Richmond postpones suing Chevron over refinery fire

May 22, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
There is a new ultimatum from the city of Richmond to Chevron -- settle up with the city over last year's refinery fire or leave it for a judge to decide.

Richmond's City Council is prepared to sue its biggest corporate neighbor if necessary, but on Tuesday night the council voted to delay filing that lawsuit.

Chevron knows it is in trouble over last year's refinery fire. The Chemical Safety Board found negligence. Now the city of Richmond and Chevron are trying to reach a settlement.

After the fire on Aug. 6, 2012, hundreds of Richmond residents lined up to file claims for compensation for the ill effects they suffered from the fire. At the time Chevron said they would settle all legitimate claims, but Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin believes the company needs prodding.

"I put forward a motion that we hire this law firm that would be potentially filing a civil legal action against Chevron for the damages," said McLaughlin.

But last night the mayor's motion was defeated. The city decided to give Chevron 30 days to reach an agreement.

"Let me just be frank with you. You give me $200,000 I think I'm pretty much going to be beholden to you," said City Councilmember Jovanka Beckles.

Beckles voted with the mayor Tuesday night, but she's talking about Nat Bates who last year got $200,000 in support from Moving Forward -- a political organization entirely funded by Chevron.

Chevron gave Moving Forward $1.2 million, much of it spent in the last weeks of the 2012 campaign.

"There were billboards blanketed the city," said McLaughlin.

McLaughlin accuses Chevron of trying to buy influence on the council and points to Tuesday night's vote as a reason why.

In a statement Chevron told me it supports city leaders who share Chevron's commitment to policies that foster an economic environment where businesses can thrive and create jobs.

"What you hear are all of the negative things such as fire and different things such as that," said Joe Fisher, president of one of the 36 neighborhood councils in Richmond. "What you don't hear is all of the positive things that Chevron participates in."

Fisher points to the money the company spends on scholarships and neighborhood events, not to mention $30 million in year in taxes.

And while the company has poured a couple of million into the city council elections over the past four years, it has not always paid off.

Through Moving Forward $420,000 in Chevron's cash went to help elect Gary Bell last November, but Bell got sick right after winning and never could take office.

From looking at the campaign finance records at Richmond City Hall, it appears Bates and Corky Booze have been the beneficiaries of Chevron campaign cash and both voted to put off a lawsuit at least for 30 days.

There were to other no votes last night and the mayor admits those two have no apparent ties to the oil company.


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