September 06, 2003

PRNC, 8-2003

Highlights of the August 2003 Neighborhood Council Meeting

Police-Community Luv-Fest; Let's Bury the Wires and Trim the Trees; Chevron Oils the Wheels; General Chemical Tidies Up; We R Rubes; Mini-Parks Imminent; Wig-Wag Ahoy; Jay Betts puts the squeeze on downtown PR

Prnc 8-27-2003

The Anti-Minutes: Our Erstwhile Cub Reporter's Take on the Neighborhood Council Meeting of 8-17-03

Approximately 45 people were present at the height of the meeting, which ended rather abruptly at 9:30. Continuing a trend from last month, most members of the Design and Land Use Committee were AWOL, leaving one member to present the report (see Betts, below). I can empathize; they must be exhausted from the rigors of urbanizing Point Richmond and squeezing new buildings onto tiny handkerchief plots.

Police-Community Luv-Fest

With five police officers and a DA present, it was a vastly different story than last month's experience. This month, under the watchful eye of Police Chief Bennett (who made rather pointed comments about readiness for promotion), a humbled and contrite Officer Lawson, the PR swing shift beat officer who showed up empty-handed for several months in a row, brought statistics and handed out business cards.

Bennett also spoke at length about the RPD's commitment to open substations throughout Richmond, including the Point, though they are hoping for a free or low-cost location. Officer Joe Silva (our big-boned, no-nonsense beat officer) would staff our substation. (WigWag David suggested manning the substation with “community volunteers,” as was done in El Sobrante; Bennett heard him out, but thankfully did not commit to this. Let's save the volunteers for mini-parks and blood drives.)

Bennett added, “[We are] in the process of reorganizing the police department. ... The operative word is service, service, service. ... This is going to be a community-involved police department." If this wasn't enough, Lt Cleveland Brown, president of the RPD's Management Association and watch manager for the swing shift, emphasized that the RPD is “dedicated and committed to providing the service you deserve.”

(At one point, Spencer got up to speak--he's the bald-headed guy who got a hair up his fanny and tore down posters all over town--and a small dog who had been quietly curled near his master's feet, occasionally nosing my shoes and thumping his tail, began growling so loudly he had to be removed from the building for a time-out.)

Officer Berry updated us on the storage facility banner issue discussed last month. Mr. Butler, the manager of the storage facility posting that huge and illegal advertisement near the 580 offramp, ran an end run around Berry by applying for a zoning variance, ensuring that nothing will happen until his case is heard at the October 8 Planning Board meeting. “I’ve been scammed,” Berry admitted with a rueful smile. Butler should drive and park very carefully for the indefinite future--Berry looks like a man who is going to get his quarry sooner or later!

Let's Bury the Wires and Trim the Trees

These entries don't appear in this order in the Agenda, but it makes sense to treat them in the same discussion. If your view is blocked by phone poles or overgrown trees, take note. A committee has been revived to look into burying power wires, and a community member has begun the process of establishing an ordinance on tree management. Ed Gingrich is in charge of the committee to bury the wires, and Jose Corral is investigating the tree issue. Kudos to both of them from a Point resident who has been quietly praying for a storm to take out three trees and a power pole currently standing between her and a potentially spectacular view of her beloved hometown. (Think you can just talk this stuff through with neighbors? Not if your neighbor is an absentee landlord, the City, or does not play well with others.)

Don't Hold Your Breath (But Don't Breathe That Stuff In, Either)

The day of this meeting, the EPA loosened the rules under which plants that burn coal and gas operate. Walt Gill, the Chevron flack, reported that the Bay Area Air Quality Management has a limit on emissions that they cannot exceed, despite the relaxation of rules. Uh huh. At any rate, Gill debunked the story that Chevron is for sale (that would make one heckuva large Starbucks--after the EPA gets through cleaning up what may be the ultimate urban brownfield from hell).

Speaking of community involvement, for about ten years Chevron had a Community Advisory Panel— which was suspended in September 2002. The current thrust is getting reps to the neighborhood councils--which Chevron has been doing--but it's interesting that input to Chevron is now limited to a reactive, public mode.

Note that if you smell something funny or see fireballs shoot out of the top of Chevron, you should call Chevron Fire Dispatch at 242-4200.

There was a discussion about what the recent alarm, called at this meeting The Incident. Gill said that “our track record until recently has been pretty good.” That's true if they mean Point Richmond hasn't been blown to Hawaii or burned down to its foundations, but let's not pretend that the rest of the Bay Area is routinely diving for cover while large plants blow whistles for real emergencies.

New plant manager for General Chemical

It feels strange complimenting General Chemical (even the name has a vague Love Canal feel to it), but my own career experience tells me that if he's doing half of what he says he's doing, we can rest much easier knowing that Larry Manfry has been working there since November of 2002. If you've every worked in an organization with a guy who really loved his safety checklist, you know Larry; he's an archetype. He's been bustling through a list of 56 action items, created from a 54-item safety evaluation report commissioned by the city and the county.

According to Manfry, GC has implemented over 80% of the action items, which focus on safety, including human factors (the human-equipment interface), the "safety culture," and similar topics.

Someone who had viewed the site recently said you can eat off the floor; despite all we've heard, I strongly discourage this behavior. If GC is working on a 56-item action list, ask yourself what the place was like before he got there.

By the way, Manfry reported you get a newsletter if you live within one mile of the plant. That's terrific! I take that to mean that no effluent from GC can go farther than a mile. Right? Right?

Hayseed in our Teeth

Can we please bring our meetings into the 21st century? Manfry did great with his extemporaneous talk, but he walked into an organization fifteen years behind the one he works in. He had a laptop and Powerpoint--for cryin' out loud, the guy's a manager, why wouldn't he?--and you could see him wilt when he realized that the height of technology in Point Richmond is hand-waving (and outside of buildings, posting flyers on power poles, or in Spencer's case, "deleting" the flyers). Here we are in the Web-savvy Bay Area, looking like rubes. We should have a laptop, projector, and hot connection available at every meeting.

September 17 is the CAP (Community Advisory Council), which Rod Satre will attend. Perhaps he will come back bearing tales of brilliant new technologies.

Wigwag David invited General Chemical to the Business Association.


As far as I can tell, REACT is an acronym for We No Longer Offer This Information Online. At least that's my experience (and Tom Butt's as well) in attempting to track down the local Community Guide to Emergency Preparedness.


PRAM announced its 8/30 blood drive; a noble effort. (How much blood can you get from a small child, anyway?) The recent Red Cross guidelines for blood donations have become so strict that they really need donations from those who are eligible. I used to love to give blood (if you have met me, you may wonder if I meet the size guidelines; hey, I can squeeze out a pint if the nurse sits on me for a few minutes), but my overseas tours in the Air Force mean I can't do that any more. Mad Cow, don't you know?

PRAM has contacted the city about the renovation of the community center; PRAM has money to help with refurbishing.

Point Molate

Rod Satre reported that the city continues to negotiate with the Navy.


Wig-Wag David said there was a formal offer from the railroad; the offer includes that the wigwags will become the possession of the city of Richmond, and the road will provide easements for maintenance. It was suggested that Wig-Wag funds be reserved for this maintenance.

Design Review Highlight: 217 West Richmond

(Note: during this discussion, I tried to present a motion to extend, which was ignored.)

Jay Betts presented his design for a 3-story building two doors over from the renovated bank building, on West Richmond and Santa Fe. The building looks attractive enough (at least it's not a concrete block with windows, like that thing now facing 580 on Tewksbury), but it only has 2 parking spaces. It was explained that commercial property under 5000 square feet doesn’t require parking.

Jay Betts said this building would be his last tour de force, and implied that somehow, in building this little cash cow, he is doing Point Richmond a favor. If he really wanted to do us a favor, he would do the right thing and create enough parking to support the additional traffic.

Only two people (including me) voted against the zoning change. I don't have anything against new construction, in theory, and the building seems fine in the abstract if you don't consider people actually using it, but I question the mindless me-tooing of any new construction when we have a really bad and surely prescient combination of empty storefronts and no parking. If people don't have places to put their cars when the economy is in such a slump that many nights we could roll bowling balls through any Point restaurant and not hit a customer or waiter, what are we going to do when the economy recovers? Oh, I know--we'll let the cash-poor city of Richmond pick up the tab for dealing with the problem! (Am I being anti-progress, or is everyone else a Stepford wife? Use the comment feature and tell me!)

Flares: Trust Me, They're Cool

Walt Gill told me far more than I wanted to know about flares (only "far more" because we'd been in a meeting for two hours, and I had lost the ability to focus on complex thoughts), and in a future posting I'll talk about flares, monitoring, Chevron, and anything else I can think up. I spent two years as a director for a library in the EPA (East Coast), and I can bring this topic home to y'all.

As I write this, I hear the fog horns lowing, San Francisco is hugged with fog, and I can sniff cold water off the Bay at night. It's still the Point, and it's still beautiful. Take a bag of crumbs to the Miller Knox and share it with the ducks and geese, then turn back and look at our world. What do you want it to look like in twenty years? The decisions we make today will affect that. We can't stop change, but we can manage it with wisdom and concern.

Talk! Kvetch! Correct! Complain!

Posted by kgs at September 6, 2003 11:32 PM | TrackBack

General Chemical's Richmond plant manager is Larry Landry. He was happy to appear when I asked him although he was delayed by about two months. It was a pleasure hearing from Larry.
As you note in My Point, Larry could have given a power point presentation. He had the equipment but he got there a little late and the evening was getting on. However, if had used power point, he might have said even less about what General Chemical makes and how they make it. Knowing that, the safety issues become clearer. What's for certain is that reusing or making fuming sulfuric acid is not easy. It's a tricky process and General is making every effort to do a safe, clean job.
PRNC will be asking other local companies to do the same sort of presentation.
Readers can view the PRNC agenda and minutes at the Brickyard Realty web site.
Don Woodrow, President PRNC

Posted by: Don Woodrow at September 22, 2003 10:13 AM
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