The Richmond Progressive Alliance strongly supports increasing funding and expanding programs for youth, children and families in Richmond. We have also been long-time supporters and allies of the organizations in the coalition that is promoting the Kids First initiative that will be on the ballot in November or a followign election.. RPA was not consulted on the wording of the initiative as it was being formulated, but sometime after the signature gathering process was underway, we did have multiple meetings with Kids First coalition members, including inviting them to make a presentation at the RPA Steering Committee.
Because many RPA Steering Committee members had concerns--not with the general spirit of the initiative, which was widely supported--but with the actual language, certain specific aspects and potential unintended consequences, we were unable to reach consensus and hence decided not to take a position as an organization on this initiative.
We received the letter below from one of our members, Mike Parker, who expressed his views as an individual. We welcome additional comments from our members.
Marcos Bañales and Marilyn Langlois
To the RPA Steering Committee
I understand that the RPA has taken no position on the Kids First ballot measure.
I acknowledge that groups that the RPA normally actively works with and supports like RYSE, East Bay Center are actively supporting this initiative and that at this time, the RPA is not supporting it nor is it opposing it.
But I would like to express my views on what is actually a big political issue in this country.
The fundamental motivation behind Kids First is great. There is no question but that priorities in this society are misplaced. We need to be spending more on kids and giving them a future and less on jails, police , and other means to deal with the results of an unjust society. It is far better to spend money to prevent a problem than to try to clean up afterwards.
There are two problems I see with the fine print of Kids First.
1. It does not deal with the priorities squarely. Instead it will end up pitting the needs of kids against the needs of seniors, poor families, recreation and education for adults, improving neighborhoods, roads, street lighting etc. Kids First will require an additional 3% of the general fund to be allocated for its designated activities. In Richmond 70-75% of the General Fund goes to Public Safety. Perhaps another 10% goes to expenditures that cannot be avoided -- insurance, settlements, electricity etc. or is just pass through (like building license processing). There is a general unwillingness to touch the amount budgeted to public safety. Unless this changes that means that 3% of the General Fund is actually more than 20% of the remaining that goes for senior services, recreation, parks, libraries.
That the "Kids First" initiative avoids challenging the untouchability of Police and Fire appropriations therefore pits it against other badly needed services in the city. The initiative might still be of value because, if passed, it would force the city to look hard at priorities especially the "untouchable" ones, but the second problem is a deal-breaker for me.
2. Richmond Kids First essentially copies an ordinance from Oakland. But in Richmond's version someone added this paragraph:
"Entities eligible to receive funding shall be non-profit community-based organizations, including organizations with a non-profit fiscal agent; and public agencies, in partnership with non-profit organizations, that serve children, youth and disconnected transitional-aged young adults. In any fiscal year, public agencies shall not receive, in total, more than 20% of the funding awarded to applicants."
In other words, 70% plus the 10% for administration of this large portion of the budget will be taken from direct public use. Seventy percent of more than four million dollars of current city work will be outsourced. The services will be moved from public control to some form of private control, from union workers to nonunion workers. Services provided by the WCCUSD and Richmond Libraries are explicitly excluded from this money unless they are part of "collaborations" with non-profit organizations. This paragraph effectively privatizes a big proportion of the city budget. In turning over public money and control to non-public organizations, it is analogous to turning education over to charter schools. Unfortunately that may well be exactly what some of the Kids First backers want, --there is a national campaign to privatize and destroy public services. I emphasize "some" --I think most of the backers of Kids First can understand that it is important to strengthen and expand public services not undermine them.
So what is the answer. First, we can work to make sure that where we have options that kids prioritized. For example a big portion of the discretionary funds from the Chevron Community benefits Agreement went to kid oriented projects. Second we can focus on raising more funds for the city so we can expand kid oriented services like libraries, recreation etc. by joining campaigns to close Prop 13 loopholes and taxing the wealthy at the state level and taxing sugary drinks to benefit recreation programs at the local level.