By Larnie Fox
Reprinted from the Benicia Herald
October 21, 2016
Republican mayoral candidate Mark Hughes is running on a platform of changing
the leadership style on our City Council, and the other council
members are supporting him. Ive been attending City Council meetings and
watching them online for the last six years, and I think I know what he means.
As Mayor, Elizabeth Patterson is constantly trying to lead the Council to be
forward-thinking and visionary, and has often been frustrated by the inertia
of the current Council.
During the recent debate over Valeros crude by rail proposal, Council
members, including Mark, appeared to be unhappy with Mayor Elizabeth
Pattersons questioning of Valeros proposal. Elizabeth was unhappy
because Council members and City staff made a concerted effort to stop her from
spreading information about the project via the informative email newsletter
which she produces at her own expense. She was forced (also at her own expense)
to mount a legal defense against those efforts. Personally, I want a mayor who
is willing to share information with the public and has opinions on important
issues. Other Council members and City staff, (whom I know to be good people and
like personally), apparently disagreed with this understanding of the First
The decision on crude by rail should have been a no-brainer after our
Planning Commissions extensive research on the subject, the environmental
impact reports, the input from communities and governmental entities across the
state including our Attorney General, and the ongoing pattern of explosions,
derailments, and spills. Yet, under pressure from Valero, the Council voted for
delay. Elizabeth Patterson and Council member Tom Campbell were opposed to the
project early on, but the other three were noncommittal about it until the recent
explosion in Mosier Oregon convinced Christina Strawbridge. No one wants to be on
the losing side, especially right before an election, so we had a unanimous
Council opposing the project, thank goodness! Mark Hughes is now running on his
record of opposing crude by rail. Clearly, Elizabeth Patterson on the Council
and Steve Young on the Planning Commission provided the leadership to finally
stop this dangerous proposal.
The debate over water rates provides another illustration of differing
leadership styles. My understanding of the water issue is as follows:
- We are in a drought; water is harder to get and more expensive.
- The infrastructure is old and needs work. Benicia loses around 25% of
its water to pipeline leaks, faulty meters, etc.
- he council postponed raising rates to appropriate levels during the
- Our current Mayor is a water-use professional on the State level, and an
expert in the field.
Therefore rates have gone up; more so for the bigger users. Elizabeth led the
Council to this action to secure our water supplies and rebuild our old
infrastructure, in spite of the fact that it was politically unpopular.
Hughes, on the other hand voted against it. Clearly that that was the politically
expedient thing to do. Elizabeth could have waited until after the election to
do this, but was unwilling to kick the can down the road and did the
Now the Council is considering the Northern Gateway project
development proposal to build 900 homes on Seeno family land near the industrial
park in land zoned for industrial use, without much consideration of the need for
additional schools, police, fire or road infrastructure, and no plan for more
water. Elizabeth, Steve Young and Tom Campbell are for smart growth and clearly
against the proposal as it stands. Hughes recently said repeatedly that when a
developer approaches Benicia with an idea we should throw out a welcome
mats for them. The Councils style so far has been reactive, one in
which they react to proposals piecemeal as they come in, rather than a proactive
style, in which Benicia makes plans then finds developers to execute them.
Elizabeth and Steve are both planners by profession, Elizabeth at a high-level
position with the State Department of Water Resources, and Steve, retired with
30 years experience planning housing and redevelopment. They are both arguing for
a proactive approach to planning.
I have been working actively for the campaigns of Elizabeth Patterson and Steve
Young primarily because of these three issues, and also because they would better
support the arts.
Elizabeths opponent Mark Hughes is a decent guy, but conservative,
Republican, pro-development and pro-corporate; a veteran of PG&E. I feel that
its crucial for Benicia to finally get a forward-looking, proactive majority
on City Council and put the good ol boys days behind it.
The local election may have more impact on our lives than the national election,
so please do your research and vote, and pay special attention to this race.
Larnie Fox, former Director of Arts Benicia