Residents who attended a Richmond
town hall meeting one day after a refinery fire cast a black plume of smoke
over their city expressed one emotion toward Chevron: rage.
In a rowdy expression of frustration
and anger, more than 500 residents crowded into Richmond Memorial Auditorium,
where people shouted down Chevron and Contra Costa County public health
officials on hand to answer questions about the accident.
The question asked most often was,
"What are we breathing?" Residents were repeatedly unsatisfied each
time a public health official said inspectors didn't know because they were
still analyzing the data.
For some, the venting and verbal
stoning of Chevron was a much-needed outlet for people who had waited all day
for answers - and in the end were provided few.
General Haymon, 60, a pastor who
lives in Richmond, said the public display was necessary to blow off the steam
of years of accumulated anger toward one of the city's largest employers.
"The more people who show up
and the rowdier they are help get the message across this cannot happen
again," Haymon said. "I don't care how rowdy people get, these guys
have got to get the message."
At times, people jumped on stage to
shout their opinions; a few people were escorted out by police.
Often when Chevron refinery General
Manager Nigel Hearne spoke, he was met with extended boos
and catcalls of "liar!" Residents held signs that read, "How
many more 'accidents'?" and "Chevron out of Richmond."
Michael Bracy, 60, a construction worker, said he
attended the meeting to get answers, but left frustrated by the antics of
"Everyone makes mistakes,"
Bracy said. "Chevron is not God. I'm not mad about this. People need to
calm down and listen to what Chevron has to say."
Chevron's Hearne reiterated an
apology issued by the company.
Truck driver Greg McClain, 47, of Richmond said the oil
company needed to hear out residents' frustrations, and residents needed to do
their part as well.
"This stuff with Chevron has
been going on as long as I remember," he said. "Chevron never seems
to get the message. Chevron has to take a stand. And we, as the people of
Richmond, have to follow this up."
Carolyn Jones and Justin Berton are San Francisco Chronicle staff writers. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org,