In annual address, Richmond mayor highlights year of 'historic accomplishments'
By Robert Rogers Contra Costa Times
Posted: 01/29/2013 09:36:04 PM PST
Updated: 01/29/2013 09:36:05 PM PST
RICHMOND -- In her annual State of the City Address, Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said Richmond enjoyed a year of shining improvements in crime reduction, infrastructure upgrades and economic growth, all tarnished by the Aug. 6 fire at the Chevron refinery.
"Amid, all these wonderful things, let's not forget the horrendous experience of the Chevron refinery fire which sent 15,000 people to local hospitals for treatment of respiratory issues and other health impacts of the fire," said McLaughlin, the only Green Party mayor in the country of a city with more than 100,000 residents. "We remain very concerned about the health and safety risk that this major refinery poses to our residents and to the greater Bay Area."
McLaughlin also said she remains "concerned" about the massive refinery's relationship with the community.
"Chevron has imparted great harm to our community by way of their pollution, their accidents, and frankly their impact on our elections and democracy for decades," McLaughlin said.
Aside from the fire and its aftermath, McLaughlin's 3,500-word speech focused mostly on what she described as a year of "groundbreaking and historic accomplishments."
McLaughlin said the city's public works department performed award-winning work improving Richmond's notoriously craggy streets and sidewalks. Major projects included the opening of the Rosie the Riveter Visitor and Education Center, the near-completion of a six-story BART parking garage downtown, and the Meade Street Bypass Road Project, which links the city's southern shoreline district with the rest of the city.
The bypass is a crucial upgrade in preparation for Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Richmond Bay Campus, which is set to start construction in 2017 and is expected to be a catalyst for jobs and economic growth.
McLaughlin said Richmond saw 249 new businesses started in 2012, generating more than 450 new jobs.
McLaughlin also noted continued successes in youth-oriented programs, including job training and youth media startups like Richmond Pulse and programs at the RYSE Youth Center.
Crime reductions also received nods during the address.
"In recent years, we have seen a massive decrease in violent crime," McLaughlin said. The city recorded 18 homicides in 2012, continuing a three-year run in which killings have been far lower than the city's average over the last decade, which she credited to the work of local police and grassroots groups.
"We are clearly moving in a very strong downward trend," McLaughlin said, drawing a loud applause from the packed City Council chamber. "All this reflects a collective effort on the part of our community-involved police department, our Office of Neighborhood Safety, many community violence prevention groups and great programs, such as the Ceasefire Program."
McLaughlin mostly steered clear of the continuing discord among political coalitions in the city, particularly the sharp divide on the council between McLaughlin and her Richmond Progressive Alliance allies and Councilmen Nat Bates and Corky Booze, who represent older established interests and business leaders.
But she did call for more unity moving forward.
"There is much controversy in the political climate of our city," McLaughlin said. "This controversy should not deter us at all, but only cause us all to look deep at what we want and need."
Minutes before the address, Bates said he had not been given an advance copy of the speech, but that he hoped McLaughlin would focus on the positive.
"We must be more unified, because our city has so much potential," Bates said. "We need leadership to bring us together rather than divide, and I hope (McLaughlin) will focus on that."
Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726 and email@example.com and follow Twitter.com/roberthrogers.