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Councilmember Rogers Responds to Councilmember Viramontes on Container Port Issue
September 24, 2006

By way of introduction, I might note that while I would have been reluctant to support Councilmember Rogers’ motion to form a blue ribbon committee to study the use of the proposed container port location (had I stayed around), for reasons I previously articulated. I share his concern that the staff and consultant driven study and scope thereof will be biased. Every staff person in the City, including the city manager (“cautiously optimistic”) and the Port director who has spoken on this has already evidenced some level of bias. That fact might justify Rogers’ commission, just to make sure the issue gets a fair hearing.

Here is Rogers response:


Thank you for forwarding this to your email distribution list. Readers of your E-Forum recently read Councilmember Viramontes' comments on my proposal to replace the port study with a Blue Ribbon Committee to discuss uses of the shoreline between the Richmond landfill and the Chevron refinery.

The motion was rejected by the Council (voting yes : Mc Laughlin, Thurmond and Rogers) after you walked out of the meeting following extensive discussion about whether you should be allowed to show a 3 minute Power Point presentation that you had spent half a day  preparing, after we had previously heard numerous very lengthy presentations by proponents of studying the Port issue.

While I respect Councilmember Viramontes' intentions and intelligence, she misstates my proposal, and favors continuing a Council policy (doing a port feasibility study , over the strong objections of many environmental/neighborhood advocates) which is a divisive waste of time.

She states that I wanted to delegate to the Committee authority over the issue of continuing the feasibility study. Not true. I wanted the Council to immediately stop the feasibility study and replace it with a Committee of neighborhood, environmental and business stakeholders to discuss whether there is any big picture consensus on possible uses of this shoreline area. This shoreline property is under the jurisdiction of 5 or 6 governmental agencies, and no plan is going anywhere without consensus. This is not a typical Richmond development issue where the legitimate environmental objections of neighbors can be steamrolled by a 5-4 or 6-3 Council vote (e.g. approval of developments in El Sobrante).

The Councilmembers who voted to approve the study (myself included) made a mistake. The Port Study has stopped making sense. Why can't we, for once, admit we made a mistake, and move on?

Those who don't learn from history are condemned to repeat it. In the planning of the Toll Brothers Pt. Richmond Shores project, the City did not sit down with concerned citizens and Toll and come up with a big picture plan that everyone could agree on. Instead studies were done, the project rolled forward and the neighbors were not heard until late in the process. Now , there is a big mess, much mutual suspicion and fighting on an issue that , (after spending countless hours meeting with all parties) I firmly believe there was a proposal that both parties (CCCPR and Toll) could have agreed on.

The arguments that are directed at my Shoreline Committee proposal (we need to have the experts study it, so we have something concrete to discuss with the citizens) were also made in justifying the exclusion of citizens in the early planning stages of the Pt. Richmond Shores proposal.

Ms. Viramontes complains about the lack of direction for the Shoreline Committee in my motion. That was intentional. I did not want to prejudge what would come out of such discussions, whether that is a nature preserve, a spur of the Bay Trail, some type of economic development, or some combination of these.

Finally, Tuesday's meeting illustrates a broader problem: the Council routinely wants to avoid a full discussion of important issues. You were the second Councilmember to walk out of a Council meeting on Tuesday in frustration over not being allowed to have more than a superficial discussion of an important issue.

The Council majority (Butt, McLaughlin, Rogers opposed) is following what I believe is incorrect legal advice from City Attorney John Eastman has taken the position that the Council, on any given Tuesday can, without noticing the public, per the Brown Act direct the City Manager to negotiate deals on important issues (e.g. a new port, a casino, an ammonia factory, a nuclear power plant) spend major amounts of taxpayer dollars on researching and putting together the deal, and , as long as we don't actually give final approval to the contract. (Of course, when it is scheduled for public discussion, the Council has already pretty much made up its mind without the inconvenience of public testimony).  Even if this is legal, it is a truly frightening way of doing what we loosely refer to as the public's business, and we should (but haven't, as noted earlier ) agreed to stop doing that.

Closed sessions are routinely used to discuss important issues illegally. Technical violation? No harm no foul?

Hardly. The Council, on what I believe was incorrect advice from our City Attorney, approved a very expensive, and controversial, set of traffic improvements concerning Parchester Village under the guise of settling a Brown Act lawsuit from the City of San Pablo.

When I sent a letter politely promising a Brown Act lawsuit, the City Attorney bailed out, retracted the already signed agreement (tho San Pablo claims they have a legally binding signed agreement) and the Parchester residents were then allowed to give input on the proposed deal (which, BTW, they had a lot of negative comments about).

I am not, incidentally, blindsiding City Attorney Eastman by writing about him behind his back. I would welcome his response, and would be happy to post it on my email forum. (to subscribe:  elirapty@aol.com), and I suspect Tom would post it on his E forum, as he did with my comments and Councilmember Viramontes' comments.
It is truly disturbing that Tom, I, and others routinely have to threaten Brown Act lawsuits, or walk out of meetings to get the Council to discuss issues in public.
Please feel free to contact me with comments or questions about any of the above.
Jim Rogers