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  Richmond Leaders Want Chevron to Pay College Tuition for Local High School Grads to Atone for Refinery Fire
May 29, 2013

Jael Myrick and I want to run an idea by you and solicit your support.

Although the mechanism is still up in the air, I believe there is a good chance that the City of Richmond and Chevron will enter into a negotiated agreement to resolve a damage claim resulting from the 2012 fire. Some of the damage is quantifiable, such as costs to the City for first responders.

Much of the damage is not as easily quantifiable but is very real and substantial, and includes a nuisance factor, damage to the City’s reputation, including opportunities for attraction of businesses and jobs, psychological effects similar to PTSD, and interference with people’s lives and transportation due to shelter in place orders.   

I believe the chances of an early and successful settlement will be enhanced by designating uses of funds for projects and programs that have some attractiveness to Chevron for their own reasons.

The uses should also have clear community benefits, measurable outcomes and wide community support.

We are proposing that some portion of the settlement funds go to a program that might be called “The Richmond Promise,” named  after the El Dorado Promise that I am familiar with through Arkansas connections. See http://www.eldoradopromise.com/parents/welcome.aspx.

Essentially, what happens in El Dorado is that Murphy Oil Company provides a full tuition scholarship to any Arkansas University for a graduating senior in El Dorado, or an equivalent amount to go to an out of state school. The current cost in Arkansas is about $7,400 a year.

The equivalent cost in California is about $13,000 a year. We did a little quick math and came up with a cost of about $1 million a year to provide the same program for Richmond residents. It would max out and plateau at about $4 - $5 million after four years. Any Richmond resident attending WCCUSD would qualify.

This would be a great program to convince Chevron to fund as a part of the Fire Settlement. It could have a dramatic impact on education and kids’ futures in Richmond and its publicity value for Chevron would be beyond value. The amount of money is well within what I think we could derive from the settlement.

It could also have a dramatic impact on jobs, economic development and Richmond’s reputation. Graduating from high school in Richmond would essentially carry a “signing bonus” of over $50,000 if a student goes on to an accredited college, university or vocational program!

From the El Dorado Promise website:

Since that announcement, many great things are taking place in El Dorado.  The percentage of graduating seniors attending college has risen from about 60 percent to 81 percent. After decades of population decline, families are moving into the school district to take advantage of the program. The student body has risen by at least 140 students to more than 4,600, and this year's kindergarten class is the largest ever. In 2007, the town passed a property-tax increase to build a new high school and created a local sales tax to fund economic development.  All of these are good signs for a growing and thriving community that is ambitious in its education pursuits.  

I would like to solicit your support for this as one component of a potential settlement.

I have been floating this idea since 2008 when the first Chevron refinery project was going through CEQA review.

See If Chevron Could Only Emulate Murphy Oil Company, June 17, 2008 and Response to Murphy Oil Company Scholarship Story, June 18, 2008.

In July, 2008, I wrote, “And indeed, several councilmembers have said they would like to see Chevron contribute more money to the city. In 2007, the refinery reportedly contributed about $1 million in charitable donations to county organizations. While Butt appreciates that generosity, he said $1 million is just a "drop in the bucket," and believes the company can do better. For comparison, he noted that the much smaller Murphy Oil Corp. dedicated $50 million in college scholarships for students from its tiny hometown of El Dorado, Arkansas.”

What do you think?
Richmond leaders want Chevron to pay college tuition for local high school grads to atone for refinery fire
By Robert Rogers
Contra Costa Times
Posted:   05/29/2013 03:56:25 PM PDT
Updated:   05/29/2013 04:00:51 PM PDT

RICHMOND -- A full-tuition college scholarship for anyone who graduates from a public school in Richmond, paid for by Chevron Corp.?
That's what at least two city councilmen want, and they've publicly proposed that it should be part of a settlement package stemming from last summer's fire at Chevron's Richmond refinery that sent more than 15,000 residents to area hospitals.
"We're pushing hard for this," said Councilman Tom Butt, who has joined with Councilman Jael Myrick in touting the proposal. "We want to build public support." Myrick campaigned for election last year on a platform calling for city money to be put into a scholarship fund for local high school graduates. But with finances strained -- the city is wrestling to close a looming budget deficit this year -- Myrick's proposal looked like a nonstarter.
Last week, a divided City Council voted to automatically retain a San Francisco-based law firm in 30 days if Chevron didn't agree to a compensation package to the city's liking.
On May 28, Butt floated the idea on his popular E-forum, a digital newsletter that reaches thousands of residents.
"I want to run an idea by you and solicit your support," Butt began, going on to write, "I am proposing that some portion of the settlement funds go to a program that might be called 'The Richmond Promise.'"
Butt went on to estimate that paying for the full tuition of every Richmond graduate who wanted to go to college
or vocational training would cost Chevron $1 million initially and about $5 million annually after four years.
Asked about Butt and Myrick's proposal, Chevron spokeswoman Melissa Ritchie said via email Tuesday, "Chevron U.S.A. Inc. looks forward to continuing its ongoing discussions with the city of Richmond regarding how (we) can be effective community partners now and in the future."
Not everyone is fully onboard with the idea. Councilman Corky Boozé said Butt has made a mistake by taking an "adversarial" approach with the energy giant.
"It's hard to reach an agreement when Butt and his allies are constantly beating up on Chevron," Boozé said. "You can't punch a guy in the face and then ask him for some spare change."
Butt said his idea is modeled after a scholarship fund run by Murphy Oil Co. in El Dorado, Ark. The company provides a full-tuition scholarship to any Arkansas university for a graduating senior in El Dorado, or an equivalent amount to go to an out-of-state school, Butt said.
The Aug. 6 fire occurred when a corroded pipe ruptured in a refinery crude unit.
The state Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) found that the refinery was guilty of 11 "willful" violations and fined the corporation about $1 million, the highest fine in the agency's history. The U.S. Chemical Safety Board's investigation found that the pipe was recommended for replacement by Chevron inspectors as early as 2002.
A massive settlement is not unprecedented in Richmond. A 1993 incident at a General Chemical Corp. plant sent a toxic cloud drifting across the city and 24,000 people to area hospitals. The company in 1995 agreed to a $180 million settlement, with more than half shared among 55,000 residents.
Butt said he hopes his idea pre-empts a protracted legal battle with the refinery, which is by far the city's largest taxpayer. Chevron already spends more than $4 million annually on philanthropic investments in the city.
"This would be a great program to convince Chevron to fund as a part of the fire settlement," Butt wrote to his readers. "It could have a dramatic impact on education and kids' futures in Richmond, and its publicity value for Chevron would be beyond value."
Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726 or rrogers@bayareanewsgroup.com and follow Twitter.com/roberthrogers