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Re-elect Tom Butt Richmond City Council 2008

Tom Butt, Richmond City Council Member
Accomplishments Since 2004

In November of 2004, I was re-elected to a third term on the Richmond City Council. Following is a year by year summary of what we accomplished during the last four years, including detailed information about issues, initiatives and polices I supported, in many cases authoring legislation or resolutions to adopt them or providing research, leadership or collaboration to put them in place.

In my view, Richmond is clearly better off than it was four years ago, but there are still many challenges, not the least of which is our unshakable rate of homicides. Others include the condition of our infrastructure, particularly our streets. But there is good news. Homicides continue to plague us, but crime overall is own, and we have increased the number of police officers on the streets while starting up a new Office of Neighborhood Safety to supplement the efforts of law enforcement.  While Richmond was still at the bottom among Bay Area cities for street conditions in 2007, our Pavement Condition Index rose an amazing 13 points this year and is projected to rise another 11 points next year.

I continue to work full time in my profession as an architect in addition to spending 10 to 20 hours a week on City Council business. My architecture-engineering firm, Interactive Resources, continues to be a leader in sustainable design, providing engineering support for some of the largest solar photovoltaic systems in the Unites States and designing buildings that conform to LEED and CHPS criteria. Through Interactive Resources, I have also provided substantial pro bono architecture and engineering services for civic projects in Richmond, including moving of the Whirley Crane, Point Richmond Gateway Plaza (rehabilitation of the Trainmaster/Reading Room Building) and rehabilitation of the historic Maritime Child Care Center.

In 2005, I went to New Orleans at the request of the National Trust for Historic Preservation to help save historic buildings less than two months after Katrina. On the way, I stopped in Fayetteville, Arkansas, to receive the 2005 University of Arkansas Alumni Association Community Service Award.

I chair two Richmond-based non-profits, East Brother Light Station, Inc., which operates and maintains the historic lighthouse one-quarter mile off Richmond’s western shore, and Rosie the Riveter Trust, which is the non-profit partner of Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park.

Involvement in organizations that work at a state and national level on issues vital to cities has also been a priority for me. In 2008, I was elected by my peers (members of city councils and county boards of supervisors statewide) as chair of the Local Government Commission, and I serve on the League of California Cities Environmental Quality policy Committee.


Financial Crisis

The year 2004 was the year Richmond dodged a bullet that later hit the City of Vallejo and emerged from a fiscal crises much the stronger for it. I personally recruited former Contra Costa County Administrator Phil Batchelor to take on the job as interim city manager, after which he began implementing a list of 170 reforms. From the New Year 2005 E-FORUM:

There was no competition for this year’s No. 1 story – the revenue and spending imbalance that some labeled a “fiscal meltdown.” This also made Chip Johnson’s (San Francisco Chronicle, December 31, 2004) East Bay list, as follows:


RICHMOND CITY WOES: The blue-collar city came within an eyelash of insolvency last year and slashed essential services -- including layoffs in the police and fire departments -- in order to close a $12 million budget gap and stay afloat during the course of the year. City officials seemed incapable of fixing the problem and spent more time arguing about a proposal to slice the size of the council from nine to seven members. City officials passed on a one-time $50 million payment from Chevron to reject a casino proposal at Point Molate and rolled the dice on a Sacramento deal that will allow it to be built despite a proposal to impose a ban on casino slot machines operating within a 35 mile-radius of an already approved Indian gaming casino in the neighboring city of San Pablo.


Despite the fact that during roughly the same time period, the State of California went tens of billions in the red and the United States government went trillions in the red, Richmond became the focus of exhaustive media and public criticism. Just as “all politics are local,” the ramifications of the resulting massive layoffs were felt by local people who use libraries, recreation services and other City services, and the enduring presence of affected union members dominated every City Council meeting for months as it did the numerous viewers of KCRT.


As it turned out, the budget crisis, while real and serious, was somewhat overblown. It appears to have consisted to a large extent of sloppy accounting of internal fund balances pooled into a single pot of cash. Untangling this web diminished the problem substantially, which, with substantial layoffs, enabled the City Council to deliver what the City Manager described as a “balanced budget” for 2004-2005. I remain, however, dubious – see Whiskey to Beer, E-FORUM, June 24, 2004.


Various circumstances and individuals have been blamed for the crisis, including State “takeaways,” the former city manager and finance director, inflated union pension plans and the SAP system that was so unusable even the 2004-2005 budget had to be prepared by hand using EXCEL spreadsheets. Although the public clamored for a scapegoat, the long-awaited State Auditor’s report avoided getting too personal, essentially reporting what we already knew -- that the City essentially spent more than it received in revenue. Whether the failure was due to incompetence, negligence or even criminal acts has never been officially addressed. Responsible individuals were not listed by name or title. Most, if not all, of the recommendations in the audit were previously detailed in Interim City Manager Phil Batchelor’s list of 170 reforms, and many of them have already taken place or have been approved by the City Council and are in process. See State Audit Report Slams Richmond, December 8, 2004.


Interestingly, even the budget crisis did not generate the sheer volume of participatory democracy that last year’s leader – the front yard fence height debate – generated. Not once was a City Council meeting transferred to the Auditorium due to audience overflow. It appears that folks can live without jobs, libraries, community centers and even fire stations, but don’t mess with their fences. Incidentally, the provisions of the amended fence ordinance crafted by the City Council after those large and contentious public hearings in 2003 have yet to be implemented by City staff. Go figure.


Point Molate

Also, in 2004, the City Council resolved a battle over Point Molate between Chevron and Upstream. I came down on the side of Upstream and authored a successful amendment to the agreement that increased Richmond’s option payment by $10 million. From the 2005 New Year E-FORUM:

No question about this either. A battle of corporate giants bidding ten of millions of dollars for Point Molate was waged for months concluding with the City Council awarding Upstream Point Molate a five-year, $15 million option to develop a destination resort incorporating a gambling casino. There were few gray areas on this one. Detractors were convinced it would ruin Richmond forever, and supporters saw it as the City’s salvation. One of the strangest outcomes form the struggle was the alliance between ChevronTexaco and environmental organizations to oppose the Upstream project, each with radically different motivations but a common objective. Richmond, California 2004 Year End Review

Political Change in Richmond

The election of 2004 set the stage for political battles over the next four years with Gayle McLaughlin winning a Council seat that would later catapult her into the mayor’s office. Despite efforts by the industrial/development establishment to defeat me, I became not only the top vote getter but also the highest vote getter in the history of Richmond. From the 2005 New Year E-FORUM:

For the first time in recent memory, City Council candidates smelled real blood. The budget crisis, layoffs and reduced City services gave eleven challengers a seemingly realistic hope of knocking off traditionally entrenched incumbents. The decision by Rev. Charles Belcher not to run for re-election made one new council member a certainty. For many election watchers, it was not a matter of whether or not incumbents were vulnerable but which challenger would replace them. However, when the dust settled, the voters failed to return only one incumbent, Gary Bell, who strangely enough had a remarkably good record of criticizing the City’s financial management and predicting dire results if practices were not improved. Ironically, he was also the only City Council member who voted against the ill-fated 2003-2004 budget. In my fifth campaign (four for City Council and one for mayor), I finally rose to the top of the vote count, garnering 11,727 votes, more than any other Richmond City Council or mayoral candidate has ever received, helped of course by this being the first City election held simultaneously with a presidential election.


Newcomer Gayle McLaughlin made more headlines than anyone else by nailing third place while running as a member of the Richmond Progressive Alliance and identifying herself as a Green Party member. John Marquez, who ran last in a field of four in the 2001 Richmond mayoral race, redeemed himself with a high second place. Mindell Penn and Nat Bates secured the fourth and fifth places with the other Richmond Progressive Alliance candidate Andres Soto running a respectable but distant sixth. The final vote count is below:


Tom Butt 11,727                                   10.5%

John E. Marquez 11,277                      10.1%

Gayle McLaughlin 11,191   10.0%

*Mindell Penn 10,645                          9.5%

*Nathaniel "Nat" Bates  9,569           8.6%

Andres Soto 8,318                               7.5%

Deborah Preston Stewart 7,456          6.7%

*Gary L. Bell 7,288                               6.5%

Tony K. Thurmond 6,692                    6.0%

Eddrick J. Osborne 6,152                     5.5%

Kathy "Storm" Scharff 6,128              5.5%

Courtland Corky Booze 5,809             5.2%

Arnie Kasendorf 4,953                        4.4%

Bill Idzerda 2,352                  2.1%

Herman Blackwell 2,073                       1.9%

2004 was also the beginning of the battle over preservation of the north Richmond shoreline. I went against the Council majority and encouraged EBRPD to acquire Breuner Marsh. It was also the year the fight over dismantling Design Review began, and I worked hard the next four years to back the desires of Richmond residents and neighborhood organizations to preserve a public Design Review process. I was also elected to the board of the Local Government Commission in 2004.

2004 Accomplishments

Other accomplishments of note that I supported include:

  • Hiring a new permanent City Manager, Orinda’s Bill Lindsey.
  • Closing the sale of the Ford Assembly Building to developer Eddie Orton, paving the way for the completion of the structure’s rehabilitation and eventual occupation.
  • Completing and selling out the first phase of Metro Walk, Richmond’s uniquely multi-modal transit village.
  • Completing of Lucretia Edwards’ Park and additional portions of the Bay Trail as well as final approval of the design of the Richmond Central Greenway.
  • Collaboration of the City Council and the City’s public employee unions to make structural reductions in pension plan and medical coverage costs.
  • Initiating the Easter Hill Hope VI project.
  • Advancing the Rosie the Riveter WW II/ Home Front National Historical Park with a visit from Lynn Cheney, opening of the Interim Visitor Center in City Hall, recent posting of the Bay Trail interpretive markers, and the Ford Motor Company publicity that resulted in nearly 10,000 Rosies responding with their personal stories and artifacts.


Rebuilding City Leadership

The year 2005 was a year of rebuilding for Richmond City government. From the 20066 New Year E-FORUM:

Although it generated few headlines in the conventional media, the incremental change wrought in 2005 as Richmond City Government continued a massive leadership rebuilding process is like nothing the City has seen in recent memory.


During 2005, the City Council replaced 75% of its Council-appointed officers, including the city manager.  


Although appointed in late 2004, City Manager Bill Lindsay took over from Interim City Manager Phil Batchelor in February 2005, after Batchelor did us all a favor by candidly assessing the City’s challenges and beginning to change a culture of entitlement  and process to a culture of service and performance. Lindsay’s selection was particularly remarkable because it lacked the political intrigue and back room high-powered deal making typical of other Richmond city manager selections over the last two decades. Lindsay is the first city manager in a long time to be truly selected unanimously. During 2005, Lindsay proceeded to select four outsiders for key department head positions and promoted another half-dozen insiders as department directors, some with multiple responsibilities.


About the same time Lindsay arrived, former Assistant City Manager Jay Corey retired. Later, Rich McCoy rode away in the sunset. Both were former assistant city managers, perhaps the last with that title for a while. Lindsay also reorganized city government, eliminating the previously highly-paid assistant city manager positions and creating five new positions: Library and Community Services Director, Planning ad Building Regulations Director, City Engineer, Public Works Operations and Maintenance Director and Information Technology Director. In eliminating the assistant city manager positions, Lindsay tightened the reigns of city government by increasing the number of department heads reporting directly to the city manager.


Following is a chronological summary of key appointments during 2005. All are still in place, except for John Eastman, who resigned under pressure and Willie Haywood, who retired.

·         In April, “Lightning-Rod Richmond Planning Chief” (West County Times description, not mine) quit and was replaced by Richard Mitchell, who Bill Lindsay plucked from his own Redevelopment Agency. Later, Lindsay expanded Mitchell’s responsibilities to oversee Building Regulations. Also in April, the City Council selected Don Casimere to return from Sacramento and take up his old job again as Confidential Investigative and Appeals Officer.

·         In July, Lindsay found his new finance director, James Goins Sr., in Compton, where Goins once held the top job as city manager but more recently had been working in the private sector.

·         The City Council selected a new city attorney in September, John Eastman of Redondo Beach, where he held the No.2 job under an elected city attorney. Also in September, Lindsay brought in Tim Jones from Oakland to head the Housing Authority.

·         Insider promotions announced in September included Monique Le Conge as Library and Community Services Director, Richard Mitchell as Planning and Building Regulations Director, Rich Davidson as City Engineer, Willie Haywood as Public Works Operations and Maintenance Director and Sue Hartman as Interim Information Technology Director.

·         October brought Lindsay’s announcement that he had selected Janet Schneider, the executive director of the Central Contra Costa Solid Waste Authority, to fill a  newly created position, administrative chief.

·         November brought the selection of Chris Magnus of Fargo, North Dakota, as Richmond’s long-awaited permanent police chief. Magnus will start on January 17, 2006.

Not to be outdone, the City Council experienced a 22% turnover, seating two new councilmembers. Gayle McLaughlin was elected in November 2004, and Tony Thurmond was selected by the City Council to replace Mindell Penn, who resigned to be closer to her aging mother in Michigan.

Fiscal Stabilization

From the New Year 2006 E-FORUM:

The top story of 2004 became a footnote in 2005. On January 19, 2005, the City’s top management announced publicly that the City’s “cumulative deficit,” estimated at $18 million to $28 million just seven months previously, no longer existed. Just twelve months after being hit by a fiscal train wreck, the City was once again pronounced solvent with a balanced budget, no structural deficit and no cumulative deficit.


In response to the City's actions to improve and stabilize its financial position, Moody's Investors Service upgraded the City's ratings by four notches to Baa2. 


In June, the City Council adopted a balanced budget for FY 2005-2006. See The Sun Comes Out, January 19, 2005.

City Council ails to Act on Violence

From the New Year 2006 E-FORUM:

Although based on 2004 statistics, Richmond’s designation as California’s most dangerous city fueled local outrage over a homicide rate that, although starting no higher than previous years, zoomed to a near record high by year’s end.


When several City Council members moved to declare a “State of Emergency” in June, the homicide rate was still lower than last year. See Homicide Rate Falls, State of Emergency Declared, June 17, 2005. Later this year, a spate of homicides sent the number up to 40 (as of December 31, 2005), higher than any year since 1994 when there were 52 homicides. See Murder and Violence in Richmond, October 16, 2004. There were 38 homicides in 2003 and 35 homicides in 2004.


Despite all the hype and bad publicity for Richmond, no tangible steps were taken by the Richmond City Council or City leadership to address the violence. There was lots of talk but little action. See  Follow-Through and Accountability for Violence Reduction, November 20, 2005.

2005 Accomplishments

There was a subtle but fundamental change in Richmond politics during 2005, with the traditional bases of power and money losing clout. Issues became more important than loyalties, votes more important than money and the City’s health more important than that of special interests. In my book, this is progress.

Accomplishments I supported included:

·         Adopting a balanced budget for FY 2005-2006 that included substantial funds for rebuilding reserves.

·         Advancing a number of initiatives that will change the image of Richmond and attract visitors, new residents and businesses, including management reorganization and increased funding for Rosie the Riveter WW II Home Front National Historical Park (National Park Service Reorganizes Contra Costa County Units with Headquarters in Richmond – and Other Rosie News, May 29, 2005), moving the Whirley crane to Shipyard 3 (Whirley Crane Docks, November 10, 2005), completing and securing funding for more Bay Trail segments (Richmond's Bay Trail Gets Christmas Gift from EBRPD, December 23, 2005), moving the Santa Fe Reading Room to start the Point Richmond Gateway Project(Point Richmond Gateway), reorganizing and revitalizing the Historic Preservation Advisory Committee (City Council Comes Through During National Preservation Month, May 19, 2005), getting the Richmond Convention and Visitors Bureau up and running, the Point Richmond Music and Arts Festival, the Main Street Initiative and getting the Richmond Greenway Phase 1 project out to bid. Let me also use this opportunity to thank the many donors, most of them Richmond businesses, who contributed to the successful Whirley Crane move. Among them was Fred Glueck of Plant Reclamation, who earned a share of my Attila the Hun Historic Preservation Award in 2004. Fred, you have redeemed yourself, and I offer the public apology you once requested.

·         Establishing Internet based service request and tracking capability. See New Customer Service Internet Access Debuts at City of Richmond, December 14, 2005.

·         Putting on a respectable Centennial celebration. See Hats Off to the Richmond Centennial Committee, August 8, 2005.

·         Repealing the Certified Inspection Program. See Chevron and Richmond, November 19, 2005

·         Restarting Richmond’s historic preservation program. See City Council Comes Through During National Preservation Month, May 19, 2005. Richmond has always been so preoccupied with its problems and seeking instant solutions that we often ignore our most valuable assets and the roots of an image change right under our noses.

·         Embracing the effort for better oversight and expansion of the cleanup at the former Zeneca and future Campus Bay site. See DTSC Takes Control of Richmond Shoreline Cleanups at Two Sites, May 13, 2005.

·         Implementing business license fees for owners of rental property, bringing nearly $1 million in additional revenue to the City. See More Business License Questions and Answers, October 11, 2005; More on Business Licenses, October 6, 2005 and Business License Fees for Rental Properties, October 5, 2005.

·         Averting a Planning Crisis at Marina Bay (April 5, 2005) by not flooding the Ford Peninsula with Toyotas and perhaps torpedo Richmond’s shot at a future ferry terminal. Also see Toyota Bypasses Richmond, June 29, 2005 and Of Cars, Ferries, Long Trains, Grade Separations and Transit Oriented Development, May 28, 2005.

·         Making some positive steps towards a future grade separation in Marina Bay to mitigate the long train problem. Approval of the Pulte Homes project carried a $3.5 million down payment on a grade separation, and the Richmond Community Redevelopment Agency retained a consultant for a feasibility study, due in January 2006.See  Marina Bay on the Wrong Side of the Tracks?, February 26, 2005.

·         Continuing to attract unusual and niche businesses, many of them with artistic foundations. See Under the Radar Businesses in Richmond, October 14, 2005. Art and history are thriving as components Richmond’s new economy and new image. See Three Richmond Locations Chosen for Best of the East Bay, April 6, 2005, Richmond Company is Top Events Planner,
May 31, 2005,  Beyond Oil and Violence, February 13, 2005
and Some Good News From the Waterfront, June 27, 2005.

·         Stanching harassment by some staff of City Council members just trying to do their job. See Cromartie Harassment Complaint Evaporates, June 5, 2005 and Attorney General Opines on Alleged Conflict of Interest, April 1, 2005.

·         Adopting a revised Residential Dwelling Unit Inspection and Maintenance Ordinance, finally, on August 2, 2005, after a several-year enforcement hiatus. See Richmond Ignores its Rental Unit Inspection Ordinance, May 4, 2005. We haven’t heard much about it since then. I wonder what happened to it?

·         With the departure of Barry Cromartie, a move to further gut citizen review and participation in the review of development projects was stopped in its tracks. See  Silence Will Give Consent on Proposed Planning Changes, January 28, 2005.

·         Adoption of a detailed procedure for fielding public records requests.

·         Continued progress on smart growth projects, such as beginning construction of the rail station at Richmond’s transit village and the selection of a developer for the Macdonald Avenue mixed use project.

·         Veolia continues to provide a level of sewer maintenance response and service Richmonders never dreamed possible, based on their former miserable experience with City crews who previously had the job.

·         A consulting team was selected for the General Plan update, which ramped up in 2006.


Election 2006

From the New Year 2007 E-FORUM

Not since the 1960s, when hippie City Councilman David Pierce served for a year as Richmond’s rotating mayor, has this City been so jolted politically. (Last time I saw David was only last summer; he was standing naked on a gravel bar of the Eel River at a music festival.) Despite a Herculean effort by the Richmond commercial-industrial establishment, Green Party member and two-year Councilmember Gayle McLaughlin emerged a winner in a cliffhanger election. Although the media now touts Richmond as the largest American city with a Green Party mayor, the real story is how she, as an individual, prevailed over a heavily financed and entrenched power structure, using a minimally financed grass roots campaign.


Richmond has always been a liberal city, but liberal meant support of labor, civil rights and social equity. It did not include taking on the corporate power structure, empowering neighborhoods, cleaning the air, saving the shoreline or embracing environmental justice.


In trying to defeat McLauglin, Chevron & Co, tried for a twofer, clogging mailboxes with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of campaign mailers connecting McLauglin with Measure T. In what may have been a Pyrrhic victory for Chevron, Measure T went down, but McLauglin prevailed. Chevron finally got the message that there is a revolt on the plantation, and with $1 billion of construction requiring a revised conditional use permit coming up (see Chevron and General Chemical Line Up for Expansion Projects, October 1, 2006), they are contemplating some serious fence mending.


Buckle up and hang on for an interesting ride.


From the New Year 2007 E-FORUM:

2006 homicides climbed to 42, two more than 2005 and higher than any year since 1994 when there were 52 homicides. There were 40 homicides in 2005, 35 homicides in 2004 and 38 homicides in 2003.


In November of 2005, the City Council passed Resolution 161-05, which authorized implementing a violence prevention coordinator. In July of 2006, the City Council approved a contract with The Mentoring Center to assist in establishing the Office of Violence Prevention. Anticipating a coordinated and circumspect violence prevention effort, the City Council struggled with attempts by various organizations to short circuit the process obtain funding for isolated programs touted as violence preventatives (see. City Council Reverts To Fiscally Irresponsible Behavior #1, March 25, 2006).


With continuing high homicide rates, the tent city movement caught the imagination of the press and thrust Richmond into an unwelcome national limelight as the Murder Capital of California.


Unfortunately, the Mentoring Center seems to have produced little work product other than a list of meetings attended. This has been a very disappointing endeavor with lots of churning and no results. I don’t know anyone who feels this has been productive, and we have already wasted a year.


The only good news seems to be that the clearance rate for homicides appears to be up due to better community cooperation with police, and there is early evidence that the non-homicide crime rate may have actually fallen during 2006 (Looking for Some Good News About Richmond Crime? December 18, 2006).

Civic Center Rehabilitation

From the New Year 2007 E-FORUM:

Nearly 15 years after my firm, Interactive Resources, first evaluated the Civic Center buildings and found them at risk during a seismic event (before I was on the City Council), the first substantive steps are being taken to reclaim Richmond’s 56-year old Civic Center. A ceremonial groundbreaking is planned for January 5, 2005.


In the latest iteration of two steps back and one step forward, the City Council voted in December 2006 to award a $10.5 million contract for design of Phase 1, which includes rehabilitation of the City Hall, the Hall of Justice, parts of the Auditorium and Arts Center, and the plaza. The police will be relocated to rental quarters at Marina Bay indefinitely. Although design of a new Hall of Justice will proceed, construction is on hold pending evaluation of funding. See Civic Center Design Process Sparks Controversy,  July 10, 2006, Update On Civic Center Design, August 3, 2006, Connect the Dots, October 20, 2006, New Hall of Justice on the Ropes Due to Fund Shortage, November 22, 2006, and City Council Launches Civic Center Project on a Wing and a Prayer, December 23, 2006.

2006 Accomplishments

On New Year 2006, I wrote, “As a general observation, I sense that there has been a subtle but fundamental change in Richmond politics during 2005, with the traditional bases of power and money losing clout. Issues have become more important than loyalties, votes more important than money and the City’s health more important than that of special interests. In my book, this is progress.” I believe this trend continues.

I supported the following:

·         The City Council once again adopted a balanced budget for FY 2006-2007 that included adequate funds for rebuilding reserves.

·         Chief Magnus took definitive steps to reorganize the Police Department for real community policing. See Get to Know your Beat Cop - New Richmond PD Organization and Contact Info, August 10, 2006.

·         With BNSF kicking and screaming all the way, the City of Richmond has been able to establish two-thirds of the Quiet Zones it originally targeted. However, BNSF continues to throw up every possible roadblock and defy compliance at ever turn. See Federal Railroad Administration and BNSF Conspire to Thwart Quiet Zones, May 21, 2006, West One Quiet Zone Debuts Today, July 15, 2006, Railroad Quiet Zones Come to Marina Bay, August 17, 2006, City Council Gets Tough on Railroads, November 22, 2006, Early Christmas Present for Point Richmond - Peace and Quiet, December 2, 2006, Amended Notice of Establishment of West Two Quiet Zone, December 19, 2006 and Railroad Draws a Line in the Sand Over West 2 Quiet Zone, December 28, 2006.

·         The City and County reestablished joint fire service in El Sobrante. See They Fiddle While El Sobrante Burns, January 14, 2006, Grand Jury Slams City and County For Impasse
June 9, 2006,
Immediate Resumption of Automatic Aid in El Sobrante, June 14, 2006, and  Council Reinstates Automatic Aid - Sort Of, June 22, 2006.

·         The process of creating a new general plan for Richmond began this year and continues in full swing. A good sign that planning is going the right direction appeared when the Council of Industries pushed the panic button and claimed, “The anti-business, anti-development, land preservation comments outweigh recommendations for economic and industrial development, business & port expansion, and growth…”  See Parks? Richmond Prefers Industry.
October 5, 2006.

·         The City finally came to grips with its overburdened and sometimes crumbling sewage collection system, including adopting an FOG (Fats, Oils and Grease) ordinance, a lateral inspection ordinance and a rate increase. See Flushing it Down the Richmond Way, January 30, 2006, The High Cost of Old Sewers, February 19, 2006, CCT Editorial Calls On Richmond To Deal With Sewers, March 9, 2006, The Smell of Sewage in the Morning, March 16, 2006, and Sewer Rate Increase Unrelated to Treatment Plan, June 3, 2006.

·         Progress continued on Richmond’s portion of the San Francisco Bay Trail and the Richmond Greenway. A new organization, mirroring TRAC and called FORG (Friends of the Richmond Greenway) has formed and is already making significant progress as an advocacy and support group. See Bay Trail Update, February 8, 2006, Richmond Greenway on Path to Completion, February 12, 2006, Richmond Greenway Approaches Full Funding, February 17, 2006, Richmond Greenway Kickoff Community Meeting, March 29, 2006, Richmond Greenway Groundbreaking, May 11, 2006, More On Greenway Groundbreaking, May 23, 2006, Richmond Greenway Breaks New Ground, May 27, 2006, and The Greenwaying of Richmond, August 12, 2006.

·         The Richmond Police Department adopted a police operations procedure to deal with encounters with dogs on private property. See Richmond a Little Bit Less Dangerous for Dogs, February 8, 2006 and That Doggone Blu Just Won't Go Away, February 17, 2006.

·         Richmond seems to have dodged a property tax reduction attempt by Chevron. See Tax Break For Chevron May Hit Home, March 7, 2006, Refinery Tax Dispute Heats Up, March 13, 2006, State Board of Equalization Board Member Bill Leonard Wants to Lower Taxes on Oil Refineries, March 19, 2006, Refinery Property Tax reduction Impact Quantified, April 10, 2006, Contra Costa Times Editorializes Proposed Refinery Tax Cuts, April 17, 2006, Refineries Lose One, June 28, 2006, and Richmond May Dodge Bullet on Chevron Property Tax Assessment Reduction, September 28, 2006.

·         East Bay Regional Parks District defied the Richmond Community Redevelopment Agency and the Richmond City Council by stepping up to purchase and preserve the Breuner Marsh. See EBRPD Moves In On Breuner Property, March 8, 2006.

·         It was a big year for preserving Richmond’s rich history.

1.        Preserve America Community: Richmond was designated a Preserve America Community. See Richmond Capitalizes on Its History, November 15, 2006.

2.        Ford Assembly Building: My experience with this building goes back to 1984 when, at the request of Richmond Museum President Lois Boyle, my firm completed a successful pro-bono National Register application. Once the building was listed on the National Register, there were at least modest impediments to its demolition, which many clambered for over the years, especially after it was heavily damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Today, it is a real success story, essentially completed, almost fully occupied and designated as the location of the future visitor center for Rosie the Riveter WW II Home Front National Historical Park. See Rehabilitated Ford Building Ready To Go, March 26, 2006, NY Times Features Richmond's Ford Assembly Plant Rehab Project, June 7, 2006, and Richmond Lauded As An Icon Of Historic Preservation As An Engine Of Economic Development, August 6, 2006.

3.        Preservation Grants: Richmond took home the Triple Crown with over $6 million ion grants for the Plunge, the Winters Building and the Maritime Child Care Center. Later in the year two of these three projects won an additional $80,000 following an Internet popularity contest sponsored by American Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. See Richmond Scores Triple Crown in CCHE Competition, April 28, 2006, Preservation Open House at Maritime Child Care Center, October 11, 2006, and Wartime Children's Art Captivates Visitors at Maritime Center Open House, October 15, 2006.

4.        Trainmaster Building: The former Santa Fe Reading Room and the oldest remaining building from the railroad terminal that started Richmond was successfully rehabilitated after a 15-year fight. The non-profit Point Richmond Gateway, LLC., which fronted the funds and organized volunteers, is expected to announce a high profile new tenant for the building, one of Richmond’s oldest businesses, in 2007. See Historic Railroad Building Nears Completion, May 11, 2006.

5.        East Brother Light Station continues to bring positive attention and accolades. See Richmond's East Brother Named "Best on the Bay.", September 08, 2006, San Francisco Chronicle Recommends a Night in Richmond at East Brother, September 17, 2006, and Another Richmond Historical Landmark in Internet Vote Competition, October 11, 2006.

6.        Freeway Signs: The first of 24 freeway signs directing drivers to Richmond’s historic resources were erected in December. See First of Freeway Historic Richmond Signs Erected, December 25, 2006.

7.        Rosie the Riveter WW II Home Front National Historical Park continued to develop. See Rosie the Riveter Webstore Goes Live, May 16, 2006, D-Day Tribute To Rosies Features Richmond National Park, June 9, 2006, Help Make Macdonald Avenue History Come To Life, August 1, 2006, Bringing back 'Memories of Macdonald' August 10, 2006, Richmond's National Park is a Finalist In Award for Municipal Excellence, September 06, 2006, Contra Costa Times Editorial Lauds Rosie the Riveter WW II Home Front National Historical Park, September 08, 2006, Explore Macdonald Avenue and Relive Exciting History, September 08, 2006, The National Park Service needs your help in shaping the visitor experience at Rosie the Riveter/World War II NHP, October 2, 2006, Final "Memories of Macdonald" Tour, October 6, 2006, WCCUSD Joins in Funding Match for Maritime Center for Working Families, October 22, 2006, Help Plan Your National Park, October 28, 2006, Two For The History Book, October 29, 2006, Two for Veterans Day, November 5, 2006, Red Oak Victory Featured on Veterans Day NPR All Things Considered, November 12, 2006, New Rosie the Riveter Apparel Features Famous Richmond Landmarks, December 3, 2006, Richmond's National Park Featured at National League of Cities, December 9, 2006, Nation's Mayors Visit Rosie Exhibit, December 12, 2006, and Saving the Historical Riggers Loft, December 16, 2006.

·         The Point Richmond Arts and Music Festival Continues to grow. See Grand Finale of Point Richmond Arts and Music Festival This Saturday
September 07, 2006.

·         There appears to be movement on enforcing the Fence Ordinance. See City Moves On Fence Ordinance Enforcement, June 3, 2006.


City of Crime and Violence or a Cool Place to Live?

From the New Year 2008 E-FORUM:

Richmond has always struggled with its image. Ten years ago, I explored this subject in a paper I wrote to try to better understand the challenges and opportunities to change both the image and reality of this remarkable city. Click here to read it.

Then, as now, Richmond was defined by violence, although the circumstances were remarkably different. In 1998, Richmond had completed a three-year run of dramatic decreases in homicides, (62, 46, 52 and 52 in years 1991-1994 versus 26, 34 and 30 in years 1995-1997), yet the City of Richmond Image Survey found that crime, drugs, gangs and violence dominated opinions about the most serious problem in Richmond.[1] Similarly, respondents listed crime, drugs and violence as the things for which Richmond was best known, according to respondents who live or work in Richmond.[2]

[1] Image Campaign, Marketing Richmond, CA (Richmond: VSW Associates, undated)
[2] Image Campaign, Marketing Richmond, 1996 Richmond Image Survey (Richmond: VSW Associates, undated), 7

As this is being written, homicides have climbed back up to a new high of 47 for year 2007, the highest since 1994 and the highest since I began serving on the city Council. In 2007, Richmond was once again rated as one of the top ten most dangerous cities in the U.S. based on 2006 statistics. See Richmond Ties Last Year's Homicide Record, December 16, 2007.

The 2007 City of Richmond Citizen Survey showed that safety was a huge concern of Richmond residents, especially “downtown” and after dark. In the list of relative importance of issues for the City to address, the second highest rating went to increasing police staffing,” with 98%, following only "improving street paving conditions" with 99% responding "essential" to "somewhat important."

The 2007 City of Richmond Citizen Survey not only confirmed residents’ concern about safety, it confirmed a broad dissatisfaction with conditions in general and a perception of the quality of life that was lower than in any of the other 212 cities that participated in similar surveys. See City Survey Reports, June 4, 2007 and Richmond Survey Shows Rock Bottom Satisfaction with City Services and Quality of Life, June 2, 2007. The following is from the E-FORUM June 2, 2007.

Following the mailing of a pre-survey notification postcard to a random sample of 3,000 households, surveys were mailed to the same residences approximately one week later. A reminder letter and a new survey were sent to the same households after two weeks. Residents were also able to complete the survey on the Internet. Approximately 141 postcards were undeliverable due to "vacant" or "not found" addresses. Of the 2,859 eligible households, 610 completed the survey, providing a response rate of 21%. Of the 610, 594 written surveys were received and 16 surveys were completed online. Typically, the response rates obtained on citizen surveys range from 20% to 40%.


I have extracted at the end of this message the staff summary of the survey results, which will accompany a public presentation at the June 5 City Council meeting. While the relative attitude about myriad things, as summarized in the staff report, is extremely useful in setting public policy priorities, the real news is the abysmally low esteem residents have for almost everything related to quality of life and services in Richmond.


Perhaps I should not have been surprised that when asked to rate the overall quality of life in Richmond, only 1% of respondents thought it was “excellent” and thirty-six percent rated overall quality of life as “poor.” In category after category, substantially less than 50% of those surveyed had positive perceptions of Richmond.


But what really caught my attention is that when the Richmond results were compared to those same questions asked in surveys of other cities across the country, Richmond residents’ level of satisfaction with virtually every municipal quality or service came in either dead last or close to it. For example, of 43 cities between 64,000 and 149,999 where the question “How do you rate the overall quality of life” was asked, Richmonders rated themselves 27 out of a possible 100, coming in dead last. When compared to 212 cities of all sizes, Richmond was still dead last.


In fact, in only two categories did Richmond even rise above the 50th percentile, ease of bus travel and availability of public parking.


The depth and breadth of malaise in Richmond truly surprised me.


If there is any good news in this, it is that we are so far down that we have nowhere to go but up. For anyone but an optimist, it would be devastating.

While violence and public safety clearly are a priority, there is a great danger in obsessing so much over this challenge that everything else we need to do to raise the quality of life gets placed on hold.

There are those who see the solution as dramatically increasing the police force, although we can’t hire enough new officers to fill even the positions currently budgeted. Others see the solution as raising police salary and benefits enough to provide an offer that can’t be refused. See Council Veers Toward Reckless Spending Policies, June 1, 2007.

Activities for young people have been a rallying cry for anti-violence activists for years (“Open up the [community] centers!”). But there is evidence that having activities and successfully recruiting participants may be two different things. An ambitious plan to revive youth baseball in Richmond with a Little League consisting of as many as 16 teams of 11 to 12 players each is proving to be a challenge.

Two Richmond Little League sign-up days this month got a less-than-hoped-for turnout, and organizers are working to get the word out about the program, which has received support from local and regional groups as well as the national Little League organization. All that's needed now are kids to come out and play (West County Times).

The Richmond Police Department is funded at $57 million, up nearly $10 million from two years ago. $4 million has been funded for security cameras that will become operational in January 2008. Community centers are open and staffed. Library hours have been increased, and branch libraries are expected to reopen in January, 2008. We have funded an Office of Neighborhood Safety (ONS) at just under a million dollars annually, including some $200,000 for anti-violence programs by the Richmond Improvement Association, to try to organize a multi-agency war on violence (See FLASH - Lindsay Hires DeVone Boggan as Neighborhood Safety Director, September 25, 2007 and City of Richmond Marks Financial Advances; Funds Office of Neighborhood Safety, July 20, 2007). But critics are already slamming both Boggan and the ONS for not stopping homicides instantly, not to mention the City Council, mayor and police chief. Boggan only started working October 23, just over two months ago and is still assembling his staff.

The Richmond Community Redevelopment Agency believes we can build ourselves out of the violence crises, pushing big box stores and their sales tax revenue as the resources Richmond desperately needs to buy peace.

There is an interesting feature in the on-line Contra Costa Times stories that allows reader feedback. All Richmond homicide-related stories get a lot of comments. No one knows who these commentators are or whether or not they are at all representative of the public as a whole. All we know is that they read the Contra Costa Times on line and have an opinion. Their comments (Click here for a sample) follow two main themes;

1.        Racism, i.e., it’s the blacks and Hispanics. All kinds of reprehensible solutions are proposed.

2.        The City Council, mayor, police chief and neighborhood safety director have failed to provide leadership to “do something,” and need to be removed. I have an idea some of the commentators are affiliated with the Richmond Police Department and are using the forum as a way to further intradepartmental grudges and blame Chief Magnus, whom they like to call “Chief Minus.” Somehow the city manager gets a pass.

No positive and realistic solutions are offered. Instead we get things like “Declare martial law.” One sub-theme that is commonly heard even in Council meetings is a criticism of City leadership for doing anything at all other than preventing homicides:

As the murders in Richmond increase, the Mayor has her staff exploring ways to ban styrofoam. Gayle, right now there is not one other problem in Richmond. Styrofoam means nothing, pretending there is a need for a ferry just to get funds for a Marina Bay grade separation is a waste of time and what the hell are toothless resolutions on Iraq going to accomplish? Step aside, Mayor, call in the feds and hand them the keys. You have proven yourself to be unresponsive to Richmond's real needs (From an anonymous West County Times Commentator).

There are those who see any resources dedicated to other than public safety as wasteful or frivolous.

At the end of the day, I think Richmond is little like Iraq. The violence will end when the neighborhoods quit blaming the City Council, the mayor, the police chief and Devone Boggan for not stopping it. The City can only help those who help themselves. The families, friends and neighbors know who has the guns and who has used them or will use them.

An article in the Richmond Globe, “Seeking Solutions to Black on Black Crime,” (Deborah Mitchell, December 26, 2007) said the same thing:

Programs to reduce street and gun violence and promote safe neighborhoods are underway, and their success depends on the participation of citizens in every community.

On December 16, in a West County Times article, Rev. Shumake, head of the Richmond Improvement Association and a vocal anti-violence advocate was quoted:

 “It's beyond a policing problem," Shumake said. "It starts in the home. It starts in the community. We in the community have to be responsible. These are our sons, our nephews, our cousins that are going out and committing these crimes. We need to stop that."

Which brings me to another vision of Richmond’s present and future, “a cool place to live.” (See A Cool Place to Live, June 5, 2007). While we have to find a way to diminish this pervasive violence that dominates a few central Richmond neighborhoods, we will never have a satisfactory quality of life if we obsess on violence and neglect everything else. Richmond without violence could still be just a safer but still dirty, polluted, boring, ugly and dysfunctional city. We have to make Richmond both a safer city and a cool place to live. From a June 5, 2007 E-FORUM:

I was in Memphis over the weekend, and I came across the article copied below. It caught my attention because there are lessons for Richmond that are apropos to both the recent citywide survey and the General Plan Update. The person quoted in the article, Leland Speed, is a real estate investor who chairs two REITS, Today, Speed chairs Parkway Properties, Inc. (NYSE: PKY), an office REIT with 2002 revenues of $156 million, and EastGroup Properties, Inc. (NYSE: EGP), an industrial REIT with 2002 revenues of $106 million. According to Smith Barney, Parkway’s compound annual return since 1994 has been 23.5 percent, the highest in the REIT industry. In the industrial sector, EastGroup has outperformed its competitors for eight of the last nine years.


Speed repeats a philosophy that I have embraced for a long time. If you want a city to be successful, you have to make it attractive and focus on quality of life, not just bringing in new business. Speed advised communities to deal with their "cruel realities;" "quit worrying about what you don't have," and "focus on what you have."


Speed concludes, “Cities aren't just competing for companies anymore; they're competing for workers. For inhabitants. For those people who make a house — or a city — a home.” 


In Richmond, City government obsesses over bringing “economic development” (jobs and taxes) while too often taking for granted or ignoring what we do have, such as a national park, 32 miles of San Francisco Bay shoreline, the most Bay Trail completed of any city on the Bay, an extraordinary arts community, lots of historic resources, some unique and attractive neighborhoods, the Richmond Greenway – to name a few.


At the end of the day, Richmond will make it if our city is a “cool place to live.” WalMart and Target are not a critical part of that coolness. Nor is developing pristine shoreline open space, expanding the capacity of a refinery, diminishing citizen participation in the Design Review process, or increasing truck and train traffic to serve the Port of Richmond.


Think about it.

The struggle between obsessing on violence and devoting resources to make Richmond a cool place to live will continue to play out in 2008. Hopefully, both will see improvement.

Chevron – A Richmond Enigma

I used to say Chevron owned Richmond for a hundred years. But, on reflection, it was more like a marriage. This was no shotgun wedding; it was a marriage of convenience. Each partner thought they were getting something valuable from the relationship. But it might have just been good sex, and a marriage can’t survive forever on that alone.

For most of the 20th Century, City Hall might as well have been an annex to the Refinery Administration Building. Chevron was Richmond’s largest taxpayer (…and don’t you forget it!) and Richmond’s largest employer (a lot of Chevron employees actually lived in Richmond in those days). All this good will was consummated annually at the Chevron Christmas Party, where the invite list was Richmond’s version of the social register, and the happy couple lovingly renewed their vows year after year.

But Chevron had a mid-life crisis in the late 1990s. The company started flirting with other priorities and testing the waters of its relationship with Richmond, probing to see how far it could push without breaking the matrimonial bonds.

Perhaps we should have anticipated some rocky times when the annual Christmas Party ended. Then, the refinery manager, who had always been a fixture on the Richmond social scene and a player on the City’s community organization’s boards, went from distinction to obscurity. He was replaced by a team of “external affairs” folks who handed out candy to good little boys and girls while reminding them to not get out of line.

Under this new relationship, Chevron launched its first property tax reduction assault nearly ten  years ago, but the couple kissed and made up after Chevron  kept the cash flowing for a few years and gave Richmond a one-time anniversary gift of a couple of million dollars to learn to live on less.

When Richmond ratcheted up its utility user tax at mid-year several years ago, Chevron was the only taxpayer that refused to pay the increase. When the 2004 budget crisis looked like the end of the road for Richmond, Chevron’s CEO spurned a tête-à-tête invitation from the city manager to discuss a bailout, earning the enmity of a few Council members for this unforgivable disrespect. When the City Council majority selected Upstream as the Point Molate developer, Chevron sued – and lost. In 2006, Chevron fought and helped defeat the City Council’s effort to raise revenues through business license tax reform. Chevron also tried but failed to keep Gayle McLaughlin from becoming Richmond’s next mayor – not a good strategic move.

The couple was clearly drifting apart, but 2007, the year of obscenely record profits for Chevron, might have been the year that divorce became inevitable. When one spouse gets a big raise but refuses to share it, you know trouble is brewing. The year got off to a bad start on January 15 when an early morning fire erupted at the Chevron Refinery and the warning system once again malfunctioned. There was an effort to hold Chevron responsible for the consequences of such events, and a move was made to declare the Refinery a public nuisance when upsets occur, but:

As one might expect, the usual cast of characters, the Chamber of Commerce, Council of Industries and Chevron spoke against the plan. Richmond residents spoke in favor. Council members bobbed and weaved, waffled and babbled. Several suitably vague substitute motions emerged. In the end, Nat Bates’ motion to do nothing until we “hear from Chevron” carried the day. I believe that Bates’ motion was supported by all council members except McLaughlin, Thurmond and me. I thought that we might have recently turned a corner in the 100-year old domination of the City Council by Chevron, but last night was just like the old days (January 24, 2007 E-FORUM).

The marriage was barely saved, but the relationship continued to deteriorate.

The next domestic quarrel involved the Bay Trail connection across I-580. After the 2006 death and serious injury of bicyclists on the freeway shoulder bicycle trail, pressure was put on Chevron to honor their previous commitment for an off-freeway bicycle trail route. This time, the City Council voted overwhelmingly against Chevron’s interests:

The Richmond City Council came down strongly for the San Francisco Bay Trail last night (March 20) by voting 8/0/1 to ask the State Lands Commission (SLC) to require Chevron to provide land and pay part of the cost for the planned Bay Trail to Point Molate before granting a new 30-year lease of State sub tidal lands for continued operation of the Long Wharf. The resolution introduced by Councilman Butt with Mayor McLaughlin and Councilman Rogers & Thurmond as cosponsors was moved and seconded by Councilors Bates and Viramontes. No one seconded Councilman Marquez's substitute motion to hold the item over for 60 days and meet with Chevron. This motion would have left the City with no position or legal standing when the State Lands Commission votes to approve a new 30-year lease for Long Wharf. The main motion then carried with 8 ayes and Marquez abstaining  (March 25, 2007, E-FORUM).

Although the Bay Trail issue remains unresolved, Chevron has been a participant in a committee that has focused on the original 2004 alignment of the trail to which Chevron had previously agreed.

As mid-year approached, Chevron once again elected to pay their utility user tax using the option they had engineered into the ordinance in 1984 to save themselves some $4 million and to deprive the City of Richmond the same amount in badly needed revenue. When the City asked for back up information showing how Chevron computed its tax liability, the company refused. A lawsuit by the City was averted only when City Council members reluctantly agreed to sign a confidentiality agreement that essentially reaffirmed what is already state law.

Confirmation that Chevron pollution is a legitimate environmental justice issue was a fitting prelude to an application by Chevron for a conditional use permit to expand and alter the refinery to increase some pollutants even more.

A new study entitled “Still Toxic After All These Years, Air Quality and Environmental Justice in the San Francisco Bay Area,” by the Center for Justice, Tolerance and Community, University of California, Santa Cruz, confirms what we always knew – that poor and minority communities, including Richmond, are far more exposed to air pollution and its negative health impacts than other communities. One proposal that has come out of the study is assessing the impact of new facilities based on their cumulative effect on air quality rather than the conformance of the individual facility to emission standards.

Chevron’s expansion application ran into a host of roadblocks, coming to a screeching stop as the year 2007 ended. Not used to actually conforming to the same laws and regulations as regular folks, Chevron appeared dazed and confused by the lack of traditional governmental cooperation and acquiescence. Attorney General Jerry Brown helped upset the oil cart by threatening to sue if Chevron didn’t mitigate an increase in greenhouse gases to conform to state policy.

While Chevron badly needed Richmond’s cooperation and good will for processing a flawed conditional use permit application, the company continued to slap around its Richmond spouse by pursuing yet another property tax reduction appeal that, if successful, could cost the City of Richmond $7 million.

Sensing a need to reconcile with its domestic partner, Chevron called in the local version of Dr. Phil, adding former County Supervisor Tom Powers and former County Administrator/ Interim City Manager Phil Batchelor to its local advisors (Zell & Associates) on how to get along with the City of Richmond. Word is that Chevron is not listening to any of them, preferring to find its own way back.

What will 2008 bring? Will Richmond, like a battered spouse, keep coming back for more domestic violence, fearing the alternative of a separation it has never known? Or will Richmond stand up to the batterer and defend itself, eventually seeking restitution and a better life? We’ll see. How this ends is in the hands of at least four City Council members and the mayor.

For details of a year living with Chevron, see the following:

Communications Breakdown as Chevron Fire Causes Shelter in Place Warning, January 15, 2007, Officials Acknowledge Community Warning System: System Failed to Function Properly, January 16, 2007, More Chevron Fire Information, January 15, 2007, All Clear at 8:46 AM, January 15, 2007, Broken Alert System Needs Major Repair, January 15, 2007, Text of Resolution for City Council Meeting of January 23, 2007, Relating to Penalties for Activation of Community Warning System, January 19, 2007, Community Meeting on Chevron Fire, January 19, 2007, WCT Editorializes on Warning System Failure - Community Meeting Scheduled, January 18, 2007, City Council Takes Up Collection to Pay CAER Membership, January 24, 2007, City Council Fails to Hold Chevron Responsible - Again, January 24, 2007, Connecting the Spots, January 27, 2007, Lawsuit Promised Over Bicyclist's Death, January 27, 2007, Jim Rogers Response to Chevron Fire, January 29, 2007, Poor and Minority Community Bear Disproportionate Share of Pollution, February 18, 2007, Forwarded from Councilmember Jim Rogers, "Richmond Dangerfield?", March 11, 2007, Long Wharf EIR Dashes Hopes for Bay Trail Link, March 11, 2007, City Council Says Yes to Bay Trail, No to Chevron, March 25, 2007, Bay Trail Access Article in Today's Berkeley Daily Planet, March 27, 2007, Bay Trail to Point Molate Pits Everyone Against Chevron, April 2, 2007, SF Chronicle Editorializes Chevron Trail Impasse, April 3, 2007, Chevron Received Variance from Inspection of Pipe Corrosion Prior to Fire, April 20, 2007, Chevron Fire Root Cause Analysis, April 19, 2007, No Comment from Chevron, April 19, 2007, Long Awaited Chevron Energy & Hydrogen Renewal Project EIR is Out, May 23, 2007, Chevron Article from East Bay Express, May 30, 2007, Planning Commission to Hear Comments on Chevron Expansion EIR Tonight, June 7, 2007, Hazards of Living Near Refineries and Rail Yards, June 9, 2007, Chronicle's Chip Johnson on Chevron Expansion, June 8, 2007, Chevron Seeks Exemption From Energy Commission for Power Plant Expansion, July 11, 2007, High Security at Chevron, July 10, 2007, Chevron Unable to Back Up Claims Made in Letter to KPFA, July 21, 2007, $839,000 For a Fatally Flawed EIR? July 21, 2007, State Budget Impasse Linked to Chevron EIR, July 26, 2007, Workshop on Chevron Expansion, July 26, 2007, Chevron Community Website Runs Out of Gas, August 4, 2007, Picking on Poor Chevron? September 2, 2007, Hearings on Chevron Power Plant and Health Consequences of Train and Truck Traffic, September 22, 2007, Nothing Like a School Day in a Refinery Town - Richmond and Martinez Children Practice Shelter-In-Place, September 25, 2007, Petition Drive Seeks to Place Refinery Tax on Ballot, September 29, 2007, Chevron Puts Short Cut to Power Plant Approval on Hold, October 31, 2007, Chevron Property Tax Appeal Could Cost Richmond Millions, November 25, 2007, Gioia Asks Chevron to Withdraw Property Tax Appeal, November 30, 2007, Attorney General Jerry Brown Writes City of Richmond Urging Resolution of Discrepancies in Chevron EIR, December 13, 2007, Ed and Op Ed on Chevron Tax Appeal, December 8, 2007, Selling the Energy and Hydrogen Renewal Project, December 7, 2007, Design Review Board Consideration of Chevron Project is Cancelled, December 7, 2007, Chevron and Design Review, December 7, 2007, Christmas Card from Chevron, December 7, 2007, Chronicle's Chip Johnson Discovers Christmas Grinch at Chevron Headquarters, December 7, 2007, Chevron Defenders Strike Back, December 16, 2007.

 A House Divided - Sometimes

The victory of Mayor McLaughlin was one of the top Richmond stories of 2006. The aftermath is not so stunning but is perhaps equally captivating as City Council members continue to posture and jockey for position, recognition and leadership in preparation for an election in November 2008 that will leave at least two of them out in the cold.

The media fascination with McLaughlin and Richmond’s foray into a green future continues to give journalists something to focus on other than homicides, for which we should all be grateful. See, for example,  SF Chronicle on Richmond Inauguration, January 10, 2007, San Francisco Chronicle Magazine Features 8-page Spread on Green Richmond, July 22, 2007, Text of "Reclaiming Richmond", July 22, 2007, Green Chamber of Commerce Comes to Richmond, September 25, 2007, Successful Green Chamber of Commerce Exhibition, October 23, 2007, East Bay Green Corridor Partnership Launched in Richmond's Historic Ford Building, December 4, 2007, Richmond Featured in USA Today Article on Green Collar Jobs, December 15, 2007.

Jealous of this media attention focused on the mayor, other Council members at first tried to demonstrate their independence and power by staking out contravening policy positions, such as jettisoning operable windows in the new City Hall and canning the Design Review Board. But it didn’t play well out in the neighborhoods or in the media. The group looked less like leaders and more like losers. See Viramontes Five Defies Experts and Votes to Seal Up Rehabilitated City Hall, June 5, 2007, Richmond Aghast at Behavior of Viramontes Five, June 6, 2007, Your Chance to Help Out Two of the Viramontes Five, June 6, 2007, June 9, 2007, Windows into the Past, July 3, 2007.

Then they realized that green was good and decided that if you can’t fight ‘em, join ‘em. See City Council in Greening Frenzy, September 19, 2007.

Former West County Times reporter John Geluardi provided a good profile of a current City Council in his final piece as he departed for the San Francisco Weekly in September. Geluardi describes a body that has been remarkably effective despite some major stumbles (See State of the City, by John Geluardi As He Leaves for SF Weekly, August 18, 2007)

The council's composition changed dramatically after the November election, with Green Party member Gayle McLaughlin winning the nonpartisan mayor's seat after serving two years as a councilwoman. With very little money, McLaughlin unseated Mayor Irma Anderson, who had a formidable campaign war chest stuffed with contributions from Chevron.


McLaughlin's membership in the Green Party has had no effect on her ability to find common ground with her council colleagues, who have been like-minded on many environmental and social issues.


McLaughlin also has been successful at increasing grass-roots participation at City Council and community meetings, which has helped to somewhat loosen the stranglehold industry, developers and city unions have long had on city policy.


Council neophytes Ludmyrna Lopez and Harpreet Sandhu still are finding their way on the council and largely have voted in lockstep with their council mentors, Viramontes, Councilman John Marquez and, to a lesser degree, Vice Mayor Nat Bates.


Those five form the council majority and often vote in opposition to a loose-knit rival faction of McLaughlin and Councilmen Tom Butt, Tony Thurmond and occasionally Jim Rogers.


Despite the dustups, the council has successfully continued to regain the respect of city residents and the Bay Area.


Perhaps most significantly, the city regained its favored bond ratings from both Moody's Investor Service and Standard & Poors, thanks to the council's consistent fiscal discipline. The favored bond rating is doubtless a sign of financial recovery from a $35 million budget crisis in 2004 that resulted from six years of gross mismanagement under former City Manager Isiah Turner.


The council also doubled the annual funding for critically needed street repairs and launched the $111 million first phase of the Civic Center renovation.


Under McLaughlin's leadership, Richmond has become more environmentally friendly. The council rolled out the welcome mat to green businesses by declaring Richmond a Green Economic Development Area, reduced solar fees to the lowest in the Bay Area and approved the Green Building Ordinance, which governs construction of all city-funded projects greater than $300,000.


The council formed the Office of Neighborhood Safety to coordinate anti-violence programs among city departments, the West Contra Costa Unified School District and nonprofit groups.


And the council took steps to get the Chevron Refinery to verify its annual utility users tax payment. In July 2006, the refinery suddenly and without explanation reduced its payment by $4 million, dealing the city a financial blow as it recovered from its budget crisis.


Although the council was thoughtful and effective on the majority of issues, there were times during the past seven months when good government took a back seat to personal bickering. Name-calling and spite votes were costly for residents, employees and the city's long-suffering image.


The best example is the council's 5-4 vote against windows that open -- also called "operable windows" -- in the renovated Civic Center. In June, the council majority voted down operable windows despite a presentation by a nationally respected environmental engineer on employee health and productivity benefits of an operable-window system.

Operable windows have been popular in civic buildings across the country and particularly in the Bay Area. The council's narrow rejection reaffirmed an image of petty personal politics and backwardness the city has been struggling to overcome.


2008 will be an interesting year. Will campaign posturing and personal power struggles characterize the year to come, or will teamwork and leadership prevail?

2007 Accomplishments

I supported the following in 2007:


2008 has been a watershed year politically for Richmond. The “Viramontes Five” (Viramontes, Marquez, Lopez, Sandhu and Bates), also known as “The Chevron Five,” consolidated their control of the City Council, characterized by support for Big Oil, Big Business. Big developers, secrecy and anything else that would thwart policy positions advocated by the four-person Council minority. Within the last couple of years, some of the more egregious positions they have taken included non-openable windows in the rehabilitated Civic Center buildings, dismantling Design Review, approving large development projects opposed by neighborhood groups and railroading the Chevron project through approval.

Dominating the news have been various discretionary approvals for the Chevron Energy and Hydrogen Renewal Project. Despite some hope that City Council members had broken the 100-year old hold of Chevron over Richmond, in the end five members with only a handful of brains sold out the City once again for a handful of dust in a reprise of what happened in 1994.


On February 8, 2008, the San Francisco Chronicle’s Chip Johnson quoted me:

"Things have changed - they have angered everyone on the council,"
said longtime Councilman Tom Butt. "If we can just hold the council
together, we have an opportunity to get the absolute maximum in
mitigations to the community."

"The question is whether the council will hang together, hang tough,"
Butt said, "or just sell out individually like the council has in the

As it turned out, the Council did not hold together. For full coverage of this sordid saga, see:   Chevron Offensive Continues into 2008, January 1, 2008; Chevron Project Goes to Design Review Board Without Final EIR, January 24, 2008; Chevron Energy and Hydrogen Renewal Project and Solar Energy, January 27, 2008; Trees and the Chevron Energy and Hydrogen Renewal Project, January 27, 2008; Whitewashing and Greenwashing the Chevron Energy and Hydrogen Renewal Project, January 26, 2008; One Hand Giveth; the Other Taketh Away, February 2, 2008; Design Review Board Conditionally Approves Chevron Energy and Hydrogen Renewal Project, February 2, 2008; Design Review, Chevron and the Bay Trail, January 31, 2008; Air Board Community Meeting on the Chevron Energy & Hydrogen Renewal Project, January 30, 2008; Design Review Board Scolds Chevron; February 6, 2008; Chevron Reaps Massive Record Profits in 2007; February 2, 2008; "Roll On, Big Oil", from Chip Johnson in Today's Chronicle, February 8, 2008; Those Who Ignore History Are Doomed to Repeat It, February 11, 2008; Residents Protest Upgrade at Chevron Refinery (West County Times), February 15, 2008; AT 1.2 Million Pounds, Chevron is Region's Third Largest Polluter, February 22, 2008; Mitigating Greenhouse Gases from the Chevron Energy and Hydrogen Renewal Project, February 23, 2008; Jerry Brown Remains Skeptical of Chevron EIR, Richmond on the Precipice? March 2, 2008; March 8, 2008; Who is Telling the Truth? March 6, 2008; Chevron Project to Planning Commission Tonight, March 20, 2008; PBS Documentary Featuring Richmond,  March 19, 2008;  Response to Chamber of Commerce Endorsement for Chevron Project March 18, 2008; SF Chronicle Blasts Chevron Project, March 18, 2008; Richmond Chamber of Commerce Rolls Over for Chevron, March 17, 2008; Staff Embarrasses Itself with Chevron CUP Recommendations, March 16, 2008; Chevron Protest on March 15, March 13, 2008; Chevron Packs Council Chamber, Leaving Detractors Out in the Cold, March 22, 2008; Comments on This (Early) Morning's Planning Commission Hearing on Chevron, March 21, 2008; Planning Commission Continues Chevron Hearing Until April 10, March 21, 2008; Attorney General Letter to City Dated March 19, 2008, March 26, 2008; Chevron Plan Has Brown's Attention; March 31, 2008; Planning Commission Sends Project Back to have Holes Patched, April 11, 2008; Chevron Hearing Continued Until June 5, April 10, 2008; CBE Responds to City of Richmond Staff Report, April 9, 2008 Richmond Staff Advises Quick and Dirty Approval of Chevron Project, April 8, 2008; KCBS Reports Chemicals in Richmond's Air Surprise Researchers, April 6, 2008; Myth of Pixar Loss Exploded, April 22, 2008; See Steve Jobs Complain About Chevron, April 22, 2008; Negotiating With Chevron, April 21, 2008; Richmond Wants to Share in Chevron Profits, May 3, 2008; Chevron Permit Will Be Based on Secret Information Inaccessible to Public, May 9, 2008; Planning Commission Certifies EIR and Preliminarily Approves Chevron Project, June 6, 2008; Guest Blast from Jim Rogers: Chevron Proposal Needs Refining, June 11, 2008; Wall Street Journal on Heavy Crude, June 13, 2008; No One Happy With Planning Commission Chevron Decision, June 21, 2008; Torture Lawyer Lands at Chevron June 20, 2008, Planning Commission Approves Conditional Use Permit for Chevron Energy and Hydrogen Renewal Project, June 20, 2008; Chevron EIR Certification Appealed to City Council, June 19, 2008; Response to Murphy Oil Company Scholarship Story, June 18, 2008; If Chevron Could Only Emulate Murphy Oil Company, June 18, 2008; Chevron Richmond Proposal Moves on to City Council, July 4, 2008; Chevron Energy and Hydrogen Renewal Project Agenda Report for July 15, 2008 City Council Appeal Hearing, July 11, 2008; Prepping for the Chevron Appeal Hearing, July 10, 2008; Council Members Defend Secret Chevron Consultant, July 9, 2008; Richmond Could Face Lawsuit in Approval of Chevron Retrofit Plan, July 18, 2008; Readers Respond to City Council Sellout, July 17, 2008; City Council Replay Schedule on KCRT-28 and Media Coverage, July 17, 2008; The Fix Is In - Viramontes Five Sell Richmond Down the River, July 17, 2008; Chevron Proposed Community Benefits Agreement, July 16, 2008; Chevron Appeal - A Report From The Front, July 16, 2008; Poll Indicates Widespread Suspicion of Chevron Project Approval, July 14, 2008; Where's the Beef? July 23, 2008; McLaughlin and Butt Fire Back, July 26, 2008; KQED: "This Week in Northern California" Profiles Chevron Decision, July 24, 2008; V5 to Seize Control of Chevron Community Benefit Fund, July 27, 2008; Public Outrage at Power Grab by Viramontes (Chevron) Five, July 31, 2008; "It's a very bad situation when elected officials do not listen to the people they represent", August 3, 2008.

2008 Accomplishments

In the bitterness and contentiousness of an election year, it was easier to advance initiatives that contributed to the quality of life of Richmond and Richmond’s image, both internal and as perceived by others. Many successes were seen in projects that I have worked on for years: 

There are two potential measures to increase Richmond’s General Fund revenue that I have supported: