by Ann Garrison
KPFA Evening News, broadcast Aug. 2, 2014
KPFA Evening News Anchor Sharon Sobotta: It’s common for all the members of a city council to vote unanimously to move forward with good will, no matter how long they have wrangled to reach a compromise that has majority support. That did not happen at the Richmond City Council this week, when the council approved Chevron’s complex oil refinery expansion permit.
Even after nine years of litigation, City Council and Planning Commission meetings, and negotiations with Chevron, Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and Vice Mayor Jovanka Beckles abstained on the final midnight vote at the end of an impassioned, five-and-a-half-hour City Council meeting. KPFA’s Ann Garrison spoke to Vice Mayor Beckles about why she abstained.
KPFA/Ann Garrison: Jovanka Beckles, could you explain why you and Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin abstained on the final vote to approve Chevron’s complex refinery expansion in Richmond.
Jovanka Beckles: Well, initially, there was a unanimous vote to accept Alternative 11, which of course came about as a result of environmentalists and community groups really fighting and demanding a better project. So I felt good about voting yes on that and, while it wasn’t perfect, it was certainly a better alternative than what the company, Chevron, initially proposed.
But on the final vote, which was on the conditional use permit, there were opportunities to include the conditions that the Planning Commission decided on – and those conditions were coming from Richmond residents who were saying that we needed a project that was truly modern, that was truly going to be giving us a cleaner project – and that’s the alternative that I wanted. We obviously didn’t have the votes for that, but this was going to be an opportunity for us to include my suggestion and my motion to include a portion of the money that we were going to be getting from Chevron, which is $90 million.
So I wanted to include – and the mayor was in agreement – that some of that money needed to go toward keeping a community hospital. We need schools and hospitals. Those are two really important resources in a community that provide for a healthy community. And because that option was not included, I didn’t feel comfortable voting for something that didn’t include an opportunity to keep our residents from dying.
KPFA: It was a dramatic moment in the City Council hearing, and it looked like that was really where the rubber really hit the road for you and Gayle. You both said, “Doctors Hospital? No money for Doctors Hospital? That’s it.”
Jovanka Beckles: Right.
KPFA: “We’re abstaining.”
Jovanka Beckles: Right, right. No money for Doctors Hospital. Then without the opportunity to discuss how we could bring some money in to keep that hospital open, there was no way I could vote yes in good conscience. And I certainly didn’t want to vote no either, because I felt that there were some good concessions, there were some good compromises that were made, and one of those compromises was the $90 million. That was great.
So I didn’t want to vote no against that, but I couldn’t vote yes without some support to keeping Doctors Hospital open.
Again, people are dying, people will die without a hospital in this community, and it was, for me, unconscionable to vote on a project that didn’t include some kind of measures to making sure that our community has health care close by.
KPFA: So would you have made it a unanimous vote, for the sake of unity, if funds for Doctors Hospital had been included?
Jovanka Beckles: Absolutely, absolutely.
KPFA: According to Doctors Hospital, they treated 12,000 of the 15,000 people who sought hospital care after the Chevron Refinery explosion and fire of August 2012. Where are they going to go if there’s another explosion and fire – or just to seek care for the inevitable health consequences of living near an oil refinery?
Jovanka Beckles: Exactly, exactly. You know, my point exactly. Where are they going to go, and how are they going to get there? So many of our residents who rely on Doctors don’t have transportation to get to Martinez, should something like this occur again. And the fact that 12,000 of our residents were seen there is really indicative of the importance of having that hospital close by.
KPFA/Sharon Sobotta: And that was Richmond’s Vice Mayor Jovanka Beckles speaking to KPFA’s Ann Garrison.
Oakland writer Ann Garrison writes for the San Francisco Bay View, Counterpunch, Global Research, Colored Opinions, Black Star News and her own website, Ann Garrison, and produces for AfrobeatRadio on WBAI-NYC, KPFA Evening News and her own YouTube Channel, AnnieGetYourGang. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want to see Ann Garrison’s independent reporting continue, please contribute on her website at anngarrison.com.