No time is a good time for a refinery fire.
But Monday's dramatic conflagration at Chevron's Richmond petroleum plant came at a critical juncture in the company's push to repair its damaged relationship with its host city.
To start, the blaze pushed off a scheduled opening last week of Chevron's 110-year anniversary exhibit at the Richmond Museum of History.
More significantly, it forced the postponement of Thursday's planned launch of Four Richmond, a new labor-business coalition nonprofit for which Chevron is providing the seed money. The entity was formed to raise cash for jobs, education and public safety programs.
The fire will cast a shadow over this week's Chevron-sponsored economic diversification conference with Richmond senior city staffers and community leaders. The company's global arm is looking at investing millions of dollars into broadening the city's tax base and reducing the community's heavy dependence on refinery taxes.
And visions of a tower of flames and sooty black smoke cloud has already stoked the campaigns of Richmond Progressive Alliance-backed city council candidates Marilyn Langlois and Eduardo Martinez. The alliance is a vocal Chevron critic.
If the pair is successful at the ballot box in November, they are expected to form a solid four-member progressive voting bloc on the council with Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles.
The Richmond vs. Chevron conflict is a classic example of the petroleum economy paradox: No one wants refineries but most of us drive gasoline powered cars.
For the most part, though, Chevron made its own bed.
Its political strategy for years consisted of helping refinery-friendly council candidates win election and unseating those who proved unhelpful.
Vigorous anti-corporate public sentiment in this very liberal town has taken the wind out of this tack, as evidenced by the refinery's losses at the polls and unsuccessful seven-year quest for a plant modernization and expansion permit.
Chevron is also still widely perceived as self-serving and not without reason.
With one hand, it donates thousands of dollars to worthy community programs while on the other, it has been waging an eight-year legal challenge of the property taxes that support local services.
The refinery's relationship with the city is imperfect but it has improved under the leadership of new refinery manager Nigel Hearne and his team, said Richmond Councilman Tom Butt.
"There's been a real sea change in the past few years," said Butt, who has fought toe-to-toe with Chevron on numerous fronts. "I think they realized their attitude was costing them a lot of money and time, and damaged their reputation. Their response to the fire has been entirely different. Everything I have asked them, they have said without hesitation, 'We'll do it.'"
Yet, Butt remains skeptical.
He says he has been told next to nothing about the new nonprofit's goals.
And he learned of Chevron's economic diversification initiative only recently when a kerfuffle erupted in the mayor's office over the company's invite of senior city staff -- but no elected officials -- to this week's five-day confab.
McLaughlin reportedly prepared a resolution on the council agenda opposing the city's participation but later changed her mind.
"I'm not sure how you solve the city's economic problems without involving the elected leaders," Butt said. "But I'm open. It's not costing us anything. And who knows? Maybe it will be the best thing that ever happened to the city."
BOY does GOOD: Native Contra Costan and California Fish and Game Commissioner Jim Kellogg, of Discovery Bay, has been named 2012 "Californian of the Year" by the Outdoor Writers Association of California.
An avid outdoorsman, the influential statewide labor leader Kellogg has served nearly a decade on the commission.
Interestingly, the association's first winner was Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, in 1993.
SAD PASSING: The death of retired Contra Costa County Sheriff Warren Rupf from leukemia on Thursday is triggering an emotional outpouring of reaction and comments.
Services will be held at 10 a.m. on Aug. 16 at Christ the King Church in Pleasant Hill.
AND FINALLY: It's never too late to perform a good deed, as evidenced by the late Supervisor Gayle B. Uilkema.
The Meals on Wheels of Contra Costa received an unexpected $20,000 donation last week from Uilkema's unspent campaign account, per the supervisor's final wishes.
But it shouldn't have surprised anyone.
In life, Uilkema was a fierce advocate for the program, which delivers hot food to homebound elders.
Her contribution will provide 5,000 meals and feed 15 seniors for an entire year, said a grateful Meals on Wheels spokesman Paul Kraintz.
Good for her.
Contact Lisa Vorderbrueggen at 925-945-4773, Twitter @lvorderbrueggen or www.facebook.com/lvorderbrueggen.