A rendering of a proposed propane tank storage facility in the city of Watsonville.
A rendering of a proposed propane tank storage facility in Watsonville. The project was rejected by city council on Jan. 19, in part because it didn’t align with city environmental goals.
(Courtesy city of Watsonville)
Government

Watsonville rejects propane storage facility, citing environmental, safety concerns

The Watsonville City Council rejected a proposed storage facility for propane tanks after more than a dozen residents spoke out against the project. The developer insists it would have been even safer than a typical gas station.

A proposed propane storage facility in an industrial park on West Beach Street in Watsonville has been rejected by city leaders, who sided with more than a dozen residents who spoke out against the project.

The proposal from Mountain Propane Service, a Santa Cruz County natural gas provider, was straightforward: Convert an empty, triangular 0.7-acre dirt lot at the south end of the industrial park into a place to store 50,000 gallons of propane. Because the site is next to railroad tracks, propane tanks could be transported in and out easily.

But residents and elected officials saw too many potential problems, including how bringing in a fossil fuel-based company would contradict the city’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and also how storing a flammable gas — on a facility about 200 yards from a residential neighborhood — might backfire in the face of more frequent wildfires and other natural disasters.

Richard Kojak, who was proposing the facility, explained in his presentation to the city council Tuesday night how safe the business would be, and that he wanted to use “super-clean-burning” blended fuels in order to reduce the business’ carbon footprint.

“Propane is not considered an explosive. It’s considered a flammable gas,” he said. “This facility is probably more safe than the corner gas station.”

Still, some residents saw the facility as a form of environmental racism because it would be placed in the predominantly Hispanic and Latinx, young and working-class city. The site is also near the Watsonville Slough, a waterway that is a designated ecological reserve.

Kojak and other employees of Mountain Propane insisted the storage facility would be secure and would not cause any environmental harm to the surrounding area.

Because of its location and type, the project was not subject to an environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act. The city council could have asked for an independent environmental review, and Kojak said he would be willing to complete one, but city officials voted instead to deny the project entirely.