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  Startling Reprise for Council Reduction Plan
May 21, 2004

When I first proposed in January of 2004 to submit a charter amendment to the voters to reduce the size of the Richmond City Council from nine to seven members, the motion died without a second. See TOM BUTT E-FORUM, January 28, 2004, City Council Reduction Proposal Thuds with Legislators.


There is no respect at home it seems. It takes an out of town expert to deliver actionable recommendations. When it was suggested by a Republican member of the California Senate from southern California, the idea apparently gained enough credibility to garner a majority vote from the Richmond City Council, with Mayor Anderson and Assembly member Loni Hancock joining as advocates.


It is not clear to what extent the special state legislation authorizing the TRAN (Tax Revenue Anticipation Note) actually depended on the City Council taking the charter amendment action, but the outcome is now solely up to the voters. The prospect of reducing the number of City Council members elected in November from five to three, with at least two incumbents guaranteed not to have a seat, should make the race particularly exciting. See article from May 20 West County Times, below:



Richmond to let voters trim its city council
Posted on Thu, May. 20, 2004


Come November, Richmond voters will have a chance to trim two seats from the City Council, paring to seven the largest city governing body in Contra Costa County.

The council approved the issue for the Nov. 2 ballot after a lengthy and charged debate, spurred mainly by the reform's source: Southern California Republicans.

Critics, including Councilman Charles Belcher, lashed out at Republican lawmakers who insisted the council adopt the reform to gain passage of a change in repayment method for a tax anticipation revenue note, which historically would have been treated as a perfunctory, "courtesy" vote.

Mayor Irma Anderson placed the ballot measure on Tuesday night's council agenda at the recommendation of state Sen. Bob Margett, R-Arcadia, vice chairman of the state Senate committee on local government.

The committee last week passed a bill by Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, allowing the city to get a $14 million advance on its property tax revenues, which don't otherwise make it into local coffers until the end of a fiscal year.

Interim City Attorney Everett Jenkins will develop a draft that lays out when and how the measure would be implemented if it passes.

"I have never, ever read -- never seen -- where the California Legislature is a bastion of efficiency," Belcher said in a blistering comment.

"The real issue before us is the right of a city to decide its own destiny," he said. "The people could have collected signatures to put this on the ballot as a referendum in 2004. That did not happen here. This is being imposed on us from without."

Vice Mayor Richard Griffin reviled Margett for leading the Republican call for Richmond reform using a pejorative in describing his conservative politics while Councilman Nat Bates said Margett was "a pit bull Republican."

Bates excoriated Anderson for failing to lay the necessary political groundwork beforehand.

"You ran into a pit bull Republican, and Loni Hancock jumped right in there ... something (former Democratic Assemblyman) Bob Campbell never would have done," he said. "We should have got together and developed a strategy. You went up there without an approach."

Campbell is married to Councilwoman Maria Viramontes.

Campbell said Anderson should have tapped the Senate Democrats, including Don Perata, Tom Torlakson, Senate President Pro Tem John Burton, and former Sen. Dan Boatwright, and brought along local Republican and business leaders, including lobbyists from Chevron and PG&E.

"You don't bypass the Senate president pro tem," he said. "Send an apology letter to Perata, Burton and Torlakson and Boatwright signed by every member of the council -- not just one or two."

Anderson said she had contacted the state Senate delegation. They "worked very hard, tried very hard," to no avail, she said.

The short-term note is part of a $28 million package designed by bond counsel John Knox to help Richmond out of its fiscal crisis. Without that and other actions, including layoffs, the city would face a $56 million deficit in the coming fiscal year.

Supporters said the inspiration for this most recent effort to reduce the council's size was immaterial compared to its desired effect: to make a leaner, more effective governing body.

"It's time to look at what is in the best interests of the citizens of Richmond," said Councilwoman Mindell Penn, one of five council members running for re-election in the fall. Others include council members Nat Bates, Gary Bell, Belcher and Tom Butt.

Penn acknowledged a reduction would make the race more competitive. If it calls for immediate implementation and is passed, the seats would go to the top three vote-getters rather than the top five.