The shadow of the controversial Phillips 66 rail extension project loomed over the Grover Beach City Council’s Aug. 3 meeting, as three of its members agreed to discuss rail safety.
Mayor John Shoals and two City Council members agreed to place the discussion on the agenda for the council’s Sept. 21 meeting. The decision came after several individuals spoke against the rail spur during the meeting’s public comment period.
“We want you to know that we’ve been listening,” Shoals said.
The project, which would add a rail terminal and tracks to an existing rail spur on the company’s Nipomo property, will enable Phillips 66 to transport crude oil to its Santa Maria refinery by rail. The project is drawing heavy criticism from some area residents, who fear that it would place cities and their citizens in danger should the trains crash or explode. Concerned activists have made appearances at several meetings of governmental bodies in San Luis Obispo, Pismo Beach, and Arroyo Grande.
“There’s very little benefit to the citizens, and even the businesses are at risk,” Greg Gazin told the council members.
At the meeting, Shoals acknowledged the rail project was a safety issue, but was also quick to point out that the discussion would be about the general topic of rail safety.
“That would include some of the topics discussed by this council,” he said.
Laurance Shinderman, a member of the Mesa Refinery Watch Group, told New Times that the organization’s members were lobbying hard to get cities like Grover to agendize discussion about the rail spur project.
“Grover Beach, Arroyo Grande, and Pismo Beach were very reticent to do anything,” he said. “So we really tired to keep the pressure on them.”
Shinderman said that with the Grover council’s decision, all three cities now had some form of discussion related to the project set for agendas in September. However, he noted that safety was only one of the concerns residents have about the project.
“It’s not just about rail safety, it’s about the pollution the project will bring to the area,” he said. “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
The Grover Beach council also addressed another bit of Phillips 66-realted business at the meeting. The council held the first reading of an ordinance to renew a pipeline franchise agreement between Phillips 66 and the city. The agreement covers any pipeline that exists within the city’s right-of-way. A second reading and public hearing for the agreement is slated for the city’s Sept. 21 meeting.