Item I-20 on the July 18 City Council Agenda authorizes the expenditure of at least $9,500 to send one city council member and three City staff members to an Island Tourism Conference in Zhoushan China.
AUTHORIZE travel for Councilmember Martinez, Port Director Jim Matzorkis, Port Operating and Marketing Manager Lucy Zhou, and City Council Liaison Trina Jackson to Zhoushan, China to attend the third annual International Island Tourism Conference and to update the Mutual Agreement between Richmond and Zhoushan - Councilmember Eduardo Martinez (620-6593).
The staff Report for the item states:
Zhoushan Mayor Wen Nuan has invited Richmond public officials to attend the third annual International Island Tourism Conference in Richmond's sister city, Zhoushan, China on September 21-23, 2017. Councilmember Eduardo Martinez has expressed an interest in attending this meeting. In addition to attending the conference, the Richmond-Zhoushan Mutual Agreement will be updated and ratified. In accordance with City Council policy, international travel by City Councilmembers and staff requires expressed approval by the Council.
RECOMMENDED ACTION: AUTHORIZE travel for Councilmember Martinez, Port Director Jim Matzorkis, Port Operating and Marketing Manager Lucy Zhou, and City Council Liaison Trina Jackson to Zhoushan, China to attend the third annual International Island Tourism Conference and to update the Mutual Agreement between Richmond and Zhoushan.
FINANCIAL IMPACT OF RECOMMENDATION: The estimated financial impact related to this item is $9,500 to be paid by the City Council and Port Department travel budgets. The City Council budget will be charged up to $2,500; any City Councilmember expenditures in excess of this limit will be paid for from the Port budget: 40181080-400-243; Council: 01115811 400243
Business development efforts in China in recent years have generated several successful partnerships for Richmond including the Terminal 1 development project, the Terminal 3 log export operation, and the Riggers Loft Wine Company. These projects are generating significant income and jobs for the City of Richmond.
I totally support the idea of sister cities for a number of reasons that I will discuss in a subsequent E-FORUM, but it is time for cash-challenged Richmond to stop bankrolling vacations in China for City staff. $10,000 spent on a China vacation for staff is $10,000 not spent on repairing streets, mowing weeds, or preventing crime.
City Council members all get a travel allowance and have complete discretion over what they spend it on. If Council member Martinez wants to use his travel budget to go to China, I totally support his right to do so. The problem is that his budget is probably insufficient to cover the trip, and the Port of Richmond has a slush fund that will pick up the difference. Note in the staff report above, “… any City Councilmember expenditures in excess of this limit will be paid for from the Port budget.” The Port of Richmond is the only City department that regularly augments City Council members’ travel budgets – and always for China trips.
It is time to explode the myth that these trips to China, primarily promoted and paid for by the Port of Richmond, have resulted in business for the Port or Chinese investments in Richmond. The City of Richmond has spent well over $100,000 in the last two decades sending delegations to China, primarily Port staff. There is no evidence of any return on investment for these China trips. As cited above, the Port of Richmond claims that the investment of Mr. Wu in the Riggers Loft and Terminal 1 is Exhibit A in proof of the value of China travel. The fact is that the infamous (and mysterious) Mr. Wu lives not in China but in Atlanta, and his investments in Richmond projects are totally unrelated to China travel. Mr. Wu is essentially an EB-5 broker who makes a commission from EB-5 investors. As far as the Riggers Loft is concerned, Wu failed to honor his investment commitment and caused a cash shortage that sent the owners scrambling. Fortunately, the Riggers Loft was able to recover and is doing quite well – no thanks to Wu.
The RJJ Management Corp that is leasing Terminal 3 has no discernable connection to these China trips. The company has been in the U.S. for years before approaching Richmond for use of Port facilities. Far from being a model tenant, RJJ Management Corp has never completed the CEQA and permitting requirements to operate in Richmond, is paying only $15,000 a month for the use of the large Terminal 3 facilities and is in breach of its lease in numerous ways. Prior to coming to Richmond, The RJJ Management Corp has been cited for water quality violations by the California Water Resources Control Board. RJJ is not a good Port tenant.
It is time for the Port of Richmond staff to stay home for a while and take care of Port business, which is being badly neglected. The Port routinely fails to collect rent from Port tenants and then fails to take any action on breached leases. They do not check things like insurance certificates to see if tenants are covered. They let tenants operate in violation of numerous laws and regulations. But they always find time to go to China.
If you agree with me, let your City Council members know. Their contact information is at http://ca-richmond2.civicplus.com/149/Biographies-Terms.