By Robert Rogers, Contra Costa Times, Cross-posted from the San Jose Mercury-News
RICHMOND — Developers and business leaders have exhorted Chevron to expand operations in the city’s Marina Bay district, and now elected officials are set to join the chorus.
The City Council is expected on Tuesday to pass a resolution urging its largest taxpayer to invest in new research and office space in the shoreline district, which many think is brimming with the potential to become the next hot high-tech hub in the Bay Area.
“Chevron talks a lot about supporting the local economy and buying from local vendors, and they have done some of that, which is great,” said City Councilman Jim Rogers, the resolution’s sponsor. “But we are looking for them to walk the walk in this case.”
The city is expected to make a formal call on Chevron during a time of countervailing moods surrounding the global energy giant, the city and its growing waterfront district.
A fire at Chevron’s Richmond refinery on Aug. 6 sent more than 15,000 people to the hospital complaining of illness and triggered multiagency investigations into the refinery’s maintenance and safety practices. The fire was the latest blow to the refinery and the city, which has seen economic improvements in recent years but still strains under unemployment that is far above the state average.
Chevron’s refinery-modernization project was halted in 2008 by a Superior Court judge on grounds that it violated California environmental law. Chevron plans to resubmit a revised
plan later this year, and city leaders have expressed hope that a scaled-down version of the project will be approved.
Meanwhile, Richmond’s southern shoreline was approved earlier this year for the next Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, a sprawling research campus that will be among the largest development projects in the East Bay in recent decades. Plans for major transportation upgrades, including an underpass and ferry service linking Marina Bay with San Francisco, are in the works.
City leaders and other observers see the area, with its ample space and hundreds of thousands of square feet of latent commercial space, as the next big green tech and energy research mecca, with the national lab and the global energy giant as twin anchors.
But Chevron has been pulling out, rather than investing in, the Richmond shore. Chevron officials confirmed last month the corporation was unwilling to commit beyond February 2013 to retain 64,000 square feet of waterfront commercial space at Marina Bay. The move followed another 50,000 square feet of space Chevron gave up in February, opting to move employees to San Ramon.
In a prepared release Monday, Chevron said “… our long-term future in Richmond is uncertain until our refinery modernization project is successfully permitted. While we are continuing our community partnership programs in Richmond as the permitting process proceeds, we will not be in a position to make any additional long-term investment decisions in Richmond until the renewal modernization project is successfully permitted.”
Rogers said it is important for the city to be on record as supporting Chevron’s expansion, despite the uneasy relationship between the corporation and its host city in recent years.
“I am trying to be realistic,” Rogers said. “Chevron is a huge entity, and it moves very slowly, so it is important to come out and make our wishes known at an early point in the process.”
On Tuesday, the council is also expected to pass a resolution directing city staff to hold the refinery to broad goals, including hiring Richmond residents, investing in renewable energy technology and installing air-monitors in the city. The resolution is co-sponsored by Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles, responding to lobbying by environmental groups.