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  Not Nice
August 28, 2005

This is an essay about disappointment – disappointment about the way our City’s oldest neighborhood is too often disdained by the City Council and City government and disappointment in the majority of business property owners of that same neighborhood declining to invest in making that neighborhood a better place.

In the 32 years I have lived in Richmond, I’ve lived through some disappointments, but this one was unique. The glee with which so many participated in the feeding frenzy that resulted in the defeat of the initiative to establish a Business Improvement District (in this case, called the Neighborhood Improvement and Community Enhancement District – N.I.C.E) in Point Richmond defied logical explanation.

Business Improvement Districts are experiencing successes across America in reviving and revitalizing older business districts by not only improving them financially and economically but by also improving the quality of life for those who live in proximity, patronize the businesses and enjoy public spaces associated with these districts.

The concept of a Business Improvement District is simple. It is essentially an assessment district, established pursuant to state and local law, whereby property owners vote to tax themselves to raise money to be invested in various public improvements and marketing strategies to make the districts more attractive, more functional and better known. Typically, the subsequent increase in business activity more than justifies the investment.

In most cities, Business Improvement Districts are part of a municipal strategy to increase tax revenue, promote economic development and improve the quality of life. City councils and city governments typically not only embrace the concept; they actively promote it and frequently provide the seed money to pay for consultants and engineers to facilitate the process.

For example, the City of San Francisco and affected property owners recently approved five new community benefit districts (see media clips that follow). Unlike Richmond, where property and business owners who were advocates of the district had to organize the entire effort and pay $45,000 for the consultant, the City of San Francisco and the Board of Supervisors were early supporters, financially and politically.

From a political perspective, the reluctance of the City Council to not only weigh in early as supporters but to also view the entire undertaking with suspicion and skepticism simply continued a long standing attitude towards Point Richmond. The City Council, and for that matter, many Richmond leaders, have perennially indulged in Point Richmond bashing, painting the neighborhood as too white and too rich and consequently undeserving of municipal attention and investment. Allocation of resources is unfortunately too often seen as a zero sum game in Richmond, where anything targeted at one neighborhood is deemed as depriving some needier neighborhood. More than one speaker at the August 2, 2005, City Council meeting complained that the City’s legally required investment of less than $25 a day in the proposed district would deprive someone else in Richmond more deserving. No one seemed impressed that, based on experience in other cities, the City’s meager investment would probably yield dividends far in excess of $25 a day that would provide revenue and jobs for other Richmond residents. 

In fact, with respect to municipal resource allocation, Point Richmond might as well be in another country. The infrastructure is as old and decrepit as any in Richmond. As the geographical birthplace of Richmond, it has the oldest streets and sewers – and a good portion is without curbs, gutters, sidewalks or storm drainage. Like many streets in the Point, the one I live on is only eight feet wide and falling apart. It is slowly returning to the dirt road it started as a century ago, having long since been written off in the City’s triage-based Pavement Management System. Until recently, Point Richmond shared in a rotating fire station closure and has the only remaining closed community center. The streets are not swept and the branch library remains closed.

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that there are not crying needs all across Richmond, but to quibble over $23 a day for the City to participate in the proposed Point Richmond NICE district is giving trivial a bad name.

Such deprivation, however, is not without cost. The City has paid out more than a million dollars in the last couple of years for property damaged when the Point’s 100-year old sewers failed and filled buildings with raw sewage.

The Plunge, of course, is a special case. For years, The Plunge was characterized by even some City Council members who knew better as simply a playground for the rich and thus undeserving of City investment, even though it primarily served children in Richmond’s poorest neighborhoods. When the City had the money to maintain The Plunge, it was diverted elsewhere for many years until the building became so run down and the rehabilitation cost so high that it was simply abandoned.

Whereas treatment of Point Richmond by the City Council was not particularly surprising due to a long history of abuse, the failure of 2/3 of the affected property owners to support the district was truly a shock.

The proposed NICE district enjoyed early support, including a unanimous vote of the Point Richmond Business Association, whose board of directors became the nucleus for the NICE steering committee. Following a series of meetings over several months to which every property owner and business owner was invited, support looked solid. The petition phase, which is the first official step in the formation of a district, garnered 40% support against 30% opposed -- generally considered a firm endorsement. Only 30% was required to move it to the next phase, a mail-in ballot of property owners.

Local businesses and the Point Richmond Business Association had spent $15,000 for a consultant, New City America, on the first phase, and based on the favorable support, moved into the second phase, which had a price tag of $30,000 more.

Then the naysayers moved in. A hard core of opponents led by one property owner in the district started a full court press on NICE. A local blog, Talk of the Point, that had been “off the air” for years lit up and became the anti-NICE cheerleader. NICE critics claimed that Point Richmond was so wonderful nothing could improve it, certainly not anything remotely connected with government. Most didn’t bother to read the NICE plan, or if they did, they claimed they couldn’t understand it. The plan for how NICE would spend its resources was either too vague or too detailed, depending on which critic was complaining. Property owners claimed to be either fat and happy with the status quo, needing no boost from anyone, or they were barely hanging on and couldn’t pay another dime in taxes. And why should property owners help pay for services that already were being provided by volunteers, such as the Point Richmond Music Festival, the Point Richmond Stroll and Save the Plunge? Opponents were angry because they were included in the district boundary, and they were angry because they were excluded. Several property owners, whose faces and money had not been seen for decades, emerged from who knows where and touted how they would improve their property, not as part of an organized district, but as the rugged capitalist individual they were. Others whose building sites were in violation of numerous nuisance ordinances pounded their chests with pride in the way they kept up their property because it was the right thing to do and not some organized effort. Rationality went into hiding. They picked on the consultant because he was from San Diego – never mind that he was selected because of his statewide success with business improvements districts. In fact, Point Richmond has been his only failure after dozens of successful startups.

What went wrong? Well, first of all, the Point Richmond Business Association is mainly made up of business owners – not property owners. With the exception of the property owners who supported NICE, Point Richmond property owners generally don’t show up for the Point Richmond Business Association or anything else not directly connected with collecting rent checks. And they generally don’t volunteer for things like the Point Richmond Music Festival, the Point Richmond Stroll and Save the Plunge. Business owners knew Point Richmond was flagging economically, and many of them were willing to have their rents raised to give the village a boost, but more than one property owner dismissed those gestures and voted against NICE anyway. Point Richmond is truly divided between business owners who largely want to improve things and property owners, many of whom do not live in Richmond, who largely want to just hang on to what they have. I never really realized before how wide this divide is until NICE came along. There are the givers, and there are the takers. There are the workers, and there are the complainers.

Although at the end, the City Council had no choice but to end the NICE campaign, they could have shown a little more support. As I noted previously, city governments and governing bodies are generally cheerleaders and early investors in business improvement districts, but not so in Richmond.

There are some heroes in the NICE campaign who should be recognized. I’ll start with the Point Richmond Business Association and their board of directors, who worked hard on NICE, as they do on many other projects intended to improve not only business but the quality of life of those who live, work and play in the Point. Paula C. Asmus, OD, owner of Family Vision Care and Contact Lens Center, tirelessly headed up the NICE steering committee and offered to have her rent increased to pay for NICE, but her landlord ultimately voted against it anyway. Mark and Susan Howe, who bought and rehabilitated 201 West Richmond (across Washington from the Santa Fe Market) are a priceless addition to the community of business property owners. Mark wrote an essay on why he supported NICE (see attached), and they personify the new type of Point Richmond property owner who are willing to buck the tradition and go for quality with the conviction that it will pay off in the future. There were several residents of both the Point and Brickyard Cove who generously contributed to the NICE consultant costs because they thought it would not only improve their quality of life but would also make Richmond a better place.

The one “public” confrontation I had over NICE was with The Masquers, which is otherwise a wonderful organization. I didn’t pick them for any particular reason except for a chance email exchange that occurred at the time I realized NICE not only wasn’t going to fly – it was going to crash and burn. The Masquers initially supported NICE, as did several other property owners who later waffled. On the strength of that support, the NICE Steering Committee forged ahead with an additional $30,000 commitment for the consultant to move to the next stage of the district formation. It would have cost The Masquers a meager $3.15 a day to participate in NICE, less than a frappe at Starbucks, but they decided it wasn’t important enough, and they left the rest of us stuck with $45,000 in consulting fees to pay off. This is an organization that depends on consistent and generous community support to exist essentially telling the community to get lost. I just don’t understand it.

Some optimists believe the supporters and opponents of NICE will now make nice and forge a compromise district that they can all support. I wish them luck, but I am neither optimistic nor inclined to become involved again.

Why should this be of interest to anyone in Richmond who doesn’t have an economic interest in the Point? Well, Richmond needs jobs, economic development and an enhanced image. Business improvement districts are working wonders in other cities, and they could go a long way toward healing what ails Richmond, but the failure of the first attempt at a property owner supported NICE district will not enhance the prospects of the next potential area, whether it be Macdonald Avenue, san Pablo Avenue or El Sobrante.

Some pertinent media clips follow, and other files of interest are attached.

Aug 1, 2005 10:56 am US/Pacific

San Francisco Eyes Community Development Districts

 (Bay City News) SAN FRANCISCO San Francisco property owners and the city's Board of Supervisors will consider the establishment of three new community benefit districts during the board's meeting Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors reported.

The districts create a voluntary funding mechanism for neighborhood improvements whereby property owners are levied a special assessment, according to the board.

The board is considering the creation of benefit districts in the Noe Valley, Castro/Upper Market and North of Market/Tenderloin neighborhoods, the board reported.

On July 26, property owners and the board approved two new community benefit districts for the Fisherman's Wharf and 2500 Block of Mission Street communities.

Prior to those districts, Union Square was the city's sole community benefit district.

The Board of Supervisors meeting is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. Tuesday.


July 27, 2005

San Francisco Business Times

Two S.F. neighborhoods to tax themselves for upkeep

Eric Young

Two San Francisco neighborhoods have approved special tax districts to pay for services like increased security, street cleaning and landscaping.

Called community benefit districts, the two new assessment areas are in Fisherman's Wharf and along Mission Street between 21st and 22nd streets. Businesses and other property owners in those neighborhoods voted Tuesday to approve the special tax on themselves, which is calculated using a property's square footage and frontage along the street.

The community benefit districts in Fisherman's Wharf and Mission Street will have an annual budget of $600,000 and $75,000, respectively. The services those neighborhoods pay for will come in addition to the services the city provides those areas.

The two new districts are the first created in San Francisco since 2000, when property owners in a 10-block area around Union Square approved a special assessment district. That district raises more than $800,000 to hire workers to sweep streets, erase graffiti and provide information to tourists.

Community benefit districts are common in many other cities. New York City and Los Angeles have more than 50 and 35 districts, respectively. In the Bay Area, Oakland has six such districts and Berkeley has three.

"San Francisco is recognizing what other cities have long known -- that CBD's are an effective grassroots economic development tool for neighborhood revitalization and beautification," said San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom.

Other San Francisco neighborhoods, the Tenderloin, Noe Valley and Castro-Upper Market Street, are preparing to form community benefit districts.

© 2005 American City Business Journals Inc.


 This article is a bit late!!!

 Article: 8/07/2005 Oakland Tribune


Business Improvement District helps turn 94609 into one of Oakland's trendiest ZIP codes By Laura Casey, STAFF WRITER
Inside Bay Area OAKLAND - ON a recent, warm, Friday night, nearly every restaurant on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland's Temescal district had at least a half-hour wait to be seated.

Lines of people — the fashionably hip, young families and older fine diners — were waiting outside mainstays Dona Tomas and Tanjia's while others spent part of their evening queued for a table in the district's newer restaurants, Lanesplitter and Pizzaiolo.

Judging from the life on the street and the amount of new businesses moving in, Temescal is no longer the "up-and-coming" place to be in Oakland. It is a destination.

"This restaurant has become the place I wanted to go to that was never available for me to go to," Pizzaiolo owner Charles Hallowell said one sunny afternoon while planning the evening's menu.

Hallowell, formerly a chef at Chez Panisse, said he has been working 17-hour days since the restaurant opened early this summer.

His work appears to be paying off. While taking a short break around lunchtime, Claussen House manager James Mousigian strolled into the restaurant and asked when Pizzaiolo would be open for lunch. Some would say Mousigian was pleading with Hallowell to offer noontime faire.

Not that there isn't anywhere else to get food on the street.

Alison Barakat and Michael Camp were looking for an exciting neighborhood to call home when they decided to turn their Bakesale Betty products, sold at farmers markets, into a bakery store.

"The whole area in general appealed to us," Camp said as he stood among the bakery's silver tins of banana bread and sugar-sprinkled scones.

"It is so vibrant. The whole neighborhood is wonderful," he added.

One after another, customers came into the small shop and commented on the sweet smell of cinnamon and ginger while accepting a sample of Bakesale Betty's chocolate brownies, cookies and other treats.

"I am enjoying how the Temescal is developing," said resident Jessica Van Tuyl, who picked up a snack at the bakery. "There are a lot of great new businesses coming in."

In fact, ever since the area established the Temescal/Telegraph Avenue Business Improvement District, changes to the area have been measurable. The business district's streets and sidewalks are cleaner. Its street furniture has been cleaned of graffiti. Signs on light poles indicate to visitors that they are, in fact, in the district that was once a predominantly Italian neighborhood.

The City Council established the Business Improvement District at its final meeting in July 2004. The district taxes 211 property owners along Telegraph Avenue, from 40th Street to the Berkeley border, and properties along Shattuck Avenue.

Darlene Rios Drapkin, BID manager, said Temescal business owners would like to see the area become Oakland's newest center for gourmet dining and fine shopping.

"We want to create a food and cultural mecca," she said.

She said BID members eventually want to have more sidewalk seating so diners and shoppers will "hang out" on the street more.

BID drew thousands of people to the area last month when it helped put on the Temescal Street Fair. District restaurants and shops offered specials to visitors while Oakland musicians, dancers and children's performers provided entertainment.

"There is definitely some positive energy on the street," Rios Drapkin said.

Developers and home buyers are pinning their hopes on the area as well. Townhomes and lofts in Temescal Place — the first new cluster of homes built in the area in decades — sold immediately for about $500,000 each when they went on the market a year ago. Now a three-bedroom townhome in the same building is going for more than $700,000.

Temescal Place was developed by Roy Alper, who has lived in Temescal since 1956. Alper has purchased the empty lot on the corner of 51st Street and Telegraph, once the Pussycat Theater, to build even more townhouses and retail space.

"I think this is one of the most ideal locations in the entire Bay Area to live, and the more people who find out about it, the more people want to live here," he said. "It is right in the middle of everything."

Richmond celebrates 100 years
- Chip Johnson
Monday, August 8, 2005

Oscar Lugo and his wife Nancy, who ran a custom jewelry business for 25 years, drove two hours from Placerville to be there. Hometown legend Al Frosini, the 87-year-old grand marshal of Sunday's parade, was happy as a clam to be part of the party, and Renell Lee wouldn't want to live anywhere else.

The city of Richmond celebrated its 100th birthday with a weekend celebration that brought a few thousand people to Rosie the Riveter National Park near Point Richmond on the city's shoreline. The two-day celebration was capped off with a picnic and banquet on Sunday.

The gathering of Richmond residents from all of its 56 neighborhoods presented an enduring snapshot of a city born in the grist of the Industrial Age. After all, said native son John Ziesenhenne, it's really the people that make a place what it is.

"The people who live here are the essence of our city,'' said Ziesenhenne as he sat with at least one friend he'd known since he attended Harry Ells High School, which was bulldozed a few years ago for a new middle school.

"The folks who work here are generous with their time and their money and the business community has always come through, sometimes behind the scenes,'' said Ziesenhenne, who owns an insurance company in town. He is so dogged in the defense of his city that some folks call him Mr. Richmond.

It's no secret that Richmond has suffered from its reputation as a city with high crime rates, and perhaps that's why many people tend to identify themselves by their neighborhood rather than the city.

Residents seem to be more inclined to their home turf, whether it's Point Richmond or Hilltop or the Marina, but anyway you slice it, it's all Richmond.

And there is plenty to like. The city of just over 100,000 people is 56 square miles, larger than San Francisco, and has 32 miles of shoreline on San Francisco and San Pablo bays and 5,600 acres of parklands.

And just like Oakland, where crime is concentrated in just a few places, Richmond residents grumble that the whole town is painted with the same broad brush, and it bothers them.

"Our crime statistics are skewed because of a few bad neighborhoods and drug dealers killing each other, but 90 percent of this city is as crime free as any other city in the Bay Area,'' said Josh Genser, the CEO of the Richmond Development Co., the firm hired to renovate the city's Municipal Center.

In the mid-1980s, Lugo heard the same stories when he announced to his friends in Berkeley that he was considering a move to Richmond, where he would set up shop.

"I read an article about the redevelopment of the city and being the liberal city boy I am, the idea of being part of a city-wide revival seemed like a great thing to do,'' he said.

So in 1980 he opened his first shop on 10th Street and Macdonald Avenue, just off the city's historic main drag.

"This is where I decided to put down roots, and we did it, starting off with nothing.''

Two years later, he moved the shop to Point Richmond, and that's where the couple stayed for the next 23 years.

If there was a disappointment, it was that the city never pushed hard to use the natural beauty and the quaint atmosphere of the seaside community to turn it into a regional retail and entertainment destination, he said.

And if there are shortcomings in the city, some problems have to be placed at the feet of local government, which has struggled to maintain its industrial economy in the modern age and has quite frankly failed in its mission to provide sound public policy and good governance to residents.

The most egregious of these failures occurred last year, when the city announced that it would need to borrow against future revenue to remain solvent through fiscal year 2004. The news lowered the city's bond rating and ignited concerns about sound fiscal management. Financial audits revealed that there were no real safeguards or accounting procedures in place.

So the city that began as a company town when Standard Oil set up shop in 1901 and transformed itself into a major shipbuilding center during World War II, when the population more than doubled, is sure to endure for another century -- at least.

And what will the future bring?

Genser's company is banking on continued growth over the next 100 years, whether city fathers prepare for it or not. And, bucking a national trend, he believes that there will be industrial growth in the city simply because there is so little land zoned for that use anywhere in the Bay Area.

"It's going to develop despite itself,'' said Genser. "There's no other available land that is close to the city with beautiful views and great public transportation. It's got to happen.''

The funny thing is that's exactly what people said about Richmond around 100 years ago, before there were three bridges to see from the city's western shore.

"This place is all I know, and despite all its problems, I don't think I'd want to live anywhere else,'' said Lee, 49, who has lived in the city her entire life.

"I still love this city.''

Chip Johnson's column appears on Mondays and Fridays. E-mail him at chjohnson@sfchronicle.com


07/26/05 8:25 PDT


Property owners in two San Francisco neighborhoods and the city's Board of Supervisors have approved the establishment of two new property-based business improvement districts -- one in the Mission and the other in Fisherman's Wharf.

The districts are voluntary funding mechanisms where property owners are levied a special assessment to fund improvements to their neighborhood.

Property owners' ballots were officially tabulated today during the board's meeting and supervisors then approved a resolution formally establishing the improvement districts.

The "Fisherman's Wharf Community Benefit District'' received support from more than 85 percent of property owners, according to the mayor's office.

The Fisherman's Wharf assessment will generate $591,485 that will be spent on "benefit services'' including regular sidewalk sweeping, graffiti removal within 24 hours and streetscape improvements, according to the supervisors' resolution.

The district will have a 15-year term if a new business-based business improvement district is established. If it is not established or it does not meet certain conditions, the community-benefit improvement district will have a one-year term, expiring June 30, 2007, according to city officials.

The "2500 Block of Mission Street Business Improvement District'' was approved by approximately 60 percent support of property owners.

The business improvement district, which has a five-year term, is made up of 20 parcels. A property assessment, which will generate $75,000, will fund the district and provide for the beautification, cleaning and maintenance of the streets and to enhance public safety, according to the resolution.

Prior to today, San Francisco only had one community benefit district at Union Square.


City's community benefit districts multiply quickly

Peskin says new idea ‘going from 0 to 60'

By Jo Stanley
Staff Writer
Published: Wednesday, August 3, 2005 11:08 PM PDT

San Francisco Examiner
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San Franciscans bent on making their streets spiffier have been busy lately, with property owners from five neighborhoods voting to impose extra taxes on themselves to clean sidewalks, plant trees and generally revive their areas — whether they're business-only areas or a mix of property types.

Until supervisors made it easier to create special community benefit districts two years ago, Union Square's Business Improvement District was the only area in town that had taken the step. But now, in just two weeks, that number appears to be growing sixfold with a new mix of commercial and noncommercial areas.

The latest converts range from the Castro/Upper Market and Noe Valley to Fisherman's Wharf and a single block of Mission Street, along with a large chunk of the Tenderloin District between Larkin and Mason streets. All but the Tenderloin have also been given the green light to form by the Board of Supervisors.

"We're going from 0 to 60 [mph]," said Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who teamed up with a San Diego businessman named Marco LiMandri, who specializes in guiding people through the process, to rewrite The City's rules to allow the formation of the districts.

LiMandri notes that the idea of special districts, which began in Maryland, has taken off, with New York City now up to 55 districts that have helped neighbors in Harlem and elsewhere make their streets more livable during the past 10 years. He says often people blame city government for not taking care of the space between curbs and buildings but it's the property owners who technically have that responsibility.

"There's a lot of anarchy," LiMandri said, noting that areas with absentee landlords in particular are hard to keep clean, much less beautiful. He added that many more are coming into play around San Francisco because the money raised has to be used locally, like icing on the cake of basic services.



The districts, which require months of work by a steering committee to set up fee structures, goals and a nonprofit management board to oversee the work, also serve as a community-organizing tool.

In the Tenderloin, where a coalition of nonprofits, businesspeople and property owners raised $45,000 to get the effort under way, the odds seem daunting at first. "We were told that it couldn't be done, that the Tenderloin was too fractious," attorney Elaine Zamora said.

But after a year of work, this week saw a 65 percent margin of victory by property owners voting to tax themselves.

A group of Market Street merchants is already working on organizing a district that could extend from the Ferry Building to Gough Street — with a grand vision in mind. "We have heard for years that Market Street could be the Champs Elysee of San Francisco," said Lynne Valente of the Market Street Association.

Staff writer J.K. Dineen contributed to this story.

Posted on Sun, Aug. 28, 2005
E-mail exchange takes nasty turn

The Internet is the new frontier, but an old adage still applies: Never put anything in writing you wouldn't want to read in the newspaper.

In a series of nasty e-mails, Richmond City Council member Tom Butt and his Point Richmond business neighbor, Masquers theater president Bob Goshay, threatened each other with political embarrassment and retribution.

Butt vowed to withhold access to his property for repairs to the Masquers building unless Goshay's organization reversed its no-vote on the formation of a Point Richmond business improvement district.

"I regret to inform you that Mariner Square Joint Venture (Butt is a half-owner) will not allow access to our property," Butt wrote. " ... unless, of course, the Masquers boards want to reconsider the (Neighborhood Improvement and Community Enhancement District or NICE) vote and so inform the Richmond City Council ..."

Goshay replied in less than an hour with impressive sarcasm.

"My dear Tom," Goshay began. "Should we decide to reverse our vote and should we appear at the City Council meeting to indicate that change, please be assured that we would also indicate the reason for such change. P.S. My thought is that the other members of the City Council should have (a) copy of your e-mail to me."

As it turns out, Butt didn't deliver on his threats. "I was frustrated and just posturing," he said.

The notoriously blunt Butt, however, remains furious with Masquers, which he views as a chief player among the "whiners" who nixed NICE.

A business improvement district would have taxed owners to pay for stuff like landscaping, parking, special events and signs. It would have marketed and maintained Point Richmond in much the same way that a mall owner does, Butt says.

"A lot of people think that Point Richmond is a cool, successful district but the fact is there are a lot of vacancies," he said. "Business is not good here. But there are doers and there are takers, and the takers won."

Business and property owners initially embraced the concept, including Masquers, Butt says.

Based on that support, Butt says the Point Richmond Business Association hired a consultant -- he contributed a large check himself -- who put together a proposal.

But naysayers picked it apart, and one-time proponents such as Masquers voted no. It failed to attract the requisite majority support from property owners and died, Butt said.

"I'm still pissed off," Butt said. "A lot of people have told me I have to take back (the e-mails), that Masquers is a wonderful organization and that's true.

"But in terms of NICE, they are so unsophisticated and wrong-headed about it, they just set me off. If I had it to do over again, I would."

Goshay, in an e-mail, says he prefers not to talk about the matter.

But it's safe to say that Butt probably won't score a nice front-row seat at Masquer's next production.

Lisa Vorderbrueggen writes about politics on Wednesdays and Sundays. Reach her at 925-945-4773 or lvorderbrueggen@cctimes.com. You can also reach her through her on-line forum at www.contracostatimes.com. Click on "Talk to the Times."