The city of Richmond is home to a big fight over Big Oil. Heather Smith/Grist In old films about Richmond, Calif., MacDonald Avenue is a bustling pedestrian corridor. During the peak of the World War II shipbuilding boom at the docks, businesses stayed open 24 hours a day, so that they could sell groceries to people on the late shift. That was then. On a Sunday afternoon, MacDonald Avenue is a run-down looking strip of fast-food restaurants, taquerias, and four lanes of fast-moving car traffic. Also, today: one brass band. The band is the brainchild of the Richmond Progressive Association (RPA) – an eclectic group of community organizers who have, over the last nine years, managed to gain significant power in local politics. In that time, Richmond, which used to be the kind of scruffy industrial town that no one who didn’t live there had heard of, became a poster child for environmental justice. The RPA has showed a particular interest in the local Chevron refinery, which has a history both of dubious safety practices and of dabbling in local politics in a way that seems to work out to its own frequent advantage. Much of the last eight years have been a cat-and-mouse game between the currently RPA-dominated city council and other, Chevron-backed political movers and shakers. The city councilors pressured Chevron into installing equipment that reduced emissions from the refinery. They tried to rewrite the city’s business tax structure so that Chevron paid a higher rate. When that didn’t work, they hired an independent firm to audit Chevron’s utility tax payments to the city, which turned out to be so low that Chevron settled with the city for $28 million. Now that might all be coming to an end. In the last two mayoral elections – in 2006 and 2010 – RPA member and Green Party candidate Gayle McLaughlin won, in part because third-party candidates entered the race and split the vote. That’s not happening this time. What is happening is that Chevron, which put $1.2 million into defeating the RPA and electing its own candidates in 2010, has doubled down and is spending $3 million on the race this year. Read the rest at Grist.
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