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Butt, Beckles and Ritterman for City Council
Butt, Beckles and Ritterman for City Council

Executive Summary

Until less than two years ago, the Richmond City Council was a remarkably collaborative legislative body that had pulled together as a team to emerge strongly from a financial crisis with balanced budgets, healthy reserves, a top notch management team and an optimistic future.

Then something went terribly wrong. A self-appointed group now known as the Chevron Clique formed a majority, broke ranks and began to pursue irrational policies and cater to special interests.

Richmond needs a City Council of independent thinkers who place the people of Richmond first. The 2008 November election is an opportunity to break up the Chevron Clique by re-electing Tom Butt and replacing John Marquez and Nat Bates with Jovanka Beckles and Dr. Jeff Ritterman.

Please read on for details.

A Fragmented City Council

The Richmond City Council has become severely fragmented in an unhealthy way, torn asunder by a self-appointed and increasingly irrational majority who have strayed from serving the people of Richmond. Voters have an opportunity in a little over two months to correct this course.

One thing I have learned in the past 13 years is that Richmond residents want to see teamwork from their City Council. Although some are entertained by quarreling, and political differences are to be expected in any legislative body, Richmonders, by and large, expect collaboration and cooperation to prevail at the end of the day.

Following is a description of what went wrong and how the people of Richmond can fix it;

During the financial crises of 2004 and its aftermath, the City Council was uniquely united. We worked with the public employee unions to realign benefits in a way the City could afford, and we avoided the kind of problems that eventually drove Vallejo into bankruptcy and have caused drastic budget cuts and layoffs in other cities and counties. We hired a no-nonsense interim city manager, Phil Batchelor, who moved quickly to clean up abuses and malfunctions that had been festering for years. Then we hired Bill Lindsay who continued to bring professionalism to the City and built a top notch management team. We balanced the budget and built a healthy reserve.

A year ago (August 18, 2007), the West County Times reviewed the City’s progress optimistically:

Despite the dustups, the council has successfully continued to regain the respect of city residents and the Bay Area.

Perhaps most significantly, the city regained its favored bond ratings from both Moody's Investor Service and Standard & Poors thanks to the council's consistent fiscal discipline. The favored bond rating is doubtless a sign of financial recovery from a $35 million budget crisis in 2004 that resulted from six years of gross mismanagement under former City Manager Isiah Turner.

The council also doubled the annual funding for critically needed street repairs and launched the $111 million first phase of the Civic Center renovation.

Under McLaughlin's leadership, Richmond has become more environmentally friendly. The council rolled out the welcome mat to green businesses by declaring Richmond a Green Economic Development Area, reduced solar fees to the lowest in the Bay Area and approved the Green Building Ordinance, which governs construction of all city-funded projects greater than $300,000.

The council formed the Office of Neighborhood Safety to coordinate anti-violence programs among city departments, the West Contra Costa Unified School District and nonprofit groups.

And the council took steps to get the Chevron Refinery to verify its annual utility users tax payment. In July 2006, the refinery suddenly and without explanation reduced its payment by $4 million, dealing the city a financial blow as it recovered from its budget crisis.

We were on a roll.

Then things changed. Some councilmembers stopped focusing on collaboration and became obsessed with control and secrecy. A schism developed as a five-member majority, first known as the Viramontes Five and most recently, the Chevron Clique, decided to flex their muscles and seize power.

”Some City Council Members Should Be Ashamed” (West County Times)                                      

According to the West County Times (August 18, 2007):

… good government took a back seat to personal bickering. Name-calling and spite votes were costly for residents, employees and the city's long-suffering image.

The best example is the council's 5-4 vote against windows that open -- also called "operable windows" -- in the renovated Civic Center. In June, the council majority voted down operable windows despite a presentation by a nationally respected environmental engineer on employee health and productivity benefits of an operable-window system.

Operable windows have been popular in civic buildings across the country and particularly in the Bay Area. The council's narrow rejection reaffirmed an image of petty personal politics and backwardness the city has been struggling to overcome.

Council neophytes Ludmyrna Lopez and Harpreet Sandhu still are finding their way on the council and largely have voted in lockstep with their council mentors, Viramontes, Councilman John Marquez and, to a lesser degree, Vice Mayor Nat Bates.

Those five form the council majority and often vote in opposition to a loose-knit rival faction of McLaughlin and Councilmen Tom Butt, Tony Thurmond and occasionally Jim Rogers.

In addition to the admitted “spite vote” on operable windows, the new Council majority defied the public, sucked up to developers and voted to dismantle Design Review.  Enamored with the concept but not understanding the mechanics, they still haven’t figured out how to do it and still make the system work. In fact, by blocking new appointments to the Planning Commission and Design Review Board, they have actually slowed the process down.


They have consistently supported developers when the community asked for something better, and they have disrespected the opinions of neighborhood councils on critical local issues.


They have abandoned open government and community participation in favor of secrecy and conspiracy.


Their political contributions come largely from big business, industry and developers, whose interests they consistently support.


One of them, Nat Bates, ran afoul of California’s Fair Political Practices and drew a hefty fine (See Vice-Mayor Solicits Donations to Pay Campaign Fines, February 27, 2007). Faced with the evidence, Bates agreed to penalties for all three counts of violations of the Fair Political Practices Act and an administrative penalty of $7,000. The Fair Political Practices Commission wrote:


The violations are serious, in that they involve numerous incorrectly reported contributions in a local jurisdiction. The seriousness of the violations is compounded by the fact that the local jurisdiction had contribution limits in place which were exceeded by virtue of these improperly reported contributions. The violation set forth in Count 3 is particularly serious in that it involves a much greater amount not properly reported, and it was the third in this series of violations.


In the 2004 election, Bates also claimed endorsements he didn’t have and misstated his voting record (West County Times, October 28, 2004):


Bates campaign mailer misleads. In a campaign mailer sent to Richmond homes this week, Councilman Nat Bates misstated his vote on a development matter and wrongly implied that Contra Costa Newspapers endorsed him.


The newspaper's attorney sent Bates a letter Wednesday requesting that he stop referring to the Times in campaign literature and immediately destroy any materials with such references.


"Your campaign flier makes it seem that the Times has endorsed you when in fact the newspaper recommended that all four incumbents be rejected and did not endorse any of them," wrote attorney Karl Olson.


Bates said campaign consultants prepared the mailer and did not mean to imply an endorsement from the Times.


When Marquez was last elected in 2004 he was supported by Chevron, perhaps looking forward to 2008. The West County Times wrote (October 30, 2004):


ChevronTexaco has flooded the city with 11th-hour campaign mailers costing tens of thousands of dollars. Exactly how much the oil giant spent will not be known until it files a campaign finance disclosure report with the Richmond city clerk…A three-section fold-out mailer for former Councilman John Marquez features the photos of actors in fire and police uniforms. State law prohibits uniformed officers from participating in a political campaign during work hours.


Marquez, who previously adopted the campaign theme of a toilet bowl over the slogan, "Flush the @#! out of City Hall," has now become the source of a foul odor himself. As the West County Times described the recent Chevron sellout (August 21, 2009):


 …the way the company struck it's $61.6 million community benefits deal smells — and the stink is coming from both sides of the table.


Harpreet Sandhu is a really nice guy who has spent the last two years mainly paying back those who appointed him to the City Council. He has shown almost no initiative or independence. The West County Times wrote:

Council neophytes Ludmyrna Lopez and Harpreet Sandhu still are finding their way on the council and largely have voted in lockstep with their council mentors, Viramontes, Councilman John Marquez and, to a lesser degree, Vice Mayor Nat Bates.

The most recent and perhaps the most egregious act was the railroaded vote the group took on the Chevron Energy and Hydrogen Renewal Project after forging a secret, last minute compact with Chevron.


In February of 2008, Chip Johnson of the Chronicle wrote about the upcoming Chevron project and quoted me ("Roll On, Big Oil," San Francisco Chronicle,


"The question is whether the council will hang together, hang tough," Butt said, "or just sell out individually like the council has in the past."


As it turned out, the Richmond city Council hung neither together nor tough. The five-member majority sold Richmond out once again.


According to a West County Times editorial (August 21, 2008):


On Richmond's side, some City Council members — especially Maria Viramontes and John Marquez — should be ashamed of their secret dealing with the company. As Times reporter Katherine Tam reported last week, they bypassed their city staff and negotiated details of the community agreement directly with the company. The public and city staff only saw the final document the night that the council approved it along with the refinery improvements. Such an important deal should have been exposed to the full sunshine of public review.


Then there's the issue of spending oversight. Some $10 million of the money is to go toward a fund to benefit nonprofits and community groups. An advisory board overseeing that fund is to consist of two members appointed by Chevron and three current or former members of the City Council. Those five are to then appoint two members from the community. Quicker than you could say "political opportunity," the council majority appointed three of its members who backed the Chevron deal — Nat Bates, Ludmyrna Lopez and Harpreet Sandhu — to serve on the committee. Bates and Sandhu are up for re-election in November. Critics rightly complained: Officials running for re-election should not be doling out funding to the same sorts of groups from which they will be seeking support.


Earlier, on May 1, 2008, the West County Times excoriated the same group for their obsession with secrecy:


The Richmond City Council decision to enter a secrecy deal with the Chevron refinery should offend anyone in the Bay Area who values open government.


Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and Councilmen Tom Butt and Tony Thurmond are to be commended for opposing the secrecy.


As Butt said, "I don't think it's right for this city to be making decisions based on information that the public doesn't have."


The other six members of the council, who were led by Councilwoman Maria Viramontes, should be ashamed.


Getting the City Council Back on Track


It is essential to the residents of Richmond to break the control the Chevron Clique has over the City Council and return to an open and objective government that has as its first priority the interests of the residents of Richmond.


For that to happen, Bates, Marquez and Sandhu, all members of the “Chevron Clique,” have to go. This is not personal. It’s politics. These three are otherwise nice people who have sometimes served the City well in the past, but they have strayed from the fold and need to be replaced with fresh and highly-qualified individuals who are focused on what is best for Richmond – not what is best for special interests.


In the November, 2008, City Council election, three people will be elected. I hope to be one of them. For the other two vacancies, I am supporting two extraordinary candidates: Jovanka Beckles and Dr. Jeff Ritterman.


We are fortunate to have these two individuals on the ballot. They are not lightweights, gadflies or johnny-come-latelies. In fact, their experience, professional and educational credentials and record of service in Richmond clearly exceeds that of all other candidates, including the incumbents. Beckles and Ritterman are two of the best educated, well-rounded and professionally solid individuals who have ever run for City Council.


Both have websites that I encourage you to visit to study their resumes and political philosophies.


I urge you to not only vote for Beckles and Ritterman but also to contribute to their campaigns and volunteer for them. You can be sure that Chevron will spend a torrent of special interest cash to make sure its Richmond City Council team remains intact and that Beckles and Ritterman are defeated. Because of Richmond’s public finance ordinance, whatever you contribute will be doubled.


Jovanka Beckles


Jovanka Beckles (www.JovankaBeckles.org), a high-achieving athlete, scholar and businesswoman, brings to this contest an impressively solid professional background and qualifications that substantially exceed those of whom she is challenging.


Jovanka attended Florida A&M University on a full basketball scholarship and graduated cum laude in 1988 with a BA degree in Psychology, later earning a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Phoenix.

She has immersed herself in public service in Richmond, serving on the General Plan Advisory Committee and Economic development Commission.


Jovanka moved to the Bay Area in 1989 and has worked as a counselor, youth educator, team builder crime prevention strategist and security officer for 18 years, including keeping at-risk youth from falling into crime and drugs. For the last ten years she has worked in Richmond and is a small business owner, spearheading the ongoing efforts to create an Association of Richmond Merchants of San Pablo Ave (ARMSPA).


She also serves as vice-president of the Richmond Heights Neighborhood Council and believes in strengthening local livable and walk-able communities, developing stronger connections and loyalties with businesses in local corridors like San Pablo Ave


Jovanka is multi-cultural (Latina of African descent) and bi-lingual (Spanish and English), an asset that will serve her well in a city of Richmond’s diversity.

Dr. Jeff Ritterman

Dr. Jeff Ritterman (www.jeffritterman.com) is Chief of Cardiology at the Kaiser Richmond Medical Center. He taught high school in the tough inner city after completing undergraduate school at the University of Wisconsin and then went on to earn a medical degree at  Temple Medical School followed by residency training in Internal Medicine at the Medical College of Pennsylvania. After a cardiology fellowship at the University of Washington, he came to Kaiser in Richmond in 1981. Jeff is board certified in both internal medicine and cardiovascular disease.

He has been intensively active for years in Richmond, providing leadership in many activities that are focused on public health – a major issue in Richmond where asthma and childhood diabetes far exceed national averages. He serves on the Contra Costa County Public and Environmental Health Advisory Board (PEHAB), which is a 19-member citizen advisory body established by the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors in 1987 to identify community health concerns and emerging public health issues and provides recommendations to Contra Costa Health Services and the Board of Supervisors.

Dr. Ritterman is on the steering committee of the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of
Physicians for Social Responsibility and also started the Healthy Living Committee to promote the adoption of healthy lifestyle choices by the staff at the Kaiser Richmond Medical Center as well as the greater Richmond community.  I think you need to omit this next part as I was on this board but when the county ran out of money they stopped the advisory board from meeting, and he served on the Health Advisory Board of the North Richmond Center for Health, a community health center serving mainly low-income residents of North Richmond, the Iron Triangle, Parchester Village and west San Pablo.

In 2007, Dr Ritterman was awarded a Contra Costa Man of Merit Award “for being of outstanding character and compassion with a strong commitment to being a positive influence in the lives of boys and young men in Contra Costa County.”

Vote for Beckles and Ritterman

Jovanka and Jeff are really smart people. They are dedicated, objective and independent. They both work in the private sector and understand business, economic development and marketing. But they also have experience in the public sector and are involved in multiple non-profit organizations dedicated to making Richmond a better place. There are no better candidates to elevate the capability of the new seven-person City Council to be formed in January of 2009. Do yourself and your city a favor and make sure they are elected.