Saturday, October 25, 2014

Veolia LOVES Chevron in Richmond, CA

Bad press is good press

Chevron gets a lot of bad press every time an election is held in Richmond, CA and this year it made national news.  The talk is always regarding the amount of money the company floods into the campaigns of its “Chevron-friendly” candidates and the PACs it contributes to.  Billboards and mailboxes are inundated with messages supporting “their” candidates as well as negative (messages) about the candidates who are critical of the company.  But everybody already knows this.  It’s not really news.

However, the corporate political player that is so glaringly missing when it comes to talk about money shelled out in Richmond elections is Veolia.

Scratch my back

Veolia is a French multi-billion dollar company with its origin dating back to 1853
and Napoleon III.  Since before Richmond signed the contract to privatize its wastewater plant to Veolia (VIvendi/US Filter) in 2002 and then it’s stormwater and collections system in 2004, it has given tens of thousands in campaign contributions for Richmond candidates (Butt, Bates, Rogers, Sandhu, Marquez, Anderson, Viramontes, Lopez, Thurmond, to name a few) and BMWPac over the years.  A recent iteration of the council had five of the seven council seats who were beneficiaries of Veolia.

(see "Richmond, CA and VEOLIA: A Partnership Like A Marriage")

Granted, compared to Chevron’s millions, Veolia’s gifts are chump change.  Then again, Chevron has more at stake and makes more money because of the Richmond refinery.

Veolia only has the sewage treatment plant and the storm drains contract at risk.  Without crunching the actual numbers the ratio of profit to campaign contributions appears to be about the same, if not more, for Veolia.  

It’s been said that Chevron costs Richmond money by using tax loopholes or whatever other tactics they use to keep funds out of the city’s coffers.  How Chevron may accomplish that is out of the scope of this post as well as the commensurate amount Richmond should receive for the environmental impact the refinery has on the community.  Some of the numbers are hard to quantify especially in terms of long-term health problems related to the refinery.

Sunk costs (or, money down thewell, you know)

The difference is that Veolia has taken money directly out of taxpayers’ hands and if one was diligent enough in his/her research could quantify the losses fairly accurately.  Richmond has lost money since privatizing to Veolia from pursuing a lawsuit, work not done, protocols not followed, and consultants hired just to “interpret the contract”.

Just a few examples:

In 2008, Richmond pursued a lawsuit against Veolia that lasted 17 months and that ended with Veolia agreeing to pay over $1.92 million.  Estimates with attorneys fees, consultants to “interpret the contract”, etc. are between $500,000 and $1 million.   That's money Richmond spent trying get back what Veolia already owed and/or over-charged Richmond.  Even if we “low-ball” the estimate, Richmond still lost $500,000.

In March 2009, Richmond hired Nichols Consulting Engineers for $693,680 to do GIS mapping of the stormdrains.  Call me a naive layperson, but if I give up public control and give Veolia a contract to update and maintain the stormwater system, I would assume that they would either a) know where the pipes are, or b) the mapping would be included in that contract.

At the December 6, 2011, Richmond city council meeting (Item L2, begins around 3:33:00) Tom Butt and Nat Bates virtually defended Veolia by reading the company’s bullet point “successes” in Richmond including “reduced fines”.  Ironically, they did so weeks after Veolia was fined $150,000 by the Contra Costa District Attorney

The Mouse Monitoring The Cheese Factory

The most recent “consultant” in the Veolia saga that the city council voted to hire and pay for with taxpayers’ money is V.W. Housen Associates to “provide management services regarding the CIP and Operations and Maintenance work performed by Veolia.” 

In other words, make sure Veolia is doing what its supposed to do in the contract because apparently Richmond needs to privatize the job of understanding the privatization contract. 

Vivian Housen worked for West Yost Associates when Veolia was one of its clients in Richmond.  Housen also recommended Veolia to Sausalito.

In 2002, Richmond city council, which at the time included Tom Butt and Nat Bates, voted to privatize to Veolia (US Filter/Vivendi) saying the company had the best bid and because of the “cost savings”. 

Veolia (US Filter/Vivendi) contributed to both Butt’s and Bates’ campaigns in 2001 and also in subsequent campaigns.  
Tom Butt's US Filter Contributions received in 2000 before contract was signed

Nat Bates' US Filter Contributions received in 2001 before contract was signed

Again, call me naive, but why would you vote for any other contractor other than the one who gave you money?

Meanwhile, Chevron takes the heat on the Rachel Maddow show while Veolia quietly stinks it up at the sewage treatment plant.
"You never change things by fighting the existing reality.
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” 
― R. Buckminster Fuller

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