loans to startup farms, has a thriving student loan business, and purchases municipal bonds from public institutions.

North Dakota is not suffering from unemployment or feeling the pinch of the economic downturn. Rather, it sports the largest surplus it has ever had. If this isolated farming State can escape Wall Street's credit crisis, the world's eighth largest economy can do it too!


To sign a petition that will go electronically to Governor Schwarzenegger and to elected officials in your State,
click here.

You could also try faxing this article or a letter to Governor Schwarzenegger at 916-558-3160. See

Ellen Brown is an attorney and has written eleven books, including "Web of Debt," "Forbidden Medicine," "Nature's Pharmacy," and "The Key to Ultimate Health." Her websites are and .

Friday, May 8, 2009

Report on air ties refinery to ozone woes

By Tony Burchyns/Times-Herald staff writer
Posted: 05/08/2009 ,
Vallejo Times Herald

BENICIA - An air-quality study tied to the Valero refinery has revealed that Benicia was fourth worst in the Bay Area for ozone levels in 2008, according to results made public this week.
But even though the refinery daily emits ozone precursor gases, which combine with heat and sunlight to form ozone in the atmosphere, its exact contribution to ozone creation is unknown, officials said.

"It is nearly impossible to determine on any given day what amount of ozone was formed due to emissions from a particular industry," said Eric Stevenson, an air-monitoring manager for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

Stevenson said some ozone precursor gases are produced locally, mainly by auto traffic, Valero and the Benicia port. But some drift in from other areas and get trapped in Benicia's micro climate, he said.

According to the report from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, Benicia - at a high of 75 parts per billion - was the fourth worst ozone offender in the Bay Area, right behind Bethel Island, Livermore and Concord.

The ranking was based on yearly averages from 23 Bay Area monitoring stations. The health effects of ozone exposure include respiratory damage and heightened sensitivity to allergens.

Benicia's ozone levels still met national standards for both 2007 and 2008, Stevenson said. The results were shared Wednesday night at the Valero Benicia Refinery Community Advisory Panel meeting at the Benicia Public Library.

Among those in attendance was refinery vice president and general manager Doug Comeau. Although Comeau did not speak about the ozone data, he did apologize publicly for last month's release of hydrogen sulfide at the refinery. The release produced a pungent "rotten egg" smell that could be detected as far away as Marin County.

Valero could be forced to pay a public nuisance fine in excess of $10,000, depending on the conclusion of an ongoing investigation into the cause of the incident, air district officials said this week.

Officials at the meeting also discussed creating a community air-monitoring system similar to one established in Rodeo in the 1990s.

The system would differ from the air district's measurements by detecting and reporting short-term air-pollution events on a local level, in real time on the Internet, said Don Gamiles, a principal at Argos Scientific, who spoke at the meeting.

"The air district does measurements based on state and fed standards," Gamiles said. "By definition, a community monitoring system is a different beast."

The 18-month air district study, partly funded by Valero under an agreement with the community, concluded in December.

Currently there is no ongoing, independent air-monitoring in Benicia. But Valero is working toward installing air-monitoring equipment purchased from Argos in 2005 on Tennys Drive near East Second Street. The station is expected to be running inside of two months.

Gamiles also discussed the possibility of installing what he called a "fence line system," which would analyze air quality at the edge of the refinery using light beams. The system, which his company sells, would cost about $35,000 to install, he said after the meeting.

Rodeo, which borders the ConocoPhillips refinery, has used a fence-line air-monitoring system for more than a decade.

see the report from Bay Area Air Quality Management at this link:

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Seeno changes his mind

After Albert Seeno III begged the City Council to rescind their Nov. 18 denial vote on his Benicia Business Park application, insisting that he really wanted to work collaboratively with the community and was eager to get started building a green, sustainable, cleantech business park that the community would be proud of, no sooner had he signed the final agreement resolution in early March, than he came back to the City on March 19 and informed city officials that he had changed his mind about proceeding with the project "due to the downturn in the economy" and he has decided to put the entire project on hold until 2010 at least, "if it makes economic sense to do so."

(It should be noted that by getting the Council to rescind their denial vote on his project application, Mr. Seeno has saved himself at least two and a half million dollars in project impact fees. When he resumes the project in 2010 or later, he will not have to pay the City's current rates on project impact fees, but rather the rates that were in effect when he opened the original application.)