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July 31, 2015

Is Richmond being governed from RPA headquarters or City Hall?

Jul 31, 2015

When the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) swept the November elections and gained command of council, the group heralded the victory across the nation as a win for democracy and a loss for special interests.

But since RPA members Gayle McLaughlin, Jovanka Beckles and Eduardo Martinez (pictured from left to right) assumed council control after defeating candidates backed by Chevron, the exact opposite has happened, according to several city leaders. In what he describes as blatant hypocrisy by the radical group, Mayor Tom Butt on Friday accused the RPA of ruling upon important city matters within its organization before the issues are publicly vetted at City Hall, which could be a violation of the Brown Act.

“We now have actually two city councils,” Mayor Butt wrote on his e-forum Friday. “One consists of seven elected members who meet regularly on Tuesday nights three or four times a month to conduct most of the City’s routine business in public. Then we have the parallel and alternative RPA City Council, which along with a fourth member, Vice-mayor Myrick, constitute a majority who can call a meeting anytime they want to with 24-hours’ notice, shut down debate, make their own rules and pass their predetermined agenda.”

The RPA has repeatedly denied making council decisions at its headquarters, saying its council members think and act independently from the organization.

However, an examination of council meeting minutes since January shows the group has been voting as a bloc, with apparent sympathizer Vice Mayor Jael Myrick often providing the trusted swing vote.

RPA council members, with Myrick’s support, voted in line on rent control, echoing complaints about affordability that have been raised for months out of RPA headquarters. In fact, a report by the The Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at UC Berkeley that launched the call for significant renters protections was co-authored by Eli Moore, the husband of RPA supporter and community organizer Claudia Jimenez.

Mayor Butt has criticized the report as “biased and poorly researched.” Regardless of whether that is true, the report worked to drum up enough support the RPA’s push for rent control in Richmond.

In June, the RPA council members and Myrick also voted in favor of plugging the city’s budget deficit by diverting Measure U tax dollars that had been meant for sustained road repair. Last year, Myrick was adamant about not pulling “shenanigans” on voters by diverting the tax proceeds away from roads, but later said the city’s worsening financial situation had forced him to vote alongside the RPA on the issue. Myrick helped pass that budget even after the RPA tacked on additional spending measures for pet projects such as Beckles’ Pride festival and an annual Saffron Strand homeless workforce conference.
Then came the space weaponry resolution. All RPA members, including Myrick, voted in favor of their resolution to support a ban on space weaponry as an anti-war measure. The RPA said it also pitched the resolution to appease conspiracy theorists who believe they are being targeted from space by the government’s futuristic weapons. Myrick later expressed regret over the vote, after the Richmond Police Department’s phones lines were overwhelmed with calls from “targeted” individuals worldwide. The councilmember later expressed concern that the vote may have had a negative impact on the mentally ill and their families.

Myrick hasn’t always felt comfortable with the idea that the RPA could dictate policy both inside and out of council chambers. Earlier this year, he voted against the RPA’s attempt to appoint a fourth member to fill the seat vacated by Butt’s election to mayor. Myrick’s rejection of a fourth RPA council member — which would have given the RPA a dominating majority and would also have greatly diminished the power of Myrick’s vote —  led to the appointment of the pragmatic Vinay Pimple, who is unaligned and has not supported many of the RPA measures.

Only on rare occasions has an RPA council member voted against the group’s grain. Martinez did so on the Central Avenue affordable housing project. RPA members also disagreed on an ordinance regulating digital signs and billboards in the city.
Still, Mayor Butt compared the RPA’s current rule “to the infamous Richmond city councils of decades ago.”

“But it’s worse,” he said. “Instead of the majority of elected members meeting privately on Saturday mornings, members of the secret RPA steering committee, whom no one elected, meet with RPA City Council members to create their agenda. These steering committee members also perform, when necessary, the critical function of subverting the Brown Act, acting as illegal go-betweens to communicate with other Council members.”
Councilmember Nat Bates agreed and predicted “rocky and uncertain times” ahead as a result of RPA dominance.
Related posts:

  1. Rift between Mayor and RPA grows following two City Council decisions
  2. Rent control proposal likely to fail after councilmember changes heart
  3. Contra Costa County supervisors accept lower pay raise
  4. Richmond council approves rent control ordinance

1.      Let’s see:
On 7/21 Councilmember McLaughlin made a successful motion to cut off debate on rent control BEFORE allowing the non-aligned members of the Council the opportunity to speak or ask questions.

On 7/28 she made a failed motion to cut rent control speakers’ time in half. [The previous week when there were 137 who signed up to speak, the overwhelming majority spoke against her measure.]

On 7/28 she announced from the dais that four members of the Council were available for a special meeting on 8/03. How would she know this unless she had communicated with three other members of the Council–either directly or indirectly–in a possible violation of the Brown Act (which requires transparency by government officials)?

On 7/30, without benefit of coordinating their actions with the Mayor or other members of the Council, Councilmembers McLaughlin, Martinez, Myrick and Beckles called for their own Special Meeting of the Council on 7/31 (tonight). They not only want to hold their meeting on a Friday night but they called for it to commence at an earlier time. It’s almost as thought they’re going out of their way to make sure that non-supporters won’t know about the meeting or will show up at the wrong time.

Mayor/Councilmember McLaughlin is notorious for her refusal/failure to speak with or respond to correspondence from constituents who disagree with her.

Councilmember Beckles actually wrote in an email that she refuses to communicate with people who disagree with her.
Where did these people study democracy? Cuba? Iran? USSR? The Republican side of Congress?

Felix Hunziker & Don Gosney: Rent Control Debate Creates Unprecedented Divide on City Council
Posted by Felix Hunziker 146sc on July 31, 2015

Richmond’s rent control divide, having already strained relationships between progressive Councilmembers and their more radical counterparts, deepened to uncharted depths following a stalemate at the July 28 “second reading” of the contentious legislation.

The Rent Control and Just Cause Eviction ordinance progressed steadily through City Council since discussion began in earnest in June, and it was poised for final approval last Tuesday — only to be delayed when a motion to extend the meeting past the mandated 11:30 pm adjournment failed to muster the requisite supermajority of five votes. With the Council’s August recess effectively begun, the only way to conclude the remaining business was to hold “special meetings”, subsequently revealing a political chasm never before seen in Richmond politics. 

On Wednesday, Mayor Tom Butt scheduled a special meeting of the Council for Monday August 3 at 6:30 pm to address all outstanding agenda items from the July 28 meeting including the second reading of the rent control ordinance. 

Nevertheless, on Thursday the über-progressive majority (Councilmembers Beckles, McLaughlin, Martinez and Myrick) scheduled their own special meeting for Friday July 31 at 6:00 pm, for the sole purpose of passing the same rent control item already on Mayor Butt’s agenda. In a possible violation of the Brown Act, McLaughlin had previously mentioned that four Councilmembers would be available on August 3 -- and yet Mayor Butt appears to have been left entirely out of the loop about the special meeting called for July 31. He stated that “They did not ask me or the other three [sic] council members if we were even available”. An email to Councilmember McLaughlin requesting clarification went unreturned.

As a result, Richmond is now in the unprecedented and difficult position of having two City Councils holding separate meetings, one an ideological majority intent on furthering its agenda at any cost and the other a bruised minority trying to make its more moderate voice count. Mayor Butt, a veteran of many factional disputes, remarked in an email:

“It kind of takes me back to the old days when Darrell Reese ran the City Council by controlling the majority….Now we have a new majority, creating their own agenda of entitlement, victimization and socialism, freezing out us minority members, making us irrelevant. What's the point of even showing up? I guess this is what the people wanted, and this is what they have.”

Rent Control and Just Cause Eviction will become law in Richmond. The question is, can the divide created by this legislation ever be bridged again or will ideological wedge issues dominate Council business until the next election?

 By: Felix Hunziker and Don Gosney