Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century
If He's Our Future - We're History!
All the ducking and dodging around the relative merits of the private port/cement plant project proposed for our south Vallejo waterfront could earn some of our Council candidates the mantle of that hapless hero of the classic cartoon parody.  Not wishing to offend either proponents or opponents during an election campaign, they pretend there’s just not enough information, and that we have to wait to see the final environmental impact report before coming down on either side.  No, not really.  This is a time for forward-looking leadership, and there’s plenty of information available for those who want to find it.  This is an easy call.

The recent letter writers expounding on the supposed project benefits and urging us to come together for Orcem ignore the preponderance of information that we do have, as well as current structural economic realities.  Heavy industry no longer employs large numbers of semi-skilled workers like it used to back in the glory days.  Technology, robotics, and software have replaced large numbers of those workers.  Those jobs aren’t coming back.

The Orcem permit application estimates only twenty jobs would be needed to run the cement plant, with an equal number of support staff for sales, marketing, and administration.  That’s it, and they will be mainly jobs for skilled workers.  Between the lease documents with the City and the applicant’s own Fiscal Economic Impact Study, it becomes clear that more than two thirds of the economic benefit from the project would go right to Solano county.  Vallejo’s big payback for hosting the operation would be mainly utility taxes based on the high projected energy usage for the project.

Meanwhile, we would get stuck with one hundred percent of the air pollution, and all of the truck and train traffic.  Approval of the project would block implementation of the result of our three year Propel Vallejo public planning effort that cost us millions of tax dollars.  The unanimously approved Bay and River City scenario pictures a connected waterfront from the old Brinkman’s Marina to the South Beach Road.  The VMT/Orcem project would stymie the public planning vision and the extension of the Bay Trail by excluding public access from the Sperry site and interrupting that planned connectivity.

The applicants have run into a snag during the environmental review process that the final environmental impact report can’t possibly finesse.  They always intended to come in with a slightly scaled back final project to make a show of compromise and improvement.  But now Phase 2 of the Vallejo Marine Terminal private port component, extensively analyzed in the draft environmental impact report, has been pulled out completely.  The reason can be found in the City’s correspondence with the staff from the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC).

The Bay Plan designates the Sperry site for water-related industry, a classification that fits an operation like Orcem that would receive raw materials and distribute finished products that have been processed on site.  That’s different from a port priority designation that would allow handling of break bulk cargo as described for VMT Phase 2.  That means the long term VMT operation described in the draft environmental impact report would require an amendment to the Bay Plan by the full Commission to get the required permit.  With no shortage of existing port capacity in sight, that looks like a high hurdle.

Trying to be helpful, BCDC staff say they have found precedents for allowing a temporary interim use out of conformance with the Plan, just as long as it wouldn’t preclude future recruitment and establishment of a conforming water-related industrial use.  The BCDC can allow such interim uses for a limited period, typically 5 to 10 years.  The VMT lease for the Sperry site can run up to 65 years.  VMT expressed to the BCDC staff an interest in attracting more water-related industry to the site, but acknowledged that additional water-related industry operations would take time to attract and develop.  In the meantime they propose to move cargo through the site.

The upshot is that the project as now proposed differs significantly from the draft environmental document that was analyzed and circulated for public comment.  Half of the described operation has morphed into a temporary short term use that will soon be replaced by unidentified water-related industry like Orcem, with unknown and unexamined significant impacts.  Pulling VMT Phase 2 and pledging to replace it with water-related industry in five to ten years may skirt the requirement for a BCDC Bay Plan amendment, but will hardly satisfy the residents of Vallejo who demand to know what exactly they’d be living with for more than half a century.

The City has already agreed to spend more than $180,000 on consultants to assist in ushering this project through the application process.  Why taxpayers should be throwing money at a project with such a poor cost/benefit ratio for the City remains unclear.  It’s time we cut our losses and elect new leadership that will ensure better decisions on behalf of our residents.   Why some of those would-be leaders keep saying they don’t have enough information to take a position is no mystery, however.  They’ll try to play Duck Dodgers for as long as possible while telling all sides what they want to hear in hopes it will get them into office.

The November candidates who currently sit on City Council where the issue will be decided are not able to take a public position that would indicate bias ahead of hearings.  Councilmember Verder-Aliga already telegraphed her vote by participating in a secret committee with the project applicants long before the environmental  documents were even made available to the public.  Sitting Councilmembers Sampayan and McConnell will likely be called on to cast a final vote to deny or approve, and can’t offer their verdict in advance.  Voters will need to read between the lines and trust their judgment.  Candidates Diaz and Meitzenheimer face no such restrictions, and have declared their opposition.  The rest of the candidates should tell voters where they stand as well, and quit with all the ducking and dodging.  That’s what real leaders do in the 21st century.
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