Get Ready for CAVE People
The recent announcement trumpeting an agreement between Orcem and the Napa/Solano Labor Council typifies the kind of public relations blitz we can expect over the next couple months. The proposal to reintroduce heavy industry at the mouth of the Napa River on the south Vallejo waterfront beginning with a slag cement milling operation will come before our local decision-makers sometime next year. Consultants for the applicants will likely pull out the standard playbook for overcoming local opposition to undesirable projects, including generating fake news stories like the signing of an agreement to hire union labor to construct the project.
That arrangement is old news to those who have been following this application down an increasingly bumpy road. The regional labor interests have been involved with this proposed project from early on. The front page Times Herald article quotes labor council business manager Danny Bernardino expressing his approval. Mr. Bernardino joined the Orcem and Vallejo Marine Terminal principals on the secret ad hoc committee lobbying for deep dredging the length of the Strait more than two and a half years ago. The Napa Solano Labor Council is behind the Jumpstart political organization that attempted to paint project opponents as ‘Naysayers’ during the last election cycle. Nothing about this alliance is newsworthy or surprising.
The motivation for regional interests to push this project are obvious. The applicant’s own fiscal impact study shows that Vallejo would get less than a third of the taxes and fees and just over five percent of the property taxes, with the bulk going to the County. The project would produce no sales tax for the City and the jobs numbers are padded with speculative ‘indirect’ and ‘induced’ employment, little of which would go to south Vallejo residents. Mr. Bernardino tells us that for their union members staying local means not having to cross the Bay Bridge for work. The truly local residents would bear the cost for that short-term convenience in the form of long-term pollution and traffic impacts resulting from the re-establishment of heavy industry on the east side of the Strait.
The manufactured news announcement highlights another standard PR tactic - Orcem’s million dollar public benefit giveaway contrived to garner public support among hopeful beneficiaries. When you consider that their lease with the City includes an eight million dollar give back on the rent, the generosity is underwhelming. Wouldn’t it make more sense for the City to just collect the rent and spend the eight million directly on improving conditions in south Vallejo?
The article reveals how this mutual back-scratching exercise works in practice. A major portion of the Orcem public benefit money would wind up in the form of “long-term local training programs in the construction trades as a major element.” Those regional ‘local’ union interests help push the project, and in return they get some temporary employment for current members and a subsidized program to train their future members. Pretty sweet deal if you’re not among those who have to live with the smog, diesel soot, potentially toxic dust, noise, and truck and train traffic for the next six decades.
We can expect this propaganda campaign to ramp up as the decision draws near. Another standard tactic will be an attempt to paint project opponents as unreasonable cranks who object to every development project. In the Jumpstart version we become the dreaded Naysayers. The new consulting firm may reach instead for the old CAVE people caricature - Citizens Against Virtually Everything. In reality we’re wholeheartedly in favor of smart economic development that provides jobs and sales tax without risking our health and quality of life so that a few can profit. The Orcem proposal falls well short on all counts.
Evil Naysayers Hate Economic Development of Any Kind
We support the City’s Economic Development Plan which looks to locate heavy industry with rail access on north Mare Island, not the southern end of the Vallejo waterfront. We favor the long-term vision for Vallejo generated by the General Plan update initiative to transform the entire east waterfront from the Brinkman’s boat launch to Sandy Beach road, enabling public water access and beautification with trails and public spaces friendly to the tourism sector. A decision to reactivate the abandoned rail corridor cutting across the heart of town and allow heavy polluting industry to re-establish instead would take future development in a direction fundamentally at odds with our two most important current economic drivers - health care and tourism. The cave people are those still clinging to antiquated visions of an industrial past fueled by federal largesse that will never return.