Richmond: Chevron Worker, Nonprofit Challenge Refinery Tax Ballot Measure

Just weeks after Richmond councilmembers agreed to place a refinery tax measure on the November ballot, a newly formed nonprofit named Coalition for Richmond’s Future has challenged the measure in court, arguing its language is misleading and biased in favor of approval.

Councilmembers unanimously backed placing a refinery tax measure, dubbed the Polluters Pay Initiative by activist groups, on the November ballot during a June 18 meeting. If approved by a simple majority of Richmond voters, the measure would bring in an estimated $60 million to $90 million annually in taxes, based on how many barrels of raw material enter the Richmond plant for processing.

But a lawsuit filed in Contra Costa Superior Court on June 28 argues the initiative’s language, as approved by City Council, is “false, misleading and biased.” At issue is the wording of where the tax revenue would end up. The ballot measure says the money would go toward funding city services such as “such as clean air and water treatment, roads, parks, fire and emergency response, toxic land cleanup, and improving community health and youth services, and for general government use.”

But because it is a general tax, the lawsuit says, the funding if approved would end up in the general fund and used at the discretion of the City Council. A majority of the general fund pays for employee wages, benefits and pensions, according to the suit.

Petitioners are asking the court to prohibit the city or any election entity from using the current measure language on any ballot or sample ballot and to declare the use of public funds to develop, print or distribute the measure language a violation of the First and Fourteenth amendments.

The petition was filed by Hilary Gibson, an election law attorney with the Nielsen Merksamer law firm, on behalf of Coalition for Richmond’s Future and Daniela Dickey, a Richmond voter and a Chevron employee. Attorneys with the law firm were also listed on paperwork establishing the new coalition on the same day the suit was filed, according to state records.

Nielsen Merksamer was also the law firm working with the California Independent Petroleum Association in a push to overturn Senate Bill 1137, a 2022 law that prohibited establishing new oil and gas wells within 3,200 feet of sensitive areas like homes, schools and hospitals. Implementation of SB 1137 has been on pause after CIPA successfully gathered enough signatures to place a referendum of the law on the Nov. 5 ballot. But the group recently pulled the measure, opting to take a legal route to block the law instead.

A Chevron spokesperson, in an email in which he also shared a copy of the legal filing, said that “special interests pushed the Richmond City Council to place the measure” on the ballot.

“When provided a fair and impartial ballot question, as required by law, we believe Richmond voters will soundly reject this measure and the negative consequences it would have on their cost of living,” spokesperson Ross Allen said. “It is imperative language the Richmond City Council has unlawfully proposed be corrected so voters are not led astray by false promises.”

When the initiative was presented to the council for a formal vote, Kerry Guerin, an attorney with Communities for a Better Environment, said supporters would not have put the refinery tax measure forward if they didn’t believe it would stand a legal challenge. Communities for a Better Environment, along with the Asian Pacific Environmental Network Action, are the primary organizations behind the initiative, making up the Polluters Pay Coalition with support from other community and labor groups.

On Tuesday, Guerin doubled down on that stance, noting the language was pulled from similar measures put before voters across the state. The proposed measure, she argued, is a “much-needed general tax” that would force Chevron to pay its fair share toward city services, asserting the oil company underpays its taxes by millions of dollars.

“Big Oil has never acted in the best interests of Richmond residents. This legal stunt is an effort by Chevron to deprive Richmond voters of their opportunity to decide what’s right for them,” Guerin said. “We’re confident in the merit and legality of our Polluters Pay measure. We know that big polluters will continue to act without regard for the health of their neighbors until they are held accountable.”

The offices of the city manager, city attorney and mayor did not respond to requests for comment. The suit lists the Richmond city clerk and the Contra Costa registrar of voters as defendants.


3 Ways Technology is Going to Shape the Oil and Gas Industry Free to Download Today

Oil and gas operations are commonly found in remote locations far from company headquarters. Now, it's possible to monitor pump operations, collate and analyze seismic data, and track employees around the world from almost anywhere. Whether employees are in the office or in the field, the internet and related applications enable a greater multidirectional flow of information – and control – than ever before.

Related posts