City Council to Tackle Refinery Emissions, Youth Drug Use in Proclamations at Wednesday's Meeting
Also, a look at when bars and restaurants are allowed to play amplified/live music outdoors and indoors under new temporary noise permit approved by Planning Commission
The City Council will adopt proclamations at Wednesday night’s City Council meeting that address two hot-button topics affecting the health of city residents: concerns around the safety culture at the Martinez Refining Co. and substance abuse among youths and teens.
The sharply worded refinery proclamation, which community activists have been lobbying months for the council to adopt, will also come on the same night that MRC provides the first of what are expected to be quarterly updates on its operations, recent incidents — including an Oct. 6 coke dust release — and efforts to improve safety.
The council meeting starts at 7 p.m. at the council chamber at City Hall, and should also be accessible via Zoom, though technical glitches have plagued some recent city meetings, including the Oct. 4 council session.
The proclamation on refinery air emissions covers the health and environmental concerns that have rocked the Martinez community over the past year, beginning with the spent catalyst release last Nov. 24-25 that spewed between 20 and 24 tons of toxic dust on the community, which was left largely in the dark for over 24 hours after the incident occurred because of MRC’s failure to activate the Community Warning System.
A series of flaring incidents and coke dust releases have occurred in the ensuing months, raising questions about the safety culture of the refinery and prompting Contra Costa County officials to order an independent investigation into that issue.
It’s all added up to a lot of frustration among residents and city leaders, which is reflected in the proclamation’s challenge to MRC and its corporate owner, PBF Energy, that they “will demonstrate their efforts to improve safety culture and training at MRC and to regularly report to the City of Martinez their actions taken to reach Goal Zero.”
“Goal Zero,” according to the proclamation, refers to the corporation’s commitment to achieve the goal of “zero injuries, incidents, violations, or anything that that can negatively impact the workforce, neighbors or the environment.”
In addition to addressing specific incidents and communications shortcomings, the proclamation wades into the legal dispute between MRC and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) over a new rule (6-5) designed to substantially reduce emissions of microscopic-sized particulate matter (PM2.5) that “is the most toxic form of refinery pollutant as it penetrates deeply into the lungs and enters the bloodstream.”
To meet the reductions called for in the new requirement, it’s widely assumed that MRC would need to install a device known as a wet gas scrubber in the same Catalytic Cracking Unit (CCU) that was responsible for the Thanksgiving night spent catalyst release — something MRC has said is logistically infeasible given space constraints at the CCU and prohibitively costly. It has sued the air district over the requirement, which takes effect in 2026, and the case is scheduled to go to trial on Oct. 23.
While the proclamation doesn’t specifically call on MRC to install the gas scrubber, it does say the following:
Further the Martinez City Council urges PBF Energy, in order to protect the health and safety of the residents of Martinez, surrounding communities, and MRC’s workers, to demonstrate its willingness to become a good neighbor by complying with the Air District’s Rule 6-5 by the 2026 deadline.
Later in the meeting, MRC officials will provide a presentation updating the City Council on the spent catalyst release and three coke dust incidents since July. The July 11 and 22 releases occurred at the refinery’s Delayed Coking Unit, while the the most recent one, on Oct. 6, originated at the Flexicoker Unit. All three coke dust releases registered as Level 1 alerts through the Community Warning System where no off-site health impacts are anticipated; the July 22 release did not travel off refinery property, according to MRC.
Although the Community Warning System wasn’t activated during the spent catalyst release last November, county health officials have said it would have registered as a Level 2 incident, which is considered a major accident where off-site impacts for those with sensitive health conditions (such as asthma) are possible. Some residents complained of experiencing respiratory issues in the aftermath of the release.
Although there was initial concern about the impact of the dust on backyard gardens, those fears were ultimately allayed through soil sampling and testing — a process led by Contra Costa Health Services (CC Health) that took eight months from the time of the incident, a delay that the council also notes in its proclamation.
WHEREAS, although the results of the soil sampling conducted by CC Health following the November 2022 release indicated fruits and vegetables grown in Martinez soils were safe to consume and there was no long-term risk to the Martinez community from the soils, these results were not released for nearly 8 months, causing fear and anxiety until the results were known
In response to a request for comment on the proclamation, MRC spokesman Brandon Matson provided the following statement:
We look forward to attending the City Council meeting on Wednesday, giving our update, hearing the City Council’s discussion on the proclamation, and listening to public comments.
“Red Ribbon Week” Proclamation
The council will also adopt a proclamation Wednesday recognizing “Red Ribbon Week” from Oct. 22-28 and the efforts of the Pride & Purpose Project to “involve families, schools, businesses, churches, law enforcement agencies and other service organizations to support and help spread awareness and education to youths in an effort to prevent illegal drug use.”
It acknowledges that “underage cannabis use, alcohol consumption, and prescription drug use is damaging to youths and is a contributing factor in their leading causes of death – accidents, homicides and suicides.”
According to the California Healthy Kids Survey, 25% of responding Martinez Unified School District 11th graders reported that they had been “high” from using drugs at least once in their lifetime, and 16% reported reported being very drunk or sick from consuming alcohol at least once. Also, 33% of 11th graders reported having consumed one full drink alcohol at least once in their life, including 15% who reported having done so seven or more times; 27% reported that they had used cannabis at least once, including 16% who had done so seven or more times; 22% said they had vaped a product, including 11% who had done so seven or more times; and 10% said they had ever used a whole cigarette.
The figures were all generally higher for students attending nontraditional or alternative schools; for example, 39% of nontraditional students who responded reported being “high” from using drugs at least once.
The proclamation concludes with Mayor Brianne Zorn urging “all citizens to participate in drug-prevention activities and to support a drug‐free lifestyle amongst our youth.”
Red Ribbon Week is a nationwide annual drug-prevention awareness campaign that began following the brutal death in 1985 of U.S. Drug Enforcement Special Agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena at the hands of Mexican drug traffickers (a story that is recounted in the Netflix drama series “Narcos Mexico.”) It is held every October with participants wearing red ribbons to honor Camarena’s sacrifice and raise awareness of the dangers of drugs. More information about the history of the event can be found by clicking here.
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New noise rules for restaurants and bars in effect
As the newsletter previously reported, the Planning Commission has given restaurants and bars the flexibility to temporarily exceed the noise limits in the city’s Municipal Code in an effort to support economic growth.
The new rules primarily address the playing of live/amplified music. Here is a rundown of when restaurants and bars can play such music.
Live/amplified music or sound may be played outdoors during the following times:
• Fridays: noon to 9:30 p.m.
• Saturdays: 9 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
• Sundays: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Live/amplified music or sound may be played indoors during the following hours:
• Fridays: noon to 12 a.m.
• Saturdays: 9 a.m. to 12 a.m.
• Sundays: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
All outdoor live/amplified music and/or sound must stop by 9:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 7 p.m. on Sundays. At 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, all outdoor service and activity must cease. Businesses may operate beyond these specified hours as long as they pose no noise impact on neighboring businesses and residents.
These temporary rules will be in effect through Sept. 30, 2024, at which time the city’s planning manager may extend them for up to six months. The city plans to use the data collected during this trial period for a possible update to the noise standards in the municipal code.
Although some public concerns were raised about the effect of the new rules on nearby residents, no appeals were filed with the City Council by the Oct. 6 deadline.