Friday, May 30, 2008

A Long Look at Silva's History

by Marilyn Bardet

My long experience of Mr. Silva's judgment as a politician forms a cautionary tale and reminder of what your June 3rd vote is worth, and why I believe it's time for change up county, where Mr. Silva now assumes leadership of what can only be called a "good ol boy" majority on the Board of Supes supported by big development interests.

At the League of Women Voters forum here, Mr. Silva appeared gruff and annoyed that, after 12 years, he was having to run "opposed". He never looked at Linda Seifert, as though she didn't exist at the table beside him. This is beyond an observation of absent civil decorum for a career politician. Mr. Silva doesn't tolerate well being opposed. He stiffens when challenged, and his best retort on a topic that gives him discomfort is silence, or a distortion of fact. This is a major pitfall for any politician, unless he or she has amassed so much power there appears to be no need to acknowledge differences of opinion, let alone facts that come to light that cast shadows on the illusion of a sterling record.

Mr. Silva's outright advocacy, in 1995, of Koch Industries' bid to build six giant petroleum coke storage domes at the port--adjacent to our Arsenal Historic District and artists' quarters--thankfully failed, but only by enormous effort of an alarmed, and finally united, community. Despite research to the contrary, much of which I and others worked hard to assemble, Mr. Silva vociferously pleaded how beneficial it would be to bring coke storage capacity and a 24/7 transport shipping terminal to our city that would serve six Bay Area refineries including Exxon at the time. He suggested the domes could fit directly below the Clocktower--a spot identified as a remaining army landfill--the only problem he saw being that stretch of Adams Rd., which he'd thought could be closed off.

He touted that the project would bring "good jobs for Benicians" (27 - 64 jobs all told), such benefit, in his opinion, apparently outweighing any public health, or environmental or cultural costs. He never once worried about the health risk: coke dust particulate has nickel in it and so is a carcinogen when inhaled, penetrating lung tissue, reaching the blood stream, this according to EPA, which also says soot aggravates asthma. He never seemed concerned about the devastation the project would instantly bring to the historic district and neighborhoods. He believed what Koch Industries told him: that he'd get a "state of the art", dust-free operation, with tons of revenue for the city. He lobbied hard for a mighty illusion, until citizens across all constituencies forced the project out--by petition and constant work to counter the falsities promoted by Koch Industries, and Mr. Silva, and others tied to him.

I also was exposed to Mr. Silva's stubborn refusal to acknowledge that, as a former city manager, he had any responsibility for the lack of oversight over the removal of the Braito dump and the subsequent construction of houses on lower Rose Drive atop wastes that had not been removed to the remaining East Canyon landfill, as had been ordered by the county. In 1991, a viscous stew of toxic "black material" was found below ground in several backyards, about which the negligence of Mr. Silva's alleged vigilance began to add up: an expensive, EPA-led 7 year investigation and final cleanup commenced. The anguish of many families on Rose Drive and those living on other streets where landfill wastes had been "moved to" and re-buried was barely acknowledged by Mr. Silva, if not outright dismissed.

The story that finally emerged to explain the mysteriously empty, methane-laced Blake Court, which nevertheless had been paved and readied for housing with street lamps and sidewalks, must have been known to Mr. Silva, much earlier than 1991: the city attorney had written a letter to the developer, refusing their offer of Blake Court for a city park, because of the "uncertainty of the land's condition". (I've saved a copy of that letter, this is a paraphrase.)

This may seem "old history"; but as we know, if we don't learn history, we're doomed to repeat it. I'd really like to believe Mr. Silva has changed his stripes with regard to development issues. But he didn't support Measure J that would have re-affirmed the county's "Orderly Growth Initiative" to protect county ag land from housing development and subdivisions. He's not helped Benicia be fairly represented in drafting the new county general plan. Why?

I'm voting for Linda Seifert.

No comments: