Actions speak louder than words or endorsements
By Jon Van Landschoot
Reprinted from the Benicia Herald
October 26, 2016
The candidates that have shown they have positively advocated for Benicia citizens
will always get my vote. Politicians always promise the moon, few actually deliver.
In my 30-plus years living in our terrific town, I have not seen any elected official
work as hard and get so many things done as Elizabeth Patterson our Mayor! I will add
Tom Campbell and Steve Young to that list also. What follows is my memory of what these
three folks have done for our town.
First, let’s look at Elizabeth’s efforts. In the early 1990’s, there was an effort to
build 1500-plus new homes in the Sky Valley area just North of Benicia. This caused a
tremendous outpouring of concern from the public. Benicians did not want to have a huge
suburb north of our town. It was subsequently not built. Sounds a bit like the proposed
Seeno Northern Gateway Project to me!
What this event did do was to galvanize a number of folks to update out General Plan
and protect our open space. That effort was spearheaded by Kitty Griffin — that lovely
dynamo — and Elizabeth Patterson.
Hundreds of folks attended a ton of meetings and countless hours went into the effort.
What came out if it is still regarded by many as a model document. Thank you, Elizabeth
and Kitty, for leading the effort. Your present General Plan was enacted unanimously by
the City Council in 1999.
In 2003, the same two stalwarts saved Sky Valley from any future development with
Proposition K. The measure passed with over 60% approval. Today, you can take a very
pleasant ride out to Sky Valley and see only trees, and in the spring a myriad of flowers
and color. Thanks to all who worked to “Save Sky Valley.”
In 2005, Sue Street — another lovely dynamo and a killer Bridge Player — and Elizabeth
made a similar effort to “Save the Marina Green.” There were plans to build a strip mall
and a three-story boutique hotel on the Green!
Measure C was passed by our citizens by well over 60% of the vote. We now enjoy the
Green for a myriad of activities. Thanks to all who worked to save the Green. I love
being down there on a windy day.
Elizabeth also served on the Planning Commission in the late 1990’s and added a great
wealth of knowledge to that body. Trained as a planner, and having served at the
California state level in the Deptartment of Water for well over 30 years, working with
Mike Thompson, she worked to get California to be “Water Wise” and she has brought that
knowledge and energy to Benicia. The “Pure” effort to save and recycle water from Valero
was made in the mid 2000’s.
As Mayor of Benicia, Elizabeth has only upped her game. She has appointed extremely
qualified Benicians to our boards and commissions. Elizabeth also was a big mover in the
conversion of Mills School into our wonderful Benicia Community Center.
She also has advocated for the creation of an Open Government Commission, the Arts and
Cultural Commission, and the Community Sustainability Commission. All these efforts
succeeded and have helped Benicia become a more open City, a boon to the thriving Arts
Community. Let’s not forget the Climate Action Plan that helped Benicia become one of
the very top water savers in the Bay Area. Our Green Building Code is a Bay Area leader
in LEED Building Codes. Oh, and we also have become a “Tree City,” with a tree ordinance
to save our Heritage Trees. Benicia also has a trained Tree Arborist for citizens to
consult. Gee, a very busy Mayor!
Elizabeth has, with others, long advocated for air monitors on the fence line of the
Valero refinery. Valero has dragged its feet for quite a long time. So, we do not know
the actual air pollutants that we breathe each day! Over my 32 years as a teacher in
Solano County, I have seen firsthand the asthma and allergy cases climb.
Other ongoing efforts by Mayor Patterson include using the Good Neighbor Steering
Committee money from the Valero settlement to facilitate Benicia joining Marin Clean
Energy, which saved the City and residents a lot of money on energy use. Also, Elizabeth
is leading the continuing effort to give grants to our local businesses to upgrade their
energy and water systems. This saves money that can be poured back into their business
and hopefully add more employees, thus increasing profits.
She has also been a champion of Benicia’s Clean Tech Expo at the Clock Tower, and Benicia
Makerspace in our Middle School.
While Elizabeth has been our Mayor, the city has increased grants to our Human Services
folks, Benicia Old Town Theatre Group and Arts Benicia. She is always looking to help
Benicia’s non-profits and enhance our life experiences here in Benicia.
In 2012, when the State Parks wanted to shed 70 Parks — two in Benicia — Elizabeth said
“NO!” She and the Benicia State Parks Association (BSPA) mobilized Benicians and stopped
the closures. She advocated for a State Parks, Solano County, cities of Benicia and
Vallejo and BSPA Committee. It meets every other month at the Benicia Capitol. The City
took over the bathrooms and the lawns at the Capitol.
This group ponied up enough money this spring to repave the roads in the Benicia State
Recreation Area. This past August, Elizabeth attended a celebration at the Capitol to
push for more improvements at both the Capitol and the Benicia SRA. This past week or so,
Elizabeth was on hand for the dedication of a new plaque at the foot of the Capitol
Not content to rest, Elizabeth also had a big hand in the remodeling of Military West
near the City Park. Traffic calming, bigger bus stop and new trees really give an
inviting look to all.
A few years ago, the Seeno Group pushed very hard to build an Industrial Park on their
property between East Second Street and Lake Herman Road. This land is labeled
“industrial” in our General Plan. After much resistance to following our General Plan
and Green Building Code, the Seeno folks pulled out. They are back now with a “Northern
Gateway Project,” and wanting to build 900-plus housing units among industrial buildings.
Having kids, moms and dads living within this new industrial development—which can
produce excessive noise, toxins, traffic congestion and the possibility of explosions
does not sound like a good idea. New costs for services for these homes will mostly fall
on current Benicians. Our schools will be very impacted: more traffic, more of our water
will be used, police and fire resources will be stretched. Also, it does not match with
our General Plan! Elizabeth has stated her opposition to this new plan if it includes
Of course, Valero’s Crude By Rail Plan (CBR) has been a crucial discussion for the past
few years. In March of this year, the Planning Commission, after almost two years of
hearings, unanimously voted to deny the Project and gave 11 sound reasons. Most had to
do with conflicts with our General Plan and for health and safety concerns. The Planning
Commission did yeoman work. A lot of the credit goes to Steve Young, now running for
In April of this year, the City Council took up the issue. After days of hearings, much
of the information was the same as the Planning Commission had heard. The City Council
voted. Elizabeth and Tom Campbell voted to deny the CBR Project based on the Planning
Commission’s findings. Three councilmembers did not know what to do! Christina, Alan
Schwartzman and Mark Hughes needed “more information” to make a decision! Really. So,
as you know we waited five months for the Surface Transportation Board (STB) to help
What was at issue was not the safety of the project, but Valero’s claim that the CBR
Project was preempted and, therefore, could not be denied because it would be an
infringement on Interstate Commerce. However, if all the councilmembers would have
listened to the ton of folks, many professionals, who gave evidence at both the Planning
Commission and the Council meetings, they should have realized that Valero’s project did
not qualify for preemption. Why? Because Valero is not a railroad, nor is Valero
currently shipping or receiving product by rail.
So, when the STB issued its ruling on Sept. 20th stating there is no preemption, the
three councilmembers scrambled to vote “No” and deny the CBR Project. Who wants to be
in favor of the dangerous CBR Project? Christina was the first to change her mind,
followed by Alan and finally by Mark. A big question remains. Will these three be able
to make big tough decisions in the future or wait until some Board bails them out?
Finally, our leaders need to be in the community. I see Elizabeth all over the town. If
she isn’t at the Camel Barn, she is at a Main Street event, or an Art Soirée on First
Street, attending an Arts Benicia Gala, or at our schools, (sometimes teaching a class
on sustainability), or at the Historic Benicia Capitol attending a re-enactment program.
She walks and bikes all over town and at the Benicia SRA. She has been spotted at Book
Shop Benicia for book events and in our terrific library for myriad events.
However, what I think is the neatest thing she does is to meet with Benicians most every
Monday evening and listen to their concerns and ideas. Who else on our council does that?
NONE! Vote Elizabeth!
Jon Van Landschoot is a Benicia resident