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ISSUES | City Government

In Honor of Gayle McLaughlin's 8 Years as Mayor

Celebrating Grassroots Democracy

A crowd of supporters and friends gathered at the Grace Lutheran Church Hall on Sunday, 2/22, in celebration and thanks for Gayle McLaughlin's 8 years of service as the Mayor of Richmond.

Gayle and her husband Paul Kilkenny were honored with a Laotian Baci ceremony for good fortune, connection, and appreciation. Saffron Strand's crew provided a delicious light supper and wonderful service. And Sonidos Progresivos (Progressive Sounds) made music before and after the program. Much of the success of the event is due to the great planning of Marilyn Langlois and her helpers.

The speakers all noted how much Gayle's steadfast courage, her willingness "to be there for them"—whether or not the press was present—and her sustained encouragement and support had enabled them to contribute to making Richmond better in a multitude of ways.

The event was also a fundraiser to support Gayle as she writes her book, Against All Odds: A Decade of Progress in Richmond. There's no big advance for this work, which Gayle envisions as a handbook for those in other communities, working to restore grassroots democracy. If you'd like to make a (tax deductible) contribution, please write checks to Gayle's fiscal sponsor: Praxis Peace Institute (include "Book Project" in the memo section of the check), and mail them to: Richmond Book Project / PO Box 5284 / Richmond, CA 94805.

Northern California Society of Professional Journalists

Staci Plummer Wins Whistleblower Award

Stacie Plummer On Bullying, Corruption And The City Of Richmond, from a 2013 Conference

Earlier in February, the Northern California Society of Professional Journalists Freedom of Information Committee announced the winners for its 2015 James Madison Freedom of Information Award. Staci Plummer, a Richmond city employee now at the Library, is one of two recipients of the Whistleblower Award. She exposed wrongdoing in her city government, publicly revealing in 2013 that Richmond's Assistant Manager was running a gift-basket business from city hall and otherwise abusing her position. Eventually, Leslie Knight was forced to accept retirement, and Plummer has remained an advocate for more transparency in Richmond. In fact, she was at last Tuesday's council meeting, speaking out against bond funding and in support of city union jobs as street repair choices are debated.

The award will be presented at 30th Annual awards dinner on March 12, 2015 at the San Francisco City Club. Congratulations and thanks, Staci!

RPA Steering Committee Statement, 2/13

City Council Appointment

The Richmond Progressive Alliance takes the matter of filling the Richmond City Council vacancy very seriously and has given a lot of time to interviewing candidates and discussion. While there are many fine people who have put themselves forward for this office, only one can be selected. Our preference is based on several considerations, which we will outline below.

Clearing the Air

Before we outline these considerations, we feel that it is important to comment on the current discussion that is taking place. We regret that the discussion has turned from a serious discussion of who will best meet the needs of Richmond into a debate about the Richmond Progressive Alliance. We feel it is important to respond to some of these issues.

  1. Three candidates—Gayle McLaughlin, Jovanka Beckles, and Eduardo Martinez (Team Richmond)—won last November's election against very serious, well-funded opposition and an expensive negative attack campaign. They were supported by the Progressive Alliance and others, but they make their own decisions. Their positions should be treated with respect.
  2. The idea that the Richmond Progressive Alliance discusses each of the issues that come to the council and determines the position councilmembers take is totally false. The reality is that the Progressive Alliance discusses very few matters that come to the council. Discussions focus largely on big issues, such as affordable housing or the minimum wage, and on how we can work with the city council and other groups in the city to bring about change in these areas. Our positions on these issues are made public.
  3. Councilmembers who are Richmond Progressive Alliance members make up their own minds on how to vote after looking to the community for input.
  4. The Progressive Alliance has a long history of collaborating with others to achieve unity and move Richmond forward. Two years ago the Progressive Alliance councilmembers who had been supporting runner-up Eduardo Martinez agreed to appoint Jael Myrick. In the fall of 2013, we offered to support Tom Butt for mayor. He declined, and in February 2014 we decided to run Mike Parker as a progressive alternative. In August, when Tom entered the race at the last minute, Mike Parker agreed to withdraw so as not to divide the progressive vote. The Richmond Progressive Alliance has consistently put the interests of Richmond first.
  5. Membership in the Richmond Progressive Alliance is open to anyone who believes in progressive values and the idea that the only way to challenge the obscene and unfair influence of corporate America on our politics is to organize independently to challenge that power.

Considerations for Filling the Vacancy

  • Does the candidate have progressive values on issues of urban development, immigration, racism, minimum wage, housing, environment, labor rights, grassroots democracy, sustainability, andPt. Molate development?
  • Does the candidate improve the diversity of the council so it is more responsive to the needs of Richmond?

The Council Decision

Adherence to the Brown Act means that councilmembers cannot all discuss this issue with every other councilmember except at council meetings. This means that a decision of such importance may take several meetings, or it may require a special election. Everyone would like to avoid a special election if possible, but the primary focus should be on making ours a council that can address the serious issues facing Richmond.

We support Marilyn Langlois because we believe she is the best candidate for the job at this time. We fought hard for her and made the best case we could. We offered to have discussions with councilmembers on procedures that might solve their fears about "bloc voting." We tried to convince councilmembers to support Marilyn. That is democracy. When it became clear to us that we could not move other councilmembers, many of us urged support for another candidate, Claudia Jimenez, who is not a Progressive Alliance member and who would add important diversity (geographic, gender, cultural, and age) to the council. We had good reason to believe she was acceptable to other members of the council. At the last minute this turned out to not be the case.

Letter to the SF Chronicle

RPA Requests Retraction

by Mike Parker, for the RPA

Chip Johnson's column of February 9 is built around a completely false statement: "Richmond Progressive Alliance members, who carry forward decisions made by a steering committee, don't have the authority to compromise on proposals without checking with their membership first."

His source for this non-fact is not stated, but we know he has consulted none of the Council members who belong to the Progressive Alliance nor any member of the RPA Steering Committee. This non-fact is being circulated widely in Richmond by people who oppose the RPA.

The reality is that the Progressive Alliance discusses very few matters that come to the Council. Discussions focus largely on big issues, such as affordable housing or the minimum wage, and on how we can work with the city council and other groups in the city to bring about change in these areas. Our positions on these issues are made public. Council members supported by the RPA make their own decisions after getting input from a wide number of sources.

Nor is his description of Marilyn Langlois correct. She is known in Richmond for her hard work and abilities to bring people together to unify and improve the city. Instead Chip quotes from 2012 hit-piece mailers funded by Chevron.

We deserve fairer treatment. We are a grass roots organization without a PR firm to respond to false accusations. We have just beaten an extremely well-funded attack in the election, but the attacks continue behind the scenes. Richmond is a small city, but at least for now it is a place where major local and national issues are being played out.

The Richmond Progressive Alliance requests the following:

  1. A retraction/correction by Chip Johnson.
  2. An op-ed piece where we can explain the Richmond Progressive Alliance and Richmond politics.
  3. A meeting with the editors of the Chronicle so they can better understand what is happening in Richmond and the importance of accurate reporting.

Update: The Chronicle printed this retraction on Feb. 18: "Chip Johnson's On the East Bay column on politics in Richmond mischaracterized the Richmond Progressive Alliance. The political group has no rule requiring its members on the City Council to clear their votes with the broader membership."

Analysis from an RPA Stalwart

On the Vacant Council Seat

by Tarnel Abbott

At the City Council meeting of Tuesday, February 10, 2013 there was no resolution as to who would win appointment to fill the council seat vacated when Tom Butt became Mayor. Four members of the City Council are required to make the appointment by March 13, 2015 or a special election must be held (probably in November of this year).

Of the field of 18 applicants those nominated and receiving a second were: Ben Choi, Rosemary Corbin, Raquel Donoso, Claudia Jimenez, Sheryl Lane, Marilyn Langlois and Kate Sibley. Although none of them received enough votes to be appointed, this is only round one in a process that will make everyone uncomfortable for its duration.

In a factually inaccurate and provocative editorial in the SF Chronicle of 2/10/15, Chip Johnson attempted to sully the name of the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA), council members Beckles, McLaughlin, Martinez and candidate Marilyn Langlois. Mayor Butt proceeded to promulgate this misinformation by sending it out on his widely read e-Forum.

To set the record straight on the Chip Johnson hit piece: Council members McLaughlin, Beckles and Martinez make their own decisions when they act as council members. They may seek the advice of RPA members but are not obliged to seek their approval. The RPA Steering Committee meets monthly and rarely discusses council business.  For obvious reasons, the issue of the vacant council seat was discussed, but at no time were there four council members involved in the discussion, which would have constituted a Brown Act violation.  Erring on the side of extreme caution in this regard, Councilman Martinez has not and will not attend any meeting where the vacancy is discussed. Johnson's hit piece was pumped and timed to try to cut off any support for RPA supported candidate Langlois. Mr. Johnson made no attempt to ascertain the facts before deciding to do a favor for Mayor Butt.

The bigger question is, why are Mayor Butt and Councilmember Jael Myrick so dead set against appointing Marilyn Langlois? After all, they have decided to consider themselves "progressives" and their success at the polls in November was in no little part due to the work of the Team Richmond campaign.  Months before he joined the City Council race as a mayoral candidate, members of the RPA asked Mr. Butt if he would run so as not to just give the position to Chevron friendly Councilmember Bates. Mr. Butt allowed many to believe that his support for Team Richmond was sincere. He allowed people to think that if Team Richmond Mayoral Candidate Mike Parker withdrew from the race so as not to "split the progressive vote" that as mayor, he (Butt) would be an ally. Parker's sacrifice by doing just this, when just before the filing deadline Butt decided to run for mayor, was a decisive boost for Butt's last minute campaign. It should also be remembered that in 2012 when faced with an appointment decision, RPA councilmembers supported the appointment of Jael Myrick.

At the Council meeting of February 10, Council member Myrick stated that he would not support Langlois: "If so much power is going to be concentrated in one organization [the RPA], I think it needs to be done through an election."

The implication is that there is a cabal, which dictates and controls the councilmembers, which it supports and that said council members would vote as a bloc in lock step. History has shown that the RPA councilmembers frequently disagree and do not vote the same way, even as recently as the last two regular city council meetings.

By voting for dedicated community organizer Claudia Jimenez, who is not a member of the RPA, for the vacant council seat, Councilmembers McLaughlin, Beckles and Martinez demonstrated their willingness to embrace an "outsider" because they respect Claudia Jimenez for her values and commitment to grassroots democracy. Apparently this was enough to deny her votes by the other council members. Let's hope they can be more flexible in their thinking.

Nor is this about Marilyn Langlois being "too radical".  She is strong, intelligent and dedicated to serving the interests of the people of Richmond.  It is possible that Butt and Myrick feel threatened by this. Perhaps Mayor Butt has something to gain by passing amendments to the General Plan and thinks that one of the other candidates might more easily be persuaded to vote with him. Perhaps the prospect of "pet projects" not always winning is irksome to him. Council member Myrick seems to be taking his cues from the Mayor, perhaps he thinks that political relevancy lies that way. Mayor Butt and Councilmember Myrick should remember that it was the people of Richmond who elected "RPA candidates" and those who they supported.

Letter to the Editor

SF Chronicle Distorts Vacant Seat Debate

by Daniel Goodwin

Chip Johnson's column ("Vacant seat divides Richmond council," 2/10) bends the facts in portraying the issue of the vacant council seat as a contest between RPA members and three "independent" councilmembers. It's the RPA councilmembers who are truly independent, accepting no corporate contributions.

Anybody who thinks you can tell councilmembers McLaughlin, Beckles, and Martinez what to do hasn't spent much time talking with them. Johnson falsely alleges that they get their marching orders from the RPA steering committee. RPA councilmembers make decisions based on their own understanding of community values. The record shows they do not "vote as a bloc."

I have served on the RPA steering committee since the election. We routinely avoid votes on council business, to eschew any possibility that our deliberations might be construed as constraints on the decisions and negotiations of elected officials. Johnson has it completely backwards. The RPA is explicitly committed to open decision-making and community input.

Update: The Chronicle has not printed this, or any other letter challenging Johnson's smears.

Options for Funding Street Repairs

To Borrow or Not to Borrow?

by Marilyn Langlois

Massive street repair program in Richmond over the next five years? Who wouldn't want that?! But, as is often the case, the devil is in the details.

In November, Richmond voters approved Measure U, a ½% sales tax increase that is estimated to bring an additional $7.5 million in revenue each year to the City. The City Council has indicated that it would like to dedicate half of that—$3.75 million—towards street repair each year. Staff had done some study about the possibility of issuing 30 year bonds (i.e., borrowing money) to do much-needed street repair now and use half of the Measure U revenues to make the annual principal-plus-interest payments on the debt. In the short term, it seemed like a real win-win solution, but following public requests for a longer-term analysis that was presented to the City Council on Jan. 27, a lurking poison pill emerged.

Staff analyzed four scenarios and recommended 3A:

  • 1. Use no Measure U revenues at all for street repair (status quo).
  • 2. Don't go into debt and use half of Measure U revenues—$3.75 million—along with our existing gas tax revenues of $2.5 million to spend $6.25 million annually over the long-term on street repair and maintenance (pay as you go).
  • 3A. Go $44 million into debt for 30 years (issuing bonds) and use it as follows: $36.2M during the coming 5 years for street repairs, $0.8M for one-time financing costs, $4M for "gateways" (street enhancement on major corridors), $0.6M for public art, and $2.8M to provide the matching funds required for other grant-funded projects. Over the long-term we'd have the existing $2.5M from the gas tax plus $1.1M from Measure U, totaling $3.6M annually for street repair, with $2.65M annually from Measure U being paid for 30 years for debt service.
  • 3B. Go $63 million into debt for 30 years (issuing bonds) and use it as follows: $54.4M during the coming 5 years for street repairs, $1M for one-time financing costs, $4M for "gateways" (street enhancement on major corridors), $1M for public art, and $2.8M to provide the matching funds required for other grant-funded projects. Over the long-term we'd have only the existing $2.5M gas tax each year for street repair, with $3.75M annually from Measure U being paid 30 years for debt service.

Strategies 3A and 3B would have more benefits in the short term (5-10 years from now), but would put us in a worse situation 20 and 30 years down the road when funds for ongoing maintenance dry up, as evidenced from the two graphs showing projected differences in PCI (Pavement Condition Index) and remaining deferred maintenance over time. The pay as you go strategy appears to be more beneficial in the long haul (think of our children and grandchildren).

Graphics from Richmond City Council agenda packet, prepared by City staff

Strategies 3A and 3B (City borrowing either $44 or $63 million) would both
require significant interest payments to financial institutions ($36 million or $48.5 million over 30 years, respectively), nearly doubling the total amount of money needing to be repaid, whereas pay as you go would provide a steady source of income dedicated to street repair and no need for interest payments at all. Generally speaking, it's considered reasonable to go into debt for major capital improvements (like remodeling Civic Center) but not for maintenance.

Pay as you go offers the opportunity for an increase in sustainable, long-term good local jobs (perhaps even putting them all in the City's Public Works Dept.!) for street repair. Strategies 3A and 3B, on the other hand, would create a larger number of jobs (likely with more going to non-Richmonders) in the short term, but all those jobs would disappear in five years.

Pay as you go allows for slower but steady and more sustainable improvement of our city streets with only a brief and minimal dip in 5 years, followed by steady improvement. Strategies 3A and 3B would have improvements that spike in 5 years and then descend to well below the current status 20 and 30 years from now.

With pay as you go, we could be more flexible with how we spend the money—using more some years if we're able and there's a specific need, or holding back if there's another financial crisis. We could also use some of the remaining half of Measure U revenues for added street repair in the first few years. With 3A and 3B, we have to make those interest payments to banks no matter what.

All that said, it's also clear that the public wants to see more up-front improvements than pay as you go would allow. Therefore, at Council member McLaughlin's urging, the Council has asked staff to bring back further analysis of a scenario with only $22 of debt, in order to have at least some additional funds now to repair the worst streets that are failing. If we go this way, priority should be given to failing streets in the lowest income neighborhoods.

Another option to consider would be a smaller amount of debt financed over 15 instead of 30 years, which would lower the overall interest payment and allow for spending the full half of Measure U revenues for street maintenance each year after 15 years, at a time when it will be badly needed.

A word on "gateways," public art and grant-funded projects: Providing the $2.8 million in matching funds for the grant funded projects should be a priority, and could be paid over 3 years with $0.9 million per year from Measure U or reduced bond proceeds (possibly even from the other half of U revenues, since only half of the $7.5 in annual Measure U funds are currently being earmarked for street repair). These grant-funded projects total over $12 million in improvements, including bike lanes on Carlson between Bayview and Broadway, completing the gap between the Richmond Greenway and San Pablo Avenue, and several others.

Public art by law is included as a small percentage of any capital improvement projects, and so some amount of that will happen no matter what.

"Gateways" would be very nice to have, but it's questionable whether it's worth going into debt for them. For such one-time capital intensive streetscape improvements, public or private grant funds are often available.

In the bigger picture, who knows what the situation of street usage and transportation will look like 20 years from now? Maybe there will be better paving materials developed, or maybe gasoline powered cars will be phasing out, or maybe vehicles will be lighter, or more and better public transit will be entering the scene. With pay as you go or a lower debt load, we can adapt to all these evolving situations as they arise. By going deeper into debt ($44 or $63 million), we'd be locking ourselves into current street paving technology for a relatively short term benefit.

The ACLU is Smart about Surveillance

Momentum Builds for Local Privacy Laws

Gene Hackman in The Conversation

by Daniel Goodwin

Super-secret Stingrays, which masquerade as cell-phone towers to scoop up all mobile communications, hundreds of thousands of automated license-plate readings to recover just one stolen vehicle, and security spooks surveilling their girlfriends—these are just a few of the abuses and follies we suffer in the Mass Surveillance State. Nationwide, untold billions are wasted on ineffective technologies, while our "right to be left alone" is shattered.

The ACLU has devised a brilliant strategy to restore democracy, one city or county at a time. Their plan is outlined in a new report, with model legislation to require community approval and yearly audits of all local surveillance programs. From the report's conclusion:

"Communities increasingly understand the need to make smart choices about surveillance technology and ensure that time, energy, and resources are not spent on systems that cost more, do less, and have a greater impact on the rights of community members than you expect. And following public outcry about NSA spying and the use of military equipment by local police, community members demand—and deserve—both a voice in any decision to deploy surveillance technology and reassurance that robust safeguards and public oversight will be in place if surveillance is going to be used."

The Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Jose Mercury News, San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos, Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian, and the RPA have endorsed this local approach to surveillance oversight.

For more information, see the ACLU's Smart About Surveillance webpage. Also see Oakland Poised to Lead in Protecting Privacy in the current East Bay Express.

Poll of Richmond Voters Shows Strong Support for RPA

RPA Favored for City Council Vacancy

Eduardo Martinez just received the results of a poll conducted soon after the November election, designed to be representative of Richmond's voters. It was done by Voter Technology for the Richmond Small Business Association.

When asked whom they favored to fill the council seat that will become vacant when Tom Butt becomes mayor, Richmond voters supported another RPA member over "someone more moderate" (in the poll's loaded phrasing) by 62% to 38%.

This confirms that the Team Richmond sweep was not only a rejection of Chevron's candidates and negative campaigning, but also a genuine victory for the values and positions of the Richmond Progressive Alliance.

There are other interesting questions in the full poll results, ranging from shoreline development to medical marijuana manufacturing, with a breakdown of findings by geographical zones as well as composite data.

The Ribbon’s been Cut & Now It’s Official

Richmond Municipal ID Cards Available

At the reception Tuesday morning, Sept. 30th, Mayor McLaughlin said: "We want to make sure that no resident in our city goes without the banking accounts, the leases, the library cards that make every day possible, simply because they lack identification."

The new ID card program combines valid photo identification with a pre-paid MasterCard ATM debit card option. It is designed to reduce some of the barriers often encountered by homeless residents, immigrants, seniors, youth, and those re-entering the community after being incarcerated, due to their lack of a valid ID or access to banking services.

"The community organized way back in 2008 -- it's been a long time coming and that's why so many of us are so happy it's finally here," said Vice Mayor Jovanka Beckles, who had sponsored the ordinance creating the card program.

Applications will be accepted starting October 15th at an office in Grace Lutheran Church, 2369 Barrett Ave., Richmond CA.  Interested residents can get more information or schedule an appointment here. Walk-ins are also welcomed.

Public Speaks Out in Support of Jovanka Beckles

City Council Tackles Disruptions

Some of them drove up in their truck, a great rolling billboard. Scores of supporters of Vice Mayor Jovanka Beckles gathered outside in the Plaza beforehand, then filled the council chambers to capacity. More than fifty people signed up to speak during public forum. The overwhelming majority used their minutes to make it clear that they wanted an end to the misogynistic, homophobic, and personal attacks that Jovanka has endured. The many eloquent and passionate speakers included a handful of religious leaders.

"I realize that disruption and hate speech aren't easily handled by the law," Jovanka said. "I encourage the community to hold councilmembers accountable for setting a respectful tone and making it very clear to their supporters that hateful behavior and hateful remarks will not be tolerated."

Later Tuesday evening (9/16) the council voted 6-1 (with a dissent from Corky Boozé) to direct staff to draft several new rules intended to better control disruptions; they will probably be read for the first time next month.

Forum speakers also included a group from the Richmond-Regla Cuba Sister City Committee, who used a creative tag-team approach to read their statement clarifying the struggles of the Cuban 5, in response to inaccuracies in a recently mailed "hit piece" against Gayle McLaughlin.

RPA Statement

We Applaud Applause

RPA Steering Committee 3/23/14

We believe that members of the public at political events like city council meetings should be able to express agreement with speakers through applause. We are proud that the RPA has attracted increased attendance and participation at city council meetings. We believe that the decisions that the Council makes are important and that citizen involvement in these issues is crucial.

One reason that city council meetings take longer now is because the Council is more open, so people come to the Council with their issues. It is true that in cities that are run by powerful interests where the residents feel shut out, the meetings usually proceed more smoothly and with fewer surprises. Democracy takes a bit longer and may be bumpy, but it is the far superior system. If applause could in fact be prohibited, the only way that people attending council meetings could express themselves would be by signing up to speak. This would take much longer than the few extra seconds for applause when people finish speaking.

We believe that Councilman Butt is mistaken in trying to prevent applause. Googling "clapping, applause, and city councils" show only that attempts by city councils to limit applause cause still greater controversy and generate rules that are often ignored and violated.

Applause is normally positive. As such, it is different from acts of disrespect and verbal disruption. Disrespect and disrutption should not be tolerated at council meetings, especially not when someone is speaking at odds with the majority sentiment of the Council or those present in the Council Chambers.

As a community-based organization, the RPA strongly disagrees with a current practice in which special interest groups pay money to persons to attend city council meetings to effect a pretense of citizen support. We find this practice disrespectful to Richmond and a mockery of the democratic process.

Council Retreat

5 to 2 for Respect

Richmond Council Retreat 10-4-13
Video: Respect at Richmond Council Retreat

The Richmond Council and senior city staff held their long-planned daylong retreat on Friday at the Marriott to discuss how to improve the functioning and perception of the City Council. 

Organized and run by a facilitator selected by City Manager Bill Lindsay, there seemed to be agreement that despite different value systems that produced differences on what was important and how the city should respond, it should be possible for there to be agreement on a number of policy and procedural issues.

Many useful ideas were generated during the discussions. Some activities the Council could work on as united body included plans to assist the struggling Hilltop commercial area, implementing the General Plan, and passing a small tax increase to pay for a program that will repair the streets.

There were also a number of ideas to make Council meetings go more smoothly. One suggestion that had support was that City Clerk Diane Holmes be empowered to examine items placed on the agenda and talk to Council members about placing non-action items as study sessions during the third Council meeting. Another was to allow the Mayor and City Manager to recommend an agenda based on city priorities and expectations about how many people would be attending the Council meeting for that item. A third was to not allow a council member or public member to pull an item from the Consent Calendar unless he or she first talked to the staff person in charge of the item. A fourth proposal that had broad support was to limit the time each Council speaker could speak each time to three-to five minutes. (After a round, Council members would get additional chances to speak.) But no votes or even polls were taken on these items.

As the meeting was drawing to a close, Bill Lindsay noted with disappointment that they never reached the point on the agenda about what people would do differently as a result of the retreat. The facilitator started a discussion on this. Jovanka Beckles proposed that they could all agree that each would treat each other with respect at Council meetings. The facilitator said this was important and added "demand respect from others and for my colleagues." Lindsay said that even if respect wasn't defined, the commitment to do this was important. Each Council person was asked, and five Council members (McLaughlin, Beckles, Butt, Rogers, and Myrick) made that commitment. Corky Booze said he could not make that commitment because he had to stay true to his principles. Nat Bates, the Councilmember who pressed for this retreat, but missed half of it to attend a funeral said he could not commit to respecting other council members at this time.

Council Meeting 7/23/13

The disruption that masqueraded as a civil rights protest at Tuesday's Council meeting made all the news. Unfortunately it distracted from some really important developments at the meeting. Here is one.  The other, Ban-the-Box is below. 


Joe Cochette
The National Law Journal says that Joseph W. Cotchett is considered by plaintiffs and defense attorneys alike to be one of the foremost trial lawyers in the country. He has been named one of the 100 most influential lawyers in the nation for the past 15 years.

City finally hires lawyer

Major Development in Chevron Damages Case

Almost nobody noticed. The city attorney announced:

"that the Council voted [in closed session] unanimously, 7 to 0, to direct that the agreement with the Cochette law firm be signed and the Cochette law firm be directed to file the complaint against Chevron."

This means that the City and Chevron did not come up with an acceptable agreement to cover costs to the City from the fire and the City will now proceed with legal action against Chevron.

Now that the "settlement" for the costs of the fire is on the proper track, we must  focus our attention on the safety issues. We need as many people as possible to come to the next Council meeting where we will attempt to get  the city to use all of its powers to force Chevron to correct the dangerous conditions that still exist at the refinery.

Ban-the-Box Passes

The Council passed a new Ban-the-Box ordinance extending the requirement to contractors who do business with the city. So powerful were the presentations from the public and particularly the Safe Return Team, combined with obvious research and legwork, that the Ordinance passed 6-1. It won the votes of council members who had previously indicated mixed or negative attitudes toward the ordinance.  Tom Butt voted "No" it when his amendment to weaken it failed.

Does Nat Bates Encourage Mark Wassberg?

  Bates Wassberg Cartoon

At most Council meetings over the last year Mark Wassberg, also a candidate for Council, makes comments that are racist or homophobic. Frequently his remarks are admiring of Hitler's actions toward the Jews. He often uses vulgar language or gestures and yells out from audience.


Candidates Bates and Wassberg
Video: Candidates Bates and Wassberg

Bates has not officially endorsed Wassberg. But Bates seems to be encouraging Wassberg in his "political" career. (See video --warning--offensive language.)   


Wassberg's actions  serve two functions for Bates. First, Wassberg can make the vicious attacks on the RPA while Bates poses as a "reasonable person" on the council.   Second, Wassberg and the small group he sits with, who cheer each other and Bates and Booze, help create chaos in council chambers during meetings to make things difficult for Mayor McLaughlin. Bates then blames the chaos on McLaughlin.

--Mike Parker 


City must take action

Integrity of City at Risk

Stacie Plummer
Stacie Plummer, a city of Richmond finance manager, has charged the city human resources director with misuse of funds. (picture: Robert Rogers, CCTimes)


Richmond has to act quickly to remove Leslie Knight as Human Resources Director/Assistant City Manager.

This is a serious, but necessary, action.  The issues are not rumor, normal workplace conflicts, or an extension of some political struggle. The action is required based on the report of investigators selected by the City Manager, and paid for by the city. We do not need to know everything that was in the full thousand page report. The portion of the report that was released by the City Manager by itself calls for the action. Specifically it is clear that for some substantial period of time, Knight

  • took money from the city to which she was not entitled,
  • appeared to try to take action against an employee for being a "whistle blower"
  • used city resources and personnel to promote her own private business.

Any one of these alone should be the basis for immediate dismissal.

What makes this behavior especially intolerable is that they were committed by the person who is supposed to be modeling behavior appropriate to city employees and who is in charge of interpreting and enforcing the rules.

Before the March 20 Council meeting  City Manager Bill Lindsay had indicated that he did not think Knight should be fired, and Councilman Booze gave an interview indicating that he did not think the offenses were serious  but more  a "humanistic gesture."  

See City Manager's press release.  

See Channel 5 news report  

See Richmond Confidential

At the Council meeting during Open Forum about 30 employees, and residents across political lines, supported by many more in the audience, spoke strongly demanding that the city take action. 

The City Charter puts personnel decisions in the hands of the City Manager. Lindsay did not speak on this at the meeting or indicate what he would do in response to the overwhelming community sentiment.

Proposed Resolution

Councilperson Jovanka Beckles and Mayor McLaughlin have prepared a resolution to be presented at the next regular-business City Council meeting on April 2, if the matter is not resolved by then.

Resolution Calling for Restoration of Public Trust through the Removal of Executive City Employee from Current Position

WHEREAS, residents of Richmond pay hard-earned tax money to support necessary city functions carried out by their Richmond City government; and 

WHEREAS, it is critical that those who spend this money must be fully trusted by the residents; and
WHEREAS, City employees have the right to working conditions free from retaliation for expressing their opinion or revealing problems with city operations; and
WHEREAS, City employees are expected to carry out the spirit as well as the letter of City policy; and
WHEREAS, those who manage others in the City must be held to the highest standards of ethics and accountability; and
WHEREAS, an investigation reveals at the very least that the Director of Human Resources and Assistant City Manager, Ms. Leslie Knight, violated these standards of ethics and accountability and took money from the City to which she was not entitled; so

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Richmond City Council sees this issue as a matter of the public trust, which has currently been broken and which must be repaired immediately; and


that we, the Richmond City Council, hereby understand and respect that the City Manager, as per our Charter, has the power and responsibility to hire and remove (if necessary "for the good of the service") City employees; and, it is with that understanding and respect, that we call for the removal of Ms. Leslie Knight from the position of Human Resources Director/Assistant City Manager.

Supervisors Steal Call Center from Richmond


Call Center
An Indian Call Center with Cubicles (Forbes)

The County Board of Supervisors voted to place the Call Center in Concord.  Richmond pulled together on the quotation for the call center. Developer Richard Poe sharpened his pencil. City Council members Myrick and Rogers brought forward proposals which were approved by the City Council, including a proposed $1,000,000 loan to further reduce the final price to the State. John Gioia worked hard arguing for the Richmond site. Councilmembers Beckles, Myrick, Rogers and Mayor McLaughlin made presentations at the Board of Supervisors meeting. In addition there was a good showing of Richmond residents.  

The proposal from Richmond was significantly lower and in all respects the best. But when the Supervisors voted we lost.

The city made a remarkable showing and everyone involved was proud of their role. It was reminiscent of LBNL. When the community pulls together it has tremendous imagination and power.

Money in Politics 

It is also important to understand the real reason we lost. Some people chalk it up to geography-East County vs West-or racism--white suburbs versus non-white Richmond. While geographic loyalties and racial politics may have been a part of this, there is good evidence that the real reason was financial loyalty. The Garaventa family which made a fortune in garbage collection and which stands to make a fortune from the call center in Concord is a major contributor to the campaigns of the Supes who voted for Concord. There were also family ties. Supervisor Mary Piepho's brother works for Garaventa. These supervisors should have recused themselves.

It is not just Richmond that lost with these kind of politics it is most of the residents of Contra Costa County who will foot the bill for the higher cost to line the pockets of a few landlords and increase a few campaign treasuries.

Most of Richmond can feel proud that in this city we take seriously the idea of fighting the influence of corporations and wealth in our government. Those like Booze and Bates who play the contribution game in Richmond are no better than those County Supervisors who represent their financial contributors and not the people of the County.  


Behind the Attacks on RPA

Recent Richmond City Council meetings have been marked by verbal attacks against the RPA by a few Council members, their representatives and supporters. Healthy politics involve disagreement and vigorous debate.  But the recent attacks have consistently contained  untruths and distortion, and we would like the record to be clear.  We are sharing correct information about the RPA here because Council meetings are not the place to dwell on these issues.  Council meetings should be focused on how to move Richmond forward—not about vilifying individuals or organizations striving to improve our community.

1.  Kenneth Davis’ attacks on the RPA , the Mayor, Council members Beckles and Ritterman. As far as we are aware, these attacks stem from three issues concerning North Richmond:
A) The most significant issue concerns the annual distribution of funds from the North Richmond Mitigation Fund.  These funds are paid to the City and County by the nearby dump for the purpose of improving the environment and reducing blight and illegal dumping in North Richmond.  The funds are distributed by The North Richmond Mitigation Fund Committee whose members represent the City and County areas of North Richmond.  (Mayor McLaughlin, Councilmembers Bates and Beckles, and Johnny White are the City representatives, and Supervisor Gioia, Dr. Henry Clark and Joe Wallace are the County representatives.)

In late 2010, a grant of $175,000 for an eco-academy green jobs training program that had been allocated to Neighborhood House of North Richmond was returned by NHNR back to the Mitigation Fund, due to a dispute between NHNR and an individual who had demanded to be hired as director of the program.  Davis demanded that the Mitigation Fund Committee give the $175,000 directly to this individual and another organization he represented.  The Mitigation Fund Committee decided to issue an open RFP for this $175,000, and several non-profits submitted grant applications to support a variety of projects.  The RPA supported the concept of an eco-academy in North Richmond and offered Davis and his colleagues assistance in preparing their grant application. 

Davis and his colleagues declined to submit an application but continued to demand the funds be given anyway and denounced those who insisted on following the legal process.

B) Davis demanded that the Mayor make an appointment to the North Richmond Mitigation Committee without the individual going through the application and interview process the Mayor follows for all appointments.

C) Davis insisted that the Mayor and Councilmember Beckles support his side in a dispute about who is the legitimate elected leadership of the Shields-Reid Neighborhood Council.  They chose not to take sides while supporting all community efforts for improvements. 

2. Dealing with disruptive behavior at city council meetings.  Councilmembers Bates and Booze and their supporters in the audience have repeatedly asserted that the Mayor has denied free speech and shown unfairness in  asking Kenneth Davis to speak on topic and in a few cases has asked that he be removed from the meeting after repeated requests for order. 

The Mayor has a duty to maintain order during Council meetings so that the City Council can conduct business and members of the public can all have an equal opportunity to participate.
Video recordings of the council meetings make clear that Davis has repeatedly violated both the rules and civility of council meetings.  He abuses the consent calendar to pull items so he can speak on issues having nothing to do with the item. He uses the additional time to attack the Mayor, Beckles, Ritterman  and the RPA.  He does not conclude his comments when his time has expired. He repeatedly yells out from the floor.

On occasion, RPA supporters and members of the public at large make inappropriate or off-topic remarks.  The RPA does not encourage this behavior and has gone on record to remind individuals of the need for the council to function with respectful and civil discourse.  Regrettably, a few council members and audience members continue to promote and defend disruptive behavior from Davis and the lack of respect for the Council and its chair.

3. Thanking Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) for choosing Richmond as the site for its new facility.  Councilman Bates has repeatedly criticized other Council members for preventing a timely thanks to LBNL.  The video of the 1/24/12 Council meeting documents that Councilman Bates introduced the topic as an emergency measure.  The council voted to put it on the agenda. Bates refused to vote for an extension to the meeting to take up the issue. At the following Council meeting, Bates introduced the item by a lengthy attack on Council for not taking up the issue at the previous meeting and established the rancorous atmosphere for the discussion that followed.

4.  Length of City Council Meetings. There are some valid reasons why Council meetings are sometimes lengthy.  For example, there is more citizen participation. (see below).

Air-Time at Council However, the record shows that another reason for the lengthy meetings is that  Councilman Booze consumes a disproportionate share of the council discussion time.  Consider the meeting on 2/28.

The first two hours and 10 minutes were proclamations and honoring citizens. The remaining 2 hours and  16 minutes were for handling other business.  Here is the time taken by each Council member during the business portion. (Times include  time engaged in dialogue with public or staff.)

Councilperson Booze uses almost as much time as all other council members combined.  Do his contributions to the meeting warrant this inordinate amount of time?
Watch the business part of the meeting on 2/28.(after honoring Richmond citizens) beginning at 2:10 to see how this time is used. 

What about claims by Bates and some audience members that the RPA  “wastes” time by taking up ”non-Richmond”  issues?  The national and state economy, jobs, and the cuts in Federal and state social programs are having a devastating impact on Richmond. Richmond Council actions that address these issues give Richmond citizens a voice and help create support for those at the national and state level trying to create change.  The Millionaires Tax in California, for example, will bring in much-needed money for our schools and county social services and will do far more to help Richmond than reckless and divisive speeches by Council members.

And while they should only be a small part of total Council time, resolutions against oppression everywhere are important because the first voices speaking out contribute to building a movements for change.  We are proud that our city through our council spoke out against Apartheid in South Africa and the anti-immigrant policies of Arizona.

5. What are the real reasons the Mayor and the RPA are under attack?  The RPA has played a significant role in the grassroots transformation of Richmond politics.  Long dominated by corporate and developer interests, Richmond has taken a new direction, solving problems for the benefit of the entire community. Part of this change is linked to the RPA’s policy to support candidates who do not take corporate contributions of any kind. The RPA has consistently objected to Council members who accept corporate contributions and then vote on issues involving those corporations.  We think it is simply wrong for a City Council member to take fund-raising help from a company like Richmond Sanitary and then the same day vote on contracts with the company.

Under the Mayor’s progressive leadership, Richmond as a whole has moved forward, even during hard economic times that have devastated other cities. The community pulled together to bring LBNL to Richmond and to defeat the Point Molate mega-casino.  Grassroots campaigns like Ceasefire and Safe Return have strengthened the Police Department’s shift to community policing.  The work of the Office of Neighborhood Safety has helped to reduce crime and violence in the city.  The RPA joined the community in standing firm against Chevron’s undue influence, and now Chevron pays more toward its fair share of taxes. The city has stood for the rights of all, attacking racism everywhere and defending the rights of immigrants. We have a Richmond that is concerned about the health of our children  rather than about the profits of bottling companies.

These are accomplishments of the City as a whole.  The RPA played an important part in these positive steps, and in helping to reduce corruption in the city by highlighting and then reducing the power of corporate money.  We have shown that if people organize together that it is possible to win without corporate funding and defeat those who are well funded.

The City Council is now more transparent and not dominated by a few corporations. Increasingly, citizens come to the Council when they have real problems to solve. Thus recent city council meetings have seen many speakers from Men and Women of Valor, or the Richmond Rockets.  This necessarily makes council meetings longer.  Disputes between corporations and ordinary people are more frequently aired in the open at Council meetings, rather than settled in the interests of corporations behind closed doors. To be sure, powerful corporations still have their defenders on the Council.

We showed with LBNL  that it is possible for the city to work together and  do big things.  That is the spirit that we have to return to The RPA acknowledges that there are many different interests and perspectives within the city and these will be reflected at Council meetings.  But the Council as a whole is the voice of all of Richmond and must lead in the transformation of Richmond.

Recently the RPA distributed the statement below at a City Council meeting to urge audience members to respect the Council and its procedure.  We reaffirm this statement.

--Tarnel Abbott
--Courtney Cummings
--Mike Parker

The above statement reflects the views of signers and not necessarily those of the RPA.
The following is a statement of the RPA steering committee 2/21/12


The Richmond Progressive Alliance believes that City Council meetings should be models of democratic debate that we are proud for ourselves, our children, our city employees, and others inside and outside our community to watch.

Richmond is becoming a leader among cities for being responsive to the needs of its residents. In order to conduct the people's business, City Council meetings should be orderly, fair, and respectful places. This can only happen when all City Council members and audience members adopt a cooperative rather than combative attitude and adhere to the rules by which the Council operates.

To this end, the RPA expresses appreciation to audience members and public speakers as well as council members who abide by time limits, speak on topic, avoid disruptive language, and refrain from calling out from the audience, and we invite all members of the public to commit to doing so at all meetings.