Sunday, November 30, 2008

Council to discuss reconsideration of Seeno denial vote on December 2

There will be a crucial discussion and vote at the City Council meeting Tuesday, Dec. 2, concerning the future of the Seeno Project in Benicia.

After the Council voted to deny the project on Nov. 18 (following up on a previous denial vote on Oct. 7), the property owner, Albert Seeno III, wrote a letter agreeing to major concessions and modifications to the current version of the project if the Council would reconsider and rescind their Nov. 18 denial vote. There are many pros and cons to this choice. Please read the Seeno letter and decide for yourself. (The letter is also posted on the city website as a link to item XI. on the City Council Agenda.

The discussion of the Seeno letter and a vote on whether to reconsider their Nov. 18 denial vote is scheduled (item XI.) on the City Council agenda to begin approximately 9:20 p.m. on Dec. 2. Please try to attend this meeting if you are able; inform yourself about this important decision that will greatly affect the future of Benicia and let the Council hear your wishes.

If you cannot attend the Council meeting, please email your comments to the City Council members. If you email your letter , it will be forwarded to all Council members before the meeting.

This Nov.29 Vallejo Times Herald article provides some additional details about this recent new turn of events. You can also read background information about the Seeno project and the process that has brought us to this point at

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

On companies doing business with the City of Benicia...

by George delaCruz

An editorial on the relationship of City Staff and companies in Benicia...
[in response to a newspaper article revealing that Nationwide Auto Auction is delinquent in $300,000 in back fees owed to Benicia.]

Regarding the issue of Nationwide Auto Auction, is it incompetence? Is it collusion? Just what is it that allows our City Staff to go merrily on its way? It seems to have its head in the sand. All the while companies doing business in Benicia fall behind on fees or don’t follow through on promises made to the City so they would be granted the right to conduct certain business operations in our fair city. Nationwide Auto Auctions is just one example of our City staff’s complete lack of oversight. Is it incompetence or is it corruption? Amports is another example. It has broken more agreements then you can count. It pays nothing to operate the Port of Benicia which is owned by the City. No business tax. No port tax, nothing. And then, of course, there is Valero, and Seeno and who else, may I ask? Do some in City Government have their hands out? Or does it just seem that way? Or do they just look the other way?

Nationwide should be held accountable for all agreements made with the City. As for Amports and Valero, I must again raise the issue of a port tax. Every other port operation in the United States collects a fair tax, based either on a tonnage or per unit basis for all cargo handled through that port. I would estimate that Amports alone avoids between $5 and $10 million in taxes per year which would go directly to the City of Benicia. Valero pays no port tax on the 40 to 50 thousand barrels of oil it processes daily at our port. At other ports in the U.S., these quantities are taxed, be it petroleum products, automobiles or any other item that crosses the docks, either in import or export. I suggest the City could use a formula similar to the ones in use in Oakland, San Francisco or Los Angeles to apportion these taxes because they have already been litigated. This tax money would go a long way to help this cash strapped City, especially with the present state of our economy. These companies are not paying their fair share, nor, in fact, in many cases, they are not paying any share at all. But for some reason, our City government is unwilling to make these firms pay their fair share.

But then, the question arises: Are our City employees, our City government, unduly influenced or are they in some way compensated by these companies? If there is any suspicion of fraud, then the Solano County Grand Jury must become involved. If it is just some mis-begotten, ill conceived, unfair influence from these companies, who then should or could, investigate and deal with the problem? Perhaps we could hire a team of forensic Bureaucrats to dig into our City government?

The failure by Nationwide to pay over $300,000 in fees brings up another question Did Nationwide pay the City for the equipment or automobiles it sold on consignment on our behalf? If not, why not?
But then, I remembered that Benicia, rather than taxing companies doing business in the City, would rather collect revenue from the tickets motorcycle officers are writing. Something seems out of whack here. Our self-serving City Staff, which won’t go after a source of revenue most Cities would cherish, instead go after our citizens who are already overburdened with taxes.

When City Staff takes responsibility and changes a vote of our City Council, I suggest something is drastically wrong at City Hall. If our City Staff cannot enforce rules or if it is inappropriately connected to businesses in Benicia, some should certainly be fired. It costs our community too much in salary and benefits to have incompetent or corrupt City employees. Perhaps a good old fashioned house cleaning is needed...

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Corporate development vs Community rights; who wins?

by Will Gregory, Oct. 2008

" Voting no on Seeno is the right first step."
Nicole Byrd–Greenbelt Alliance, Fairfield. (Bencia Herald. 9/24/08)

I noticed in the Vallejo Times Herald that Mayor Elizabeth Patterson stated to reporter Jessica York that she did not consider the " no " vote on Oct. 7 a victory.
" This was, take a deep breath and get back to the drawing table." Patterson said.
(See: Seeno plan flawed for Benicia: Council votes 3-2 to bar development. VTH. 10/9/2008)
I was confounded by this comment. With all due respect to the Mayor, in my estimation this was a victory.
A project as the Mayor has said, has been flawed, from day one.
The community has been waiting for this moment, this vote, for years.
Individual activists as well as collectivist clubs - Benicia First ; Green Gateway Group have worked tirelessly to secure this decision- one that favors the community over a recidivist corporation.
Using every means available the community was made aware of this corporate entity's criminal justice record, disregard for the environment and influencing peddling at the local government level: Newspaper/editorial accounts; documented records from the past; and eye-witness stories. This was a victory for community activism.
When you consider that this project would take over 20 years to complete, and as Vice Mayor Tom Campbell has stated, would cause "... traffic, grading, view, watershed and air pollution problems make the present Seeno Project unacceptable to Benicians."
(See: Inside Benicia.. City Coucil Update. April/2008.) ...this was a victory for our environment.
This was a crucial victory for the" rule of law. " In our esteemed and well thought out 1999 General Plan-the principal policy document for guiding future conservation and development in Benicia-one of the primary goals of the GP as stated on page #33-listed as Goal 2. PRESERVE BENICIA AS A SMALL SIZED CITY.
Policy 2.1.1: states- Ensure that new development is compatible with adjacent existing development and doesn’t detract from Benicia’s small town qualities and historic heritage.
This was a victory for a community vision by diversifying the city’s portfolio-(see: that will enable the city of Benicia to become the leader in Solano County for green growth, green jobs and a green future. This is the A+ project Mayor Patterson has been fighting for our " little town."

Still there are cheerleaders for Seeno..
The recent Vallejo Times editorial.(10/10/2008) asks "What message was city trying to send Seeno?" Is the VTimes seeking increased circulation and advertisers by this message? The local newspaper's editorial uses the tired rhetoric of fear-in this case, revenue stream for the city vs the values and character of our community.
Growth friendly, council members Alan Schwartzman and Mark Hughes voted in favor of the project. That is their right. Even though they both promised in their campaigns for council in 2005 that they wanted to protect our small town atmosphere. When it comes my turn to vote next November, I’ll be voting for candidates that keep their words about our special small town. I won’t vote for folks that have ties to the chamber of commerce or unscrupulous corporations. That is my right.
Other cheerleaders for Seeno included- (our) non-elected city staff : or more appropriately a pro growth shadow government. City Manger Jim Erickson; City Attorney Heather Mclaughlin; and Community Development Director Charlie Knox have been leading the charge for this project. The only prop missing- is the pom poms!
What is galling, here, is that these public representatives through their advocacy and strong influence have been avid supporters of a private corporation over and beyond their concerns for the public they are suppose to serve. I think it is fair to ask: What does the city staff not understand about the 3-2 vote? Has our city staff been coopted by the forces of growth promotion? Never a word about Seeno’s development history in Contra Costa County in general or more specifically its record in Pittsburgh influencing elections and politicians. Or how Seeno was involved in our own elections, here in Benicia.
See: "Connecting the Dots". Inside Benicia. City Council Update. Elizabeth Patterson.. April/2007.
It is important to note: that our well-paid public employees Ms. Mclaughlin ($189 thousand) lives in San Ramon and Mr. Knox ($158 thousand) lives in El Cerrito. Mr. Erickson ($197 thousand) lives in Benicia . (Source: Human Resources Dept., City of Benicia) Interesting, how some of these folks won’t have to deal with the ramifications of a decades long project that they are demanding- but won’t have to live with.
Now, these same folks, in today’s Vallejo Times Herald (See: "Staff asks council to delay Seeno vote." 10/19/08.) want another round of talks with our elected officials. After the final 3-2 vote! This is unprecedented in Benicia politics.
According to the Green Gateway Group web site- members received an earlier copy of the staff report. Activist Mr.Roger Straw had these cogent remarks:
" Let me say that [City] staff’s Report and Recommendation is an apparent effort to try and save the Seeno Project in its current form after the council's NO vote of Oct.7. [City] staff seems to be heavily invested in getting Council to approve this project. They believe it is a good project."
Mr. Straw continues.. " this can only be interpreted as an attempt to entice Council to reverse its vote of Oct. 7. [City ] staff has received Seeno’s o.k. on the plan to once again extend conversation- "
" ... many (citizens) are wondering if it is appropriate for [City] staff to recommend continuance, and to encourage project approval, given the council’s meeting of 10/7. It borders on [City] staff advocacy, or perhaps crosses the line.