Green Cement or a Green City?

For several years now an Irish manufacturer of ‘green’ concrete products has been lobbying our local government to approve a project that combines a deep water port facility and cement plant on the waterfront in south Vallejo.  The environmental impact report has now been made available to the public for a 45 day period to allow review and comment.  Among the significant unavoidable impacts revealed in the draft environmental report are the 64 tons of nitrogen oxide pollutants spewed into the air each year which form ground level ozone,  a serious respiratory irritant in an area of town where children already suffer high and increasing rates of asthma and related conditions.  Hundreds of daily heavy truck trips and long trains that would block 16 at-grade intersections across the heart of Vallejo for up to eight minutes at a time would add to the noise, pollution, and congestion over a wide swath of the city.

How is that green?  The cement product that the company plans to focus on producing, market conditions permitting, is green in the macro sense.  Typical portland cement production involves quarrying limestone and clay materials and cooking them at high kiln temperatures into the base material called clinker.  The heat is usually generated by burning coal and petroleum coke, which emits pollutants like mercury and greenhouse gases.  The proposed cement plant for Vallejo would import blast furnace slag by ship to replace much of the clinker material in their cement products.  As a byproduct of the steel industry, the slag does not require additional heating and so is ‘green’ relative to quarrying and processing limestone.  

The green that residents of Vallejo should really be concerned about is the money that would be returned to the city coffers to offset the burdens imposed across the city, and particularly on the residents of south Vallejo.  The Economic Impact Report prepared for the applicant makes it clear that the return to Vallejo would be absurdly small relative to the impacts.  A comparison of costs and benefits with another industry - one that the Mayor and his three supporters on the council have been trying their best to run out of town - reveals a stark contrast.  

The peak annual return to the city of Vallejo from this industrial project never tops 600,000 dollars, projected by the applicant all the way out through 2021.  Really?  Why are we even talking about this?  Compare this to the 750,000 dollars per year in Measure C tax money that was coming in from a fraction of the medical marijuana dispensaries, until the mayor and his supporters stopped collecting the money altogether and tried to shut them down.  Mind you, that Measure C revenue was generated without ever setting up a regulatory framework or comprehensive tax collection system, and with the city doing all it could to make life difficult for these businesses.  

Ask any venture capitalist about the growth potential for the cannabis industry.  They’re salivating at the prospect, especially now that the state is going to take over licensing and regulation.  The potential for job growth in production, processing, packaging and ancillary businesses is enormous.  The MM sector in Vallejo has already created more living wage jobs than the industrial port project is ever projected to create in the project's fiscal analysis. 

 

Ask all those younger, educated people the city hopes to attract in our visionary planning documents which they would rather see: cannabis dispensaries or a cement plant?  The cannabis industry needs only sensible regulation and the same level of support other businesses receive to become an engine for economic growth in Vallejo.  Properly managed and regulated, this sector can become a truly green addition to the city without all the trucks, trains, and smog.  

 

There are much better options for developing our waterfront than heavy industry.  The Propel Vallejo vision of a Bay and River city based on tourism, light manufacturing and retail has been successfully implemted in other cities around the Bay.  The old General Mills site and the rail line may have made sense for heavy industry in the mid-ninteenth century, before there was much of a town to impact.  Now that a city has grown up around it, that is no longer the case.  It's time we look to the future instead of trying to recreate the poorly planned industrial development of the past.