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  East Bay Times Richmond Endorsements
October 5, 2022

I’m not sure anyone reads the East Bay Times anymore because there is rarely any Richmond news in it, if any news at all. Dan Borenstein does the endorsements, and he did a pretty good job except for District 2. He recommended Cesar Zepeda over Andrew Butt for the puzzling reason that Cesar might get along better with the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA). Borenstein severely criticizes the RPA for defunding the police but seems to favor a candidate who will coddle them. Zepeda is, for all practical purposes, a member of the RPA. For example, he joined the RPA and John Gioia in stopping the sale of the developable area of Point Molate for $45 million and wound up with a sale to a casino developer and an Indian tribe for $400.00 – four hundred dollars – leaving the City $22.5 million poorer plus foregoing millions more in future taxes. That money would have been useful in rebuilding our police department, addressing homelessness and cleaning up Richmond – not to mention paying off unfunded pension benefits that drives Borenstein crazy.

Borenstein characterized Andrew Butt as having a “bulldog approach,” which seems to be what the City of Richmond needs these days.

If you want a smart City Council person with backbone, vote for Andrew. If you want a “go along to get along” City Council member, vote for Cesar.

Editorial: Richmond voters should stop decimation of Police Department

Elect Shawn Dunning mayor; Cesar Zepeda in council District 2; Oscar Garcia in District 3; Soheila Bana in District 4

Richmond police officers investigate a car-to-car drive-by shooting where a person was killed at the corner of Cutting Boulevard and South 45th Street in Richmond on April 2, 2020.
 Richmond police officers investigate a car-to-car drive-by shooting where a person was killed at the corner of Cutting Boulevard and South 45th Street in Richmond on April 2, 2020.

PUBLISHED: October 5, 2022 at 5:33 a.m. | UPDATED: October 5, 2022 at 5:53 a.m.

Since the start of the pandemic, Richmond City Council members have decimated the Police Department as part of their defunding effort.

Police staffing levels plunged 26% in one year, fewer crimes are being investigated, demoralized officers are working excessive overtime and fleeing the department for other jobs or retirement, and recruitment has slowed to a trickle because few want to work in Richmond. Meanwhile, there were 18 homicides in the first nine months of this year, matching the entirety of 2022.

The question for city voters in the Nov. 8 election is, do they want to stick with the Richmond Progressive Alliance, which spearheaded the defunding effort after winning majority control of the council in 2020? The alliance needs to win just one of the four seats on the ballot to retain control.
Richmond City Council districts
Richmond City Council districts 

Or do voters want to return to a more thoughtful council majority that can start rebuilding the Police Department? For that, voters should back Shawn Dunning for mayor, Cesar Zepeda for City Council in District 2, Oscar Garcia in District 3, and Soheila Bana in District 4.

If there’s any good news in Richmond, it’s that city leaders are starting to attack some of the issues that led the state auditor using data from 2019-20 to rank Richmond the ninth worst on a list of financially at-risk cities in California. The council is working to reach a new 15%-20% budget reserve policy, smaller than many cities but a major improvement over years past when Richmond was barely able to pay its bills. And the city has finally extracted itself from a costly and ill-conceived bond deal that was supposed to help the city cover some of its pension obligations.

That said, the city still has tremendous debt for the pension and retiree health programs totaling about $500 million, an amount equal to about seven years of city payroll. That’s roughly the same as it was seven years ago.

40% reduction in cops

The bad news is that the City Council majority’s effort to reimagine public safety has significantly contributed to the sudden reduction of cops on the streets and investigating crimes.

The department had experienced a slow but steady decline in sworn officers, from 182 in the 2014-15 fiscal year to 149 in the 2020-21 fiscal year, when the RPA gained majority control and demands to defund the police accelerated.

In June 2021, as it was preparing the budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year, the City Council cut the approved positions for the already-shrunken department to 145 and trimmed $3 million from its budget. And it came with the message that there would be more cuts in the future to fund alternative public safety measures.

That’s when cops began to flee and, in the 2021-22 fiscal year, the sworn staffing level plunged to 110, 26% fewer than the year before and a 40% reduction from seven years earlier. With 15 injured or on light duty, that leaves about 95 cops available today. They’re working at least 10 hours of mandatory overtime each week. It’s a recipe for tired officers to make deadly mistakes.

Covering patrol beats leaves few officers for other tasks. Whereas in 2014 there were about 50 detectives to investigate crimes, today there are 13. Cases are going unsolved. The department is reactive rather than proactive. It’s unsustainable.

We have been a passionate critic of police abuse, including the Richmond department’s unjustifiable number of dog bites. But the answer is to weed out the bad cops, not leave the city’s residents unprotected.

Police Chief Bisa French has said that if the council implements plans to provide civilian support for calls such as mental health problems and fender-bender accidents, the department would still need 165 officers, what it had just three years ago, to properly address crime and be responsive to the community.

But stopping cops from fleeing Richmond is unlikely without a new council majority.

Shawn Dunning is running for the Mayor of Richmond in 2022. (Photo courtesy of Shawn Dunning)
Shawn Dunning 

Mayor – Shawn Dunning

With Tom Butt, who has unsuccessfully fought the police budget cuts, unable to run for mayor again because of term limits, two incumbent City Council members and two other candidates are vying for the top job.

Dunning is a leadership consultant who specializes in conflict resolution. And he wants to practice his trade by being a bridge on the council between the two warring factions that have divided city politics for years.

But don’t mistake him for some lightweight candidate. He was far more informed on details of city finances and other issues than the two incumbent City Council members in the race, Eduardo Martinez and Nat Bates.

Dunning wants to significantly increase the number of police officers, but he also supports civilian crime prevention and mental health support in partnership with Contra Costa County, which has funding for such programs.

Martinez, who has served on the council eight years, struggled to answer whether he wants to hire more cops, while Bates, 91, who says he’s the nation’s oldest elected public official in a city of more than 100,000 people, wants more officers. The fourth candidate, Mark Wassberg, who lives in his truck in El Sobrante and collects his mail in Richmond, did not attend the virtual interview after saying he would.

Richmond city council candidate Cesar Zepeda photographed in studio in Walnut Creek, Calif., on Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016. (Dan Honda/Bay Area News Group)
Cesar Zepeda 

District 2 – Cesar Zepeda

Zepeda, a member of the West County Wastewater District board who came within 44 votes of winning a City Council seat in 2018, supports the police chief’s goal to boost staffing. He’s also mindful of the budget implications of any changes and understands the city’s retirement debt, in part because his day job is as a health and benefits consultant.

His opponent, Andrew Butt, an architect, former city planning commissioner and son of the outgoing mayor, also backs hiring more cops. While Butt is smart and well-informed, if the progressive alliance holds on to majority control, his bulldog approach would likely leave him ineffectual at bridging the divide.

The city needs leaders who can reach calm compromise. Zepeda is the better fit to reach that goal.

Oscar Garcia is running for Richmond City Council District 3 in 2022. (Photo courtesy of Oscar Garcia)
Oscar Garcia 

District 3 – Oscar Garcia

The candidates in this race include Corky Boozé, who was a disruptive force on the council from 2010-14 and is not temperamentally suited to confront the serious challenges ahead.

Which leaves Oscar Garcia and Doria Robinson, both natives of the Iron Triangle neighborhood. Garcia, a Police Review Commission member, is an environmental engineer for a renewable energy firm. Robinson is the executive director of Urban Tilth, a non-profit that hires and trains local residents to cultivate agriculture.

Both are knowledgeable about and hold similar views on many of the challenges facing the city. But they differ on the big issue, police staffing: Robinson, backed by the progressive alliance, wants to wait to decide whether to trim or increase the number of officers. Garcia is clear that the city needs more cops. For that reason, we recommend Garcia.

Soheila Bana candidate for Richmond City Council, District 4. (Courtesy of Soheila Bana)
Soheila Bana 

District 4 – Soheila Bana

Bana, a Parks and Recreation Commission member, is a retired transportation engineer for Caltrans who led the Bay Area chapter of the state engineers union. She backs the police staffing levels the chief says are necessary. And she understands Richmond’s financial challenges, including the huge unfunded retirement liabilities.

In contrast, Jamin Pursell, the progressive alliance candidate, dismisses the police staffing shortage as no different from any other city. He’s wrong. And when it comes to discussing the city’s finances and, in particular, the unfunded retirement liability, he spouts out wildly inaccurate numbers and doesn’t understand how government pensions work.

Bana is the far superior candidate in this race.