Tom Butt
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  Everything You Wanted to Know About Richmond's Sister Cities
July 17, 2017

Sister Cities

One of my jobs as mayor is to appoint people to boards and commissions. When a general lack of interest in a board or commission is indicated by a lack of applicants and serving members, it may be time to reexamine the need for such a board or commission and the need to devote City resources to it.

Currently, Richmond has three sister city relationships, including Shimada, Japan, Zhoushan, China, and Regla Cuba. Regla, Cuba, is not actually a city; it is a governmental subdivision of Havana, known as a municipality or borough (municipiosin Spanish).

According to Sister Cities International,

A sister city organization is a volunteer group of ordinary citizens who, with the support of their local elected officials, form long-term relationships with people and organizations in a city abroad. Each sister city organization is independent and pursues the activities and thematic areas that are important to them and their community including municipal, business, trade, educational and cultural exchanges with their sister city.

Sister city organizations promote peace through people-to-people relationships—with program offerings varying greatly from basic cultural exchange programs to shared research and development projects between cities with relationships.
Note the term “volunteer group” in the explanation above. I think the sister city program is a great way to build international understanding and expose Richmonders to other lands and other cultures. Since it is a sister “city” program, clearly cities have a key role to play. The question is whether these programs should be volunteer and community driven or whether they should be operated like a department of the city and subsidized with taxpayer money. Let’s take a more detailed look at Richmond’s sister city relationships.

Most sister city programs are independent 501(c)3 organizations supported by dedicated volunteers and private donors.


Richmond-Shimada Friendship Commission
. Our oldest, and most successful sister city relationship is with Shimada, Japan. It began in 1985 with Resolution No. 8337, which prescribed eleven members. Resolutions 89-85 and 8-88 amended the original to define the length and staggering of terms. Currently, our records show that there is only a single person actually appointed to the commission. The commission, however, is active, and both agendas and minutes have been posted regularly on the City’s website. Half a dozen or more people meet monthly. There is a two-way ambassador exchange program going on this spring and summer. The City’s website states:

Purpose: The Richmond-Shimada Friendship Commission was created for the purpose of initiating and conducting approved exchange activities with appropriate organizations, groups and citizens of Shimada.

History: In 1961 during a conference in Washington, DC, Councilmember Bradley greeted Mayor Mori of Shimada, Japan with an invitation to begin a sister city relationship.  At the October 16, 1961 City Council meeting, the Council voted in favor of the affiliation. 

Article from IBM ET News, Vol. 4 No. 9 December 1, 1962, “Friendship Writes Tale of 2 Cities:”

Richmond, CA - Promoting better understanding among nations is no mere cliche for citizens here.  As part of the "People-to-People" program, Richmond residents put words into action by holding a week-long, city-wide festival in honor of Shimada, Japan, their sister city.

The Richmond-Shimada town affiliation grew out of the People-to-People program, instituted in 1956 by President Eisenhower and subsequently endorsed by President Kennedy.  The program enables every citizen to play an important, tangible role in promoting international friendship and understanding.

A town affiliation links an American city with a community in a foreign land.  Usually, both share common characteristics-size, industry, geographical or economic similarities.

The Richmond-Shimada friendship began when the mayors of both cities met in Washington, DC to discuss the idea.  Actual affiliation was accomplished last year (1961).  In March, a Richmond-Shimada friendship week commission was appointed.

The first annual observance of Friendship Week had its auspicious beginning at the Richmond Memorial Auditorium.  speakers included mayor W.A. Cannon and Sumio Yoshii, chapter president of the local Japanese-American Citizens League.  Local residents spoke of the hospitality they had received during their recent trip to Shimada. 

Celebrating 50 Plus Years of Friendship: 2011 marked the 50th anniversary of the Richmond-Shimada friendship. In honor of this milestone, the Cities of Richmond and Shimada co-sponsored the Richmond-Shimada Golden Rose Festival on April 28, 2012 at the Richmond Memorial Convention Center. Community members came out and enjoyed performances from troupes that travelled from Shimada, Japan to participate in the festival.  Performances included Taiko Drumming, Japanese Sword Exhibition, Tea Ceremony, Calligraphy and more.  
Please email or phone 510-620-6581 to be added to an email distribution list for additional information. If you're interested in applying to become a commissioner, please download the Commission Application and contact Trina Jackson for instructions.

Resolution 8337 Establishing the Shimada Commission     Richmond-Shimada Friendship Ambassador Program

Regular Meeting Schedule:
Every 1st Wednesday of the Month
City Hall - Shimada Room
440 Civic Center Plaza

Richmond-Zhoushan Sister City Commission. The Richmond-Zhoushan Sister City relationship started in 1993 with Resolution 22-93 Establishing a Sister City Relationship with Zhoushan, Zhejiang, PR China. The  Richmond-Zhoushan Sister City Commission was formed by Resolution 74-08. The City’s website states:

The City of Richmond has had a commitment to international understanding through sister-city relationships since 1961 when Richmond became the first US City to establish a sister-city relationship with a Japanese city by the name of Shimada.

In keeping with our belief that person-to-person contact promotes world peace, the City of Richmond formed a sister-city relationship with Zhoushan, China in 1993 at the request of Walter Fong, a San Francisco businessman who had grown up in Zhoushan. Mr. Fong presented the proposal to former Richmond City Councilmember Jim McMillan, who spearheaded the establishment of the Richmond-Zhoushan Sister City relationship.

Subsequently, the first delegation from Zhoushan arrived in Richmond in the fall of 1993. The establishment of Richmond-Zhoushan relationship was completed when former Mayor Rosemary Corbin led a delegation of 19 Richmonders to Zhoushan and signed the first mutual agreement in 1994. Since then, the two cities have strived to send delegations back and forth on an annual alternating basis. Many lasting relationships have been formed, along with appreciation and understanding of our cultures has increased.

Our Sister City relationship has produced many successful exchanges, such as: a group of young professionals came from Zhoushan to study at Contra Costa College and live in Richmond homes, Richmond took two art exhibits to Zhoushan, Zhoushan brought an exhibit of Peasant Paintings to the Richmond Art Center where all were sold. Through a gracious donation from Kaiser Permanente Richmond, the committee was able to facilitate the delivery of essential medical supplies to the hospital in Zhoushan. We look forward to many more cultural and economic exchanges.

Richmond Zhoushan Commission meets on an adhoc basis. Please phone staff at 510-620-6581 for information.
The Richmond-Zhoushan Sister City Commission is supposed to have eleven members, but it has none. Currently, however, there are seven recent applicants. The problem is that the enabling resolution requires a majority to live in Richmond, so only five can be appointed, which is not a sufficient number to constitute a quorum for business.

The Commission is largely propped up and supported by the Port of Richmond, which has unsuccessfully pursued business relationships with Zhoushan for at least 15 years but has nothing to show for it. The agreement between Richmond and Zhoushan has expired.

In 2009, Friends of Zhoushan, a 501(c)3 (EIN#. 26-3274831) was organized and filed at request of the Zhoushan Commission to raise money for commission activities. The IRS revoked the corporation’s status for failure to file a form 990 for three consecutive years.

There have been several delegations over the years to and from Zhoushan, the most recent being on May 16, 2017, when a delegation of Zhoushan officials visited. In 2012, Richmond Confidential wrote (“City officials celebrate friendship, new trade possibilities, with Asian sister cities”):

Port of Richmond executive director James Matzorkis led the business-related trip to Zhoushan, a city in the northeastern Zhejiang province of Eastern China; the two ports are planning out the future trade of automobiles, as well as dry and liquid bulk products. Accompanying Matzorkis were City Manager Bill Lindsay and city council members Nat Bates and Corky Boozé.

Richmond-Regla relationship has no official city committee or commission, but there is an active committee that meets periodically and sponsors cultural activities. See the City’s Regla, Cuba website. There is no active underlying agreement.

The City website states:

On September 14, 1999, the Richmond City Council by unanimous vote passed resolution #147-99 establishing the relationship with Regla, Cuba. An official delegation presided by then Vice Mayor Irma L. Anderson traveled to Regla to sign the agreement with Regla officials on December 16, 1999. Regla celebrated its 300th birthday in 1987. Once a smugglers’ port and the setting of Havana’s bullfights today it is a major center of industry. Regla is a blue collar town with a long history of struggle. The main electricity-generating plant for Havana is in Regla, along with oil refineries. Regla has a large Afro-Cuban population and it is an important cultural and religious center of Santeria. 
Monthly meetings of the Richmond-Regla, Cuba Sister City Committee are held on the second Tuesday of the month at 1:30pm at the following location. Please phone to confirm, dates are subject to change.
Cost of Sister Cities

The City of Richmond has spent over a hundred thousand dollars, maybe twice that, subsidizing trips to these sister cities by City employees and City Council members.

I totally support the sister city program, and the City has a vital role to play in it, but the cost of these relationships should not be
borne by Richmond taxpayers for the benefit of a handful of City staff and City Council members to take free junkets.

I recommend that we assist any interested people to set up a 501(c)3 to raise funds and for sister city costs and get the City out of the business of subsidizing them.