|Out With The Old – In With The
January 1, 2004
A down economy, gargantuan state budget cuts, massive City staff layoffs, and a city with possibly the highest per capita homicide rate in California are not the kind of things that make Richmond City Council service fun and rewarding. Bragging rights for anything are hard to come by.
2003 has been a challenging year, but there have been bright spots. The arts, for one, as Richmond hosted three performances of the Oakland-East Bay Symphony, including setting an attendance record in January, and arts organizations such as the East Bay Center for Performing Arts, the Richmond Arts Center, NIAD, the Point Richmond Music Festival, the Arts and Culture Commission, the Richmond Festivals Committee and others are not only flourishing but attracting regional attention.
According to CNN/Money, Richmond home prices have appreciated 130% in the past five years and are expected to rise another 3.8% by June of 2004, so people clearly want to live here. National publicity and intensive planning for the Rosie the Riveter WW II/Home Front National Historical Park has ignited new pride in Richmond’s unique history.
Richmond’s neighborhood councils are a particular source of pride. These neighborhood organizations and their leaders are the real visionaries who keep our City Council and City staff focused on what’s real. There is an amazing variety of small businesses in Richmond engaged and creating jobs in arts, agriculture, cutting edge technology and small scale manufacturing. They are the key to Richmond’s economy, but they are often overlooked in the rush to lure big boxes, chains, franchises and anybody else that comes from somewhere else. It was exciting to see the America Cup yachts at KKMI boatyard last summer.
Rejuvenation and reorganization of Richmond’s code enforcement and abatement effort this year was at least three decades overdue, and I look for major accomplishments in 2004.
Always the optimist, I look forward eagerly to 2004 with lots of plans and projects. But before the New Year gets fully underway, we want to pause to look back at 2003 and forward to 2004.
The Best and Worst of 2003 - A committee of Richmond pundits has voted, and the nominations for our City’s most important issues and events of 2003 are in. Additional nominations from the floor are welcome.
Richmond Issue of the Year: After considering crime, scandals, budget shortfalls and layoffs, the winner is, by unanimous choice – fences!! Despite all the challenges and opportunities faced by Richmond in 2003, only the debate over front yard fence height so impassioned the populace that 700 of them turned out for the second ever City Council meeting held in the Memorial Auditorium. No other issue consumed the same amount of City Council time or generated more phone calls and letters. Thank you Code Enforcement for decades of neglect that made this possible, and thank you Planning Department, for focusing the issue so adeptly as to place the City Council at ground zero in this tumultuous debate.
Runner-up Issue of the Year: Street Sweeping. Signs or no signs, big signs or little signs, signs and fines, signs but no fines, all or none, all or some, dirt or no dirt. Non-point source pollution or streets clean enough to eat from. Each to his own. This is what the people really care about. It appears that separating a driver more than 25 feet from his parked car one day a month is politically risky in some parts of Richmond.
Grinch Who Stole Richmond Award: ChevronTexaco rolled out its new leaner and meaner (as opposed to kinder and gentler) public persona in 2003. The refinery manager, traditionally Richmond’s wannabe Santa Claus, was sent back to run the skunk works, and the new robber baron in town, Gary Fisher first stole $1.8 million from Richmond citizens by stiffing the utility tax collector and then tried to go one better by hijacking Point Molate. Richmonders, keep your hand on your billfold, they are after more than your gasoline credit card.
Most Oversold Prospect Perpetual Trophy: The Indian casino that would save Richmond. After spending $100,000 on a study conducted by professional casino advocates to find out if a casino would be good for Richmond, the Indians seem to have left for more fertile hunting grounds. Runner-up: the Port of Richmond, which continues to search for something to justify its existence.
Chronic Woe Award: The City’s SAP information technology and accounting backbone system - 12 Million Users, 64,500 Installations, 1,500 Partners, 23 Industry Solutions; founded in 1972, SAP is the recognized leader in providing collaborative business solutions for all types of industries and for every major market. Headquartered in Walldorf, Germany, SAP is the world's largest inter-enterprise software company, and the world's third-largest independent software supplier overall. SAP employs over 28,900 people in more than 50 countries. But after a half dozen years, the City of Richmond is still trying to figure out how to turn it on. Maybe someone should read the directions.
Rats Leaving the Sinking Ship Prize: City Manager Isiah Turner, Police Chief Joe Samuels, Assistant City Manager/Finance Director Anna Vega, City Attorney Malcolm Hunter and Library Director Joe Green left in 2003, leaving major leadership vacuums. Some left for greener pastures; some are out to pasture; some were shown the pasture gate, and some are still looking for the pasture.
Smoke and Mirrors Award: City Council adopts an unbalanced budget in July 2003 – six months later it’s twice as unbalanced. What were we thinking?
Monopoly Move of the Year: City threw the dice, landed on Point Molate and bought 412 acres of prime waterfront property for only $1, except that it is polluted with hazardous materials and cursed by ChevronTexaco’s ring of death. Next move – ChevronTexaco?
Musical Chairs Award: When the music stopped, Assembly Plant Partners was out, and Orton Development, Inc. got the developer’s seat for the Ford Building.
Art of Procrastination Award: While paying $110,000 a month to stay in the game, Richmond managers continue to forever ponder the future location of City Hall.
Pit Bull Perseverance Award: In 2003, Trails for Richmond Action Committee (TRAC) rolls up 1-1/2 miles of new trails built or under construction. Richmond now has over 20 miles of Bay Trail built and under construction -- more than any other city on the planned 450-mile recreation and transportation corridor encircling San Francisco and San Pablo Bays. This accomplishment results primarily from cooperative efforts by the City of Richmond, East Bay Regional Park District, Association of Bay Area Governments Bay Trail Project and the private sector.
Railroad Roulette Cup: City and BNSF fight to standstill over wigwags, which are saved but will retire in favor of modern bells and gates. BNSF gets last laugh by running mile-long trains through Marina Bay at 10 mph and honking horns all night. The ghosts of robber barons swirl and giggle in the fog.
Butterfingers Award: The $1.9 million Richmond Greenway grant slips through City’s feeble fingers only to be snatched up inches from the toilet. The Library’s annual state grant may not be so fortunate, having fallen victim to a confused and disoriented Finance Department.
Build It, And They Will Come Award: Transit Village, newly dubbed “Metro Walk,” is the right development in the right place at the right time. It will be Richmond’s winning entry in the smart growth sweepstakes.
Attila the Hun Historic Preservation Award: There was a tie this year – between Richmond Planning Director Barry Cromartie, who almost single-handedly gutted Richmond’s fledgling historic preservation program and Fred Glueck who demolished, in a single weekend, the historic Boiler Assembly Shop of the Prefabrication Plant serving Kaiser Richmond Shipyards 1 and 2 after receiving a secret demolition permit from the City of Richmond.
Onions and Roses Best and Worst Real Estate Development Medal: The onion award is easy – Seacliff Estates. The architects of this fiasco were faced with a huge challenge – how to fit a project designed for Modesto onto a steeply sloping waterfront site with a million dollar view. Thinking out of the box with assistance from the imaginative Richmond Planning Department, they did the unpredictable – leveled that pesky slope with that remnant coastal prairie ecosystem and filled it with little boxes. For the Roses, we give a second Oscar to Metro Walk and special thanks to the Richmond Redevelopment Agency that has more planners with more degrees than the entire Planning Department.
2004 MULTIPLE CHOICE FUTURE PREDICTIONS
No one really knows what 2004 holds in store for the City of Richmond, but some may be better visionaries than others. Try your skill at the following multiple choice test, and a year from now we will determine the winner.
A. The City will sell it to ChevronTexaco for $2, making a whopping 100% profit.
B. It will become the site of Richmond’s Indian casino.
C. Nothing. We will continue to be wracked by indecision and fear of ChevronTexaco.
D. After ChevronTexaco is forced to downsize its ammonia storage, the Alternate Release Scenario shrinks and Point Molate property values rise by $50 million as a mixed use residential development becomes possible.
A. Faced by a sluggish real estate market and staggering costs, current developer Orton Development, Inc. will pull out, claiming to have been misled.
B. Planning Director Barry Cromartie and Fred Gleuck will successfully conspire to demolish the building between 5:00 PM Friday and 9:00 AM Monday on the Fourth of July weekend while City staff are all at home in other cities.
C. Staff will hatch a new plan to move City Hall to the Ford Building and will buy it back from Orton for twice what he paid for it.
D. A rebounding economy and a site with a world class view will attract a surprising variety of prestigious tenants, providing a new anchor for Richmond’s south shoreline.
A. Staff will suggest looking at nearby cities for a new Richmond City Hall location to cut their commute time and save gas.
B. See “C” in item 2, above.
C. Nothing will happen. Staff is beginning to like working at Marina Bay.
D. Design for seismic retrofit and rehabilitation of Richmond’s 50+ year-old City Hall will actually begin.
A. He or she will be picked by Darrell Reese soon after he returns from vacation.
B. The city manager position will be abolished to save money.
C. Instead of wasting money on a real person, the Information Technology Department will create a “virtual city manager,” accessible on the Internet and at computer terminals located throughout City Hall, branch libraries and fire stations.
D. City Council will actually select the best candidate after an objective nation-wide search.
A. A study conducted by a task group of City staff determines that a City Council is no longer needed because staff can provide the same service at a lower rate. A ballot initiative subsequently abolishes the City Council.
B. A coalition of high fence advocates and street sweeping sign abolitionists form a slate that sweeps the field.
C. A new ballot initiative wreaks political havoc by downsizing the City Council to five members and limiting City Council candidates to residents of Marina Bay.
D. Voters actually elect a new City Council majority of independent, qualified and hard working candidates.
A. Capitalizing on its infamy as the homicide capital of California, Richmond coins a new slogan, “Buy a Gun, Go to Richmond” and sponsors a highly successful and lucrative new festival, the First Annual, “Drive by Days,” which fattens the City coffers enough to restore all critical services..
B. Due to budget cuts, 25% of streets are vacated permanently, and residents assume responsibility for maintenance, thereby saving millions.
C. After studying fire departments in outlying areas, the City restructures the Richmond Fire Department as a volunteer fire department supported by an annual barbecue. Service minded citizens rally to the call and sign up in droves.
D. New single-purpose benefit assessment districts are established to provide stable revenue sources for public services, taking the pressure off the general fund, which prioritizes high priority public safety services.