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  Being Business Friendly in Richmond
March 5, 2010

As election season once again nears, the City Council fight for the hearts and minds of the business community is in full swing.

Webster’s defines business as “a usually commercial or mercantile activity engaged in as a means of livelihood.” All City Council members, of course, consider themselves experts on business, the source of jobs and taxes in Richmond, except for the rest of the people who also pay taxes and consume the goods and services that generate jobs and taxes.

Before I go any further, and in the spirit of the moment, I can’t resist noting that I am uniquely qualified among City Council members to write about business because I am the only one among seven who is actually in business. I am the senior shareholder in a Richmond architecture-engineering firm that I founded 37 years ago. I work every day to keep the work coming in, and I have to make a payroll every two weeks, an increasingly difficult job in these challenging economic times. I am a licensed contractor as well as an architect. I have developed real estate projects in Richmond, such as the Hotel Mac and Baltic Square. In short, I know something about business. You wouldn’t know it, however, from listening to the Chamber of Commerce or the Council of Industries, both of which have long since relegated me to their “anti-business” column of office holders, which has a single litmus test – how much you suck up to Chevron.

Anyway, back to recognizing business.

Going back at least to the regime of Mayor Rosemary Corbin, Richmond businesses have been recognized regularly at City Council meetings. Recognizing not only businesses but organizations and individuals of all types at City Council meetings is a Richmond tradition that seems to ramp up noticeably the nearer we get to the next election.

At the March 2 City Council meeting, the first round of recognitions was made to ten businesses or groups of businesses at common locations. The task was researched and the businesses announced by a pair of hardworking interns, college students who assist the City Council while learning about government. The first agenda item read:

Present Certificates of Appreciation to several major employers in the City of Richmond - Mayor McLaughlin and Councilmembers Bates and Lopez (620-6581).

The second presentation was by Mayor Mclaughlin, reading as follows:

Presentation honoring Richmond Local Business "SunPower Corporation" for its contribution to a healthy local-clean-green economy - Mayor's Office (Mayor McLaughlin 620-6503).

“Now what’s wrong with that?” one might ask.

Well, first, Councilmember Nat Bates wanted everyone to know that the recognitions were really his idea and that of Councilmember Lopez, not the mayor. Then he criticized the mayor for singling out SunPower Corporation and leaving his name off the agenda item.

A couple of days later, Chamber of Commerce President Judy Morgan first criticized the City Council for their choice of businesses and next for allegedly bungling employment statistics. Then she lit into the mayor for not involving the Chamber of Commerce in the selection of  businesses. Obviously, the Chamber of Commerce is the only expert on all things business and had their feelings hurt by being squeezed out of the process. Incidentally, Bates praised the interns for their work, but that was before the Chamber found fault.

Morgan wrote the following to the City Council:

I have been deliberating as to whether or not to comment on Tuesday evening council meeting, but find I must make a few comments in order to set a few things straight.

I was disappointed that the Council had to use students to research who the top ten employers were.  I would have thought Council members would know that information, as well as who the top ten sales tax generators are. By using these students to do research, several mistakes were made that were not corrected. First, there was the mix up with Kaiser. I am sure that Dr. Ritterman was embarrassed. Kaiser actually has 193 physicians, 1213 employees and 116 volunteers working at the Medical Center here in Richmond. Your presentation said that they had 800.  The lab was introduced as having 200 employees, in the wrong order and Kaiser’s Allied School of Health and the Kaiser Optical Lab was not mentioned . Those two would be several hundred more. Certainly this is a disservice to Kaiser.  

Additionally In my opinion there were several businesses missing: The Mechanics Bank, with three branches and a Corporate headquarters as well as the Republic Services group with Richmond Sanitary Services and West County Resource Recovery.  If numbers were accumulated for the Mall, it could have been accumulated for these two companies also. Both of these companies deserved to be included, and recognized for their years of service to this Community.  Since Home Depot was included, which has an El Cerrito address, Overaa Construction, which started in Richmond 100 years ago and is now on Parr Blvd. in North Richmond with well over 275 employees, should have also been included. Both Wal-Mart and Target have a large number of employees but their names also were missing. I could go on. In the future I would be happy to review your list.

Then Madam Mayor claiming to have started the business of the month when actually this program started many years ago with Mayor Corbin and I. We honored Richmond businesses each month based on their contributions to the community, not to companies who just have their doors open. We also spent one day a month visiting businesses in Richmond. We were honored by the U. S. Conference of Mayors for this program. I continued this business of the month program  with Mayor Anderson who recognized the value of this program. Three years ago when Rosemary and I visited with the Mayor, we explained the program’s benefits and I offered to continue the program with the Mayor. She said she would get back to me. I am still waiting... Now I am waiting for a correction that gives credit where credit is due.

Since the Chamber of Commerce is a frequent and vitriolic critic of the mayor and campaigned hard to keep her from being elected, I’m not sure I can blame McLaughlin for not including the Chamber in her own business recognition program.

My take on business is that anyone who provides or creates a job and provides a product or service is a worthy business. Picking certain business to honor publicly implies that the remaining thousands are less worthy. I’m not sure I like the idea of the City Council regularly conducting a feeding frenzy to honor the biggest, baddest, greenest, newest or oldest business. I say render those things public unto the City Council, and render those things business unto the Chamber of Commerce. Let’s put a moratorium on business recognitions at least until November.