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Green Versus Chevron, a Debate That Has No Place in Richmond

The following letter from Bob Dabney appeared in the Contra Costa Times on January 28. Now, Bob is a friend, and in fact, we had lunch together today at Richmond Rotary Club. This is not personal, it is political. I cannot let it go unanswered, but I do so in the spirit of public debate, not malice. I heartily agree with Bob in one respect, that “With President Barack Obama's encouragement of cooperation, perhaps we could work together for Richmond's betterment.”

Letters from our readers


Posted: 01/27/2009 01:05:07 PM PST

Since we have a new City Council, will there be a new atmosphere of cooperation for a better Richmond? I doubt it.

I expect Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and Tom Butt will continue rejecting businesses not meeting their so-called green business profile, such as Chevron.

It's no wonder that the only new businesses in Richmond are retail, such as Target and soon Kohl's. While these companies are essential to our economy, we need some larger companies that pay employees higher, livable wages.

With a large number of unemployed residents on our streets and in our homeless shelters, McLaughlin should go out of her way to encourage businesses to come to Richmond, not turn her back on them.

It'll be interesting to see what the new council member, Jeff Ritterman, will do. Since he was backed by Butt and McLaughlin in their past assault on Chevron, many feel Ritterman only offers one additional vote to McLaughlin's group of Butt and Jim Rogers.

On the other hand, Ritterman could do what he said during the campaign, that he's his own man and will consider all sides of an issues before voting.

With President Barack Obama's encouragement of cooperation, perhaps we could work together for Richmond's betterment.

Bob Dabney


My Response:

Even after the election has been over nearly three months, a hard core of diehard Chevron surrogates continues to campaign against Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and me on the basis of jobs and business.  In a letter to the Times published January 27, my good friend, Bob Dabney accused Mayor McLaughlin and me of “rejecting businesses not meeting their so-called green business profile, such as Chevron.” This accusation is neither accurate nor productive, and it deserves a response.

I want to make it clear that I am not and never have been a proponent of diminishing Chevron’s success in Richmond. I think it would be great if they could double their employment and their profits – but, unfortunately, there are no plans for doubling employment – and as for profit, we’ll never see any share in any increase. Just yesterday, Chevron announced record profits again while probably privately smirking over buying off the State lands Commission on the Bay Trail.  Based on the EIR of the Energy and Hydrogen Renewal Project, Chevron would be creating a grand total of ten new jobs.

To chastise me as anti-business is pure nonsense. I am the only business person on the Richmond City Council and the only one who has to make a payroll every week – in Richmond, no less. I understand business perhaps better than any of my colleagues because I live it every day. As an architect, I am out of a job without building and economic development. I have designed, built and currently rent (as best I can in this economic climate) business office and retail properties in Richmond. I know what I am talking about.

Dabney and his friends at the Chamber of Commerce and BAPAC (Black American Political Action Committee) have become “Johnny one notes” of the petroleum persuasion. Many of them are not in even in business themselves, but they presume to know what kind of business is best for Richmond, and if it doesn’t start with a “C” and end with an “N” and refine oil, it doesn’t count. Their whole world revolves around who supports (and takes money) from Chevron, and who doesn’t. In the 2006 election, Chevron pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars through surrogates, including BAPAC to try to defeat Mayor McLaughlin (see How "Soft Money" Works in Richmond, September 23, 2008). The campaign disclosures for the 2008 election are not yet in, but we can expect Chevron’s expenditures to considerably exceed 2006.

In the beginning BAPAC had an impressive mission, to help young African Americans get into politics. In recent years, BAPAC has become just another money laundering and influence peddling machine, stepping into the void left by the notorious Darrell Reese. In the 2008 election, BAPAC turned its back on a highly qualified African American candidate, Jovanka Beckles and supported two other non-African American candidates running against her because they were pro-Chevron. So much for high ideals.

In his recent letter, Dabney writes “McLaughlin should go out of her way to encourage businesses to come to Richmond, not turn her back on them.”

McLaughlin’s focus on green business is perhaps Richmond’s best hope for those companies that will, as Dabney pleads, “pay employees higher, livable wages.’

Recognizing the importance of “green business” to the Richmond economy, the Chamber of Commerce is sponsoring the second annual Green Business Expo on May 15 at the Ford Building Craneway, and I am encouraging the City of Richmond to partner with the Chamber to help make this a knock out success.

A hefty portion of President Obama's $825 billion stimulus plan is aimed at generating a triple play for employment, energy and the environment: The House version of the bill, for example, would put more than $68 billion toward boosting America's green-tech sector, which could in turn reduce the average household's energy bill as well as our costly hunger for fossil fuels.

Job No. 1 for the stimulus package, also known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, is generating jobs. The plan would follow through on Obama's campaign promise to do that by putting billions toward the greening of the nation's infrastructure (which is in a pretty dark place right now).

An analysis by the Center for American Progress, which is where most of Obama's ideas were fleshed out during the campaign, shows that the biggest chunk of the package's green spending - almost $31 billion - would go to increase the energy efficiency of federal facilities and low-income housing, plus rebates for energy-efficient appliances and green-job training programs. The package would more than triple the amount that the federal government is currently spending on this category, the center said. It would also create jobs: A report by the Center for American Progress and the University of Minnesota estimated that spending $100 billion on energy efficiency and renewable energy would produce 2 million new jobs in two years.

Most of the green-tech jobs would go to contractors, electricians and other skilled laborers rather than, say, researchers and business executives. Even Joe the Plumber might find something to like.

According to a January 26 article in the San Jose Mercury News, “California added green jobs in recent years at a much more rapid pace than non-green jobs.”

“From 2005 to 2007, the number of green jobs in California grew 10 percent, to about 105,000, according to the 2009 California Green Innovation Index. During the same period, statewide job growth was about 1 percent in a work force of about 18 million. A surprising number of the green jobs — 20 percent — were in manufacturing, the report noted, with the growth spread fairly evenly across diverse segments of clean technology, including advanced materials, transportation, air and environment, and green building.”

California is clearly the leader in the new green economy and is well positioned to reap maximum benefit. For more information, see www.next10.org/environment/greenInnovation09.html.

A good example of green jobs growth in Richmond is Vetrazzo, the manufacturer of countertops made from recycled glass. Since 2006, Vetrazzo has grown from 11 employees to 34 employees (a 209% increase!) and anticipates adding another 7 in 2009. Compare that to Chevron’s meager 10 employees anticipated as a result of the $1 billion Energy and Hydrogen Renewal Project.

Vetrazzo has a FirstSource Agreement with the City of Richmond, is located in the Enterprise Zone, and has hired entry level employees from Richmond who quickly rose to such positions as chief administrator, shipping manager, samples production manager, maintenance apprentice and administration manager. And Vetrazzo even endorsed Measure T, the other Chamber of Commerce whipping boy!

No one disputes that Chevron plays a significant role in Richmond’s economy, and not even the mayor is advocating any policy that would diminish that role. But Chevron is not the future, and Chevron is not where new good, well-paying jobs for Richmond residents are going to come from in the future. The mayor is right, and Dabney and the Chamber of Commerce toadies for Chevron, including BAPAC, are tilting at windmills that don’t exist. It’s time for the Chamber of Commerce and its amateur economists to get off this one-way Chevron train that’s going nowhere and pull together for a better Richmond that is well-positioned to benefit from a new era of green jobs and the post-petroleum economy.