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LNG in Vallejo? Say it Ain't So!

June 2001 - May 2002
Shell and Bechtel privately negotiate with Vallejo Mayor Tony Intintoli, City Manager David Martinez and the City's energy consultant and well-known opportunist, Larry Asera. Asera and Martinez claim they lobbied to get the companies to look at Mare Island as a site for their LNG project.

January-April, 2002
Mayor Intintoli tells the City council members that Bechtel and Shell want to meet with them to discuss a project proposal. Bechtel-Shell meet privately with each council member over lunch and the sales pitch is given.

May 3, 2002
Mayor Intinoli and Bechtel-Shell hold a press conference on May 3 and reveal the "best kept secret in Vallejo's history," surrounded by supporters and business owners who were already informed about and supported the idea. Mayor Intintoli was quoted in the Vallejo Times-Herald saying that the "initial response from the public/community is very positive." This was a curious statement as, other than the business community and labor unions, the public was not told about this project before this press conference.

May 7, 2002
Several days later the City Council, in front of an uncharacteristically large audience of 200 community members, votes unanimously in favor of entering an exclusive right to negotiate with Bechtel-Shell. After hearing about the proposal at the press conference, two members of the community spoke during the community forum in opposition to the secrecy in which initial negotiations had been conducted and the City's mishandling of the matter.

Opposition Groundswell
Soon after the May 3 announcement, concerned residents begin meeting, organizing, drafting flyers, petitions, speaking at council meetings, writing letters, setting up tables at the farmer's market& shopping centers. Citizens make Brown Act demands that the City open its files on the Bechtel-Shell proposal. The files show a variety of things:

  • Bechtel-Shell met with the San Francisco Chronicle editorial board before the announcement to the public.
  • The Mayor actively supported the companies' proposal for over a year prior to the public announcement.

May 30, 2002
Bechtel-Shell present their proposal to the Restoration Advisory Board (RAB), a group that oversees cleanup of former military bases. Shell acknowledged the potential for a major fire, but explained that past incidents were strictly the result of outmoded technology. In their words, it wouldn't happen in modern times. Bechtel-Shell downplayed the fact that the City Council would have a vote. They simply said that if the feasibility study comes back positive, they would move to the permitting stage.

August 6, 2002
Mayor Intinoli and the City Council are shocked and amazed at the huge public outcry over both the secret negotiations and against the project itself. Mayor Intinoli and city manager Martinez begin back-pedaling.

Vallejo's fire chief, having taken a trip to the Everett, Mass. LNG facility, makes a presentation on his findings. The fire chief relays comments from the Everett fire chief and city managers that if they had the choice on whether to build an LNG facility in their city again or not, they would not choose to do it. It is just too dangerous. In addition, Everett's fire chief handed Vallejo's fire chief, as he was leaving Everett, a copy of a 1970s 60 Minutes video negatively spotlighting LNG and its inherent dangers to communities. Mayor Intinoli expresses amazement that Shell/Bechtel had not provided him with a copy of this tape before. He also talks about how the California energy crisis, one of the reasons he was open to this proposal in the first place, was a sham and that Shell/Bechtel didn't reveal the dangers of LNG to the city.

The city manger is instructed to put the issue of the feasibility study and whether to conduct their own safety and health study on the agenda for the August 20 City Council meeting.

August 20, 2002
The August 20 City Council meeting made history in Vallejo with over 600 people overflowing the Council chambers. Of the approximately 80 people who spoke during the community forum, which lasted over four hours, 90 percent spoke in opposition to the proposed project. Labor unions comprised the majority of the support, clothed in t-shirts saying "Facts not Fear." The Council votes to conduct its own safety study and after those results come in, to vote again on whether to allow Shell/Bechtel to proceed with their feasibility study.

Most citizens urged the City Council to stop the deal that night and not conduct its own safety study. The concern voiced over and over was that any further study would only drag the matter out and allow the companies to get more of a foothold in the community. The Vallejo City Council voted 6 to 1 to formally ask Bechtel-Shell to pay $250,000 for the city's independent safety study. The council also voted 6 to 1 to suspend discussions with Bechtel-Shell at least until the study is completed.

The lone dissenting vote was Council Member Gary Cloutier, who had spent the summer studying LNG and listening to his constituents. "I'm convinced that a power plant of this size will define Vallejo's image in a way we don't want," Cloutier said. "The other factor is so many people in Vallejo do not want this thing for what I think are good reasons. I won't be the one who rams this down their throat."

August 22
Shell and Bechtel attend the special Town Hall Meeting to talk about LNG, emissions and LNG tankers. A Bechtel vice president was quoted saying that Vallejo didn't have to worry about emissions because it would blow 30 miles downwind of the city -- the communities 30 miles downwind weren't too happy about that! Shell expressed frustration that most of the evening was spent talking about how the City had handled this matter, and not about their facts and figures.

While courteous and kind in front of the public eye, Shell/Bechtel representatives made several nasty comments very quietly to several outspoken community opponents:

  • Said to community activist Vicky Gray: "We will roll right over you."
  • Sandy Beach resident Greg Gazaway was approached after the meeting by a Bechtel-Shell representative who got right in Greg's face and said, "We're going to run this down your throat. You're nothing but a bunch of NIMBYs (Not in My Backyard)."
  • Shell's Marine Facilities Advisor Captain David Thomson said to community activist Elena Ducharme, "We will build this plant."

At the end of August, Bechtel-Shell announced they are moving one of their big-guns to Vallejo from back east to act as an "External Relations" manager. Apparently they have encountered more opposition from this blue collar, disenfranchised community than they'd anticipated.

Bechtel-Shell also announce at the end of August that they are scaling down the size of their 1,500 megawatt power plant to 800 megawatts.

September 15
Bechtel and Shell have spent over $300,000 on public relations and advertising by mid-September.

September 29, 2002
A press release is distributed announcing the creation of a new pro-LNG citizens group. This group is funded by Shell/Bechtel. Shell's Merv Stomberg tells community activist Myrna Hayes that Shell will be funding the group's 60-second commercials and newsletter mailed to every household in Vallejo. A TV commercial begins airing that evening on local cable channels such as TNT, A&E and CNN promoting the glowing effects of the proposed LNG project to the community of Vallejo. Several days later Vallejo citizens begin receiving pre-stamped petitions in the mail to sign and return in support of the project. The return address is a Bechtel-Shell post office box. An enclosed letter on pre-printed stationary espouses the wonderful aspects of the proposed LNG project. This new front group includes, besides several businessmen and women who would stand to benefit from the new plant:

  • Vallejo's City Planning Commissioner
  • the President of the Vallejo Police Officers' Association
  • the Executive Director of the Vallejo Chamber of Commerce and President and CEO of the Vallejo Convention and Visitors' Bureau.

At the October 1 City Council Meeting, six community members speak during the community forum denouncing the deceitful tactics being used against their community by these bullying corporations. Citing conflicts of interest and unethical tactics, the community requests the City Council to re-think who they are inviting to be Vallejo's neighbors.

October 2, 2002
The Vallejo fire chief, head of the City Disaster Council's Safety Subcommittee, said that Shell/Bechtel representatives have approached members of the Safety Subcommittee to discuss the project. They were warned about trying to talk to committee members outside of the meetings. At the first Safety Subcommittee meeting, the council outlined their study. Because of a purported lack of time and funding, the Safety Subcommittee would rely on experts and previous studies for much of their data. One community member asked if the Safety Subcommittee would ensure that there would be no conflict of interest with the experts/previous studies. The fire chief replied that there would definitely be no experts/data affiliated with Shell/Bechtel. At the second meeting on October 2, the Safety Subcommittee announced that their seismic data would come from a study that Bechtel-Shell were currently conducting.

To be continued...

Related Links
Power Play in Vallejo
LNG: Coming Soon to a Port Near You?

© 2002 maggdog communications
Photos courtesy of Michael Halberstadt, Joyce Scharf and Friends of VallejoCPR
Page Last Updated Jan 8, 2003