REFINERY TOWN by Steve Early


Big Oil, Big Money, and the Remaking of an American City
Email this review


In Richmond, California, overlooking scenic San Francisco Bay, is a company town bankrolled by Chevron. A resident reports, in some detail, on his town’s fraught governance.

Labor activist and journalist Early (Save Our Unions, 2013, etc.) moved to Richmond in 2012 and soon became intrigued with the largely nonwhite community’s municipal life. Naturally, Chevron took a large part in the electoral process. Yet there was an active left-of-center cadre in opposition to the influence of the refinery and other powerful interests. For example, the Richmond Progressive Alliance, in a fight with big soda, endeavored to tax soft drinks to promote good health, and the creation of casinos in the town was halted. To prevent the foreclosure of homes financially underwater after the Great Recession, the Alliance proposed the use of governmental eminent domain. Fair housing was often the topic of town council battles. It seemed, according to Early’s account, a Manichaean fight. The forces of good were led by an admirable mayor, the Green Party’s Gayle McLaughlin. On behalf of her town, she engaged in foreign relations with Ecuador. (McLaughlin is writing a book of her own.) The author also admired the effective and efficient police chief, Chris Magnus. Early suspensefully chronicles the town’s 2014 political campaign. Spoiler alert: the good guys won, but the Frank Capra–like script took a turn, and the new mayor proved disappointing to his former friends. Early’s ongoing study of community action is, assuredly, not objective, and his earnest text is marred somewhat by an excess of acronyms—e.g., “but all of them—the CSB, DOT, EPA, Cal-OSHA and BAAQMD—proceed at a snail’s pace.” Otherwise quite accessible, the story remains focused on one municipality, as wide-ranging lessons are scanted while the text progresses.

A specific tale of governance at the local level that should appeal to labor activists and scholars of urban studies.

Pub Date: Jan. 17th, 2017
ISBN: 978-0-8070-9426-6
Page count: 248pp
Publisher: Beacon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 2016


NonfictionSODA POLITICS by Marion Nestle
by Marion Nestle
NonfictionTHE WELL-TEMPERED CITY by Jonathan F.P. Rose
by Jonathan F. P. Rose