Tom Butt
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  A 25-Year Journey from Saigon to Richmond City Hall
July 24, 2021

With a lot of unexpected time on my hands due to the COVID-19 shutdown beginning in March of 2020, I did a lot of things I never would have made time for otherwise, like raising a baby crow (Covid the Corvid – Free as a Bird), reading nearly 100 books, eating breakfast, eating lunch at home, and finally, writing about Richmond politics before the time I was elected to the City Council.

Many people today believe that the tipping point of Richmond politics was sometime in the first or second decade of the 21st Century when an influx of progressives from back east came to town and started the RPA. Newcomers to Richmond might believe that a City Council standing up to Chevron and other industries was a phenomenon of the last ten years driven by the RPA (Refinery Town: Big Oil, Big Money, and the remaking of an American City and Winning Richmond: How a Progressive Alliance Won City Hall).

They might believe that the 2014 election, where all five Chevron-backed candidates lost, was Richmond’s defining watershed political moment. These are compelling narratives, but Richmond history is much more complicated, and these narratives ignore the fascinating march of Richmond politics that began years before the RPA had even heard of Richmond.

I was there, and I started a chronicle ( Click on A 25-Year Journey from Saigon to Richmond City Hall) as a summary, from my point of view, of Richmond politics from the early 1970s to 1995, when I was elected to the City Council. But those years were so intertwined with personal and business affairs that this turned into much more. There are three intertwined themes in this chronicle: Richmond government and politics, the Butt Family in Richmond and the architecture-engineering firm of  Interactive Resources.

This is a story about how Richmond changed and grew in the years from the early-1970s to the mid-1990s, including my personal experiences and observations. It is also about how our family and business grew along with Richmond during the same period.

Because Richmond has grown by 35,000 since 1980, we know that at least 35,000 people who live in Richmond today in 2021 were not here in the 1970s. Because of normal turnover, it is likely that more than half of Richmond’s current population is new since the 1970s and 1980s. There is little institutional memory of the far-reaching advocacy and public policy decisions of those years, the results of which we now take for granted.

As late as 1970, there was only 67 feet of Richmond’s 32 miles of shoreline legally accessible to the public. By 1990, 25 years later, that had increased to several miles, including over 3,000 acres of regional shoreline parks.

The 1970s saw the beginning of two flagship projects for Richmond, Marina Bay and Hilltop Mall. The former remains a thriving success while the latter has been all but abandoned. In the 1970s and 1980s, the seeds were planted to save Richmond’s iconic historic landmarks, including East Brother Lighthouse, Winehaven, the Ford Assembly Building and Point Richmond’s Hotel Mac.

Long before Black Lives Matter, Richmond was one of the first cities to set up a civilian police review commission to review complaints about excessive force and recommend policy matters to the police chief.

In researching this, I could not help but notice the extraordinary level and detail of media coverage in those decades compared to today. The local newspapers covered city and city council activities almost blow by blow with lots of analysis. Today, that is long gone.

I hope you find my narrative interesting and informative.