By Elisabeth Nardi Contra Costa Times 10/17/2014
MARTINEZ — City leaders urged state and federal agencies this week to place rail safety above cost savings when moving crude oil by rail through their city.
But it’s a move environmental groups and some candidates running in the November election call weak. They say city officials need to work harder to stop crude oil from rolling through Martinez.
On Wednesday, the City Council passed a resolution that urges rail safety regulators to be “vigilant” in their enforcement and asks them to require newer, safer rail cars. But residents who have been asking the city for months to come out against crude by rail criticized the resolution, saying it will do nothing.
Resident Amy Durfee, who lives near the Alhambra train trestle, criticized city officials over the resolution, which she called “flimsy.”
“It makes no concrete action to address this issue of the highly explosive trains that are coming across that trestle every seven to 10 days,” she said. “You are putting the city’s head in the sand and putting us all in danger.”
Even some of the council members who voted for the resolution didn’t feel it was tough enough. But others said something was better than nothing.
“At least it makes a public statement that the City Council is concerned about the public safety of its residents,” said Mayor Rob Schroder, noting the city is also concerned about rail shipments of other explosive chemicals. “This is just the beginning; as we go on into time, we will be taking more actions with respect to this issue.
Members of the Martinez Environmental Group were especially critical of the council, even drafting their own resolution they asked the council to pass. They wanted something similar to what cities such as Richmond and Berkeley passed earlier this year, which call for crude oil rail shipments to cease in their cities.
Concern has grown about train bridge and rail safety in general — especially in light of the increase in rail crude oil shipments, which grew 158 percent in California from September to December 2013, according to the state Energy Commission. Many are also worried about exploding trains and derailment. There have been several crude oil train explosions in North America over the past two years, including one in Quebec in July 2013 that killed 47 people.
Derailments “are not something that could happen; it’s something that does happen,” said Gay Gerlack, who is running for mayor against Schroder.
Residents also called on the council to have more emergency plans in place in case of a derailment.
Councilwoman Lara DeLaney said the resolution is vague, and it doesn’t demand enough from state and federal authorities. She didn’t vote “no” because anything that encourages any kind of safety is better than nothing, she said.
Councilman Mark Ross, who is not up for election, said the resolution has been seen by some as a “political selfie” before the November election, and others don’t know why Martinez is getting involved in something over which it has no jurisdiction.
The resolution “doesn’t really do anything more than express our concern,” Ross said.
All on the council vowed to do more with the issue. Meetings with the head of the railroads are planned, and officials are working with the League of California Cities.
Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617.