At its regular meeting Tuesday, the City Council heard an annual report from the Benicia Public Library, approved a license agreement for Prop SF to operate a private ferry service out of the Alvarez 9th Street Park launch, and adopted a negative declaration for the city’s water re-use project, among other items.
Library Director Diane Smikahl highlighted the library’s accomplishments and outlined the direction the library is moving in a number of specific areas. One example cited was that the library continued to see an increase in virtual visits, defined as use of services from a site other than the main library building, in the 2015-2016 fiscal year – a 16 percent increase since 2014-2015 and a total 44 percent increase since 2013-14.
According to statistics from the State Library, collected in the fiscal year 2014-2015, Benicia ranks high in comparison with other local libraries in the state in most categories. In number of visits per capita, for example, the Benicia library saw 8.43 while the state average was 5.88, and circulation for Benicia was at 16.5 per capita, compared with the state average of 7.6.
Benicia also ranked favorably in a national study conducted by Edge, a national management and leadership tool created to help libraries and local governments work together to achieve community goals. In its 2016 assessment, the Benicia library scored the same or better in all benchmark areas, with greatest improvement in the areas of technology management and strategic partnerships, achieving a total score of 845 out of 1,000 possible points, compared to the average score for similar-sized libraries in the U.S. of 569.
In efforts to improve services, the library has connected to CalREN, a high-capacity fiber-optic network. Benicia is one of 30 California public libraries invited to participate in the CalREN project. As a participant, the library received grant funding and technical assistance that allows customers significantly improved access to digital resources. In December, 2015 the library contracted with the Benicia Unified School District in order to be able to provide free GED classes and the Burlington English Program for students of English as a second language. Fifteen students have enrolled in the program to date, with 255 classes and 101 student visits logged.
During the staff question and answer period, Council member Christina Strawbridge asked about the library’s children’s services. Smikahl replied that children’s service levels remain even. The library continues to conduct programs at Benicia schools and has a goal for every Benicia student to have a library card, she added.
Mayor Elizabeth Patterson asked about plans for the library’s basement area. Smikahl told the council that plans have been drawn for a remodel and asked that staff review the plans to confirm that they meet current requirements. As presently defined, the project would cost approximately $1.3 million to complete. The library is currently looking for ways to modify the plans in order to bring the cost down. The Benicia Library Foundation, the library’s fundraising arm, currently has $250,000 earmarked in its general fund for the project, plus an additional $250,000 in a separate account set aside specifically for the basement improvement project.
Climate Change Adaptation Plan: Findings
Former climate action plan coordinator Alex Porteshawver presented the city’s current climate change adaptation plan, which addresses anticipated sea level and average temperature rises and ways the city can prepare for associated impacts. In January 2014, the City was awarded a Coastal
Conservancy Climate Ready Grant (Round 1) in the amount of $150,000 to conduct a vulnerability assessment and to develop an adaptation plan to prepare for existing and future climate-related impacts and to evaluate how the city can integrate adaptation planning into its existing plans, programs, and codes.
The assessment revealed that some of Benicia’s buildings and infrastructure are highly vulnerable to sea level rise and associated flooding. It estimated that by 2050, the coastal Benicia Marina area between First and East 5th Streets is likely to experience daily flooding. Other areas including parts of downtown, the industrial park and several residential neighborhoods may face daily flooding by the year 2100.
Buildings in Benicia were found to be generally resilient to extreme heat and unlikely to face structural damage during very high temperatures, although some infrastructure could break down or become stressed during extreme heat events.
Union Pacific railroad tracks were assessed for exposure to sea level rise and were found to be vulnerable in some areas to daily inundation within 24 inches of sea level rise. The Port of Benicia was also found to be vulnerable to flooding due to sea level rise. The Port does have protocols in place to manage flood events, as well as excess storage capacity that could be used if the regular storage areas are flooded, which could reduce disruptions to Port operations.
The Valero Benicia Refinery’s holding ponds were found to be potentially vulnerable to flooding from Sulphur Springs Creek. With three feet of sea level rise, the ponds could be fully inundated, which would result in the release of contaminated material into Sulphur Springs Creek and Suisun Bay.
The city identified actionable adaptation measures and evaluated them for sustainability, equitability, economic viability, cost-effectiveness, and ability to be integrated into existing and future plans.
While 121 potential adaptation strategies were developed, the city narrowed the list to 11 strategies it felt could most easily be implemented given available staffing and adequate information. Five of those 11 strategies address specific locations that were determined to be highly vulnerable, while the remaining seven regard increasing overall city resiliency and preparedness. Those strategies include:
* Prepare a Downtown Sea Level Rise Adaptation Strategy, combining a near-term implementation of the Urban Waterfront Enhancement and Master Plan (UWEMP) and a long-term process to study, develop and implement a flood control system for the downtown area.
* Develop a “Maintain-a-Drain” Program, which encourages residents to “adopt” a storm drain inlet, checking it regularly to keep out debris within a 10-foot radius. The city would provide guidelines, some supplies, safety vests and access to other city resources as needed.
* Increase emergency preparedness for the wastewater collection system. Maintain emergency supplies outside the flood hazard zone, take erosion protection measures before major storms, and ensure the wastewater treatment plant has sufficient fuel and electricity to remain operational should normal energy services be disrupted.
* Train public works department employees in flood response and coordinate efforts between the fire department and the Benicia Emergency Response Training (BERT) program.
* Incorporate consideration of sea level rise into the city’s capital improvement
program and into the design and funding of infrastructure, in order to ensure that new construction and maintenance or replacement of city facilities and infrastructure are designed and implemented so as to be more resilient to sea level rise and related flooding.
* Coordinate efforts with the community and local businesses. Specifically,
engage with property owners along Sulphur Springs Creek. Share information about
changes in flood events and build support for a unified flood adaptation effort.
The council approved a license agreement for Prop SF company to operate a private ferry service out of the dock at the Alvarez Ninth Street Park launch.
The ferry would serve one San Francisco employer and make stops in Martinez, Benicia and San Francisco. The proposed agreement allows Prop SF to use the 9th Street Boat Launch for free for the first 12 months of operation. During years Two to Five (48 months) Prop SF will
pay $750 per month ($36,000) to use the facility..
One item still open for negotiation is the number of parking spaces at the location that would be reserved for non-ferry park users.
Councilmember Alan Schwartzman pointed out that the service is a free experiment for Benicia to try the idea at no financial risk. He also asked whether the city would retain the right to cancel the license agreement for any reason.
Economic Development Department Manager Mario Giuliani told the council that either party may cancel the agreement with 90 days’ notice.
Councilmember Christina Strawbridge asked if ferry riders would see advertisements for Benicia goods and services, in order to maximize the benefit for the city. Giuliani said the company’s online reservation system would allow for advertising. Mayor Patterson asked if SolTrans were aware of the pending license agreement, and pointed out that SolTrans operates buses and on-demand transit options that could be combined with this or future ferry services. Giiuliani said the city is working on that.
The Benicia Bocce Ball League received four bids out of the ten contractors solicited for expansion of Benicia’s Bocce Ball courts. The low bid, from H. Bray Construction, came in at $293,506, which exceeds the league’s current assets by approximately $75,000, according to the current city staff report.
Councilmembers Schwartzman and Tom Campbell questioned the additional cost. Parks and Community Services Director Mike Dotson explained that since the time of the league’s last request for financial assistance from the city, contractors have seen a marked increase in jobs and so are less inclined to offer lower estimates. He also explained that raising the court surface above existing infrastructure was one of the most expensive items on the task list for the project. The council approved the additional $75,000.
Water re-use project
The council received a report on the status of the city’s wastewater re-use project and approved the adoption of the mitigated negative declaration.
Public Works Director Graham Wadsworth described the project as viable and ultimately profitable for the city. Up to two million gallons of effluent water per day would be treated to specific standards for use by Valero for its cooling tanks and for other city customers, thereby significantly reducing Valero’s need for “raw” water and by extension reducing Benicia’s total fresh water consumption needs by an anticipated 20 to 25 percent. The total cost of the project is estimated to be approximately $27.2 million, according to the city’s staff report. It is anticipated that the project would be funded with a combination of grants, city wastewater connection (impact) fees and funds from Valero. The mitigated negative declaration will allow the city to proceed with applications for grants and loans to fund the project.
Councilmember Schwartzman inquired as to the capacity of the city’s current wastewater treatment plant to handle the additional refining process. He also asked if it might be advisable to ask Valero to treat the water on refinery property. Wadsworth explained that while the Benicia plant is already set up for the process, with minimal amendments to existing equipment, Valero on the other hand would need to create a treatment facility almost from scratch, which would significantly increase the project cost. Additionally, he pointed out, treating the water at the city facility would keep control of the output in Benicia’s hands. Councilmember Campbell asked about the wisdom of investing dollars into the city’s existing plant when, at its current location, it is at risk of inundation from sea level rise. He suggested the entire plant might need to be relocated. Wadsworth pointed out the plant’s flood and erosion control measures and concluded that in the long term, it made more sense to execute those plans for erosion and flood control for the next few decades now, and address the potential need for relocation if and when that scenario becomes more plausible. Wadsworth also indicated that with council approval, staff would pursue project planning that takes sea level rise into consideration.