Tom Butt
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  The RPA in Action
September 14, 2016

Last night, the City Council considered a moratorium on rent increases and evictions placed on the agenda by the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA). The RPA knew full well that the six votes would not be there to pass it. The sole purpose was to use a City Council meeting as a venue to create a demonstration supporting rent control, and demonstrate they did.

After hearing 45 speakers, the City Council voted 4-3 as expected. Then the City Council chamber erupted in a loud demonstration led by RPA and ACCE members. The disturbance was so great that I had to recess the meeting for nearly half an hour for things to calm down.

I was asked by Councilmember Vinay Pimple to publish the following. For those who don’t know, Vinay is totally blind, but despite his disability, he graduated with a law degree from UC Berkeley and is a licenses attorney. He is probably the smartest person on the Richmond City Council.

A New Low From The RPA

Unfortunately, we have become used to the RPA turning council meetings into political theater. But yesterday marked a new low that I hope we don't see again.

For the Nth time, the RPA+Myrick placed a rent moratorium on the agenda, and as with all the other times, they got 4 instead of the required 6 votes. What followed was different. The dissenting votes were drowned out by shouts of "shame" from the audience and from the dais. Mayor Butt had to adjourn  the meeting to a 5 minute recess.

Council Member Beckles turned around and started screaming in Council Member Bates' face. After a while, she started screaming in my face. When she was done with calling me "disgusting" and other such, she started screaming in my face, the coarse messages on the RPA banners "Vinay is the Pimple on Tom's Butt." Despite Council Member Bates' repeated urgings "That isn't necessary," she kept screaming it multiple times in my face. She added loudly and multiple times that she wanted to tell me about the things I couldn't see. A friend told me later that Council Member Beckles was jamming her finger at me during this torrent of abuse. During this entire display, I sat quietly, not speaking a single word. Indeed, I hadn't spoken during the entire discussion on the item because it would only have resulted in upsetting or enraging those who had no interest in what I had to say.

My objection to strict rent control has always come purely from a social justice and empathetic perspective. 15 years ago, when I was living on my own, I had to move 8 times within 4 years. This was largely due to problems with our immigration system, and the tremendous discrimination against the blind in the housing market (Measure L will make it virtually impossible for the disabled to rent in our city). 3 of my moves were coast to coast relocations. And the lack of friends to help me shop/deliver a mattress, had meant that I slept on my carpet throughout my first year of law school, for example.

  • Measure L applies "Just Cause" to Section 8 housing. Talk to any public housing professional, and they will tell you that it will cause Section 8 providers to withdraw from Section 8. This is already happening in Richmond, and will eventually leave several hundred families without a home.
  • To see just how much rent control advantages whites over minorities, see the ethnicity table from this report prepared for the SF Board of Supervisors.
  • To see how the 4 bay area strict rent control cities (SF, Berkeley, Oakland, and East Palo Alto) are among the 5 most segregated bay area cities with significant African-American populations, follow this link, and make the necessary selections. CensusScope -- Racial Segregation Statistics for Cities and Metropolitan Areas
  • I don't think I need to provide any links to show the high rents in "rent control" cities.

I should mention that among the four options studied by city staff last year, city staff classed rent control as the least recommended option. I had supported all the other three options.

Returning to the abusive conduct during last night's meeting, the RPA's whipping up of a self-righteous hysteria should make us rethink the way we do politics. Clearly, for someone like Council Member Beckles, politics is little more than a self-indulgence. By what other measure does it make sense to call police "racists" and "executioners" as she has done in the past? In what universe would such language help with community policing?

The RPA has made a habit of using tragedies to whip up a self-righteous hysteria that they manipulate for political purposes. And what about the groups whose tragedies the RPA hasn't converted into political mileage? On the evidence of yesterday, those groups serve as targets for abuse and for taunts related to their disabilities

I agree with Vinay. The RPA is increasingly turning to the tactics Corky Booze once made famous, packing the City Council chambers with rude, angry people who shout down anyone who doesn’t agree with them.

We saw a similar example of RPA tactics against an 82-year old Hispanic woman who was erroneously accused of being greedy landlord:

The problem with the RPA is that they are so self-righteous; they believe they are always right, that no one else has a reasonable solution for a problem and that debate and compromise is surrender. Do you really want the RPA to control the Richmond City Council after the November election?

Tom Butt

Richmond council fails to pass emergency rent moratorium

By Karina Ioffee |
PUBLISHED: September 13, 2016 at 10:36 pm | UPDATED: September 14, 2016 at 4:12 am

A supporter of an emergency moratorium on rents waits outside Richmond City Hall Tuesday.
A supporter of an emergency moratorium on rents waits outside Richmond City Hall Tuesday. 

Despite pleas from dozens of residents facing rent increases and evictions, the Richmond City Council failed Tuesday to approve a temporary emergency moratorium to halt rent increases and no-cause evictions, 45 days before residents are to vote on a rent control measure.

Over the past year, many renters in this working class city have seen their rents increase by as much as $500 a month. Many others have received notices giving them 60 days to move out of their units, without a reason.

“We are facing a wave of evictions in Richmond,” said Councilwoman Gayle McLaughlin, author of the emergency moratorium. “Whether or not you support the rent control measure in the fall, supporting this now is the right thing to do for the stability of our community.”

More than three dozen residents spoke at a packed meeting Tuesday to urge the council to vote for the emergency provision that would have immediately halted evictions and rent increases in this city of 110,000. Many shared stories of having to hastily look for housing, change their children’s schools mid-year, and having to leave Richmond after receiving sudden increases or being asked to move out of units they have lived in for decades.

“Everyone who is not wealthy is being squeezed out and I can’t just stand by and see my neighbors being affected and do nothing,” said Tarnel Abbott, a Richmond resident and local activist. “Kids won’t be able to keep going to their schools. Constant moving around has everything to do with economic insecurity.”

Despite the wide condemnation by speakers, the council could not garner the six votes needed to pass the emergency ordinance, with council members Nat Bates, Vinay Pimple and Mayor Tom Butt voting ‘no.’ A super majority is required in order to approve an emergency measure. Following the vote, angry residents chanted “Shame on you,” forcing the council to call for a break.

“We won’t forget this in November,” yelled one woman who said she was facing eviction. Both Pimple and Bates are up for reelection.

Richmond is not the first city in the Bay Area to attempt to deal with skyrocketing housing prices through an emergency rent moratorium. Earlier this year, Alameda and Oakland both passed such moratoriums. There are currently five ballot measures for rent control around the Bay Area, including in Alameda, Mountain View, Burlingame, Richmond and San Mateo.

The problem is perhaps especially acute in Richmond, which is home to a large number of low-income residents, including many Latinos and blacks. With rents soaring, many worry that low-income renters are being pushed out, changing the fabric of the community.

“This is not a radical thing, but a basic type of protection for a community to put into place while they’re considering these options,” said a visibly frustrated Councilman Jael Myrick. “Why does Richmond have to dig our heels in and make everything a battle royale?”

Several landlords also spoke at the meeting, arguing that property owners often have no choice but to raise rents to afford repairs. They disagreed with the opponents’ characterization of landlords as “greedy,” saying many counted on their properties for retirement income. Under the rent control ordinance on the November ballot, rent increases would be capped at 3 percent a year.

“Three percent is not terrible if there aren’t crises, no legal problems or large fixes,” said Ilona Clark, who owns a duplex in Richmond. “That’s a lot of ‘ifs’… Mom and pop landlords need protections.”

Mayor Tom Butt, a vociferous opponent of rent control, portrayed Richmond’s housing crisis as a supply and demand problem.

“We simply have more people looking for housing than we have houses,” he said. “It’s not about who has compassion and who doesn’t.”

He added that the impending vote on rent control has “thrown landlords into a panic” creating a “manufactured crisis.”

Many booed upon hearing that, criticizing the mayor for having a conflict of interest. The mayor owns a single family rental home and a duplex, but neither would be subject to rent control. Ultimately, many supporters tried to appeal to the council members’ sense of justice, asking them to overlook their own objections to rent control and listen to the will of the people.

“How can you turn a deaf ear to the people who are suffering?” asked Millie Cleveland, a Richmond resident. “You have an obligation to the people living here.”