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Richmond Aghast at Behavior of Viramontes Five

In less than 24 hours from last night’s debacle, I have received over 50 comments from E-FORUM readers criticizing the vote of the Viramontes 5 on operable windows in City Hall. The one I liked best was, “Why not compromise: operable windows in most of City Hall, and sealed windows in the Viramontes group's office.”


The comments are copied below. Only names have been removed to protect the privacy of those who responded.


This irrational and bizarre power grab by the Viramontes Five is the worst and most dangerous schism I have seen on my 12 years on this City Council, exceeding even that of the legendary Darrell Reese Five of a decade ago.


·         Dear Council Members Bates, Marquez, Viramontes, Lopez and Sandhu, Please provide a rational for voting to seal the building.  It seems based on the expert testimony it would be both better for the health of the workforce members in the building and in the long run save money.  Is there some reason you chose to disregard this information? Thank you for your time,


·         Hi, Tom... Since I can't compose a more telling indictment than you submit below, I'll express my reaction via annotations and emphasis of points you have already made. I can only surmise that the "Viramontes Five" have, by some strange intellectual contagion, contracted the disease that has formerly been confined to Washington, DC, and our current  Federal Administration. The syndrome is recognizable by primarily one symptom: denial of reality, truth and undisputed facts.

·         Dear Mayor and Council, It seems once again the City is going down a path to disaster.  You seem to be disregarding the presentation on the economic and health advantages of operable windows by Gail Brager, a highly regarded professor from U.C. Berkeley with a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering and notwithstanding her presentation, you have inexplicably voted to seal the rehabilitated City Hall.  Get with it!  Enter the 21st Century.  The public demands you think green!  Hundreds if not thousands of sites use operable windows in their designs. Maybe you should read what other public institutions have to say about operable windows:


see quote below:

The mechanical system design began by first analyzing the natural ventilation potential for the building spaces, considering the site, privacy issues, security, and noise breakout between spaces. The Demonstration Commons Building is a prime candidate for natural ventilation due to favorable climate, shape of buildings, and large number of operable windows and doors. The Classroom and Commons spaces have operable windows on both north and south faces and operable windows within the clerestory facilitating natural ventilation and air change effectiveness. Good cross ventilation through the spaces can raise the comfort temperature sensed by humans allowing natural ventilation to maintain indoor comfort on mild days and eliminating the need for cooling and air handling equipment. The natural ventilation system will shut down the mechanical air systems automatically when windows are open.


Operable windows, thermal mass, and thermal chimneys are common elements found in passive design. Operable windows are simply windows that can be opened. Thermal mass refers to materials such as masonry and water that can store heat energy for extended time. Thermal mass will prevent rapid temperature fluctuations. Thermal chimneys create or reinforce the effect hot air rising to induce air movement for cooling purposes. Wing walls are vertical exterior wall partitions placed perpendicular to adjoining windows to enhance ventilation through windows.


Give occupants some control of their environment with features like operable windows, task lighting, and temperature controls. Cost implications: Most of these measures will increase construction costs, but they often are easily justified based on the increased health, well-being, and productivity of building occupants. Failure to pursue these measures can lead to expensive “sick-building” lawsuits.


What about operable windows? Surely, they go against the grain of commercial and institutional building design of the last few decades. We think of these buildings as being sealed boxes. Heating and cooling costs can increase if windows are open, depressurizing spaces and allowing additional volumes of unconditioned outside air to enter.

But operable windows provide ventilation, a sense of control for occupants, and a way of getting in contact with outside-all qualities of a healthy building. Green design asks designers to reconsider operable windows and mechanical air conditioning for commercial and institutional buildings. In some regions, operable windows and passive cooling strategies may be able to replace mechanical air conditioning entirely-especially if building cooling loads are minimized.

In other regions, operable windows may be part of an efficient building cooling strategy that relies on windows (and other passive ventilation) for cooling during mild parts of the cooling season and mechanical air conditioning when it gets really hot and humid.

Operable windows and energy efficiency need not be incompatible. Window frame switches can be used to shut off mechanical air conditioning to rooms with open windows. The challenge is to design a system that keeps windows closed during cold weather and permits them to be open when the enthalpy of outside air is acceptable for indoor conditioning.

see also: http://hpac.com/Columns/Letters/Article/24213/Operable_Windows__I_have_long_admired_HPAC_Engineerings_cuttingedge_articlesThe_article_about_operable_windows_Operable_Windows_and_HVAC_Systems_by_Allan_Daly_December_2002_fits_that_category_However_the_article_misses_the_mark_as_does






·         I really don't understand this decision to seal the windows in this building, and would appreciate an explanation.

  • Fresh air is very important for the health of people who have to spend a lot of time in the building. It would be very unfortunate if we lost some of our excellent employees due to lack of fresh air. Sealed up areas trap germs and pollution and make it more difficult to breathe. Richmond already has one of the highest rates of asthma in the area, due to pollution from refineries and diesel engines. Oakland is the only place with worse rates of asthma, due to pollution generated by diesel engines used in port operations there. Diesel engines are so much dirtier than other engines that they probably generate more air pollution than all the cars passing through our area. The main culprits I have identified so far are ship engines, train engines, truck engines, and diesel engines used by heavy equipment. As an ideal we need to aim for replacing those engines with cleaner engines. Richmond potentially could have very good air quality, due to winds from the bay bringing in fresh air to our area, but the air is being fouled by heavy industries, such as refineries, and the diesel engines mentioned above.
  • Tom, why was this even voted on ?  don’t we pay the architect to design the whole building-which certainly includes the air-flow window size etc what else will be voted on?
  • Please listen to the experts and make the windows operable in city hall.  It is a much healthier option, and as for going outside for fresh air which one so-called expert suggested, that is out of the question when city employees are paid to do their jobs inside.
  • I just want to say the health of our City employees is a priority.  We have a lot of needs in our city, but we also should be mindful of the needs of all our citizens.  I am concerned about how on one hand we can spend City dollars with no expert input at all, but when we do have expert opinion and we don't listen. We should be looking towards the future.  These buildings that we spend hours in are not healthy and just taking a walk on your break is not good enough.  Please value all of the lives of our residents.  From the city employee to the homeless on the street.  They are all Gods people.
  • I have been hearing the craziest things about what I guess is called the Viramontes 5.  Voting to have one person on the design review board almost guarantees that bad design under the cover of progress and more money will prevail.  Why would anyone who lives near the Bay EVER want to have non-operable windows.  The breeze from the Bay is one of the bonuses of living here.  Two bad ideas. 

·         Who are the Viramotes Five?

  • To Ms. Viramontes and her sheep, You are making a big mistake concerning your sealed building decision. As past Maintenance Manager, I oversaw the construction of two 3 story 30,000sq ft office building that were constructed with no opening windows.  These buildings rely on two large HVAC systems which are programmed to run 12hrs per day 5 days a week.  If someone needs to work in his office on a weekend, night or holiday he or she can turn on the system by using a 2hr timer.  (He would need to reset it every 2hrs.) Problem:  My employer has to pay to heat or cool the entire 30,000sq ft for one small office. The “Economy Mode” regulates how much fresh air (outside air) and how much recycle air to use.  Depending on the computer it will range from 15% fresh /85% recycle to 100% fresh.  Problem:  Since recycled air was the cause of Legionnaire’s disease, all closed systems have to be treated with chemicals and tested at a lab once a month.  These chemicals are deemed safe but don’t you think that most people, including yourselves, prefer fresh air. The fresh air intake is located in an area that is vulnerable to foul or unpleasant odors emitted nearby the intake such as fresh paint, car exhaust, cigarette smoke, etc. These outside odors quickly spread through the building and without open windows and doors take over an hour to dissipate.  Cigarette smoke or a nearby BBQ can trigger the smoke detector located in the intake duct thus setting off the fire alarm. The foregoing have been a few of my experiences from which I hope you can learn.  One added note:  The tenant who leased 700 sq ft of the top floor insisted we replace the sealed windows with ones that opened and closed.  That also made it much easier for us to wash the outside of these 4 story windows. My Father always said “When in doubt, falling back on your common-sense is never a bad idea”.
  • Greetings. My name is Sidney Sweeney and I am the Executive Director of The American Institute of Architects, East Bay. I am sending more information to back up Dr. Brager's testimony re: the economic and health advantages of operable windows in public buildings. Certainly, operable windows are key elements in LEED-certified buildings, are recommended as features of all CHPS (Center for High Performance Schools) facilities, and as mainstays of healthy-living environments. I would be happy to collate more information regarding the efficacy and cost-benefits of operable windows in rehabilitation projects for the Richmond City Council. In addition, we can also provide information on the benefits of a mix of operable and closed (fixed) windows in buildings. The following presentation was developed by Vivian Loftness, FAIA, Professor of Architecture at Carnegie Mellon University. In it, she discusses the fact that access to operable windows reduces absenteeism, energy use, and improves productivity. http://www.aia.org/SiteObjects/files/RTIII_Loftness.pdf In addition, screened operable windows are recommended to optimize cross ventilation in "Advanced Energy Design Guide for Small Office Buildings" as prescribed by ANSI/ASHRAE/IESNA Standard 90.1-1999. Please feel free to contact me at any time.
  • To the City Council: What part of the presentations didn't you get?  With the windows closed you have to have a system running constantly to control the environment that opening a window could take care of, for the most part, by it's self and use a lot less energy! You five had better get your acts together...we citizens are not quite as stupid as you seem to think we are and I, for one, will remember come campaign & election time!
  • Dear Councilmembers: The item to which Tom refers is not just an embarrassment of process, but it makes no health or safety sense either. It makes me wonder who is really benefiting financially from this. Harpreet, I would hope that you will demonstrate more independence from the usual cabal. Your acquiesence to the Bates/Viramontes bloc on several issues, e.g. Police and Plannning Commission appointments, as well as the open building issue, is not what many of us who advocated for your appointment expect from you. I would expect a bonehead comment from Nat Bates about science just like his comment a couple of years back that Richmond had too much park space and we should sell land off, but Ludmyrna you are too educated and your comment about going outside for fresh air in Richmond is just insensative and sounds as idiotic as a Batesism.
  • To Viramontes, Bates, Marquez, Lopez, and Sanhu City Councils, Having operable windows is a good thing for the staff and the buildings. Also, it would allow fresh air instead of the same old stale air circulating germs and dust.  I suffer from allergies and I would love some fresh air inside the build, but the State of California building in Richmond where I work doesn't have operable windows.  I don't understand why you are making such a fuss, you should be will to satisfy the staff of Richmond and even the new City Manager, Bill Lindsay who is doing a great job.  Since new, and or rebuilt/remodeled structures for the city offices are needed what harm would it be to allow such a small request. Please reconsider and allow operable windows and vote Yes for Windows. Thank you,
  • This action is unbelievably disappointing and demonstrates Council's complete disregard for the work you expect out of your staff.  Our City staff needs all of the physical support available to perform their jobs and deal with the incredible workload available.  A small investment in operable windows generates a huge return in productivity and staff quality of life.  You've buried your common sense and intelligent decision making under their need to exercise political power.  At least that's the perception you've left.  Please reconsider operable windows for City Hall.
  • I am very disappointed that the City Council believes that the investment in the employee's health is not a worthy investment.  
  • This kind of ignorant arrogance is what most residents of Richmond are tired of.  We thought we would have a progressive council when we voted most of these goofs into office.  Lopez, saying the employees should "go outside and take a walk" sounds ridiculous.  Bates, worried about the cost of operable windows, should have chastised Lopez for the employee time and production lost on "walks outside to get fresh air" would cost the city. Of course, given the history of the Richmond City Council, it is rare that sunshine and fresh air is allowed anywhere in the decision-making process, so this should not be a surprise. I agree that this vote, against all good sense and expert testimony and examples, was one that was done "just because they could."  It also sends a very clear message about the current voting majority on the Richmond City Council.  We are back to an arrogant cabal who care more about their own egos than they do about the welfare of the residents, business of the city, and city employees.  What the hell happens to people when they get elected?  It's that extra gene, I swear, that comes to the top and robs them of good sense and care for the citizens and of the city they say the want to serve.  Via this type of vote they might as well stand on their chairs and yell "ME FIRST, ME FIRST, I AM IMPORTANT.  I AM A CITY COUNCIL MEMBER AND I HAVE POWER.  I DO NOT HAVE TO LISTEN OR CONSIDER THE OPINIONS OF EXPERTS OR ANYONE ELSE.  I AM IMPORTANT."  Maybe those five council members should go outside and talk a walk and get some air.  And keep walking........ 
  • Richmond City Council: I wish to voice to you my disappointment in your votes for sealing the city hall building rather than installing operable windows.  Such short-sighted, penny-safe/pound-poor decisions are characteristic of Richmond's leaders in the past and have added to our reputation as a poorly run city.  Ignoring testimony by experts who have nothing to gain by their opinions shows a lack of openness and rational decision making based on facts. I have seen this so many times with the Richmond City Council that it's become expected.  It is why the city is always back-tracking, paying for its previous mistakes, and why it has lost the respect and trust of its citizens. I hope the subject of operable windows can be re-visited.  It may not be the most important issue facing Richmond but it is symbolic of the way the City Council could and should approach the subject of environmentalism and economy in the future.
  • Hello: It is surprising to me that Mr. Bates feels qualified to tell a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering that her research is hogwash.  I am sure that in some disciplines, Mr. Bates is more knowledgeable than Dr. Brager.  Does he know more about the benefits of operable windows than she does?  Even if he does, what is served by being so rude? For how many years has Ms. Lopez worked in sealed buildings?  It can not be very many, if she believes that stepping outside a few times a day outweighs the problems associated with working in a sealed building.  It takes only one sick person in such a building to contaminate everyone.  Stepping outside does not stop you from catching an illness in the hours you spend at your desk. Was this nothing but arrogance?  Surely, none of the five council members actually felt qualified to ignore Dr. Brager's research.  I simply don't believe that any of those five is stupid.  Perhaps this was just politics -- favors given for favors received. Under any circumstances, this was a terrible disappointment.  The most recent election looked like an opportunity for a new beginning in Richmond. And yes, I supported Ms. Lopez enthusiastically.
  • Before I engage in some tsk, tsking, what was the actual cost for installing operable windows? If the rehab budget is $10m, and operable windows would have added a hundred thousand dollars or less to the budget, it should have been a no-brainer. If the cost would have been $1m for operable windows, I might still disagree, but I'm not sure I'd take anyone to task over the matter. An increase of 1% ($10m/$.1m) in any building project should already be budgeted in under contingency.  Is it possible that the building rehab is already over budget, and these idiots are merely trying to keep the "wish lists" under control? Lacking some critical info to take the "5" to task.
  • Dear Council Members: It was discouraging to read Councilmember Butt's e-mail regarding the apparently irrational decision on the part of five councilmembers to seal off City Hall despite expert testimony that would surely have influenced any sensible person to decide otherwise.  Honestly, who in their right mind would opt to seal off a building and breathe canned air, when provided the option of  breathing the (relatively)fresh and clean Richmond air? According to Mr. Butt's correspondence, this was the move of a bunch of well-informed contrarians, who made a decision based not in the interest of anything other than an irresponsible display of power.  I really hope Mr. Butt is wrong, and that there is some point I am missing. There are two sides to every story, but I fail to see your side in this issue. This is utterly disillusioning, and I fear it may reflect upon other decisions made on behalf of your constituents, and your attitude toward those you represent in general.  Please let me know why I am wrong.
  • Dear Council Persons: Bates, Marquez, Viramontes, Lopez and Sandhu I hope these comments are a simple misunderstanding, but I request that you please clarify the reasoning behind your voting position on this subject.
  •  Tom-- I don't always agree with you, but I think you're dead right in your evaluation of the mechanics behind this.  Lopez so much as admitted that a breath of fresh air in City Hall is not something that group wants.  However, operable windows just makes sense.  We live in a place that has great weather and comfortable ambient temperatures. Why not compromise: operable windows in most of City Hall, and sealed windows in the Viramontes group's office.
  • It's evident that our city council does not have a clue about the cities workforce and is either politicking, or has never visited worksites where there are no open windows in place. Ask those poor people at the library who have been so ill and yes even died from poor environmental quality if they wouldn't want open windows. Instead of thinking about their own, they should begin to think about the people who truly run this city. THE WORKERS.
  • I watched the lengthy debate last night involving the choices of operable windows over contained air conditioning in the retrofitted new city hall.  Given the authorative presentation by the U.C. Berkeley professor and supporting testimony by a fair representation of community voices -- I was stunned by the negative vote with little applied reasoning by those opposed.  It simply made no sense, and appeared to be a pure display of power.  This morning I'm still finding it difficult to understand and justify except when viewed as a creeping dominance (for reasons unknown) led by a newly-formed council coalition.  It will be interesting to watch how this power will be applied in the months to come when the city will be facing monumental decisions involving a variety of critical issues as we climb out of the financial meltdown and try to sort out pathways through what promises to be a period of major growth and change. I'm hoping that "We, the people," are watching closely enough to keep our recovery from being derailed by political ambition and/or irrational governance.
  • The only local political candidate I ever donated money to was Maria.  Please forgive me if  I do not donate again. I have been a Democrat all my life, but have recently re-registered.  No, I'm not a Republican, now, but I am certainly no longer a member of a party that does not represent my ideals locally, statewide, or nationally. But, as Jean would say, "I've got my eye on you."   (Despite the above,  I'll always love Bob Campbell.  Those were the days!)
  • Yes, I am concerned that some of the City Council members do not have their priorities very well thought out. You are against measures that would improve the health of your city workers and save energy costs in the long run. You are for spending money for high priced police officers with funds the city doesn't have, but appear to have given little thought to what would actually work. As a person who lives in the Iron Triangle, I can appreciate having an adequate police force. However, I call your attention to the advice of Oakland's head of the juvenile and family unit:  "You can't arrest your way out of the problem...you really have to invest in prevention. Otherwise you are just going to have more criminals." The state of California has a fund with $48 million available to help stop street gangs with a mix of social and law enforcement programs. What is Richmond doing to get some of this money? How about hiring a grant writer or setting up a taskforce on youth violence as other communities have done? How about looking into what other communities have done that has actually reduced crime? Source: "Anti-violence efforts need 'street cred' legislators told" SF Chronicle, B3, June 2, 2007
  • Corky Booze should have been on the council! I find the shenaigans being played out for the new planning scenario despicable. The planning department already operates in such a disoriented fashion I can't imagine how they will ever become a cohesive group under the reallignment.
  • Dear City Council: Please listen to the experts. Please rescind your prior vote and get Richmond some openable windows.
  • Dear Viramontes Five councilmembers: You gotta be kidding. You are not doing the job for me. I am not happy about the Design Board elimination or the fact that you seem to be in a coalition against the best interests of the people of Richmond. Mandatory monies for new police hires, when there are no applicants? Please get real; let's spend some money on the infrastructure. Let's beautify Richmond, not squirrel our money away. Let's use the money for those things that are part of reality, not a pipe dream. What are you people smoking?
  • To Bates, Marquez, Viramontes, Lopez and Sandhu, What is wrong with you people?
  • Tom: Thanks for keeping the folks informed about how our local government is not working. This is insane! I thought this City was more "up-to-date" than this. During the design review stage of the process, we were told that the buildings were to be "green". Why hire all of these expensive consultants and then not take their advice? When is the next election?
  • I couldn't believe that the City  Council ignored all the experts and voted to have a sealed building instead of operable windows.  WHAT WERE YOU THINKING???  The citizens of Richmond deserve better representation than we are getting!!!!!.
  • Pennywise but pound foolish.
  • Hello, I'm not impressed by the City Council vote against operable windows.  I have to stay in way too many "sealed" hotel rooms, so I suffer the health consequences of which your experts speak. I voted for Viramontes thinking she showed signs of independent thinking.  My husband voted for Lopez thinking at least she wasn't the status quo.  Guess we were both wrong. Thank you,
  • Tom, Thanks for this and the other information about moves by the Viramontes axis. Can anything be done to reverse this and their other deals? Can the issue be put  back on the table? Can these members be impeached? The Viramontes people show all the earmarks of having made back room deals with Chevron and certain factions of the Richmond cops. I grew up in L.A. where blatant collusion between the city council, the police and large developers was common. it's tragic to see that  happening here.
  • What a show of arrogance! As a frequent traveler for work, one of my criteria for hotels is to stay in one with opening windows.  Short of installing HEPA filters and several air exchanges per hour in the A/C system, it is a known health hazard to seal windows (I am a Pharm.D. with a degree from Cal Berkeley and UCSF and help build clean rooms).  That is an added expense. I find it arrogant that folks do not listen to the experts with the proper credentials to help make a decision and environmentally sound ideas.  Shame on the 5 of you! A few years from now, the community will incur yet another expense retrofitting the building with opening windows once you are all gone but what do you care?  You are acting like all of the republican politicians in Washington only interested in the present.  I bet the 5 of you do not believe in global warming either!
  • Dear Council members, By what ratianal, and for what reason did Councilmembers Bates, Marquez, Viramontes, Lopez and Sandhu,  vote down the operable window option recommended by the real experts and instruct that the new City Hall building be permanently sealed. I really whould like to hear from you. Long time Richmond resident and voter.
  • "Councilmember Lopez said that if employees want fresh air, they should go outside and take a walk." So, the employees can walk around outside for the whole shift on pay status?!!! I didn't vote for any of you slugs and believe me I won't next time around either! Way to go team!
  • The city hall window vote is appallng.  If there's an explanation, I'd love to hear it from any council member.
  • I pressed reply to all because I am shocked at sickened by the choice made to seal the building. This going against scientific information, employee preference, experience, common sense, puts these Richmond City Council members squarely in the ranks of the short-sighted, self-serving officials who are brings our country to ruin with their disastrous decisions regarding foreign policy and environment.  Wait a sec! Maybe Viramontes et al think that if the new city hall building is sealed that, when global warming gets bad, they can just stay inside with the air conditioning turned up.
  • I'm sure glad I don't have to work there!!!
  • What was the cost difference and percentage difference in the windows, installation, cost of maintenance, etc? This piece sounds slanted to me.
  • Thank you. I assume you will be emailing an addendum. It would explain your intensity. Will it be efficient to your ends to name them as a cabal? Is it that far out of control already? I fear you might shatter the information exchange that might solve the problem.
  • Actually, Tom, I wasn't arguing about the accuracy of the description, but the necessity of bringing it up in preference to any others; the sense of urgency to communicate the evil rather tha the crossed communication. What is your take on their reasons they are doing these seemingly reckless things? Have they not given any idea of that? They gave no reason for having the windows closed? Expense? Dust, pollution, noise, danger, theft? Control of space? Ease of handing a laptop to a conspirator outside?

·         Dear City Councilmemebers, Please reconsider your choice of sealed buildings for Richmond workers. Fresh air is a demonstrably better approach. You can easily seal a building later. You cannot easily un-seal one. Thank you,

  • How could you ignore all the expert advice and further your own agenda regarding the windows?  You are all a disgrace!
  • Dear All, In a day and age of increasingly less interaction with the elements...such as fresh air...I do believe it would be in the best interests of all concerned to have operable windows.
  • Your vote is a disgrace to the City of Richmond.
  • The city's Stationary Engineers maintain and operate the city's HVAC systems and are strong advocates of operable windows. A few years ago, when we had the legionaires(sic) outbreak in the Social Security building, prompted us to have our building assessed and the overwhelming difference between old City Hall and the SSA building was that City Hall had operable windows and of course, no cooling tower.
  • Dear City Council members, If Tom Butt is correct, and all the experts, the city manager, the architect, and the city employees recommended and preferred the operable windows, and they would save energy and employee health  Why did you vote for the sealed windows?
  • Did no one ask for the reasons the Miramontes 5 gave for their action? Did they only say "hogwash" and "I don't want to spend the money"? I did not vote for Miramontes; i did not like her looks. i guess i have good intuitions.
  • I'm not surprised by your votes regarding operable windows for the new City Hall complex. You're like our President-you can't do anything right, and like him, we have to pay for it. You' all make me sick!
  • Design Review What the heck is going on?   When the experts suggest something how can you vote to do otherwise.  I'm stunned and disappointed.  You are letting us all down.  I'm out of town now working on the East Coast and I have firsthand experience with buildings where the windows can't be opened.    It's a health compromise where no one benefits....no one.   One of the things I'm most proud of is telling people that when I return home and it's too hot inside, we just open the windows and the fresh air refreshes us all. Think it over-make a decision that benefits people not one where you are stepping over the $5 bills to pick up the quarters.