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  Does Size Matter?
June 17, 2004

Council size reduction might be called the ďthird rail of Richmond politics.Ē  It was on the ballot in 1993 and was rejected along with ward representation, by the voters. The idea, however, didnít die. Rumors were rife in late 2003 about an initiative campaign, conventional wisdom being that the City Council wouldnít touch it with a ten foot pole.


It was first tested in January of 2004, but found no fertile ground. See City Council Reduction Proposal Thuds with Legislators, E-FORUM January 28, 2004. During the March community budget meetings, the idea gained new currency, representing not only a move toward a more efficient government but also a chance to save a little money. The City Council wasnít interested.


Then when it appeared that the TRAN (Tax Revenue Anticipation Note) legislation would not pass the California Senate if the City Council didnít act first on Council reduction, the idea caught fire again. The TRAN legislation is an absolutely critical part of the Cityís plan to remain solvent through FY 2004-2005. On May 18, the Council voted 6-3 to direct the city attorney to draft a ballot measure to reduce the Council to seven members effective November 2004. Butt, Penn, Rogers, Bell, Viramontes and Mayor Anderson voted yes, and belcher, Bates and Griffin voted no.


When the draft was returned on May 25, The Council voted 5-4 to direct the city attorney to draft a different ballot measure to reduce the Council to seven members effective 2008. Butt, Bates, Griffin, Rogers and Viramontes voted yes; Belcher, Bell and Anderson voted no, and Penn was absent. I supported it because it looked like the best plan we could get five votes on.


On June 1, the City Council considered the draft for 2008 reduction and turned it down, 4-4, with Bates, Griffin, Rogers and Viramontes supporting it and Butt, Belcher, Penn and Anderson voting no. I voted no because I thought there might be votes enough to go back to a plan to implement the downsizing in 2004 or 2006. I was wrong. Meanwhile, the City Council, was led to believe by some members that Senator Margett (Republican, 29th District, northeast of Los Angeles) had dropped his insistence on Richmond City Council downsizing, thus taking off the pressure for the Council to act.


On June 15, the City Council tried and failed, once again, to offer a downsizing plan to voters that would take effect in 2008. It sure looked like a dead duck by then.


However, there was a big surprise today. The California Senate rejected Richmondís TRAN legislation, and reliable sources said the reason was lack of support by Republicans, led by Senator Margett. The senator, it appears, was quite miffed that the Richmond City Council had not taken his downsizing suggestion seriously. In fact, he would have even considered a 2008 plan as an insult.


Now, a reeling City Council will have to find a way to reconsider the previous unsuccessful efforts to downsize itself. Parliamentary procedure requires that only a Council member on the winning side of a vote can move for reconsideration. We wait with great anticipation to see who will take that plunge.


Public speakers have been split on the concept. Those in favor cite efficiency and cost savings. Those against see it largely as a plot to deprive African Americans of fair representation on a City Council that is already 67% African American. Some believe we should have more Council members so that more neighborhoods would have a better chance to have their own local council member or to provide an opportunity for more people to serve on the City Council. Some believe a ward system is the answer. Others are concerned that with fewer potentially successful candidates, power brokers wonít have to spend as much money on campaign contributions as they have in the past.


I donít buy the racial argument. I donít believe that todayís City Council divides on racial issues, primarily because Iím not sure there really are racially defined issues in Richmond that are within the purview of the City Council. Based on my experience, most Richmond residents, regardless of ethnicity or race, simply want good government that will provide the most services for the least amount of taxes and treat everyone with fairness, responsiveness and dignity. I think they will elect the nine or seven people they believe most likely to provide the best quality of life for all Ė not because candidates match voterís personal profiles.


I do believe a smaller City Council could do a better job, take more control of City government and act more decisively and expeditiously. Voters would, however, have to consider their choices a little more carefully and decide what is really important to them.