In the eyes of much of the public, the oldest, largest and highest-profile employer in Richmond is also its most mysterious.
The Chevron Richmond refinery, a local presence older than the city itself, occupies a large chunk of land -- about 2,900 acres -- that is normally closed to the public for safety, security and business reasons.
For the second straight year the refinery is inviting the community to visit the facility at its Community Tour Day on Sept. 10.
Last year's tour brought about 350 people on the grounds for a guided shuttle bus visit (no cameras allowed for safety and security reasons) and a chance to discuss operations. Chevron expects about 500 people to participate this year.
"We definitely had a response from the community that they wanted to keep doing this," said Chevron Richmond communications manager Melissa Ritchie.
"It's a way for people to see behind the gates, since they don't always get to do that."
Just as important from Chevron's perspective, the day is a chance to make its case for the refinery renewal project, upgrade work that was halted in 2009 by a court injunction sought by environmental groups.
Chevron resubmitted an application for the project in May and has had representatives going to community and neighborhood group meetings around Richmond to discuss the project.
According to Chevron, the project "will replace the refinery's existing hydrogen plant with a modern, more energy-efficient facility.
"The project is a significant capital investment to prepare the refinery for the future by replacing older equipment with newer, cleaner technologies to improve operations and conserve energy. The project, when approved, will put 1,000 union workers back to work."
A refinery representative will discuss and answer questions about the project at the community day, Ritchie said.
During the original discussion of the project, "there was a lot of misinformation out there and some people felt we weren't as open as we could be about our plans," Ritchie said.
"We just want to make sure we have a collaborative relationship and dialogue with the community, with stakeholders, with city leaders -- and address any questions they might have," she said.
There is a Thursday deadline to RSVP for the tour by calling 510-242-2000 or going online to http://richmond.chevron.com/home/contact.aspx.
PICNIC IN PINOLE IS SUNDAY: Our item in Wednesday's column about the Art and Wine in the Park event hosted by the Pinole Artisans gave the wrong day. The event is 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at Fernandez Park 595 Tennent Ave. in Old Town Pinole.
RED OAK Move Postponed: The Home Front Film Festival screening on the SS Red Oak Victory last Thursday was the final chance for the community to board the historic ship for a month.
The Red Oak was closed to the public as of Friday, as volunteers ready the World War II victory ship to be towed by two Foss Maritime tugboats to a San Francisco dry dock in early September.
Once there, the Red Oak will undergo the largest single project it has had since it was brought to the Port of Richmond in 1998, as crews clean, repair and paint the hull.
Work will include swapping the current propeller with a replacement and generally getting the ship, which was launched at the Kaiser Richmond shipyard in 1944, back into seaworthy condition.
The project was made possible by a $700,000 grant from the federal Save America's Treasures Grant Program matched by local fundraising and in-kind donations of services.
The move had been planned for this week but was postponed because of the need to dredge around the drydock.
The ship's official welcome-home celebration will be at the Homefront Festival on Oct. 15, said Lois Boyle, president of the Richmond Museum Association.
WEST COUNTY NOTES: The next concert in the quarterly music series at Hope Lutheran Church, 2830 May Road in El Sobrante, is set for 7:30 p.m. Sept. 2. The eclectic concert featuring instrumental and vocal performances by local musicians is free, but donations are requested to help the church in its work establishing community vegetable gardens in needy countries.
Past performances have benefitted other needs such as providing mosquito nets for families in malaria-ridden countries and helping get a source of safe drinking water to families in Africa.
Visitors are welcome and can dine for a small fee. Attendees are also asked to bring excess art supplies for donation or sale to benefit the group's funds. Details: www.pinoleartisans.org.
"Take 5: Art Break Day aims to encourage people to take a momentary break to create free art," according to organizers, and at the garden will be free supplies such as paint brushes, paper, pencils, paints, and crayons available for anyone who wants to take a break and spend some time being creative. Details: www.artismovingnow.com.