Proposed Redwood Valley gas station meets opposition
A proposal to build a ten-pump gas station and convenience store in Redwood Valley is drawing heated criticism from neighbors and environmentalists.
The Faizan Corporation, which owns gas stations all over northern California, is requesting a minor use permit for the station in a strip mall on North State Street at the bottom of the 101 grade between Willits and Redwood Valley.
Last year, the Faizan Corporation had to pay a $500,000 settlement for environmental and business practice violations at gas stations in seven counties, including five in Mendocino County. The corporation and its principal officer, Mahmood Alam, did not have to admit guilt. But in addition to paying the settlement, they were ordered to hire a compliance consultant to ensure that they properly maintain underground storage tanks, leak detection equipment, spill control measures, and other methods to ensure health and safety.
The settlement also addresses accusations that the company violated business practice regulations in Yolo county, including swapping out Weights and Measures seals from old pumps onto new pumps without notifying the proper authorities. Another cause of action in the complaint filed by seven District Attorneys was advertising 89 octane gas as 91, and selling the lower octane product at the price of the higher grade gas.
And in 2019, the California Regional Water Quality Control Board issued a cleanup and abatement order for groundwater contamination and improper disposal of hazardous materials during an excavation at a gas station on Gobbi Street in Ukiah, across the street from a housing development reserved for people who are suffering from mental illness and are homeless or at risk of homelessness. City well #7 was shut down for about a month as a precaution. Michelle Wagenet, a senior civil engineer who supervises the city’s water treatment plant, reported that weekly testing showed that the public well, which is 300 feet deep, was not contaminated.
Don Hess is part of the Grassroots Institute, a citizen group that works to address issues its members believe are most pressing in the community. He’s part of the GRI’s climate crisis work group, which wrote a detailed letter to the Planning Commission outlining its opposition to the gas station proposal for a variety of reasons.
“Sixty-four violations of health and safety codes were charged against this applicant,” he said, though he noted that the permanent injunction did not include an admission of guilt. “The history behind this particular gas station operator, in our mind, does not warrant ability to build another gas station…Approval of this new gas station flies in the face of the county’s 2020 Climate Emergency Declaration, which calls for a just transition away from fossil fuels.” He added that “The history of gas station construction is that they typically are placed in neighborhoods that are not wealthy, that typically are poor neighborhoods, so people who are economically at a disadvantage have to suffer the consequences of these gas stations in their neighborhoods. So, yeah, I think that that’s a real issue that also needs to be considered here.”
He doesn’t want new stations in any part of the county. “We’ve studied the numbers that are put out by the California Energy Commission, in terms of the number of gas stations in each county,” he said. “And if you look at it by population, Mendocino County has twice as many gas stations as Sonoma County. We really feel there is an adequate number of gas stations here already, and we don’t want to touch those. Those would remain operational. But we do feel that there is absolutely no need for any new gas stations.”
Public opinion against the proposed gas station in Redwood Valley has been ongoing since 2016, when Faizan Corporation applied for and received a minor use permit for a smaller, six pump station and convenience store at the same location. That permit expired in 2018. The Redwood Valley Municipal Advisory Council, which formed amid fears that Dollar General would set up shop in the middle of town, expressed concerns about alcohol sales and traffic safety.
And in January of last year, the MAC voted unanimously to recommend denial of the latest iteration of the project, citing a lack of demand, with the nearby Coyote Valley gas station, a need for electric vehicle charging stations, and worries about truckers leaning on their air brakes at the bottom of the grade in order to slow down to get into the station.
The median on Highway 101 near the strip mall is open, allowing for left turn lanes from southbound, or downhill, traffic. Caltrans has requested that the county condition approval of the project with a median closure. This would shut off easy access to the business by southbound traffic. Caltrans, fearing that more motorists would turn left to get into the gas station, wrote that, “Due to the prevailing freeway speeds along US 101 at this location, any collision runs the risk of being a high-severity or fatal collision.”
With a new station relying solely on northbound traffic, Hess fears the long term consequences if it goes out of business. “When a gas station closes, then the question is, who’s going to clean it up?” he asked. “Does the owner have enough money to clean the gas station up, or is it the public? So a brownfield site is a site that cannot be developed again, and that’s what we’re concerned about. We don’t want any more failed gas stations or potential brownfield sites that need to be cleaned up, sometimes with public money, in Mendocino County.”
For Hess, denying this gas station would be a step towards a larger goal. “The Grassroots Institute and the climate crisis work group doesn’t really want to fight each new gas station proposal as it comes before the Planning Commission,” he said. “We want the county to pass an ordinance that will prohibit any new gas station construction in Mendocino County, similar to what has been done in Sonoma County.”
The Planning Commission is scheduled to hear this topic at its meeting on Thursday, December 7th at 10 am.