RICHMOND -- In her annual State of the City address on Tuesday, Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said Richmond enjoyed a year of shining improvements in crime reduction, infrastructure upgrades and economic growth, all tarnished by the Aug. 6 fire at the Chevron refinery.
"Amid all these wonderful things, let's not forget the horrendous experience of the Chevron refinery fire, which sent 15,000 people to local hospitals for treatment of respiratory issues and other health impacts of the fire," said McLaughlin, the only Green Party mayor in the country of a city with more than 100,000 residents. "We remain very concerned about the health and safety risk that this major refinery poses to our residents and to the greater Bay Area."
McLaughlin also said she remains "concerned" about the massive refinery's relationship with the community.
"Chevron has imparted great harm to our community by way of their pollution, their accidents and, frankly, their impact on our elections and democracy for decades," McLaughlin said.
Chevron spokesman Brent Tippen noted that Chevron has pumped millions into local schools, community organizations and civic programs in the city over the past several years, while providing more than 2,200 local jobs.
"What was missing (from the speech) is the broader recognition that Richmond has turned the corner because of everything people have done as a community," Tippen said in an email. "Chevron's investment has put people to work, trained people to get better jobs, helped the school district provide better education for students, and we've done that with really great partners."
Aside from the fire and its aftermath, McLaughlin's 3,500-word speech focused mostly on what she described as a year of "groundbreaking and historic accomplishments."
McLaughlin said the Richmond Public Works Department performed award-winning work improving the city's notoriously craggy streets and sidewalks. Major projects included the opening of the Rosie the Riveter Visitor and Education Center, the near-completion of a six-story BART parking garage downtown, and the Meade Street Bypass Road Project, which links the city's southern shoreline district with the rest of the city.
The bypass is a crucial upgrade in preparation for the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's Richmond Bay Campus, which could start construction as early as next year.
McLaughlin said Richmond saw 249 new businesses started in 2012, generating more than 450 jobs.
McLaughlin also noted continued successes in youth-oriented programs, including job training and youth media startups like Richmond Pulse and programs at the RYSE Youth Center.
Crime reductions also received nods during the address.
"In recent years, we have seen a massive decrease in violent crime," McLaughlin said. The city recorded 18 homicides in 2012, continuing a three-year run in which killings have been far lower than the city's average over the past decade, which she credited to the work of police and grass-roots groups.
McLaughlin mostly steered clear of the continuing discord among political coalitions in the city, particularly the sharp divide on the council between the mayor and her Richmond Progressive Alliance allies and council members Nat Bates and Corky Booze, who represent older, established interests and business leaders.
But she did call for more unity moving forward.
"There is much controversy in the political climate of our city," McLaughlin said. "This controversy should not deter us at all but only cause us all to look deep at what we want and need."
Bates issued a statement Wednesday praising the mayor for doing a "good job" in her speech.
"The only criticism I have," Bates wrote, "is her continued negative fixation toward Chevron. I assume this is her efforts to please RPA radicals, but she needs to become an independent leader on this issue. While she blamed Chevron for the fire and their involvement in the political election process, she failed to mention the many contributions Chevron provides to the city and community at large."