Tom Butt
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  Snopes for the Richmond Sun
October 25, 2018

The flagship campaign piece of the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) was mailed this week, thinly disguised as a newspaper and, not surprisingly, in violation of Richmond Municipal Code 2.42.075 because it does not disclose funding.

Snopes for the Richmond Sun

The Richmond Sun mailer promotes candidates Beckles, Willis, Recinos and Martinez.

About the only thing they got right about the mayors’ race is the following:

Mayor Butt is competent and runs City Council meetings efficiently. Why would we take a chance on someone with less experience?

Good question!

Following are Willis’ arguments about why he would be a better mayor:

  1. Rent Control. Melvin’s support for both Rent Control and Proposition 10 (Costa Hawkins Repeal) are his leading campaign platform planks. Like it or not, we have rent control, so I don’t understand what he is campaigning on it. While we all agree that the housing shortage in the Bay Area is a crisis that is causing rents and home prices that fewer people can afford, we do not agree on the solution. In Economics 101, I learned about supply and demand. The way to lower prices is to increase the supply and provide competition. In the long run, rent control is a losing strategy and will simply raise prices like it has done in all previously rent-controlled cities like Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco. I didn’t dream this up. In fact, most economists agree with me. See UC Berkeley professor blames rent control for California’s housing shortage

    Kenneth Rosen, a UC Berkeley economist and real estate consultant, published a paper Wednesday titled The Case For Preserving Costa Hawkins, in hopes of swaying voters against Proposition 10. Proposition 10, which will go before voters in November, would repeal the 1995 Costa-Hawkins Act, a state law that severely curtails rent control in California cities. For example, under Costa-Hawkins, only San Francisco apartments built before 1979 may be subject to rent control. Passing Proposition 10 would not in and of itself create any new rent control housing, but it would allow cities to expand rent control stock for the first time in decades if they so choose. Rosen, however, argues that turning the clock back to 1994 will stifle new housing and drain apartment stock.

Incidentally, polls show Proposition 10 is losing. See Support for Prop. 10 Craters in New Poll, Which Shows 60% of Voters Against Rent Control Initiative. Other articles to look at include:

    Rent control has a bad reputation among many economists, who often argue that it makes things worse. If landlords can’t charge market-level rents, goes the theory, they will gradually take their properties out of the rental market by converting them to condos or Airbnb rentals. That can create acute shortages in rental housing, which can drive prices higher than they would have been otherwise. The big winners were people who were lucky enough to be under rent control back in 1994. Those renters saved between $2,300 and $6,600 a year — a total of $2.9 billion in benefits from 1994 through 2010. Many of those beneficiaries were older people who had deep roots in their neighborhoods. By contrast, people who came later faced higher upfront rents and a growing scarcity of rental housing. The number of rent-controlled units declined by 25% between 1994 and 2010, and the total stock of rental housing (some of which isn’t under rent control) declined about 5%.

    Economists put the profession's conventional wisdom to the test, only to discover that it's correct. In the end, the strongest argument against rent control is that there are better ways to protect vulnerable renters. Diamond and her coauthors suggest an idea that I’ve also endorsed in the past — a citywide system of government social insurance for renters. Households that see their rents go up could be eligible for tax credits or welfare payments to offset rent hikes, and vouchers to help pay the cost of moving. The money for the system would come from taxes on landlords, which would effectively spread the cost among all renters and landowners instead of laying the burden on the vulnerable few.

  1. Being Smart About Point Molate. Willis has no education, training or experience in planning, development and land use economics. Yet he buys into the arguments of amateurs and out of town manipulators like Robert Cheasty, Norman LaForce and Shirley Dean that Point Molate can’t accommodate housing, although housing has been reviewed and found feasible in both the NEPA review of the Reuse Plan and the CEQA review of the Casino Plan. Willis goes into exquisite detail about the prohibitive cost of infrastructure with no real knowledge of the subject. Willis continues to support efforts to undermine the settlement agreement, which will cost the City millions in legal fees, maintenance costs and delay, possibly paving the way to an eventual takeover of the project by Upstream and the Tribe. I should note that in contrast to Willis, I have decades  of college education and experience in architecture, planning, engineering and real estate development, including infrastructure. At the same age Willis was being paid by ACCE to knock on doors, I was managing millions of dollars of infrastructure construction in Southeast Asia. I know what I am talking about.

  2. Fix Things the Free Market Doesn’t Fix.  Once again, Willis shows his inexperience and naivete about development. He writes., “Here’s another news flash for the mayor [Butt] – for profit developers don’t want to build affordable housing.” Willis doesn’t know that affordable housing is built by both for-profit and non-profit developers. Even non-profit developers have to sell tax credits to for-profit buyers in order to finance affordable housing. Here is an article Wills should read, “Affordable Rental Housing Development in the For-Profit Sector: A Case Study of McCormack Baron Salazar.” This is the same company that rebuilt Easter Hill to become Richmond Village, a Hope VI project that remains one of Richmond’s largest affordable housing developments. Even non-profit developers have to make a profit; they just don’t call it that. Willis acknowledges that affordable housing has to have subsidies, but he completely ignores that fact that the best potential source of local subsidies are the in-lieu fees from market rate housing development. Unlike the RPA or Willis, I do have a written housing strategy – the Mayor’s Housing Strategy.

Summing it Up. Willis states, “Mayor Butt got elected in 2014 with the help of the RPA.” The RPA has never endorsed me because I don’t take the “no corporate contributions” pledge, which they espouse but regularly violate. (The biggest single outside donor to the Richmond Sun is a cannabis dispensary). It is, however, a true statement that some RPA members campaigned for me in 2014. But there was also reciprocity as I campaigned for the RPA candidates. At the end of the day, I got more votes than Gayle McLaughlin, the highest vote-getter in the City Council race. So, who helped whom?

In “Meet Melvin Willis, Candidate for Mayor,” Willis answers the rhetorical question, “How are you different from Mayor Butt?

I engage directly with community members. I work from the people up, not top down…I listen to the whole city and serve the public’s interest with a special focus on those truly in need of assistance. I want to focus on working with non-profit housing developers.
I’ll say this about Melvin. I think his heart is in the right place and he wants to make Richmond a better place. But he doesn’t really know how to do that. He touts himself as a listener, which is, of course, a good thing. But a leader needs to do more than listen. A leader needs a plan. A leader needs to know what the best practices are through experience, through education, through talking with other successful leaders throughout the nation and the world, through attending national and global conferences with other leaders and experts in many fields and through studying complex problems and how others have solved them.

Melvin thinks I don’t engage. That is simply naïve. I meet with hundreds of Richmonders every week through the many events at which I am asked to attend and speak. I rarely see Melvin at any of them because he is presumably out working for ACCE knocking on doors. I communicate with thousands of Richmond residents and businesses  through my E-FORUM, widely acknowledged as the best news source in Richmond. And it is not one-way; people respond, and we often engage in dialogues. I post daily, if not more, on Facebook and NextDoor, often engaging in spirited debates or just providing critical information in response to neighborhood inquiries. I engage in email conversations with dozens of people daily, answering questions, referring them to City staff members who can address their inquiries, requests and complaints. I hold Business Roundtables and “Time with Tom” sessions all over Richmond on a regular basis to understand what people need, to provide information, and to help me plan for initiatives that move Richmond forward. I am, hand down, the most accessible member of the City Council.

Enjoy reading the Richmond Sun, but take it with a grain of salt.