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  Mayor and Councilmember Respond to Tom Barnidge's Column
November 4 , 2013

Richmond blazes new trails to success

by Gayle McLaughlin, Mayor of Richmond‚ Nov. 04‚ 2013
(Ed Note: This piece recently appeared as a guest commentary in the Contra Costa Times. It again highlights how entrenched interests are battling a Richmond mayor committed to progressive change)

In a recent column, Tom Barnidge was clearly distressed about some of my activities as Richmond Mayor. He took grave offense to my recent visit to an Ecuadorean community ravaged by oil pollution, and he slammed our city's bold plan to assist homeowners in danger of foreclosure.

Barnidge may not live in Richmond, but I certainly respect his right to disagree with my positions and the strategies I promote. I also understand that leaders representing movements that challenge "the powers that be" often become lightning rods, subject to ridicule and attack from the press. But the bile of Barnidge's column seems oddly divorced from the reality of Richmond's remarkable progress in the last decade.

By any measure, our city is rising from a history of scarcity and despair, and gaining national attention as a community courageous enough to define its own destiny.

For nearly 10 years I have served on the Richmond City Council, the last 7 years as mayor. I proudly stand by the positive achievements that we, as a community, have achieved during my time in office:

Crime has decreased substantially, with homicides down more than 60 percent.
Chevron was pressured into agreeing to a $114 million tax settlement.
Lawrence Berkeley National Lab has chosen Richmond for its second campus, which will bring ancillary business and increased local jobs.
Richmond's community survey shows residents are experiencing increased quality of life and city services.

And this is just a sampling of the transformation that is taking place!

Let's be clear: 99 percent of my time as Richmond Mayor is spent in Richmond, focused on local issues. But does anyone still think that the solutions to complex, chronic problems faced by cities like Richmond can be identified -- or must be pursued -- strictly within city limits?

Some critics disparage my insistence that Chevron operate more responsibly in Richmond. This is not my personal crusade; far from it, as my council colleague Tom Butt recently wrote to his E-Forum readers, "Not just the mayor, but the entire City Council, has serious reservations about corporate power in general and Chevron in particular The entire City Council authorized a lawsuit against Chevron that accused the corporation of placing 'profits and executive pay over public safety,' of failing to 'exercise care in its ownership, operation, management, supervision, inspection, maintenance, repair and/or control' of the Richmond refinery, and of causing a diminution of Richmond property values, among many other things."

Some community members wonder why I accepted an invitation from the president of Ecuador to visit a rain forest community devastated by oil pollution.

Like Richmond, this low-income community is standing tall to one of the world's most powerful corporations, demanding Chevron obey a court order to repair the damage. I went to Ecuador to demonstrate solidarity with this community, but the trip also had tactical benefits for our local lawsuit, as Butt describes: "Collaborating with and supporting litigation of other plaintiffs against a common defendant is an entirely common strategy for litigants."

As we look for new, creative ways to solve Richmond's age-old problems of income inequality, crime, living wage jobs, and sustainable development, we realize that not all efforts will bear immediate fruit.

Wealthy and powerful special interests may fight us every step of the way, but we will remain undeterred. Our community has come too far to turn back.

Will fear of criticism or controversy stop us from trying bold and innovative solutions? Will sarcastic columnists convince us never to stray from the beaten path? Will cynicism prevail?

Not on my watch.

Open Letter to Tom Barnidge from Jim Rogers:
In a recent column, West County Times columnist Tom Barnidge ridiculed Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin for being involved in trips to Ecuador and other extra-curricular activities, and sarcastically inquired as to whether her next "to do " list would include replacing the Polar ice cap, dealing with Somali pirates, etc.
The Polar ice cap is rapidly shrinking due to Climate Change.
Barnidge, as  George W. put it, "misunderestimates" the importance of cities like Richmond dealing with the Global Warming crisis.
Federal and State carbon reduction policies, while welcome, do not recognize the seriousness of this threat, nor do they recognize the very real potential that Global Warming snowballs in an uncontrollable manner once it gets to a certain tipping point.
Serious scientists believe that there are multiple reasons to worry about a snowball effect, e.g changes in the Arctic tundra perma-frost, changes in plankton in the oceans, etc.
Communities like Richmond must lead the way.
Richmond is doing a lot: highest per capita annual solar roof top installations in the Bay Area, an innovative, cutting edge and intelligent Smart Growth oriented General Plan, our award winning Easy Go Green Transportation pilot project, developing a consensus that the Chevron Modernization Project will have the strongest Greenhouse Gas reduction policies of any refinery in the U.S., etc. etc. But we can, and must, do a lot more.
Richmond alone cannot prevent Global Warming. But if many cities and countries do not act, we will add a legacy of mortgaging our children's environmental future, as well as the Federal Deficit  mortgaging their financial future. And, it is not just a question of needing policy wonks to think deep thoughts about what we need to do, it is a question of needing people who are good at translating complex policy proposals into understandable and catchy (and sometimes funny) phrases that inform and resonate with the public.
People like Tom Barnidge.
We know that he can write very clever, funny and catchy articles criticizing politicians like Mayor McLaughlin.
So to use a phrase that will resonate with former sportswriter Barnidge: Come on Tom, is making fun of Gayle McLaughlin all the game that you got?
Jim Rogers
Richmond Councilmember
(510) 867-5725
PS Tom Butt has already responded to Tom Barnidge's criticism of Mayor McLaughlin, correctly noting that Richmond has made dramatic gains in homicide reduction, pothole repairs, economic development, saving public schools from closure,etc., and asking why Mayor McLaughlin should be criticized for her off duty extra curricular activities.
The only thing I would add is that, love her or hate her, Gayle McLaughlin has told the voters in 3 separate campaigns exactly who she is, exactly how she sees the world and exactly what she intends to do about it.   
And she has then done exactly what she promised she would do.  
If Barnidge thinks this is wrong, perhaps he should address his complaints to the voters who elected her 3 times, not to Mayor McLaughlin.