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What The Massive Flaring At The Chevron Refinery Means For Richmond

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If you go north of Berkeley, you’ll notice something interesting about the East Bay’s shoreline. It becomes increasingly industrial once you cross the boundary into Contra Costa County. Richmond is the first city you hit (El Cerrito is just rich Richmond) and it serves as a quintessential example of an industrial sacrifice zone. 

This is a shame because Richmond is one of the Bay Area’s most naturally blessed bayside cities. Did you know Richmond has more shoreline on the Bay than any other city? Yes, even more than San Francisco. Richmond, California sits on over 22 miles of shoreline between San Francisco and San Pablo Bay. However, much of it is inaccessible due to industrial use. 

The lack of public access is the least of Richmond’s problems when it comes to quantifying the negatives of its status as the Bay Area’s most industrial city (sorry, South San Francisco.) Pollution and other environmental hazards are something people in Richmond live with the threat of every single day. And unfortunately, the refinery incident on 11/27/23 was another reminder that no matter how much progress groups like the RPA make, the health and safety of Richmonders are largely in the hands of Chevron. 

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That’s not to take away from Richmond’s recent accomplishments. The city has made major strides in reducing gun violence and police brutality, and that should be noticed. I was one of the first people with a platform in the Bay Area to loudly give Richmond props for that. But Richmond is in the United States of America, and that means when trying to tackle the challenges of being a host city to a major corporate entity, they have both hands tied behind their back. 

Everyone who’s from the Bay knows that Richmond, and many bayside communities in Contra Costa County have dealt with this shit for years, and there has been a lack of any repercussions outside of measly BAAQMD fine.

Richmond dealt with a far more severe refinery-related incident in 2012. People were pissed, but nothing fundamentally changed. Chevron made some promises, paid some fines, but here we are once again. And this isn’t limited to Richmond, other industrial cities nearby have experienced similar issues. Rodeo and Crockett, about 10 minutes north of Richmond have had numerous issues, including a massive explosion. Martinez and Benicia, about 20 minutes to the Northeast, have also had severe refinery-related incidents. Contra Costa County health officials even warned the residents of Martinez not to eat food grown in their own gardens because of possible soil contamination. 

People got mad, demanded better, nothing happened and the world forgot. But the people who live in these communities don’t forget. I’ve lived in the East Bay’s Industrial Corridor for many years. I lived in both Martinez and Vallejo, I also used to work in Richmond. The rates of asthma and other respiratory illnesses are off the charts in these communities, and the refineries are also always located right next to low income areas of town. The most egregious being Rodeo where public housing is directly on the other side of a chain link fence from the massive Phillip 66 San Francisco Refinery.  

The only way to combat this is by giving the BAAQMD some real teeth, but they’re actually funded by the refineries and that means Richmond and other cities will continue to bear the brunt of pollution without any real solution in sight. 

Here’s to hoping I’m wrong.

But I’m not. 





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Abraham Woodliff - Bay Area Memelord

Abraham Woodliff - Bay Area Memelord

Abraham Woodliff is an Oakland-based writer, editor and digital content creator known for Bay Area Memes, a local meme page that has amassed nearly 200k followers. His work has appeared in SFGATE, The Bold Italic and of course, His book of short stories, personal essays and poetry entitled Don't Drown on Dry Ground is available now!