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Contra Costa Times Endorses Butt, Beckles and Ritterman

Time for new faces in Richmond

MediaNews editorial

Article Launched: 10/22/2008 12:01:00 AM PDT

IT'S TIME to clean house in Richmond. The City Council's approval of Chevron's controversial plant modification and the accompanying $61.6 million community benefits deal was a textbook case of back-room deal-making that cut the public out of the process. The deal is done, but Richmond voters can throw out the bums on the City Council who approved the secret accord and that's what they should do.

Voters four years ago directed the council to reduce its size from nine to seven members this year. As a result, only three seats will be available on the Nov. 4 ballot.

We recommend voters re-elect Tom Butt, the only councilman seeking re-election who stood up against the sleazy Chevron deal, and cast their two other votes for Jeff Ritterman, chief of cardiology at Kaiser Richmond, and Jovanka Beckles, a counselor and educator who is also vice president of the Richmond Heights Neighborhood Council.

And we specifically urge voters to reject incumbents Nat Bates, who has served six terms; John Marquez, now in his fourth term; and Harpreet Sandhu, who was appointed to fill a council vacancy in 2007. All three voted for the plant modification and community benefits deal.

While the city could not legally extract money from the company as a condition of approval, there is little doubt that the community benefits plan was a unofficial payoff one that some council members brokered directly with Chevron. The deal was never subjected to public review before approval.

Indeed, the public and city staff only saw the final document the night the council approved it along with the refinery improvements. That sort of secrecy is despicable.

But the back-room politics didn't end there. The community benefits deal included $10 million for a fund to benefit nonprofits and community groups. An advisory board overseeing that fund is to include 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. Amazingly, just a few months before the election, the council majority appointed Bates and Sandhu to the advisory board and Marquez as an alternate.

In other words, three council members seeking re-election would have influence over the doling out of $10 million to groups that might support their re-election efforts.

It was only after community outcry and a Times editorial about this clear conflict that the council backed down. But they have left the door open to make the same appointments after the election assuming they are still members of the council.

Voters should be angry and should punish these elected officials. Fortunately, among the 10 candidates running, there are three solid contenders who deserve seats on the council. At the top of the list is Butt. While we don't always agree with him, we respect Butt for his diligence, tenacity and desire to serve the public interest.

In Ritterman and Beckles, we see two newcomers who have demonstrated a keen understanding of issues facing the city. They have both served in the community and speak passionately for an open government process.

Both were vocal during the Chevron hearings in raising environmental concerns and later calling for transparency surrounding the community benefits agreement. We look forward to seeing their fresh faces on the City Council.