Tom Butt, Richmond City Council Member
Accomplishments Since 2008
For accomplishments prior to 2008, the beginning of my current term, see Archives.
For a detailed summary of political events in Richmond for the last four years, see
In November of 2008, I was re-elected to a fourth term on the Richmond City Council. Following is a year by year summary, starting with 2012 and working back, of the highlights of what we accomplished during the last four years, including issues, initiatives and polices I supported. In many cases, I authored or cosponsored legislation or policy resolutions to implement them or provided research, leadership or collaboration to put them in place.
The nation-wide economic recession left all of us in Richmond with lower property values, and the rate of unemployment is clearly higher than it was in 2008. Taking into account and putting aside the effects of those national, statewide and regional trends over which we have little control, Richmond is otherwise clearly better off than it was four years ago.
But there is lots of good news. Homicides continue to plague us, but crime overall continues a multi-year downward trend. We have maintained the number of police officers on the streets while also supporting the Office of Neighborhood Safety to supplement the efforts of law enforcement. The condition of our streets, while far from perfect, is the best it has been in many years.
You can get plenty of bad news in the traditional media, but I tend to gravitate toward good news involving Richmond, which is way underreported. In fact, the E-FORUM is mostly good news about Richmond. The advent of Richmond Confidential in 2009 continues to bring a welcome new source of news that often focused on the positive. You can subscribe to the City Manager’s Weekly Report, which is also an excellent source of information about mostly positive developments and activities in Richmond.
To see all E-FORUM postings. Click on http://www.tombutt.com/e-forum/e-forum.htm and browse through them.
I started the E-FORUM in 2001 to provide primarily Richmond-related news, information and points of view not readily available in the mainstream media, although I have copied and shared a lot of articles from mainstream media over the years.
The first E-FORUM was dated January 13, 2001, and carried information about obtaining public records from the City of Richmond.
In 2002, I published 180 E-FORUMs, but by 2009, I was up to 460. In 2010, it was 506. In 2011, I dropped to 340, but it sure seems like more.
E-FORUMS typically fall into three categories:
Copies of content from other media, including emails from other people and organizations announcing events or providing information.
Copies of content from other media with some preliminary editorializing by me.
Pieces that are primarily editorial or personal reports.
I have about 2,000 people and about 40 media contacts on my current list, but I understand a lot more people get it through secondary distribution from primary addressees.
In addition to email distribution, all E-FORUMS since 2002 are accessible on my website http://www.tombutt.com/e-forum/e-forum.htm. The website, www.tombutt.com gets a lot of traffic:
In 2011, 231,371 visitors logged 1,099,762 hits.
Visitors averaged 639 a day with an average of 3,038 hits per day.
21,718 visitors bookmarked www.tombutt.com.
The five most visited E-FORUMs in 2011 months were:
– California's Business Tax Burden No Heavier Than Average, November 7, 2010 (7,062 hits)
– Final Draft General Plan and FEIR, August 21, 2011 (6,624 hits)
– North Shoreline General Plan Study Session Postponed, July 2, 2011 (2,028 hits)
– CC Times Editorial - Hiring Magnus Was a Stroke of Genius, December 30, 2010 (1,750 hits)
– Berkeley Celebrates Washington Elementary School Solar Installation February 25, 2009 (1,357 hits)
The five most downloaded files in 2012 were an eclectic assortment. The most popular was a memoir of my Army experiences. One related to Rosie the Riveter WW II Home Front National Historical Park. One was the 2011 New Year’s edition. One was a float trip travelogue by my brother. One was a genealogy paper on the Butt family, and the fifth one was about Point Molate.
I get a lot of responses to E-FORUM postings, and I read and appreciate all of them. Sometimes on a controversial subject I will create and send a digest of responses. I respond to a few, but I just don’t have time to respond to all of them all of the time.
I have no staff, other than two people in my office who help me a lot, but only by entering and deleting email addresses and transferring E-FORUM’s to my website.
I recommend you take a look at these previous E-Forums. You will be amazed at how many challenges have persisted unabated, how many predictions have been fulfilled and how one year’s top stories became distant memory a year later.
I continue to work full time in my profession as an architect in addition to spending 10 to 20 hours a week on City Council business. My architecture-engineering firm, Interactive Resources, continues to be a leader in sustainable design with projects certified as LEED Silver, Gold and Platinum.
Among City Council members, I am the only one who:
Owns and operates a Richmond business and has to make a substantial weekly payroll.
Served in the armed forces in a combat theater (Vietnam).
I serve on more regional and statewide boards and commissions than any other councilmember.
With support from Interactive Resources, I continue to provide substantial pro bono architecture and engineering services for civic projects in Richmond. For example, I raised over $10 million in grants and tax credits for rehabilitation of the Maritime Child Care Center and provided seven years of pro-bono project management services valued at over $500,000.
I serve on the boards of two Richmond-based non-profits, East Brother Light Station, Inc., which operates and maintains the historic lighthouse one-quarter mile off Richmond’s western shore, and Rosie the Riveter Trust, which is the non-profit partner of Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park. I was a founder of Rosie the Riveter Trust and served as president for its first eleven years.
Involvement in organizations that work at a state and national level on issues vital to cities has also been a priority for me. In 2008, I was elected by my peers (members of city councils and county boards of supervisors statewide) as chair of the Local Government Commission, and served four years as chair.
I also serve as an alternate board member on both BCDC and Contra Costa LAFCO, and I represent Richmond on the West Contra Costa Transportation Advisory Committee and the Marin Energy Authority. I also serve on the League of California Cities Environmental Quality Policy Committee.
Why is this important for Richmond? These assignments bring me into touch with local elected officials from around the region, state and country that are continuing sources of information about successful projects and programs that could be useful in Richmond.
Richmond has 32 miles of shoreline, more than any other city on San Francisco Bay. BCDC has permitting jurisdiction for any project within 100-feet of the shoreline.
LAFCO has significant powers over cities and special districts that provide services in Contra Costa County, including many that affect Richmond.
The West Contra Costa Transportation Advisory Committee determines what projects and programs in Richmond will be funded by county, state and federal money.
The Marin Clean Energy Authority will be the primary electrical energy provider to Richmond beginning in 2013.
2012 So Far
2012 so far has been a year of both great accomplishments and great changes.
The City Council has generally settled into two factions, with most, but not all, controversial votes split 5-2, with Bates and Booze typically on the losing end. I think it’s more about political and personal animosities than it is about ideology.
Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of 2012 so far was adoption of the new General Plan 2030. This is the community’s vision for Richmond for the next two decades. The City Council voted to approve it 5-2, with Bates and Booze dissenting.
The most welcome news was the announcement by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory that Richmond will be the location of its new second campus. This will bring jobs, prestige and collateral economic development to the City. I authored the first resolution over three years ago urging LBNL to relocate facilities to Richmond and documenting the City Council’s unanimous support.
2012 was also the year that redevelopment ended in California, taking away millions of dollars of discretionary funding that cities have traditionally used to fight blight, create jobs and support city services. We will have to get much more creative in the future to find money for these ends. Grants, tax credits and other strategies will become increasingly important. For example, the State of California awarded Richmond a $5 million Prop 84 grant to continue developing the Richmond Greenway from 2nd Street to 20th Street. $337,818 Grant, funded by Prop. 84 (Strategic Growth Council) to support the proposed Mathieu Court Alley Greening and Victory Garden Project.
Early in 2012, we found out that crime rates continued to fall in Richmond through 2011. The crime comparisons between 2010 (which also showed significant violent crime decreases) and 2011 were generally positive. Violent crime in Richmond decreased 14% compared to 2010. Some of the biggest decreases involved reductions in armed robberies and carjackings. The use of high profile efforts to reduce stolen vehicles, including the use of License Plate Readers (LPRs) and intense public education campaigns, helped bring this number down for the first time in several years (- 13%). There also continued significant decreases in Shots Fired calls (-13% — likely linked to our use of the ShotSpotter gunfire detection system) and Man with a Gun calls (-18%). I believe the City Council’s continued support of staffing levels for the Richmond Police Department as well as supporting the Office of Neighborhood Safety are making Richmond a safer place.
Richmond’s relationship with Chevron has improved markedly during 2012, partially due to efforts by Chevron and the City to work together but also due to events outside the control of either. The Contra Costa Assessment Appeals Board, after hearing Chevron’s property tax appeal, surprised a lot of people by actually increasing Chevron’s valuation for years 2007-2009, which could result in a nice revenue windfall for the City.
I have continued to push expansion of Richmond’s railroad grade crossing quiet zones. Cutting and 4th Street will come on line this summer and Canal Boulevard before the end of the year.
I joined the City Council’s 5-2 majority in placing the “soda tax” on the November ballot, giving Richmond voters an opportunity to do something that most experts believe is the most effective step that can be taken to fight childhood obesity and its attending health impacts.
On May 26, 2012, the long-awaited Visitor Education Center at Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park had a grand opening celebration, marking an important milestone in the park’s growing reputation and popularity. I have worked hard to support the park’s development for over a decade, testifying in Congress in 1999 to advocate its creation, founding Rosie the Riveter Trust and serving as president of Rosie the Riveter Trust for its first decade and volunteering thousands of hours for projects to restore park infrastructure such as the Maritime Center and Whirley Crane.
I took on a contentious but successful battle to move millions of dollars of grant funding to the Riggers Loft so that it could be not only restored but would be able to generate revenue for the Port of Richmond. I also authored a resolution that made it a City policy to provide free berth rent for the SS Red Oak Victory in exchange for services provided by the Richmond Museum of History to continue restoring and maintaining the ship and making it an attraction to the public. Both of these efforts succeeded on 5-2 votes.
In another victory for Richmond residents who value a choice in what kind of electrical energy they purchase, the City Council voted 5-2 to join Marin Clean Energy, a Community Choice Aggregation joint powers authority that provides an opportunity to purchase 50% or 100% renewable energy. Once again, the vote was 5-2. I first learned about Community Choice Aggregation as a result of my involvement with the Local Government Commission several years ago, and I have worked ever since to bring it to Richmond. The City Council has appointed me as Richmond’s representative on the governing board, where Richmond will have the largest single vote of any participating jurisdiction.
The year 2011 saw the seating of a new City Council with two new members (Beckles and Booze) and a returning incumbent, Jim Rogers. The vision of a united Council quickly vanished after the votes that ended the future of a Point Molate casino were taken.
I joined the majority in the vote that ended the casino project on April 6, 2011, with a 5-2 vote. Rogers and Bates dissented.
After the Chevron Energy and Hydrogen Renewal Project was finally snuffed out by the Court in 2011, I worked hard to persuade Chevron to re-engage and re-apply for the permit, advocating an entitlement process that would be bulletproof, efficient and successful. I wrote and introduced a resolution to encourage Chevron to proceed, and Mayor McLaughlin and Councilmember Ritterman joined me to support it.
From the March 1, 2011, City Council Minutes:
J-2. ADOPT a resolution authorizing the city manager to encourage the Chevron Richmond Refinery to proceed with an application for the Chevron Richmond Renewal Project - Mayor McLaughlin (620-6503), Vice Mayor Butt, and Councilmember Ritterman (620-6581). In the matter to adopt a resolution authorizing the city manager to encourage the Chevron Richmond Refinery to proceed with an application for the Chevron Richmond Renewal Project, Vice Mayor Butt and Mayor McLaughlin gave an overview. The following individuals gave comments: Greg Karras, Kenneth Davis, Dean O'Hair, and Eduardo Martinez. On motion of Vice Mayor Butt, seconded by Mayor McLaughlin adopted Resolution No. 15-11 by the following vote: Ayes: Councilmembers Beckles, Booze, Ritterman, Rogers, Vice Mayor Butt, and Mayor McLaughlin. Noes: None. Abstentions: None. Absent: Councilmember Bates.
What should have been an no-brainer sparked more than three hours of contentious debate on November 1 , 2011, when the City Council finally certified the environmental review and adopted a Bicycle Master Plan and a Pedestrian Master Plan that keep the city on course to add bike lanes and pedestrian improvements to city streets. The council then voted to certify the EIR and approve the plans 5-2, with Booze and Bates voting no.
In August, the rehabilitated Maritime Center opened for use as a charter school and office for the Richmond Community Foundation. I worked for seven years on the project, raising $11 million in grants and tax credits, including a grant from Richmond’s now defunct Redevelopment Agency.
In 2011, the transformation continued subtly but significantly of Richmond from a city historically controlled by industrial, real estate and corporate interests to a City responding to more broadly-based constituency. That doesn’t mean that jobs, economic development and business took a back seat. It just means that the nature of public policies supporting these has changed.
Nothing exemplified this better than the continuing discussion of green jobs versus just jobs. The City Council majority has made green jobs and technology jobs priorities for two reasons: they believe science and technology, particularly in support of sustainability, are the future, and they recognize that is where the most job growth is. In the last Weekly Report of 2011, the city manager noted that Ekso Bionics, a company named by San Francisco Business Times as number 24 of the “Fastest Growing Bay Area Private Companies of 2011,” and by Time Magazine as “One of the 50 Best Innovations in 2010” (for their eLEGS), recently signed a lease to move their operations to Richmond (the Ford Point Building) in early April 2012.
Mainly because they don’t embrace the progressive majority, the Richmond Chamber of Commerce often groused about the emphasis on green jobs, but in perhaps the biggest local collaboration of 2010, Richmond put together what is widely considered the most enthusiastic and effective campaigns among competitors to land the second campus of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. LNBL’s mission is substantially involved with energy efficiency, renewable energy and climate change, which makes it attractive to the City Council majority. Even for those who are not impressed by energy research and may not even believe in climate change, the jobs, prestige and business opportunities are just what Richmond needs.
From January to December 2011, Richmond employment grew by 1,000 jobs, and the unemployment rate dropped from 17.9% to 15.0%.
And with programs like Richmond Build, the City of Richmond continued to play a role in training people successfully for employment in the green economy.
Richmond is blessed with abundant and significant historic resources, yet less than ten years ago, a City Council majority considered historic preservation frivolous, and City staff responded by trying to kill off the City’s fledging preservation programs. In 2011, Richmond was recognized both statewide and nationally for its historic preservation programs and projects that included the Civic Center rehabilitation, the Richmond Plunge rehabilitation and the Ford Assembly Building rehabilitation. The City began to both appreciate and benefit from the economic development and job creation opportunities inherent in its historic resources.
Ten years ago, who would have thought of Richmond as a destination for visitors? Since then, the Richmond Convention & Visitors Bureau was founded (by the Richmond Chamber of Commerce, no less) and has thrived. Look at the Weekly Events Calendar and subscribe to “What’s Happening in Richmond.” Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park came to Richmond in 2000, and it has taken a long time to build funding, staff and programs, but in 2012 the Visitor Center would open next to the Boiler House at the Ford Building. The park Service expects 50,000 visitors a year.
The Craneway Pavilion became a major events venue, and the Richmond Rockets an American Basketball Association team called the Memorial Convention Center home.
The Bay Trail in Richmond has more miles completed than any other city and attracts a growing number of users from throughout the Bay Area for both walking and cycling. At the southern end of the Bay Trail in Richmond is Point Isabel Dog Park, the bay Area’s most popular destination or dog owners.
Urban agriculture has got a boost recently in Richmond, and Richmond’s green initiatives continue. For example, we launched the Richmond Recovery Solar Rebate (R3) program, which offers solar and energy efficiency rebates to homeowners, and provides jobs for local graduates of our green job training academy. Community groups have helped us beautify our neighborhoods and promote a healthier Richmond with the planting of new trees and growing of community gardens, and we held our first Urban Agriculture Summit, which has led to the creation of a Richmond Food Policy Council to explore ways of accessing healthier food for our community.
Because of complex socio-economic factors and a changing population that includes many English learners, the West Contra Costa Unified School District that serves Richmond is faced with many challenges, yet performance indicators continued to trend upwards in 2011. One highlight of the year was the 2011 Golden bell Award from the California School Boards Association for the successful Ivy League Connection program. WCCUSD also has the most ambitious facilities program in the state, on a per capita basis, that the people of West County have voted to fund with over a billion dollars in bonds to rehabilitate or replace every school in Richmond.
Richmond’s biannual community survey found extensive cynicism but improvement from the last survey in 2009.
And the City came together like never before to persuade LNBL to make the Richmond Field Station it new second campus.
The Richmond Plunge received a California Preservation Award in 2011.
2010 was a remarkable year in Richmond. While cities all over California were fighting fiscal disaster, including bankruptcy, scandals, police layoffs and even disincorporation, Richmond remained lean but healthy. We hired cops that other cities were laying off. For the fourth year in a row, violent crime was down again, approximately 11% in 2011 compared to 2010 and we had had 21 homicides to date in 2011 year compared to 47 in 2010.
The election results stunned those who had always counted on the traditional Richmond power establishment to deliver a compliant City Council.
Key to our balanced budget was a $114 million settlement with Chevron over tax issues that would not have been possible without the pressure that both voters and politicians continued to bring for an equitable share of Chevron profits made possible by our city’s continued forbearance of the unhealthy byproducts of hosting a refinery.
Finally, more and more people began to grow both weary and wary of the Point Molate casino project that promised so much when it was fresh and exciting in 2004 but was growing stale.
In a seismic political event, old school politics was swept out of Richmond for perhaps the first time in history. Mayor McLaughlin, who squeaked to only a 279 vote win over Irma Anderson in 2006, posted a 1,402 vote win in 2010 over runner-up Nat Bates when all the ballots were counted.
2008 runner-up Jovanka Beckles climbed into third place to beat out incumbents Maria Viramontes and Ludmyrna Lopez, and perennial challenger Corky Booze proved persistence pays by vaulting into first place. The only incumbent city council member to return was Jim Rogers, who pulled up in second place.
The campaign was remarkably slow to start, but once warmed up was marked by the largest expenditures in Richmond history and an unprecedented hail Mary political fusillade against the mayor by the public safety unions that left a bitter taste in almost everyone’ s mouth.
McLaughlin’s win was not a surprise to pollsters, but they actually expected an even larger margin. Despite her vilification by establishment powers including the Chamber of Commerce, Chevron, the construction trades and the fire and police unions, she remained a popular figure for voters. She also benefitted from a three-way race where the opposition was split by two candidates who appealed to the same conservative political base. And finally, the state of the City was generally economically sound with lots of accomplishments, including a dramatic reduction in homicides, completion of high profile public works projects and sustained public services in the face of declining revenues. Her opposition ran almost exclusively on the “jobs” issue, but their anti-business claims failed to get enough traction to make a difference. A number of people tried to persuade either Bates or Ziesenhenne to drop out, but in the end, their egos prevailed -- as well as McLaughlin.
Chevron bet the bank on Bates, Viramontes and Lopez, dropping over a million dollars on what turned out to be a very bad investment. Over all, these three losing candidates benefitted from nearly $2 million of independent committee spending. The baggage they carried from their unmitigated support of the Chevron project and their recent key votes for the Point Molate casino hurt them at a time when the vote on Measure U indicated the public had soured on a casino as the cure for whatever ailed Richmond. What probably finished them off was a half million dollars in independent committee expenditures by card clubs that pointed out their weaknesses and promoted their opponents.
The biggest surprise was Corky Booze, who not only won after nine unsuccessful campaigns tries but got the highest number of votes. After never missing a City Council meeting in decades and speaking on almost every agenda item, Corky had better name recognition than some sitting councilmembers, and he was on the right side of the casino issue. Support by the card clubs bolstered his already established familiarity with voters with a succession of compelling and well-designed mailers.
Jovanka was able to build on her previous success in 2008 when she almost beat me and was the beneficiary of $30,000 spent by Jim Rogers promoting her campaign. She also ran as part of the Richmond Progressive Alliance, which counts Gayle McLaughlin and Jeff Ritterman as past successes. She ran with only a modest $26,000 in her campaign chest.
Jim Rogers defies analysis. He was also on the wrong side of the Chevron project and the Point Molate casino, but his pronouncements carried sufficient equivocation that the voters may have concluded he agreed with them regardless of their position on the issues. He was neither the target nor the beneficiary of most of the vast amounts of independent committee expenditures, so that storm essentially passed him by. It’s clear to me that Rogers has a solid base who will always turn out for him. Perhaps someone can reverse engineer him and decode the political DNA that seems to always triumph.
The result is a City Council that perhaps for the first time ever had a majority, and maybe even a super majority, that is not predictably tied to the traditional political interests of the Richmond establishment, which includes developers, the Chamber of Commerce, the construction trades, public safety unions and Chevron.
What does it all mean? I predicted that those who preached that Richmond would sink into some anti-business and experimental socialistic miasma will be disappointed. I believed the new Council majority will pursue policies that make Richmond even more attractive for business as well as residents, and our city will emerge from the great recession a safer, cleaner and healthier place to live and work.
After six years of support by the City Council, the proposed Point Molate project featuring a casino as its anchor attraction not only lost its City Council majority but also sustained a life threatening defeat at the ballot box.
Some of us who initially supported the project did so because if offered so much: shoreline parks, open space, the Bay Trail, rehabilitation of historic buildings, cultural venues and events, money for the City treasury and jobs – lots of jobs -- for Richmond residents. The developer was supposed to be politically connected in Washington, ensuring an on ramp to the fast track. We all thought it would be open in a couple of years – five at the most.
But nothing much actually happened, other than transfer of the property to the City of Richmond and a check from the Navy to pay for cleanup.
Six years later, we didn’t even have a completed EIR. None of the federal approvals had been forthcoming. The financial backing changed, but no one had actually seen the money. Bait and switch appeared to be the modus operandi of the developer who promised historic preservation but planned to remove over 30% of the historic buildings, described a world-class resort but really intended only a casino, a 4,000 space parking structure and a modest hotel and talked about jobs in numbers almost beyond belief but was unwilling to guarantee a single one.
It also became clear that even if approved, the project and the jobs it promised were years away, maybe as much as a decade. Although proponents talked as if thousands of jobs were right around the corner, residents were losing patience, and the public perception of the developer’s integrity was dropping like a rock.
There had always been a core of Richmond residents opposed to the casino, maybe as much as 50%, but those numbers increased as confidence faded. To bolster public support from previously vocal critics, the developer purchased Contra Costa County support with a promise of $8 to $12 million annually and environmental community support for a reported $40 million, more than even the City of Richmond would net. But it didn’t cost the developer a cent, since it was all triggered by opening of the casino. It was too little, too late; however, and the voters of Richmond made it clear that the casino’s luck had run out.
Politically, the project had been running on life support with a bare four-vote margin on the City Council for months. Two of those votes, Lopez and Viramontes, were thrown out in the November election.
Although enough rancor between the City and Chevron lingered to last years, one major issue was settled in 2010 involving the City’s efforts to wring more revenue from Chevron and Chevron’s efforts to resist. Using the utility users tax and the business license tax as levers, Richmond entered the year 2010 with visions of lots of dollars from the 2008 Measure M and even more from a utility tax revision.
Chevron opened by playing its favorite and well-worn card, the one that says, “We are going to close the refinery, and won’t you be sorry about how badly you have treated us?”
Chevron had already counterattacked with a Measure M lawsuit and threatened to place its own competing measure on the ballot to gut the utility tax. Risks were high all around, and the parties agreed to negotiate.
I served on the negotiating committee that carved out a settlement with Chevron that scuttled both Measure M and any utility tax revisions but gave Richmond $114 million in additional revenue over the next 15 years. For the first time in decades, Chevron was not a key campaign issue except for those who lost despite Chevron’s million dollar investment in their candidacy.
The year 2009 saw Chevron and Richmond continuing to battle on several fronts, with each scoring victories worth millions of dollars.
The Civic Center rehabilitation was completed and went on to win just about every award possible.
The reduction of the City Council to seven members paid early dividends, but those gains seem to have been canceled by the animosity of 2011-12.
Public policy actions I supported in 2009 included:
Violent continues to decrease overall, although homicides were up far above 2008.
The City of Richmond adopted the recommended alternative B for the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park General Management Plan.
The City Council modified the previous draconian directions, and a compromise plan that garnered support of the entire City Council.
The Pavement Condition Index for Richmond streets will continued to improve. See Richmond Streets Trend Upward, .January 7, 2009
An ambitious project born in the 2003-2004 economic crisis when some wanted Richmond to consider bankruptcy, the LEED Gold Civic Center rehabilitation project was completed with rave reviews and occupied in 2009. It was a “can do” effort that lifted the spirits of (almost) everyone in Richmond. However, the spiteful fight over operable windows left a bitter taste in the mouths of many, including me. The inoperable windows were a bad decision.
Although it may not have changed any outcomes, reduction of the City Council from nine to seven improved our City government. I perceive that after a bad start just before the changeover (Lame Duck City Council Cements Four-Year Control of Chevron Community Fund, January 7, 2009) the Council for a short time become more collegial and less belligerent, or maybe that’s just because 2009 was not an election year. The bitter fights between the majority
Viramontes (or Chevron) Five and the minority were a distant memory. There seemed to be fewer late night meetings than before with more business getting done, but we still had our share of early morning adjournments. I can honestly say that I enjoyed 2009 more than most, having participated in a lot of majority votes. It was a big stress reliever. See And Then There Were Seven, January 14, 2009.
2008 was a watershed year politically for Richmond. The “Viramontes Five” (Viramontes, Marquez, Lopez, Sandhu and Bates), also known as “The Chevron Five,” consolidated their control of the City Council, characterized by support for Big Oil, Big Business. Big developers, secrecy and anything else that would thwart policy positions advocated by the four-person Council minority.
2008 was the year the City Council certified the EIR and approved a permit for the Chevron Energy and Hydrogen Renewal Project. I voted against both, not because I was opposed to the project, but because I felt the EIR was flawed and I did not like the secrecy of the Community Benefits Agreement. As it turned out, the courts ultimately agreed with me and in 2011 shut the project down.
The November 4, 2008, election brought a sea change to Richmond politics. With the city Council shrinking from nine to seven members and five incumbents’ terms up, it was bound to be a scramble. Tony Thurmond opted out to successfully run for the school board instead, leaving four incumbents and six newbies vying for three seats.
No one really knows what ultimately inspires Richmond voters, but Chevron and Measure T were the focus of the campaign. Nat Bates, John Marquez and Harpreet Sandhu were labeled as part of the “Chevron 5” who provided the majority vote to beat back the unsuccessful appeal of the Chevron Energy and Hydrogen Renewal Project and pass the secretive Community Benefits Agreement.
Despite being outspent with Chevron money by an estimated factor of 200 to 1, Measure T and candidates Tom Butt and Jeff Ritterman prevailed. Only the durable Nat Bates kept the election from being an anti-Chevron rout.
After an inauspicious start, Richmond ended 2008 with homicides down 40.4 percent compared to 2007, and violent dropped 14.3%. All crimes were down 10.8%. I attributed this to the combination of law enforcement and crime prevention strategies provided by neighborhood policing and the programs of the Office of Neighborhood Safety. Clearly, Richmond’s crime was unacceptably high, and any homicide is too much, but it was nice to be heading the right direction.
Whether your mantra is economic development, jobs, tourism or education, Richmond’s ability to attract businesses, residents and visitors to pay the bills for the services we expect is largely dependent on whether people want to be here or not. The image of our city and the amenities it offers are important. Setting Richmond apart, in a positive way from other Bay Area cities and making it a “cool place to live” may be the most important thing we do. Richmond made a lot of progress in 2008 toward being a cool place to live, leveraging its assets of 32 miles of shoreline, thousands of acres of regional parks, the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park, arts and music festivals, a wealth of history and historic places and a “green” mayor.
Some of the public policy initiatives I supported included:
Construction began on the Plunge rehabilitation.
Construction began on Phase 2 of the Richmond Greenway.
The manufacturing tax won voter approval but was later overturned by the courts.
The City spent more than ever on street maintenance. The City spent more than $10 million, substantially more than the $3 million or so they spent annually up until 2005. The city's average Pavement Condition Index rating climbed from 46 in 2006, when Richmond ranked second to last in a Bay Area-wide streets assessment, to 58 in 2008, The 12-point jump was enough to push the city out of the "poor" roads category into "fair."
Richmond has survived the first year of the recession in remarkable fiscal condition, thanks to a good leadership team. The City Council adopted a balanced budget for FY 2008-2009.
Probably because of complexity and widespread opposition, the proposed move to merge the Planning Commission and Design Review Board did not happen in 2008.
Whitney Dotson, a Richmond resident and champion of shoreline preservation was elected to the East Bay Regional Parks District