Voices of Vallejo
Drawing Strength from Diversity
Raise Your Voice for a Change!
There is Just One Napa Valley
A Voices Contributor Calls for a Regional Approach to Planning that Recognizes the Interconnected Nature of the Napa Valley and our River Cities
Updates and News
The People's Budget Vallejo
From the local activists at Vessels of Vallejo:
"The City Budget is a moral document--it must outline the values and priorities of our communities. People’s Budget Vallejo is a community-led, participatory approach to radically democratize how Vallejo residents identify community priorities in order to more equitably inform how limited City resources and funds are allocated."
"Your voice is important in helping us understand and advocate for the needs of our communities."
Congratulations Fresh Air Vallejo!
...and they said it couldn't be done
Local activists representing Fresh Air Vallejo were on hand to receive the San Francisco Baykeeper's prestigious Blue Rivet Award at their Annual gathering as one of three winners including United Airlines and Autonomous Imagery. Accepting the Award was President Liat Meitzenheimer on behalf of FAV.
“Fresh Air Vallejo is very pleased to accept this award on behalf of a wide-ranging coalition that came together to defeat a toxic cement plant on our waterfront,”she said , in a statement released by the nonprofit. “Though some of us have worked for the environment and Environmental Justice over many years, this is the first time Vallejo has been publicly recognized in the Bay Area for this work.”
Observers familiar with the workings of Vallejo politics gave the grassroots participants in FAV little chance of beating back the proposal for a polluting waterfront cement plant and marine terminal given the array of politicians and special interests pushing the project. The determined and sustained opposition through nearly six years of environmental and planning review ultimately led the applicants to withdraw the proposal. Among the congratulatory reactions:
This is wonderful news! Thank you so much for sharing it with me. A very-much deserved honor. I hope you are healthy and well,
Erin Ganahl, California Department of Justice
Congratulations on the award! We’re so very thankful for the cooperative relationship we have with both Fresh Air Vallejo and the City of Vallejo.
Reid Boggiano, State Lands Commission
Congratulations to a very hard-working group for a job extremely well done.
Vallejo Mayor Robert McConnell
Of course it's not enough to succeed in opposing bad projects - we also need to be promoting development that can realize the vision in the City's recent general plan update, which was generated with broad public participation. In accepting the Blue Rivet Award Liat expressed the hope that we can continue to work with the city to create a waterfront that is “aligned with the vision and values of the community.”
And Congratulations to members of the Progressives for Change AD 14 slate. Six out of ten of our slate members prevailed—the biggest win so far for our Vallejo/Benicia Solano County slate!
Missing our sister Karen
Karen Sims passed away suddenly on December 11. She had been an active member of Voices of Vallejo for several years. She was also a long-time member and officer of the United Democrats, a charter member of the Solano Stonewall Club, an elected member to the Solano County Democratic Central Committee, and was just elected as a delegate to the state party the night before she died. She was Mayor Sampayan's campaign manager, and also assisted in other local campaigns.
Karen was passionate about social justice and worked for the things she believed in. The depth of her knowledge about the workings of local government was invaluable and she will be sorely missed.
We believe that the best way to honor Karen is to work on the issues she believed in, starting with the Georgia Senate elections. Write postcards, send money, make phone calls. Do whatever you can to help ensure that President-elect Biden has both a Democratic Congress and Senate to work with so they can begin to right the wrongs of the previous four years.
And be nice to each other and to yourselves.
First off, congratulations to our new Mayor, Robert McConnell, and congratulations to our new Councilmembers Mina Diaz and Tina Arriola. They have their work cut out for them. The voters rejected Measure G and with it the impulse to avoid making the hard budget choices. That task should become a little easier now that we no longer have a reactionary majority on the Council tied to special interests. We hope that residents will continue to pay attention, and support their efforts now that election season is over.
We thank L. Alexander Matias and Louis Michael for stepping up with strong first campaigns for local office. They both ran up against well-known politicians with established constituencies under the new District voting system. We hope they will continue to build on this initial effort, and we look forward to supporting them in future campaigns.
As we all take stock of the implications of a national election that revealed the depth of the divisions in this country, we also need to look at how we bridge the schisms in our own community. We avoided the worst case scenario by electing Robert McConnell as our new Mayor. Clearly the vote total in this race was closer than it would have been had Mr. Brown’s criminal history and lack of transparency come to light well before voting was already underway.
It’s also true that most organizations and individuals that had given his campaign their stamp of approval took back their endorsements in the days and weeks that followed the reporting by Open Vallejo and the San Francisco Chronicle. But a significant portion of our community signaled their willingness to look past the shocking behavior detailed in the record and the recent experiences recounted by women all over town. That is troubling, and we have to ask why that would be.
The obvious answer is that a good share of local voters base their choice of political representation on ethnicity rather than competence and character. The diversity that should be a source of strength reinforcing the best aspects of our mixed cultural heritage instead holds us back. We can see the results all around us. As the City continues to struggle to find its economic footing we are failing to protect our most vulnerable residents and provide adequate levels of service for all residents.
How a person reacts to defeat says a lot about that person’s character, and Mr. Brown’s response to his election loss in the Mayor’s race speaks volumes. Instead of any expressions of remorse for misleading the public and all those supporters who had to take back their endorsements, he wants to blame his troubles on ‘racist NIMBYs’ who would “literally lynch” him if they could. His record of serial domestic violence, lack of transparency, and the numerous recent accounts of explosive rage and bullying had nothing to do with his election loss in his telling. This divisive nonsense is the very last thing Vallejo needs right now from its elected officials.
While some of the economic headwinds the City faces blew in from outside the community, much of the damage has been self-inflicted and the result of poor decisions by elected officials and City staff. As voters and potential voters we have only ourselves to blame. When we continue to view local politics through the lens of ethnicity instead of evaluating candidates based on competence, character, and integrity then everyone suffers.
"Domestic Violence Bordering on Torture"
Investigative Reporting Blows Up the Vallejo Mayoral Race
Following the release of a statement from the Brown campaign again attempting to minimize the candidate's criminal history including a "domestic scuffle," a journalist with Open Vallejo tells a much darker story. Read the full story here...
And in the San Francisco Chronicle: "Vallejo mayoral candidate Hakeem Brown has a history of violence against women"
Note: For those who were taken in by Mr. Brown's rhetoric and his expensive glossy mailers, we are sorry to report that once your ballot is mailed there is no provision for a do-over. If you have filled out a ballot but haven't mailed it yet, you can request a new ballot.
Not the Distant Past - Local Women Speak Out About Recent Experiences with Mr. Brown
"...my bigger fear is that this completely unhinged, violent man will end up in the mayor’s office. So I swallow my fears and I write."
As Election Day draws near and tens of thousands of local residents have already cast their ballots, the Hakeem Brown for Mayor campaign continues to implode in slow motion. The once-impressive list of endorsements trumpeted to voters in mailers across the City has dwindled to a few random individuals and the firefighters union.
Here is a rundown of the endorsements rescinded so far by organizations and individuals across Vallejo. Read here...
Cannabis Questions for Candidate Brown, the City of Vallejo, and the State of California
Observers of the collapse of Hakeem Brown’s campaign for the mayor’s office in Vallejo ask how an individual with his criminal record received a state license and local approval to own a cannabis dispensary. Read here...
Listen Up, Vallejo
A member of Chana Brown's family responds to the weak denials and rationalizations coming from Councilmember and candidate for Mayor Hakeem Brown.
More Deception from the Brown for Mayor campaign.
Mailers pretending to come from the Party trumpet him as the "Democratic Party's Sole Choice for Vallejo Mayor!" It's a lie, and one more reason why he cannot be legitimately elected Mayor Nov. 3. Read Here...
Abuse Victim's Family Member has a Message for Candidate Hakeem Brown
"The reckoning has finally come." Read the full message here...
The Napa/Solano Central Labor Council Spins Support of Candidate Brown
Sidling in crab-like under the cynical title “These are our Mothers, Wives, Sisters and Siblings …,” the CLC statement attempts to soften and blur what has suddenly become painfully obvious in the harsh light of day. Their leadership shows terrible judgment... Read More...
Your Voice - Your Vote
Voices Endorsements for the November Election Beginning with Mayor's Race
and the Contests to Represent Districts 1, 3, and 6
Find your voting district on the City web site here...
Voices Recommends - Vote NO on Measure G
For all our neighbors trying to figure out how and why our City government decides who gets what, here is a rundown of the players and issues you need to understand.
Do the Right Thing Mr. Brown
Diehard defenders and weak-kneed endorsers of mayoral candidate Hakeem Brown want to argue that now we should just 'let the voters decide.' The voters have been robbed of the opportunity to decide in the November election because the candidate very deliberately misled the people of Vallejo for years... Read More...
Questions for Candidate Hakeem Brown
He may have made no secret of the fact that he has an arrest record, but Mr. Brown has not been forthcoming about the nature of those “brushes with the law,” and what they might say about how he would represent our city as Mayor.
A Thin Brown Line or No Line?
by Brian Farrell
Vallejo resident, former City Attorney in Santa Rosa
Why is Councilmember Brown so close to the VPOA/ VPD, which has been plagued with police shootings and misconduct settlements and verdicts for decades?
Candidate for Mayor Voices His Disdain for Cement Plant Opponents
Watch candidate for Mayor Hakeem Brown express his contempt for the people who spent three years fighting to keep Orcem Americas from building a cement plant in South Vallejo.
Did You Move to Vallejo?
This Candidate Thinks You Need to Sit Down and Shut Up
A candidate for the Mayor of our fair city tells us exactly what he thinks of the residents who did not grow up in Vallejo. Read Here...
An Instrument of Reform - or Just a Tool?
A recent glossy political mailer exhorts Vallejo voters to “End Vallejo’s Violence. Elect Hakeem Brown Mayor.” If only it were that simple. A review of his public pronouncements and his involvement with the unions calls into question Mr. Brown’s claim to the mantle of police reformer. Read Here...
Vessels of Vallejo Responds to Leaked Correspondence Between Richard Freedman and Christina Lee
The email by Rich Freedman of the Vallejo Times-Herald to the City’s Public Information Officer, Christina Lee, is a perfect example of the exact system of power in Vallejo we are trying to deconstruct. Why did Freedman feel comfortable sharing his racist—and completely incorrect theory—with the City’s Public Information Officer? Read here...
Factional Funny Business at the Democratic Central Committee Engineers a Do-Over Endorsement in the Mayor's Race
The incident description was filed with the California Democratic Party September 1 to challenge the actions of a faction on the Solano County Democratic Central Committee. The strong-arm maneuvering resulted in an endorsement of Hakeem Brown in the Vallejo mayor's race along with a $3,000 expenditure to print the Solano County endorsements (including Hakeem's) on the official CDP door hangers. Read the challenge letter here...
VMT Throws in the Towel and at long last the VMT/Orcem project is history. We'll leave up the legacy content for historical interest for awhile for those who missed some of the twists and turns.
Time to consolidate the win and move on to other pressing local issues.
And speaking of pressing local issues...
Michelle PellegrinPolice in cri
Police in crisis
June 2, 2019
An open letter to Vallejo Mayor Bob Sampayan, Vallejo City Council members, and City Manager Greg Nyhoff:
We are writing regarding the selection of the new police chief for the Vallejo Police Department.
As the city has noted and we cannot over emphasize, the Vallejo Police Department is in crisis. The rogue behavior of certain police officers and the culture that allows this behavior resulting in the deaths and terrorizing of citizens is unacceptable and must change. We need a police department that citizens and well meaning police officers can trust.
While we acknowledge the city’s effort to engage in a process that includes at least some of its citizens, it has started down a path that will not lead to robust change in the department.
We refer to hiring Howard Jordan as special advisor to Mr. Nyhoff with duties to head the search for the police chief as well as serve as lead on the city’s work with the Department of Justice Community Relations Service. As reported in the San Jose Mercury News, Mr. Jordan’s tenure as head of the Oakland Police Department was so unsuccessful that the federal overseer was planning to remove him. Under Mr. Jordan, as reported in the San Francisco Chronicle, “allowed a culture in which supervisors do not report officer misconduct, and complaints of police abuse do not prompt thorough investigations.”
As a failed police chief, Mr. Jordan embodies the very things the department needs to avoid in order to be successful.
Why wasn’t a police chief that had success at transforming a rogue police department hired as a consultant and why was the public excluded from this part of the process? This first step by the city, unless rescinded, could doom the entire process. Or more simply, you cannot expect a different outcome using the same methods.
Our suggestions to restore viability and to ensure success in this endeavor are:
• Rescind the hiring of Howard Jordan and hire a consultant who has had success in a transformational process in a rogue police department.
• Have transparency and public participation in all aspects of this process.
• All meetings are open and notes are published.
• Citizens serve on the selection committee.
• Clearly define the current problems in the police department.
• Clearly define what we want the police department to be.
• Use research methods on how to establish an effective police oversight system that closes gaps which do not allow for full accountability.
• Obtain input from police chiefs who have been successful turning around troubled departments (for example: Chris Magnus, the ex police chief of Richmond).
• Research best practices and successful models to determine what is necessary not only in a police chief but in the department to turn it around.
• Incorporate social justice reform and criminal justice reform.
• Establish a deliberate and adequate timeline for stakeholder/public input and research of best practices for turning around highly dysfunctional police departments.
The importance of a functioning, trusted, community-based police department cannot be underestimated for the well being of the community.
— Michelle Pellegrin/Voices of Vallejo
Of historical interest.....
The following material is left from the political battle over the VMT/Orcem project.
It will remain up for now for the edification of those who missed this years-long grass roots struggle.
A Vallejo resident talks about the decision in front of the Vallejo City Council which will impact the City and its most vulnerable residents for generations to come. This is a community in need of relief and real economic development, not additional environmental burdens piled on for the benefit a narrow set of special interests. Read More...
Slow on the Uptake
Elections have consequences - but it seems the founder and director of Ecocem, the international corporation trying to muscle a polluting slag cement plant onto the south Vallejo waterfront, has failed to grasp the message. In a December 13 interview Mr. O'Riain expressed his continued confidence that he still has the four Vallejo councilmember votes that he needs to overturn our planning commission’s decision to deny the permits on recommendation from City staff and consultants.
Some sixty community organizations have gone on record in opposition to the project, including the Chamber of Commerce and the local school board. The three-year public process to update the Vallejo general plan generated a preferred planning scenario that would change the zoning on the site to exclude heavy industry. That vision had to be shelved because the cement plant and marine terminal application has been pending even longer, blocking the community’s desire to create a continuous connected and accessible waterfront.
The State attorney general’s office just informed the city that the environmental justice analysis paid for by the applicants is flawed and misleading in its attempt to disguise the fact that these predominately low income minority neighborhoods already suffer some of the highest rates of pollution-related respiratory illness, heart disease, and low birth weight babies in the entire State. But Mr. O'Riain remains blithely confident in pursuing their strategy to pay for regional pollution offset credits and a mountain of technical analysis prepared by their hired mercenary consultants - none of which changes the fact that this site is not at all suitable for this kind of heavy industry. Apparently he feels that by simply completing a technically dense environmental document, he will give those councilmembers he propped up with campaign contributions enough political cover to vote for a development future that a majority of the public has loudly and consistently rejected.
He tells us in his interview with an Irish publication what he thinks is really the bottom line here - not dueling technical environmental arguments or an honest appraisal of impacts and alternatives, but rather who can influence a handful of local elected officials. "From a technical point of view there's a very thorough examination, not just of the project, but of alternatives to the project that has to go on. For us that's not a problem," says O'Riain. "In parallel with that you have a political process because the ultimate decision is taken by elected politicians.” That may not have been a problem for him before, but next year it will not be the same set of politicians in office as the past five years.
He apparently failed to notice that we just had an election in which the supporters of his project trailed the two candidates who have voiced opposition by wide margins, with the biggest project booster losing his seat on the Council. A savvy Vallejo politician with a finger to the wind will know that a vote to overturn the planning commission and approve this project would be ill-advised if they plan to face local voters again in the future. We will not forget.
The VMT/Orcem Environmental Impact Report has consistently failed to meet the fundamental purpose of California Environmental Quality Act to inform the public and decision-makers about project impacts. The EIR has lacked a stable comprehensive project description from the start, and examines only the initial stage of a multi-stage project. The report is fatally flawed and cannot serve as the basis for final certification and project approval. Read More...
The long-term public visioning process for the south Vallejo waterfront has been hijacked by private interests pushing polluting heavy industry. Read More...
The reasonable and safe course of action for the City Council now will be to affirm the decision of the Planning Commission to deny the VMT/Orcem permit applications.
Claims by the applicant that the raw materials they would mill for "green cement" on our waterfront are safe fail to hold up to critical examination. Let's not allow short term financial crises and private sector opportunism to dictate the future character of our community and cripple our public planning process for decades to come. Read More...
It’s an old trick. Get people interested in something attractive and then when it’s not available try and sell them on something more expensive. That’s just what’s happened with the controversial VMT/Orcem project proposed for the south Vallejo waterfront. Read More...
The applicants trot out one of the Economic Development Plan’s ten stated goals, to “make Vallejo the Bay Area’s premier site for manufacturing," in an effort to convince us they fit into an established development strategy. But the text that follows tells us that the proposed Orcem project would be the wrong kind of manufacturing in the wrong place. Read More....
The VMT project description specifies returning the site to industrial use as one of its main objectives. The applicants want to convince us we should jump on a rickety wagon from the middle of the last century that has nearly rolled to a standstill Read More...
Left in the Dust - the Truth About Slag Safety: Lab Confirms Orcem Samples Fail to Meet EPA Standards Read More...
Petroleum Coke piled on Chicago's south side
Comparing the described operation of the proposed Vallejo Marine Terminal with a recent Maritime Cargo Monitoring Report produced by the Bay Area permitting authority leads inescapably to one of two conclusions.
VMT/Orcem - A Half-baked Project
The draft EIR circulated for comment no longer describes the project in a meaningful way that would allow the public to evaluate what living with it would mean over the next sixty five years. That fundamental change compels a new document.
Time to stick a fork in VMT/Orcem
They’re just about done. Vallejo residents again rejected this ill-conceived project when casting votes for Council candidates, and the California Department of Justice has now labeled the required environmental analysis “flawed and misleading.” The applicants will try to pretend the numerous errors and omissions cited by the State will be ‘fixed’ with a final revised modified adjusted and overhauled EIR, and ram through a lame duck approval of the project without the required recirculation. Not going to work. You can’t fix stupid, and it’s all over but the shouting.
The marine terminal and slag cement mill proposed for the south Vallejo waterfront at the mouth of the Napa River was the single most galvanizing issue this election cycle for City Council. Two of only four viable candidates for the three seats were incumbents elected in 2013 on the Jumpstart slate, a special interest PAC pushing the project. It became public knowledge that candidate Jess Malgapo served as chair of a secret ad hoc committee that colluded with the project applicants prior to any environmental review, and Pippin Dew-Costa joined him as a founding member of the MISEDC. Both voted to entertain the applicant’s appeal when the planning commission denied the permits on recommendation from City staff and consultants and with overwhelming opposition expressed by the public.
Mr. Malgapo led the vote total back in 2013, but in 2018 running as the Jumpstart MISEDC candidate he came in dead last among the four contenders and lost his seat. His secret committee colleague Ms. Dew-Costa came in next to last, which should serve as a warning to any candidates who believe that the big money Jumpstart backing affords them the luxury of ignoring the will of the people. It should also be obvious to donors by now that this PAC is really not very good at this. Their typical last minute glossy smear against incumbent Councilmember Miessner - a consistent vote against the project - failed when she came in second and beat their two incumbents. They endorsed Mr. Brown as their remaining choice, who was also promoted by project opponents following his eloquent speech at the planning commission hearing calling for environmental justice in south Vallejo, and he easily came out on top in total votes.
The State confirmed in their notice to the City that the Environmental Justice Analysis (EJA), prepared in conjunction with the CEQA requirement to inform the public of the true impacts of the project, is fundamentally flawed. They conclude that “it strains logic to state that there is not a minority community that will be disproportionately impacted.” The assertion by a VMT/Orcem spokesperson that these issues will be addressed in their final EIR in a matter of weeks sounds absurd when you read the scope of the State’s critique. Nothing in a final version of an environmental report can possibly render the site suitable for this kind of heavy industry.
According to the Department of Justice: “By ignoring the community’s existing burdens, the EJA artificially minimizes the potential impacts of the Project in light of those conditions, misleading the public and decision makers.” The DOJ points out that: “The local communities have an extraordinarily high rate of asthma (99th percentile) and cardiovascular disease (96th percentile), both conditions that are caused and exacerbated by air pollution. Babies born from this area are more likely than 83 percent of babies in the state to be born with a low birth weight (less than five and a half pounds). Mothers who are exposed to pollution are more likely to bear low birth weight babies, and low weight babies are more likely to die as infants or develop asthma and other chronic diseases than babies who weigh more.”
You can’t write an environmental impact report to “address” those concerns. The numerous and varied flaws pointed to by the State analysis really only scratch the surface of all the possible challenges that can be mounted with regard to the substance and process surrounding this application. The draft EIR was circulated for the public lacking even a stable project description. Any attempt to approve this project in a lame duck session by councilmembers who long ago declared and demonstrated their unmistakable bias will meet with an immediate legal challenge from organized community opposition. It’s over - time to politely thank the applicants for their interest in our fair city and show them the door.
Did MISEDC’s members know that they were in an unlawfully-formed, rogue ad-hoc committee? Likely not, but Councilmembers Malgapo, Dew-Costa and Verder-Aliga clearly did. Their use of their personal email accounts while conducting committee business is a good indication that they were trying to hide something. Read More....
Internal communications reflect an early enthusiastic commitment by members of the lead agency to the VMT/Orcem project in the absence of any information regarding the potential negative environmental impacts. The willingness of lead agency members to ignore City policy, commandeer public resources in support of a private initiative, repeatedly violate the noninterference clause in the City Charter, and betray the public trust in the open and participatory function of local government all serve to indicate an extreme and unacceptable level of bias. Read More...
Young people in Napa viewed from an approaching train engine.
Kids and Trains Don't Mix
"Train tracks that run alongside middle schools or high schools are especially dangerous, since kids use them both as shortcuts and as hangout spots." - The Child Safety and Abuse Prevention Program of the Global Children’s Fund. Read More...
The Vallejo Chamber has voted to oppose the VMT/Orcem project
Read the text of the letter here...
The sun goes down on a promised economic renaissance
The draft of a final Environmental Impact Report fails to fully inform the public about the long term operation of the VMT/Orcem project. Read More...
Eben Fodor is a professional community planning consultant and noted author. His take on all those promised economic benefits? "...it is difficult to identify any significant,direct economic benefit that the Orcem/VMT project will have for the residents and economy of Vallejo beyond creating a small number of jobs at the cement factory. Even assuming that all the cement factory jobs were to go to local residents, the overall economic impact appears to be so small as to be virtually insignificant and undetectable in a city-wide context."
South Mare Island viewed from VMT site
A revised VMT/Orcem project Environmental Impact Report fails to inform the public about project alternatives that would eliminate significant unavoidable impacts.
The environmental review process for the Vallejo Marine Terminal project application has degenerated into a cynical box-checking exercise focused on legal technicalities while ignoring the intent of the law. Read More...
The Vallejo City Council will hear an appeal in the near future of the Planning Commission decision to deny the permits for a proposed marine terminal and blast furnace slag cement mill on the waterfront. A councilmember says she has been told by a friend who is an expert in the field that it would have no negative impacts on the Napa River. The real experts do not agree.