Open Letter from Dan Wolk on Crude Oil Transport


Editor’s note: The following letter was submitted to the Vanguard by Mayor Pro Tem Dan Wolk.  He wanted to be clear he was writing the letter as an individual Councilmember, and not speaking on behalf of the Davis City Council or the City of Davis.  In late January, more than fifty people attended the Davis Natural Resources Commission meeting expressing their concern about the transportation of crude oil by rail through Davis.  On February 3, Lynne Nittler co-authored a piece in the Vanguard on this issue.

February 12, 2014
The Honorable Mayor Elizabeth Patterson
City of Benicia
250 East L Street
Benicia, California  94510

Dear Mayor Patterson:

I am writing to express my and my constituents’ serious concerns over the proposed upgrading of the rail terminal at the Valero refinery to take in as much as 70,000 barrels of crude oil a day.  I should make clear that I am writing this as an individual Councilmember; I am not speaking for the City Council or the City of Davis.

The proposed upgrade would substantially increase the amount of crude oil passing through our community and others along the rail line each day, with much of that oil coming from the Bakken Shale in North Dakota.  This oil appears to be more explosive, as demonstrated by the tragic accident in the town of Lac-Megantic, Quebec, last year which killed 47 people when a train carrying such oil derailed.

In both a literal and figurative sense, that rail line runs through the heart of our community.  I myself commute along this same rail line to and from my “day job” as a Deputy County Counsel for Solano County.  The thought of 100 tank cars full of Bakken Shale oil running through our community each day is absolutely disconcerting.  A similar accident in Davis as the one in Quebec would likely produce even more catastrophic results, in terms of loss of life and the destruction of our downtown.

I am currently exploring with a number of others what options our community and other “up line” communities have, recognizing that some measures, including requiring safer rail cars, are beyond our authority.  In the meanwhile I wanted to share the above concerns with you.

I look forward to speaking with you more about this project and I look forward to reviewing the draft EIR.


Dan Wolk

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. hpierce

    The condition of the track infrastructure, not the design of ‘tanker cars’, should, in my informed opinion, be the serious concern, locally, state, and for the nation. The track infrastructure gets in the way of us fully utilizing one of the most efficient transportation modes to serve the transport of people and goods.

    Can’t recall one serious incident where the primary factor was NOT the condition of the track infrastructure, or ‘operator error’, and the latter has been the primary factor in a minority of those incidents.

    1. Tia Will


      When thinking of safety, as I frequently do as a doc, I think it is important to address all factors. I agree that track conditions and operator error are two major concerns, however, I would not discount the importance of using the safest equipment ( in this case tanker cars) possible in case a problem does arise.

      The analogous situation in my mind would be before I operate I need to ensure that the major infrastructure ( the anesthesiologists equipment) is in working order and that I have the technical knowledge, experience and am in a mindset ( not tipsy or fatigued) to do the case. However, I also need to really pay attention to what would seem to be “minor factors” such as only using needles with needle guards to protect the scrub tech and nurses working with me from incidental sticks.

      Do you see a downside to ensuring the safest design of tanker car is being employed as well as track and operator issues or were you commenting only on the relative priority of confers rather than dismissing any as inconsequential ?

      1. hpierce

        In my opinon, if you don’t deal with the tracks and the operators first, trying to spend all available resources on the tanker cars, would result in a pyrric victory, at best. My priorty would place the tanker cars in third place.

        Would you place the world’s best sutures and bandaids as a priority above great medical equipment/facilities, and competent physicians?

        1. hpierce

          My bad.. missed one of Tia’s posts. We are in agreement about needing to address all elements… then it comes down to priorities, given the lack of infinite resources.

        2. Tia Will

          The sutures “yes”. If those fall apart before the tissue is fully healed all of the fancy equipment and surgical skill in the world will not matter.

          The band aides not so much.

          My purpose is not to be flip, but to point out that even the small appearing items and details can make all the difference and cannot be considered with lesser care than is payed to the obvious “big ticket” items.

          1. Tia Will


            We do seem to have gotten out of sync on our comments. My overall impression is that we are probably in agreement much more than our exchange would have implied.

          2. hpierce

            I think we should improve the infrastructure, ensure the competency of the operators, and improve the quality of the ‘rolling stock’… would prioritize the infrastructure @ 90 %, and split the rest over the other two.

            Tia, we may disagree in details, but suspect we are not that different. Something we should think about in all of our relationships.

          3. Jim Frame

            would prioritize the infrastructure @ 90 %, and split the rest over the other two.

            I’m not sure there’s a need to prioritize between rails and cars. They have different owners (UPRR owns the tracks, various private entities own the cars), so I’d hit them both at the same time.

  2. Tia Will

    I am very pleased to see that Dan Wolk and David are proactively keeping this issue in public view. I am seeing a tendency on various threads to place financier/economic issues above all else. My view is that a prosperous community will be one which maintains vigilance with regard to financial, health, safety, and environmental threats and opportunities. It is the interplay of all factors that makes a community strong.

  3. Day Man

    I think it’s an important issue and I’m glad Dan is paying attention to it, but it’s kind of a weird letter. Doesn’t ask anything of the recipient, and doesn’t propose any ideas or solutions. Don’t see what it’s supposed to accomplish.

    1. Tia Will

      Day Man

      I had the same reaction initially. On further consideration, it may be that this was an opener to set the stage for conversation rather than throwing down a perceived gauntlet to another public official.

    2. Day Man

      And great if so – I’m all for opening conversations. But a public letter in a Davis-centric forum (the Vanguard) seems like an odd way to do it. I’ve met Mayor Patterson, and she’s an incredibly warm, welcoming person. Picking up the phone and calling her, or writing an email, would be an easy way to get the conversation started. Public figures write “open letters” to make a public point (often to shame the recipient, which clearly isn’t the case here). So what’s the public point here? It just feels like political posturing to me.

      1. Matt Williams

        I suspect (but don’t know for a fact) that Dan’s letter was sent directly to Mayor Patterson as well.

        Communicating with one’s constituents in an open, transparent way is never a bad idea. Dan appears to be doing that in this case.

  4. Nancy Price

    And, what about a clear statement from Dan and the CC in keeping with CA’s AB 32 on climate and global warming that we must transition now from dirty fuels to clean, renewable energy. We must transition because oil and natural gas driling/fracking is ruinous to the environment and produces (carbon and methane) global warming gases, uses and pollutes bilions of gallons of much needed fresh water resources, and much of the coal, oil and LNG produced now is for export, yes – export to South Korea, Japan and China. Forget about the false claims of national energy security and independence – it is economics driving those trains to the highest bidders…it is profit now and pay the piper later.

    Take a look a The Global Climate Convergence for their program:
    Earth Day to May Day – 10 Days to Change. Let’s organize activities in Davis. Time to challenge business as usual.

    1. hpierce

      Until folks find a way to solar/wind power for locomotives which carry 100+ cars of freight, rail is stlll more friendly to the environment than cars or trucks. Wonder if you are completely ‘carbon-neutral’, make no profit from your undertakings, investments, etc.

      1. Jim Frame

        I’m always impressed when I hear the rail industry ads saying that you can move a ton of freight over 400 miles on a gallon of fuel. That’s about 4 times the fuel efficiency of trucks.

  5. Davisite2

    ” Don’t see what it’s supposed to accomplish.”

    …… NOTHING other than a rather obvious and meaningless attempt to burnishing Dan Wolk’s environmental “credentials” with Davis voters .

    1. Matt Williams

      Davisite2, if Dan’s only delivery point for this letter is here in the Vanguard, then I agree with you 100%. If, on the other hand, he also sent the letter to Mayor Patterson, then he is simply communication his message to multiple audiences, and thererby keeping his constituents informed.

      I met yesterday with a Rancho Yolo resident who was very concerned about this issue, and wanted to be sure we were doing everything possible that we can. Without Dan’s submission of his letter to the Vanguard, she would not know that he had taken this step. I’m sure she would tell you that she appreciates Dan’s actions on the community’s behalf in this instance.

      Although this issue clearly has a significant environmental component, I would say that the public safety component dwarfs the environmental component.

  6. Pingback: Open Letter: Davis Mayor Pro Tem Dan Wolk to Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson | The Benicia Independent

  7. robert livesay

    Mr. Wolk says he is writing “to express my and my constituents’ serious concerns”. Then identifies himself as a council member. He is not speaking as an individual council member he is speaking on behalf of the Council and City that elected him. Does the name Wolk sound familiar? Figure it out. He has a proper setting to speak about this at council meetings and can also put it on the agenda. He has taken it upon himself to then send A letter to the mayor of Benicia. She is very anti fossil fuel and for sure Valero. He had an audience and then the Benicia “Local Citizen Research Reporter” Will Gregory made a comment on-line at the Benicia Herald. I believe in freedom of speech put I do not believe in taking advANTAGE of your elected nonpartisan position to speak out. He must by mnow understand the open government andBrown ACT

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