Corporations use clout and money to strongarm unpopular, polluting projects through cities

Middletown Neighbors, the group fighting the Middletown Dollar General proposal, will meet Monday, March 4 at 6 p.m. More information can be found at

Sierra Club:

Corporations use clout and money to strongarm unpopular, polluting projects through cities

By Shoshana Hebshi

Sierra Club Redwood Chapter

Communications Coordinator

It’s not a new story by any means, but communities across Redwood Chapter’s region have been feeling a bit bullied by corporations who want to come in with projects that the residents don’t want.

In Petaluma (Sonoma County), Middletown (Lake County) and Vallejo (Solano County), unpopular proposed projects that are bad for the environment and quality of life have tried to weasel their way toward approval by local officials. The corporations behind the projects care little about the impact they would have on residents and local flora and fauna, not to mention air and water quality. They are driven by money and power.

Fortunately, grassroots groups have organized to fight these projects, showing muscle and resolve that is not easily ignored.


In Petaluma, residents of a neighborhood around South McDowell Boulevard are fighting a proposal by Safeway to build an 8-pump, 16-hose gas station within 60 feet of schools and playing fields. The group, No Gas Here, formed in July 2018 just as the project came before the city council after approval from the planning commission.

No Gas Here reached out to Sierra Club for assistance, and Sonoma Group executive committee member Richard Sachen, a Petaluma resident, stepped up to help. He has guided letters to the city council and other communications in opposition to the project. Opponents are urging the city council, if not to flat out reject Safeway’s permit, at least to require an Environmental Impact Report, which Safeway does not want to do.

Greed is destroying our communities.

“Safeway is throwing its weight around,” he said. “They delay, cause extra time and efforts on the part of the city and people like us who are fighting it. There’s always the threat that they will sue, something the city wants to avoid.”

Opponents to the gas station believe it is the wrong project in the wrong location at the wrong time. There are already two other gas stations nearby, the site is too close to schools and playing fields and, with the urgent call to cut greenhouse gas emissions, building new gas stations is simply an irresponsible move. Now that electric vehicles are coming out with greater range and more models and styles, Sachen said there is no good reason to add more gas stations. More important, the toxic fumes and leaks the gas stations emit into the environment are linked to cancer, asthma and emphysema.

“This is an unnecessary evil,” Sachen said. “It’s like building a gas lamp factory after Thomas Edison invented the light bulb.”

Public perception runs 4 to 1 against the gas station, according to a recent Petaluma Argus-Courier readers’ poll. Those who know about the situation, Sachen said, are against it.

The city council will meet again on Monday, March 4 at 6:30 p.m. to take up the issue. Residents are encouraged to come and make their voice heard during public comment period. More information can be found at


Since early 2017, Vallejo residents have been fighting a proposed “green” cement plant and deep water terminal slated for an old flour mill plant adjacent to a neighborhood and school in South Vallejo. Main objections to the development are an increase in heavy truck traffic through the residential neighborhood, its proximity (1,300 feet) from an elementary school where kids and teachers would be inhaling the toxic air pollution being spewed from the plant’s smokestacks and the deep water terminal’s position to ship and process coal. The hubris of the project’s backers – the Irish company Orcem—has been so overt and shocking that opposition leaders, including Sierra Club Solano Group Chair Joe Feller, remain with heels dug in to stop the proposal from moving forward.

“It goes to show how corrupt our system is when an out-of-town financial interest is able to oppose every citizens organization in Vallejo,” Feller said, saying more than 50 local organizations, including the Vallejo Planning Commission and the Chamber of Commerce, have come out against the Orcem deal. “When you stop to look at in that perspective you see how insane this whole set up is. Orcem’s right to make a profit outweighs everyone else’s right.”

Vallejoans would rather see the old mill site turned into a mixed-use area that can be enjoyed by residents. That area was slated to be converted from heavy industry to mixed use zoning with the city’s General Plan update a few years ago, but Feller said Orcem threatened to sue Vallejo if the zoning was changed. So it didn’t happen. “When the city was getting around updating the plan around 2014 we had to leave that section, the mill and surrounding areas, as heavy industry even though it’s totally inappropriate.”

The Vallejo City Council will vote on the project’s Final Environmental Impact Report at its May 14 meeting.  

Dollar General

In Middletown, residents have been working to block the development of a Dollar General store, which they say does not match the character or culture of the small Lake County town.

Dollar General is no stranger to Lake County. In 2015, the Tennessee-based “small box” retailer, which owns 15,000 stores across the country, built a store in Nice, on the north side of Clear Lake, and in Clearlake Oaks, on the east side of the lake. Since then, Dollar General sought out additional locations in Lucerne, Lakeport, Kelseyville, Clear Lake Riviera and Middletown.

Ed Robey, a former Lake County supervisor and longtime Sierra Club activist, said he believes Dollar General wants six or seven stores in Lake County to make it economically viable.

But the residents don’t want the stores. Successful grassroots efforts shut down the proposals in Kelseyville and the Riviera, and Robey said a Middletown group has organized around their successful strategy and is growing to block Dollar General in that town.

“There are different objections from different groups,” he said, “but the one that ties them all together is it doesn’t fit into the community. The community likes locally owned businesses. Dollar General is owned by an out-of-state company, and the profits go there. They don’t have roots in the community.”

Despite the ongoing and widespread public opposition, Robey said he doesn’t think Dollar General will take no for an answer. The company will just keep returning to the county and municipalities with new proposals. “I don’t think Dollar General will ever give up. If they fail in an area like Middletown they’ll come back with a proposal for a smaller store.”

Robey said he hopes Lake County will pass an ordinance to put extra regulations on chain stores to make it harder for them to come in and easier for the towns to retain their local culture and charm.

“That would help countywide, and that’s what I want to promote,” he said.

Middletown Neighbors, the group fighting the Middletown Dollar General proposal, will meet Monday, March 4 at 6 p.m. More information can be found at