Archive | Contra Costa County

DLA Piper, Sen. Mitchell Tainted by PG&E San Bruno Case: Recusal is the Only Path to Integrity for Law Firm, California Public Utilities Commission

George Mitchell: Reputation at Stake

Editorial

This week’s unilateral announcement by the California Public Utilities Commission to select DLA Piper—a global law firm that has represented the company headed by the current CPUC President Michael Peevy and worked to defend utility companies in major litigation—has sent shock waves throughout California’s legal community, elected leaders, the public and the media.

The fact that none of the parties at the negotiating table–with the exception of the ‘defendant’ in the case, Pacific Gas & Electric Co.–knew of or agreed to mediation nor was a party to the selection of the mediator, has raised ethical and legal questions that stun even the most passive observers in this monumental national public safety case.

The most fundamental basis of mediation is the agreement by all parties that it is necessary, closely followed by the mutual agreement of an unbiased and neutral mediator.  That very principal has been broken in every conceivable fashion by the California Public Utilities Commission and admitted as such to the Associated Press when CPUC Commissioner Mike Florio said in an interview he felt the move to inform PG&E first about the selection of DLA Piper had not been well thought out: “I think we handled this rather poorly. Announcing it before people were brought into it was not a good idea,” Florio said.

In our opinion, it’s beyond not being a ‘good idea,’ it breaks the very foundation of mediation and ruins the integrity of the CPUC process and DLA Piper’s participation.

If DLA Piper and Senator George Mitchell hope to retain any integrity and their reputations in the legal community, they must immediately resign this assignment now they have become aware of the unethical and potentially illegal manner in which they were selected.  We urge them to resign even before the CPUC leadership has the opportunity to rescind their appointment. It is not only the honorable thing to do, but it is the only thing that will preserve their reputation and demonstrate that they are not simply stooges for the utility industry and CPUC President Michael Peevy.

We commend San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera for standing up and demonstrating his leadership in joining the challenge to demand the CPUC decision to unilaterally appoint DLA Piper and Sen. George Mitchell as mediators when they have conflicts not only with their representation of utility companies, but directly with the interests of San Francisco itself.

As always, San Bruno must win praise for being a leader in its attempt to protect public safety and its citizens in opposing this dubious appointment.  And The Utility Reform Network and the California Division of Ratepayers Advocates should be justly proud that they stood up and truly represented the ratepayers in calling attention to this disgraceful appointment of the clearly conflicted DLA Piper and Sen. Mitchell.

We hope for the sake of Sen. George Mitchell and DLA Piper that they resign now that they know their appointment was tainted, their position conflicted, and their very reputation is at stake.

Their integrity is in their hands and their decision.

 

Continue Reading

San Francisco City Attorney Blasts CPUC, PG&E Over DLA Piper Law Firm Selection in San Bruno Blast: Will DLA Piper Recuse Itself?

DLA Piper Law Firm Conflict in CPUC PG&E Case

More Bad News for DLA Piper: Conflict is raised by SF City Attorney. DLA Piper is adverse to S.F. in litigation, claims several utilities among its clients. CPUC Has Refused Comment on Conflict, Call for DLA to Recuse Firm

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera today expressed serious concerns about the California Public Utilities Commission’s unilateral appointment of former U.S. Senator George Mitchell and DLA Piper to mediate a settlement of enforcement actions against Pacific Gas and Electric Company over the deadly September 2010 explosion of its natural gas pipeline in San Bruno, Calif.

Mitchell currently serves as chairman emeritus of DLA Piper LLC, an international law firm that represents multiple parties currently involved in separate litigation against the City and County of San Francisco. The firm’s utility sector clients include Southern California Edison and Exxon Mobil.

“I have the highest regard for U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, and I greatly admire him for a distinguished public service career that includes major diplomatic achievements in Northern Ireland and the Middle East,” said Herrera. “But the legitimacy of an enforcement action involving one of the deadliest gas pipeline catastrophes in California history must be beyond reproach. What’s at stake in these proceedings is the safety of millions of Californians, and they deserve a process untainted by the appearance of utility industry bias. I don’t doubt Sen. Mitchell’s integrity or good intentions.”

Herrera continued “But the fact is, he leads a law firm that is both adverse to San Francisco in litigation, and that represents major gas utilities involved in cases before the CPUC. Moreover, the commission’s decision to unilaterally appoint a mediator raises larger questions about why the CPUC elected to appoint an outside mediator in the first place. It’s possible that mediation could prove helpful. But it is far more important that CPUC live up to its obligations as an industry regulator that protects the public interest.”

Herrera has been sharply critical of the CPUC following revelations from an independent review panel’s 2011 investigation into the San Bruno tragedy, which concluded that the commission’s “culture serves as an impediment to effective regulation,” and which went on to fault state regulators who “did not have the resources to monitor PG&E’s performance in pipeline integrity management adequately or the organizational focus that would have elevated concerns about PG&E’s performance in a meaningful way.” In July 2011, Herrera initiated steps to sue the CPUC along with federal regulators for failing to reasonably enforce federal gas pipeline safety standards as required by the U.S. Pipeline Safety Act. Herrera later elected to omit CPUC as a defendant after the commission showed signs of progress.

DLA Piper LLC contacted Herrera’s office last Friday, before the CPUC announced its appointment of Mitchell to serve as mediator, to inform city lawyers about litigation and other matters in which DLA Piper is currently adverse to the City and County of San Francisco. Those cases include litigation involving hotel chains and airlines.

Continue Reading

San Bruno, Ratepayer Advocates Challenge California Public Utilities Commission, PG&E: Demand CPUC Rescind Appointment of Sen. George Mitchell in Blockbuster PG&E Announcement

A blistering attack by the City of San Bruno, ratepayer advocates and Assemblyman Jerry Hill called into question the California Public Utility’s appointment of Sen. George Mitchell and his law firm DLA Piper as mediators in the PG&E explosion and fire settlement.

Mayor Jim Ruane of San Bruno, Thomas J. Long, Legal Director of consumer advocacy group The Utility Reform Network (TURN), and Karen Paull, Acting Legal Counsel, The Division of Ratepayer Advocates (DRA) all stood in front of the CPUC this morning and lambasted the “unholy and cozy alliance” between regulator CPUC and the regulated Pacific Gas & Electric Co.

The City of San Bruno and consumer advocates signed a letter demanding the CPUC rescind the appointment of Sen. Mitchell immediately because the CPUC  went behind their backs in appointing the mediator to oversee the talks and presented evidence that CPUC and PG&E had ex-parte contact in making the decision. The groups objected to the choice of mediator and said they should have been consulted before regulator CPUC appointed the mediator.

The California Public Utilities Commission had announced Monday that it had appointed former U.S. Senator George Mitchell to serve as mediator in the talks.

San Bruno City Manager Connie Jackson and attorneys with San Francisco and the consumer groups said the CPUC had notified PG&E before it appointed Mr. Mitchell, but didn’t notify San Bruno, San Francisco, or ratepayer advocates and officials.

“The unilateral announcement by the CPUC Monday that it had selected a mediator without consulting any of the parties at the negotiating table is consistent with the cozy and unholy relationship between the CPUC and PG&E.  This action is symbolic of the broken, dysfunctional and dishonest relationship between PG&E and the CPUC, the agency that is supposed to be the watchdog and protector of the public’s interest,” said Mayor Ruane of San Bruno.

“San Bruno is rightly concerned that the DLA Piper law firm has previously represented utilities–and that the firm was selected unilaterally by the CPUC and PG&E without the participation of any other party, which goes against the fundamental principles of mediation,” said Mayor Ruane at the press conference today.

“It also is of deep concern to us that DLA Piper has a lengthy list of corporate clients, including Southern California Edison, which the current chairman of the CPUC, Michael Peevey, once headed, according to news media reports about the appointment.

“In order for any mediation to succeed, the mediator will have to assure all the parties to our satisfaction that they have no conflicts, that they can be an unbiased mediator, and that the process will be open, transparent and fair,” Mayor Ruane said.

He continued: “We find that there is too much of a coincidence that one week before the announcement of DLA Piper as mediator, we were told that “a mediator with gravitas” is necessary to settle the negotiations, and now, with the unilateral start of mediation, that PG&E shareholders are paying for the mediation. This leads us, we rightly believe, to the conclusion that the CPUC and PG&E have had improper ex-parte contact as part of this process.

“We state unequivocally for the record that no fine or settlement with PG&E will ever be legitimate or credible without the participation of the City of San Bruno.

“We call into question the integrity of the entire CPUC process that has occurred over the past two years since our community was ripped apart by the negligent and systematic safety failures of PG&E and the inability of the CPUC to independently protect and represent the interests of the residents of San Bruno and the people of California.

“The healing process has physical manifestations in the reconstruction of our Crestmoor neighborhood. However, the scars and horrors of the explosion and fire remain. The City committed to its citizens that it would be an active and relentless participant in all of the investigations that followed.

“We remain at the table to represent the interests of the citizens of San Bruno, the memory of those whose lives were taken by PG&E’s negligence, their families and friends, and equally important, every other city, town and community in the State of California so we can help others prevent what happened to us,” Mayor Ruane concluded.

Mayor Ruane and the consumer advocate attorneys said Sen. Mitchell’s previous work for Southern California Edison, a utility where CPUC Chairman Michael Peevey was formerly an executive, made them question whether he would be impartial.

PG&E and CPUC investigators said Friday that they had started fresh talks to settle the investigators’ allegations that the utility violated numerous state and federal safety rules prior to the fatal 2010 pipeline explosion in San Bruno.

The CPUC had been holding public hearings following three investigations investigators completed after a section of the utility’s gas pipeline in San Bruno ruptured on Sept. 9, 2010, igniting a giant fireball that killed eight people and injured 58. The fire destroyed 38 homes and damaged 70 others. The neighborhood where the blast occurred hasn’t been fully rebuilt, although some houses have been rebuilt.

Both federal and state investigators blamed PG&E for the blast and found that defects in the utility’s aging pipeline and inadequate pipeline safety management contributed to the pipe’s rupture.

A CPUC judge suspended those hearings last week, after state investigators, who are employed by the CPUC, asked to stop the hearings to allow time for a fresh round of talks with PG&E.

Members of the CPUC have said they plan to order fines and possibly other penalties against PG&E over the San Bruno disaster.

Continue Reading

Communications Workers of America in California Question CWA Union Leadership Over Failure to Sign Contract with AT&T

 

There is growing dissent among California Communications Workers of America against their union leaders’ intransigence and failure to approve a new contract with AT&T.

While every single CWA District and Local in the United States, with the exception of Connecticut and California, has signed a new contract deal with pay increases and generous health care benefits, California AT&T workers are starting to strike back at their own union and demand settlement.

Just this week, more than 20,000 AT&T workers in California, Nevada and Connecticut started two-day strikes Tuesday to protest what the union called harassment by the company. But a number of union members opposed the two day strike and question their union leadership’s action, which cost them two days of pay.

The phone company is negotiating new contracts with the Communications Workers of America. The company is restricting standard bargaining-support activities such as wearing union stickers and buttons, said Libby Sayre, president of the CWA district covering California and Nevada.

The contracts expired in April, and negotiations have been going on since February.

Dallas-based AT&T Inc. is the country’s largest employer of unionized workers. About 140,000 of its 256,000 employees are union members.

California AT&T workers are quietly saying they don’t care about the ‘sticker issue’ raised by CWA District 9 President Libby Sayre and are pushing back at union leadership and demanding an immediate conclusion to contract negotiations with AT&T.

“We are at odds with our own union leadership, not with AT&T,” one worker, requesting anonymity, said.  “The deal that was accepted by AT&T workers in other states is a good one and we want it here, too.”

The growing dissent by CWA workers against their leadership was visible in northern California this week as a number of members protested the two day strike and instead held signs protesting against CWA’s leadership, holding signs that read: “Our Union Has Us Striking Over a Stupid Sticker!” and “We Just Lost 2 Days Pay: Thanks CWA.”

Continue Reading

Family Demands StoneMor Cemetery Buy Back Mausoleum After Son’s Ashes Stolen in California

 Gonzales Family Blames StoneMor Partners (NYSE: STON) Cemetary for Desecration and Theft of Son’s Tomb

Lafayette, Calif. – A family is demanding a StoneMor California cemetery take back a $3.2-million mausoleum once containing their son’s ashes.

The family of technology pioneer and Commerce One founder, Thomas Gonzales II, says pure negligence allowed thieves to plunder the family’s mausoleum at the Oakmont Memorial Park Cemetery in Lafayette, Calif., in January of 2011 and steal an urn containing Gonzales’ remains.

Thieves walked off with the remains only days after an initial break-in attempt went unreported by the cemetery to police.

Now the $3.2-million marble mausoleum in the Lafayette cemetery stands empty with only broken glass on the floor—relatives say it’s a cold reminder of their son’s tragic and untimely loss. Gonzales died on Dec. 5, 2001 at the age of 35, after an eight-month battle with gastric cancer.

The Gonzales family poured four years and multi-millions into the design and custom-build of a white marble mausoleum befitting their son’s memory.

“Now, the mausoleum has no value to my family,” said Gonzales’ father, Tom Gonzales, Sr. “The sight of it causes my family so much pain and suffering we think it’s only right for Oakmont to be held accountable.”

The family sued StoneMor California, a division of StoneMor Partners LP (NYSE:STON), on Tuesday (6/12/12) for a minimum of $3.2 million, accusing the national cemetery operator of negligently allowing thieves to walk off with their son’s remains and for failing to alert the family of a previous security breach.

Days prior to the January 16, 2011 theft, a groundskeeper at the Oakmont Cemetery noticed damage to the mausoleum’s steel frame doors. Yet, no one from Oakmont cemetery notified the Gonzales family.

Three days later, thieves once again broke onto the property and stole the bronze urn containing Gonzales’ remains. Police never recovered the ashes, despite a full-scale investigation and a large reward, which the family still is offering today.

“The sheer lack of regard for the Gonzales family and the unconscionable negligence of the StoneMor operators has led to this tragic theft,” said the Gonzales family attorney Harvey Stein of Oakland.

“No monetary value will be enough to compensate the family for the pain caused by this tragedy. The sadness of Thomas’s early death is only compounded by the desecration of his tomb,” Stein added.

Gonzales and his father co-founded Commerce One Inc., a pioneering Internet company in Pleasanton that became one of the fastest-growing firms in Nasdaq history.

 

 

Continue Reading

Fraud in Chevron Ecuador Case at Center of Controversy for Amazon Watch, Rainforest Action Network and New York’s Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli

crude-nov-1

At right, Atossa Soltani, founder and director of Amazon Watch, with her arm around “Crude” director Joe Berlinger. The movie has exposed the case against Chevron by Amazon Watch, Rainforest Action Network and attorney Steven Donziger as a fraud.

 

Environmental groups Amazon Defense Coalition, Amazon Watch and Rainforest Action Network’s attempt to blame Chevron for alleged damage to the Ecuador rainforest took a major blow this past year as evidence counted to mount that they are simply front groups for the plaintiffs in a fraudulent lawsuit.

While the three groups are planning protests against Chevron at its annual shareholders’ meeting this week in San Ramon, Calif., all have been exposed as front organizations that have been funded by the plaintiffs in the case against Chevron.   Equally damning, New York’s comptroller, Thomas P. DiNapoli, who is leading a small shareholder’s challenge to Chevron, was paid with campaign contributions by the plaintiffs for his support of their cause, according to a New York Times story.

Chevron Corp. recently released a series of public information videos which provide never-seen-before evidence documenting the legal and scientific deceptions committed by the plaintiffs in the fraudulent $18 billion legal case against Chevron in Lago Agrio, Ecuador.

The case against Chevron in Ecuador was brought by U.S. plaintiffs’ lawyers, and funded by hedge funds and other speculators.  They even produced their own documentary film, Crude, as part of their multi-billion-dollar scheme.

But through legal discovery in the United States, Chevron has exposed the fraud using the plaintiffs’ own videotapes, emails, and internal documents.  This unimpeachable evidence—including over 600 hours of video outtakes from Crude—vividly depicts the falsification of evidence, judicial corruption, and government collusion permeating this litigation.

The videos contain outtakes from the movie “Crude” by Hollywood director Joe Berlinger as well as new video from depositions of lead plaintiff attorney Steven Donziger, plaintiffs’ Philadelphia attorney Joe Kohn, environmental experts Douglas Beltman and Ann Maest from Stratus Consulting in Denver, and other plaintiffs’ experts who admit that their submissions to the court in Ecuador were falsified and that no contamination exists by Chevron.

The evidence also shows that Amazon Defense Coalition, Amazon Watch and Rainforest Action Network are not independent environmental organizations, but in fact paid front organizations that represent the plaintiffs and do their bidding, according to the court documents.  DiNapoli’s meetings and the contributions that he received from the plaintiffs against Chevron were also exposed in the materials obtained by Chevron and submitted to the court.

At the heart of the fraud in Ecuador against Chevron is ‘independent’ environmental expert Richard Cabrera, who was appointed as an expert in the trial. The Lago Agrio court ordered him to “perform his duties . . . with complete impartiality and independence vis-á-vis the parties.”  Yet the same day as his appointment, lead plaintiffs’ attorney Steven Donziger arranged to have a secret bank account opened to pay bribes and hush money to Cabrera.  Donziger then arranged to have Philadelphia attorney Joe Kohn transfer $100,000 to the secret account once Cabrera’s work was underway, the videos prove.

Despite the secret agreements and his filing of plaintiffs’ work as his own, Cabrera emphatically stated his independence before the Ecuadorian court:  “I should clarify that I do not have any relation or agreements with the plaintiff, and it seems to me to be an insult against me that I should be linked with the attorneys of the plaintiffs.”

While having Cabrera pose as the Court’s independent expert, Donziger and attorney Joe Kohn hired U.S. contractors at Stratus Consulting to secretly draft Cabrera’s ‘independent’ report.  Stratus Consulting ghostwrote the Cabrera report in English, a language Cabrera does not speak, with the opening line – “This report was written by Richard Cabrera…to provide expert technical assistance to the Court in the case of Maria Aguinda y Otros vs ChevronTexaco Corporation.”

Shortly before the report was to be filed, it was translated into Spanish.  A forensic analysis of Plaintiffs’ lawyers’ computers revealed that on March 31, 2008 – the day before the Cabrera Report was filed – plaintiffs’ lawyers were putting the finishing touches on the report.

The “Cabrera Report” found on plaintiffs’ lawyers’ computers matches word-for-word the $16 billion damage assessment filed by Cabrera the next day, on April 1, 2008.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers continued their fraud by employing Stratus Consulting in Denver, an environmental consulting firm, to draft objections criticizing the Cabrera Report as “unjustly favorable to Chevron.” Plaintiffs’ lawyers and Stratus then ghostwrote a second report in Cabrera’s name, responding to their own criticisms and inflating the damages to over $27 billion.

In all, Stratus was paid nearly $1 million to secretly draft Cabrera’s report, criticize that report, and then respond to that criticism in Cabrera’s name. Commenting on their deception, Stratus Principal Douglas Beltman wrote:  “Oh what a tangled web…”

Ecuadorian attorney Pablo Fajardo denied the Plaintiffs’ relationship with Cabrera to the court and stated publicly:  “Chevron’s claim that Professor Cabrera is cooperating with the plaintiffs is completely false….Chevron is frightened by Cabrera precisely because he is an independent and credible expert.”

After reviewing this mountain of evidence of wrongdoing, one of the plaintiffs’ newly recruited U.S. lawyers concluded in a memo sent to fellow counsel that plaintiffs and Cabrera “can be charged with a ‘fraud’” and that Stratus “was an active conspirator.”

And in a discovery proceeding brought by Chevron against Stratus Consulting, at least two of the U.S. law firms representing plaintiffs withdrew from the case citing ethical reasons. With their case crumbling, the plaintiffs’ lawyers scrambled to devise a cover up.  They decided to try and “cleanse the record” by laundering the Cabrera Report’s conclusions through the mouths of six new experts.

Under oath, lead plaintiffs’ attorney Steven Donziger admitted that none of the new experts ever visited Ecuador, or “did any kind of new site inspection,” “new sampling,” or “environmental testing of any kind.” And the new “experts” admitted when deposed that they relied on the data and conclusions in the discredited Cabrera Report and did not conduct any independent.

Presented with evidence of the Cabrera report and cleansing expert frauds, courts across the United States have concluded that the plaintiffs’ Ecuador litigation is a massive fraud.

Reflecting the views of courts across the country, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina wrote:  “While this court is unfamiliar with the practices of the Ecuadorian judicial system, the court must believe that the concept of fraud is universal, and that what has blatantly occurred in this matter would in fact be considered fraud by any court.”

The video exposes that when the Ecuadorian lawyers found out that a US court had authorized discovery of their internal documents demonstrating their collusion with Cabrera, one wrote to Steven Donziger, “The effects are potentially devastating in Ecuador.  Apart from destroying the proceeding, all of us, your attorneys, might go to jail.”

Even though video and email evidence from the plaintiffs’ lawyers and consultants secretly acknowledged they have no evidence of environmental contamination in internal e-mails, the Ecuadorian court swept aside the undeniable evidence of fraud and issued an $18 billion judgment later proven ghostwritten by the plaintiffs’ lawyers.

Based on the same evidence of fraud ignored by the Ecuadorian court, an International Treaty Arbitration Tribunal ordered the Republic of Ecuador “to take all measures at its disposal to suspend or cause to be suspended the enforcement or recognition” of the Ecuadorian Judgment against Chevron.

Despite the fraud in the lawsuit, the corruption of Cabrera, and the clear evidence that the $18 billion judgment itself was ghostwritten, Ecuador claims the judgment is legitimate, and that Chevron should pay.  But Chevron remains committed to exposing the truth about the Lago Agrio lawsuit, and ensuring that the perpetrators of the fraud are brought to justice.

Filled with intrigue, accusations of corruption, bribery and dirty tricks, the complex case is now being fought on three fronts: Ecuador’s Supreme Court; a New York court handling the racketeering lawsuit filed by the Chevron against Steven Donziger and the plaintiffs and their experts; and an international arbitration tribunal in The Hague.

And, back here in the United States groups like Amazon Defense Coalition, Amazon Watch and Rainforest Action Network continue to present themselves as environmental organizations when the reality is that they are paid front groups that do the bidding of the plaintiffs in the case. New York comtroller DiNapoli is in the same boat.

As the New York Times reported: When Mr. DiNapoli took office in 2007…Mr. Donziger sent an e-mail to allies in the environmental movement, according to the court records.

“The advantage of a guy like this,” Mr. Donziger wrote, “is that he is political, meaning, if we show him how he can look good going after Chevron, he might be even more likely to help us.”

In a January 2009 e-mail, Mr. Donziger told an assistant to deliver a number of campaign contributions to Mr. DiNapoli, and to write one check from Mr. Donziger’s personal account.

“Take checks to his office and deliver them personally,” he wrote. “However, call me before u do this — I am worried this might not be a great idea.”

State campaign filings show that several thousand dollars were contributed to Mr. DiNapoli’s campaign at the time by Mr. Donziger and others on the plaintiffs’ side.

In May 2011 Mr. Di Napoli said that the case “is looming like a hammer over shareholders’ heads,” and called on the company to settle it to repair its “grave reputational damage.”

Last month he repeated the demand. A spokesman for Mr. DiNapoli, Eric Sumberg, said the comptroller’s involvement in the case had nothing to do with lobbying or campaign contributions.

It “is directly attributable to the potential impact of a negative legal outcome that would have an economic impact on the Common Retirement Fund,” Mr. Sumberg said.

Ms. Hinton (the publicist for the Amazon Defense Coalition) pointed out that Chevron had contributed millions of dollars to political campaigns during the course of the lawsuit.

“It’s Chevron’s right to do that, but when we contribute a few thousands, it’s a criminal conspiracy,” she said.

 

Continue Reading

Chevron loses tax appeal in Contra Costa County


By Lisa Vorderbrueggen
From the Contra Costa Times

MARTINEZ — Chevron has lost an appeal of the property values assigned to its Richmond refinery and will pay an additional estimated $26.7 million in taxes rather than collect a refund worth nearly three times that amount.

The county, cities and special districts heaved a big sigh of relief at Monday morning’s Assessment Appeals Board decision, which could have forced public agencies to repay Chevron as much as $73 million.
Chevron had accused Contra Costa Assessor Gus Kramer of intentionally driving up the refinery’s taxable values between 2007-2009.

But the three-member panel said the evidence showed Kramer actually undervalued the Richmond operation by 10 to 23 percent. It raised the refinery’s fair market values, respectively, at $3.7 billion, $4.4 billion and $3.8 billion for 2007, 2008 and 2009.

Chevron put the values substantially lower at $1.8 billion, $1.4 billion and $1.1 billion for the same years.
Two years ago, the oil company received a $17 million refund on its 2004-2006 property taxes based on a prior appeal’s board decision. Chevron filed a lawsuit in Superior Court, which is still pending.

Chevron has also appealed its 2010 and 2011 assessed values. Hearings start April 16.

Continue Reading

Chevron Appeal of Contra Costa County Property Tax Bill Set for Monday

The illegal bullying tactics of Country County Assessor Gus Kramer are coming back to haunt him and County Costa County this week.

A Contra Costa County property assessment appeals board will release its decision Monday on Chevron’s challenge of its Richmond refinery values. Kramer was accused of fabricating evidence and ordering his employees to destroy the paper trail of his wrongdoing in the Chevron case, according to legal documents filed with the County.

The Chevron Richmond Refinery seeks refunds up to $73 million in property taxes from 2007 through 2009, slightly more than half of what the company was assessed for its 2,900 acre Richmond property which it has owned since 1902.

Gus Kramer, Contra Costa County Assessor

Gus Kramer, Contra Costa County Assessor

Kramer’s actions could have serious impacts for each of the 143 public agencies in the county that could be required to pay back $73 million to Chevron if the Appeals Board rules in its favor. A prior challenge by Chevron resulted in an $18 million refund for the Richmond Refinery for overpaid taxes in 2004-2006.

The county and cities, along with fire, parks and other dozens of other special districts, will bear the burden of any repayment at a time when most public agencies have already experienced years of declining budgets.

Chevron said on Friday that if it wins its appeal, it will not press the County and its 143 agencies for immediate repayment. Instead the oil company would like a fair and reasonable system of tax assessments, for Kramer’s illegal bullying tactics to end, and for stability and honesty from the County in how its taxes are calculated.

Chevron argued that Contra Costa County Assessor Gus Kramer and his staff acted illegally and unethically and intentionally miscalculated the final numbers for its tax assessment.

In response, Kramer accused the oil company of costly appeals and lawsuits in an effort to lower its taxes.

If the three-member appeals board sides with Chevron, it will be the refinery’s second victory in its nearly eight-year fight with Kramer over its tax assessments.

To date, Chevron has been victorious over Kramer and his department and their tactics in calculating the worth of Chevron’s Richmond property.

The panel in 2010 ordered a repayment of $17.8 million on the refinery’s 2004-2006 appeal, a figure short of what the company sought. Chevron subsequently filed a lawsuit, which is still pending.

Chevron has also appealed its 2010 and 2011 property values.

Refinery spokesman Dean O’Hair said the company remains eager to negotiate with the county a settlement of all the appeals and the lawsuit.

If the appeals board orders a refund on Monday, O’Hair said Chevron will again work with the county to minimize the financial impact on the public agencies including a phased-in repayment schedule and a waiver of interest.

The public appeals board hearing begins at 9 a.m. in the Contra Costa County administration building, 651 Pine St., Martinez.

Chevron has detailed the wrongdoing it says led to its unfair assessment of its Richmond Refinery and submitted it as evidence in the case. The refinery operation said that the 2007-2009 roll values were fabricated by assessor Kramer in violation of California property tax laws. In addition, the refinery submitted evidence that:

–Mr. Al wise, formerly senior appraiser in the assessor’s office, testified that he instructed Ms. Jenny Ly to enroll specific values for each lien year based on instructions Mr. Wise had received from his boss, assessor Kramer. The assessor offered no evidence to rebut Mr. Wise’s testimony.

–Ms. Ly admitted that taxpayer information was either deleted or altered in order to get the total taxable amounts to come out equal to the values she was directed to enroll. The assessor offered no evidence that the roll values were based on anything other than the arbitrary directives of assessor Kramer.

It appears assessor Kramer attempted to cover-up or disguise this illegal process by tasking his staff to generate a new analysis for the hearing and then hide or destroy the original roll value workpapers, according to Chevron’s legal filings.

“If a decision is made in our favor, we will notify the County Auditor Controller’s office to hold any tax refund, and forego any interest, while we continue to work with the County Assessor’s office on negotiating a settlement. Our goal is to achieve a fair and transparent process for calculating our taxes going forward, which will bring greater stability to Contra Costa County’s local communities and agencies, and help mitigate the impact on local agencies,” said the refinery’s spokesman O’Hair

“We fully appreciate the challenges facing the County and local communities and the potential impact this could have on you / your constituents. We have spent more than 8 years trying to negotiate a settlement to prevent this unnecessary stress on public organizations that are concerned about having to repay the taxes that the County overcharged,” O’Hair added. 

Continue Reading