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A New Mayor for Richmond
October 15, 2006

I’m not going to make an endorsement for mayor, but I am going to share some perceptions that may be useful.

Irma Anderson

I have already recommended against the reelection of Irma Anderson for mayor (Anybody but Anderson, September 19, 2006). Anderson can be congenial and charming. She is not a bad person, and her politics and voting record in recent years are not too far from my own. In fact, I feel bad about doing this because she has been accommodating and even supportive towards many of my interests. She has made some excellent appointments to City boards and committees. Her flagship accomplishments include successfully raising money for after school programs and summer jobs. She is being unfairly blamed by some for Richmond’s high homicide rate, and the recent stir about her double dipping for automobile reimbursement is a tempest in a teapot. But her inability to effectively chair a meeting, grasp complex issues, provide the level of leadership and vision Richmond so desperately needs and respect other members of the City Council have become liabilities that Richmond can no longer afford. Her effort to create an “imperial mayorship,” by expanding the mayor’s powers beyond those envisioned in the Charter has also been troubling.

That leaves Gayle McLaughlin and Gary Bell. I have served with both of them on the City Council, Bell for five years, and McLaughlin for nearly two years. These are two very different people, but either could serve as an effective mayor. Despite their differences, they converge on some hot topics such as the Toll Brothers plan for Terminal 1 (Point Richmond Shores), the current design of which they both oppose (along with Mayor Anderson).

Gayle McLaughlin

In the past two years, McLaughlin (www.GayleMcLaughlin.net) and I have voted the same on almost everything, not infrequently in a minority of two. Sharing the minority vote with Gayle on issues where we were right, but the Council doesn’t want to offend special interests or misguided staff members is something I really appreciate. Gayle is focused, and she has really good instincts about complex issues, even when the City Council is not provided with all the facts or she does not have the full historical context.

Unlike many City Council members, she is totally unimpressed with power and influence of the traditional Richmond power brokers, and she is not intimidated by City staff that routinely invokes the specter of litigation and financial ruin if their sometimes poorly conceived recommendations are not followed.

McLaughlin supports a better quality of life for Richmond residents, environmental justice, social equity, smart growth and empowered neighborhoods.

      My pledge is to build a Richmond based on economic vitality, social justice and environmental health. I will advance a Richmond that works with local businesses promoting a revitalization of our economy and creating a sustainable city with clean industries and expanded housing stock and home ownership. I will fight pollution and maintain and expand our libraries, parks and senior services.

Her supporters and endorsers are largely environmental organizations and labor unions. Perhaps to her peril, McLaughlin has disdained “corporations” and “special interests” while providing virtually unconditional support to the City’s largest public employee’s union, SEIU Local 790. Not all corporations are bad, and not all public employees are saints, but as I said, Gayle is focused, and she is consistent. As mayor, she will have to learn to work with everyone in the City.

She has the Council of Industries and Chamber of Commerce scared to death that she will diminish their influence, which is why they are holding their noses and supporting Mayor Anderson for reelection.

I serve with Gayle on the Rules and Procedures Committee, which she chairs, and I can tell you that she knows how to run a proper meeting.

McLaughlin makes up for any inexperience by being a quick study and by eagerly seeking out and embracing new ideas for making Richmond a better place. A victory by McLaughlin in the mayor’s race would send a very loud signal that Richmond voters are truly ready for change, not just a different name on the door of an office that has often served developers and out of town power brokers better than the residents.

McLaughlin would be a good choice for mayor.

Gary Bell

In addition to being different from McLaughlin, Bell is also a study in seemingly internal contradictions. For example, he serves on the board of the Richmond Chamber of Commerce but could not garner the endorsement by the Chamber or RichPAC, the Chamber’s sponsored political action committee. That is a plus in my book.

Bell has an impressive resume of public service and business experience (see http://www.garybell.org). At age 25, he was elected to the City Council of a city more than three times larger than Richmond, becoming not only the youngest ever, but only the second African-American elected in a city with an African American population of a little over 10 percent.

Leading up the financial crises of 2003-2004, Bell was the most vocal City Council member warning of potential problems. A West County Times article from November 4, 2004, following the election where Bell lost his seat, noted:

      It also meant that the most financially minded of the incumbents, Gary Bell, failed to get enough votes to place. "I gave up trying to figure out Richmond voters a long time ago," said Butt, the top vote-getter. "An electorate that would send Nat Bates and Gayle McLaughlin to the same council is beyond figuring out. More than anyone else on the council, Gary had a good record of waving the red flag long before the city came crashing down," Butt said. "I thought voters would recognize him as somebody who'd been struggling against the practices that got Richmond where it is and appreciate him for it." If voters wanted change, they will get it, in varying degrees. Butt and Bell were frequently united in calling for stringent controls and following through on potential revenue sources.

With my background in architecture, development and construction, I share some professional interests with Bell, who is a licensed real estate broker and mortgage broker.  However, with all those similarities, Bell and I disagreed during our five years together on some highly contentious land use issues, with Bell more often than not supporting developers and staff recommendations (often the same). The one I best remember is Toll Brothers first project, Seacliff Estates, which Bell consistently supported. On other issues, we sometimes agreed and sometimes split. My votes, typically, were more aligned with Corbin and Marquez. Bell’s were more aligned with Bates, Anderson and Griffin. Following are some examples:

      On July 18, 2000, a public hearing was held to consider extending the tentative map for Seacliff Estates. The stay was approved with Bates, Penn, Griffin, Evans, Bell and Anderson voting yes, and Butt, Marquez and Corbin voting no. On February 8, 2000, SunCal appealed Planning Commission denial of a proposal by Seacliff Estates to subdivide a 33 acre parcel into 150 residential lots. On Resolution 21-00 to grant the appeal, Bates, Penn, Griffin, Bell, Anderson and Evans voted yes. Butt and Marquez voted no. Corbin was absent.  On November 1, 2001, Only Butt and Corbin voted against the final map of Seacliff  Estates while Bell voted for it.

      Bell has both supported and opposed me over historic preservation issues. On June 5, 2001, regarding listing Fire Station 67A as a historic resources to be listed on the Richmond Register. Butt, Penn, Marquez, Griffin, Belcher, Bell, Anderson and Corbin voted yes. Bates voted no. On June 5, 2001, regarding designation of the Maritime and Ruth C. Powers Child Care Centers as historic resources to be listed on the Richmond Register. Butt, Penn, Marquez, Griffin, Belcher, Bell, Anderson and Corbin voted yes. Bates voted no. However, On June 19, 2001, on designation of the Kaiser Permanente Field Hospital as a historic resource to be listed on the Richmond Register. Butt, Bates, Marquez, Anderson and Corbin voted yes. Griffin and Bell voted no. Penn abstained. Belcher was absent. On July 25, 2000, Resolution 120-00 was considered to authorize Allocation of Funds for the Rosie the Riveter Memorial dedication. Butt, Bates, Penn, Marquez, Evans, Anderson and Corbin voted yes; Griffin and Bell voted no.

      On January 23, 2001, The Point Richmond History Association appealed Planning Commission approval of Variance V00-01 and Design Review Permit DR-105 to expand a non-conforming use and allow an addition at 519 Golden Gate Avenue. On the vote to deny the appeal, Penn, Marquez, Griffin, Belcher, Bell, Anderson and Bates voted yes. Butt voted no. Corbin abstained.

      On June 26, 2001, a public hearing was held on an appeal by Margaret Judkins and the City of San Pablo from Design Review Board approval of DR 00-23 (Pannatoni) on Collins Avenue at Giant Highway. On the motion regarding the addendum to EID 00-01 concluding there is no significant impact. Bates, Penn, Griffin, Bell, Belcher and Anderson voted yes. Butt voted no. Marquez and Corbin abstained.

      On capital improvement projects, On October 17, 2000, the City council considered directing staff to prepare the necessary documentation to issue a $25 million bond to fund streets, parks and building-related capital projects. Butt, Penn, Marquez, Anderson and Corbin voted yes; Bates, Griffin and Bell voted no. Evans was absent.

      On the infamous Tiscornia Estate, on October 10, 2000, a public hearing was held on the appeal by Marcus Peppard from Design Review Board approval of DR 00-48, 345 Pacific Avenue. The appeal was denied and Resolution 179-00 adopted, with Bates, Penn, Griffin, Evans and Bell voting yes; Butt and Corbin voting no, Marquez abstaining and Anderson absent.

On October 8, 2006, the West County Times reported Bell’s position on the proposed Wildcat Marsh container port:

      Bell: We have to be careful not to kill off ideas without study. Doesn’t know enough about it yet to say nay or nay and those who do should wait for the rest of us to catch up.

Bell caught up fast, writing 24 hours later on October 9, 2006:

      Thank you for the additional information regarding the Wildcat Creek Marsh Proposal.  I have reviewed your information and a letter from the BCDC.  I have not seen the actual proposal from the finance director however I am familiar with the proposal.  Having looked at both sides I have concluded that this proposal is not a good idea and I am not supporting it.

On mayoral duties, I have no doubt that Bell can run a meeting, represent the City and provide leadership. I think Gary would make a good mayor, and if elected, I hope that he will hew to his current platform, which I like more than some of his voting history.