A view of a Chevron refinery on March 3, 2015 in Richmond, California.

When Steve Early moved to Richmond in 2012, he saw a city trying to break free from its big oil roots and reinvent itself. He also saw from his backyard an oil explosion that sent 15,000 to the hospital because of toxic smoke. Home to a massive Chevron oil refinery since 1902 — Standard Oil back then — the working-class Bay Area city has a long history of pollution and poverty. But, as Early chronicles in his new book “Refinery Town,” for the past fifteen years, the Richmond community has tried to reinvent itself with a push for reform and progressive policies, electing a Green Party mayor, approving rent control measures and, most recently, passing a resolution calling for the impeachment of President Trump. Steve Early joins us in-studio to discuss Richmond’s history, its recent efforts to redefine itself and its rocky relationship with its biggest employer, Chevron.

Steve Early on Richmond’s Political Transformation 9 March,2017Michael Krasny

Steve Early, labor activist, lawyer and author, "Refinery Town: Big Oil, Big Money and the Remaking of an American City"

  • Ben Rawner

    Just recently it was found out that one of those refineries let out toxic air into the bay. No air warning took place and only months later did we find out what that sulfur smell was. What kind of punishment would be fitting? What measures are being taken to warn residents about these toxic accidents in the future?

    • Robert Thomas

      Why bother wounding Chevron? Why not just dismantle the thing and be rid of it?

      Nose; face; spite

  • beryl golden

    Richmond City Council called for an INVESTIGATION not impeachment! Please announce this correction. Thank you.

  • Robert Thomas

    Why shouldn’t Richmond just go “the Full Monte”? Condemn the Chevron refinery by means of eminent domain and run it as a municipal enterprise.

    Comrades! Revolution!

    There’s no communism like flabby communism.

    • Sandra Davenport

      great idea. Who’s gonna pay everyone? the city is on the verge of bankruptcy. AGAIN.

  • Fay Nissenbaum

    Why does Chevron have be ‘caught’, rather than reporting itself when toxic releases occur? Here is a recent story by KQED about it:
    “KQED revealed that one of the air readings that followed a Chevron flaring incident last week maxed out the company’s pollution monitoring equipment in Point Richmond minutes later….
    Contra Costa health officials and county prosecutors are considering
    the “possibility of doing enforcement actions for improper
    notification,” said Randy Sawyer, the county’s chief environmental
    health and hazardous materials officer.

    The first air reading at Point Richmond measured 451 parts per
    billion (ppb) of hydrogen sulfide and the second detected more than 500
    ppb. Those levels violate standards set by the air district.”

  • Robin Hood

    Being a property owner in Richmond and other city’s in Contra Costa and Alameda Counties. The property taxes in Richmond are higher than almost any other city in California as a percentage. The services including street cleaning, police , fire parks and more are far below average and in fact are the worst of any city I have owned property in.
    As for rent control, I bought a multi unit commercial building that I had every intension of fixing up and making nicer. After rent control I will only be able to afford the bare minimum repairs.
    The city permit and planning offices this also a large deterrent in helping upgrade the housing stock. Being a general contractor for over 30 years in California, I have worked in dozens of city’s in California and I would say Richmond is one of the worst run city governments.
    I have personal friends, and neighbors who work for Chevron all of which have nothing but good things to say about working for Chevron. If Steve Early gets his way Chevron will leave taking with it thousands of great high paying great jobs.
    Steve Early is an Idiot. As green as he thinks he is, I’m sure he uses energy in his transportation, food, housing entertainment and other daily endeavor’s. It is impossible not to. He should be happy we have an energy company in our city giving back to the community. Instead he wants to degrade them. He assumes he understands Richmond after living in the expensive Point Richmond area for only five years. He does not have a clue. His book is a joke, in fact it can only be interpreted as satire.

  • Robin Hood

    Steve Early’s take on prop 13 is also so far of base. Only someone who has owned property for only a short time would denounce prop 13. I pay an super high amount of property tax even with the help of prop 13. Without prop 13 the rent would have to be higher and property repairs would need to be further deferred.

  • John Koenigshofer

    Steve Early referred to landlords as “greedy landlords” several times. Mr. Krasny never questioned this simplistic, judgmental generalization. Such lack of nuance is part of the so called “progressive” rhetoric in the Bay Area. Same old story. Mr. Early thinks he knows every landlord and assumes he and his cohorts have the wisdom and right to dictate to working people the value of their labor. It is often assumed anyone who restores, creates or provides housing is “Greedy”. There is no recognition of the risk, work or personal sacrifice many landlord made to have a few rental units. There is no differentiation in the rhetoric or the policies of rent control groups between corporate housing companies with 1000’s of units and local tradesmen, carpenters or artists who worked hands on to restore or build a few rental units.
    Of course, in places like Berkeley you have the executive director of the rent board being paid over $200,000 a year while he pushes for policies that reduce or prevent small landlords their retirement.
    I am tired of being demonized because I own 3 rental units (Two that I restored myself, and one that I built from the ground up). I am not greedy. I am creative and self sufficient and rightfully expect to be paid for what I create. I do not want bureaucrats telling me what my risk-taking, hard labor, craftsmanship or creativity are worth.
    How long has Mr. Early been here? I was born in California 61 years ago. My family has been here for a century. I have seen the devastation growth has brought to California, and I see the devastation created by rent control and other simplistic, ideological ‘solutions” to big, complex problems.
    There are 170,000 more people on Earth everyday. Humans like to live in pleasant climates near natural beauty, around cultural richness and in booming economies. But everyone cannot afford to live here. Just like everyone cannot afford to live in Muir Beach or Big Sur. Bummer. But demand creates value and cost. There is plenty of cheap housing in Twenty Palms or Detroit or Eugene Oregon – and it is not because of rent control. Either let the market shape things or make everyone share the responsibility for subsidized housing. But don’t name call small landlords you don’t know and don’t presume you have the right to suppress their income.
    Tell me how much you earn and I will decide if you are greedy or not. HOw does that feel?
    Michael Krasny, don’t let your guests toss around unexamined accusatory generalities.

    • Nancy Taylor

      Agreed, I am a landlord only because I bought a one bedroom at Marina Bay in 2007 (peak of the market) which was the only thing in the Bay Area I could afford and within two years, its value was down to a about a quarter of what I bought it for. I had invested too much of my $$ into it to walk away like so many condo owners did so I’ve held onto it and rented it all these years. This year, the City has enforced a business license requirement for rental unit owners so I’ve paid a “inspection” fee and permit fee to the City. I really haven’t made much on the unit considering what I’ve had to pay in mortgage, HOA dues and property taxes.
      It’s classic, some East Coast labor organizer moves out west to “make a difference”, get their name out there and write a book without really knowing the community or larger area but taking it on as his cause. Yuch!

    • Nancy Combs

      John Koenigshofer, Early did NOT use the words “greedy landlords” anywhere in this interview nor did he imply that all landlords are greedy. Listen to the interview again… and quit making stuff up! Jeez!

      • John Koenigshofer

        Nancy Combs, you are correct. I re-listened carefully, and he did not say “greedy landlord.” There you have, the power of subjectivity. My apologies.
        Recently, including the morning of that broadcast, I had heard the assertion that all landlords are greedy, numerous times. I guess I have been condition by so called “progressive” views on housing to feel attacked and accused. I must of conflated various commentaries.

        What I did here from Mr. Early upon careful review were implied assumptions that landlords are greedy, profit motive is wrong, and a lack of recognition that a housing provider is someone who works. He specifically referenced a progressives coalition of ‘working people” who achieved rent control in Richmond. Inherent in his comments are the assumption that landlords are not working people. He echoes a predictable stereotype pitting tenant against owner. He also (like most rent control advocates) failed to differentiate between ‘mom & pop’ housing providers (folks with 3 or 4 units), and corporate landlords with 100’s or 1000’s of units (take a look at ‘REALTEX’) who ironically are exempt from rent control. The fact is, the supposed progressive agenda of rent control is mostly as assault on small owners many of whom are simply hardworking craftsmen.

        I am sure Attorney Early charges market rate for his legal services. I am certain he does not want me telling him how much he is allowed to charge. He totally skirted a callers question – suggesting their be a cap on the resale value of his home. He seemed to smugly laugh that question off, or perhaps he is so steeped in ideology he couldn’t comprehend the relevance of such a question.
        His viewpoint on Prop. 13 is equally daft.
        Without Prop.13 and without vacancy decontrol, I, a California native, would be forced from the state.
        It is very important for people to realize many landlords make a lot less than the “public Servants’ who advocate and administer these unfair programs.
        My apologizes again for my inaccurate quoting, but I did hear the meaning and assumptions behind his words accurately.

    • De Blo


  • gabby101

    One caller asked Steve Early (who lives in Point Richmond) if he would vote for a measure that limited the amount of profit he could make when he sold his house. He side stepped the question and in my opinion, it was treated as a silly question, but in reality, the caller was just asking Mr. Early to put HIS money where his mouth is. Wealthy people in the Bay Area are out of touch with working class families and don’t understand the sacrifices they ask from them. It’s easy to support all of these progressive ideas when you have more disposable income than average and also when they’re executed outside of your neighborhood.

  • Sandra Davenport

    The RPA is destroying the town. With the new Measure L, single family homes will no longer be available to rent because homeowners will not want to take the risk to rent them. Oh yes, they can rent for 12 months only. Tell that to the tenant with kids in school. Jovanka and Gayle are out soon and we can’t wait. Many of us only voted them in because our votes were against Chevron, and we voted for Jovanka because we felt sorry that she was demonized for her personal life style. Apart from that, they are destroying the town as Berkeley wanna-bees. I find it fascinating that the Just Cause measure was copied literally from Santa Monica. Hmm. A city where the median home price is 1,500,000 and average rents are $7,500. We are again on the verge of bankruptcy. This book is a farce. KQED how about another side of the story? Or can you do that ever?


Michael Krasny

Michael Krasny, PhD, has been in broadcast journalism since 1983. He was with ABC in both radio and television and migrated to public broadcasting in 1993. He has been Professor of English at San Francisco State University and also taught at Stanford, the University of San Francisco and the University of California, as well as in the Fulbright International Institutes. A veteran interviewer for the nationally broadcast City Arts and Lectures, he is the author of a number of books, including “Off Mike: A Memoir of Talk Radio and Literary Life” (Stanford University Press) “Spiritual Envy” (New World); “Sound Ideas” (with M.E. Sokolik/ McGraw-Hill); “Let There Be Laughter” (Harper-Collins) as well as the twenty-four lecture series in DVD, audio and book, “Short Story Masterpieces” (The Teaching Company). He has interviewed many of the world’s leading political, cultural, literary, science and technology figures, as well as major figures from the world of entertainment. He is the recipient of many awards and honors including the S.Y. Agnon Medal for Intellectual Achievement; The Eugene Block Award for Human Rights Journalism; the James Madison Freedom of Information Award; the Excellence in Journalism Award from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association; Career Achievement Award from the Society of Professional Journalists and an award from the Radio and Television News Directors Association. He holds a B.A. (cum laude) and M.A. from Ohio University and a PhD from the University of Wisconsin.

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