Tom Butt
  E-Mail Forum – 2018  
  < RETURN  
April 28, 2018

If you don’t have the patience to get into the weeds, don’t read this; don’t go any further.

Personally I concede don’t have nearly the patience I probably should have.

Last  Tuesday, the Richmond City Council was in study session mode, hearing from staff and others about a half dozen policy issues but acting on none, including:

  • Richmond Convention and Visitors Bureau (Visit RichmondCA)
  • State of the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park
  • Climate Smart Cities Mapping Tool
  • Proposed Strategy to Increase Housing in Richmond
  • Policy Issues for Marijuana Regulation
  • Community Warning System

At Councilmember Recinos’ request, we moved the housing item up, but the presenters weren’t ready, so it proceeded after Richmond Convention and Visitors Bureau (Visit RichmondCA).

It turned out that the housing presentation was little more than a failed attempt by the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) to appear relevant to a critical public policy issue – housing -- that affects all of California. It turned out, however, to be devoid of any real substance.

Take a look at the presentation ( housing.pdf). It was led not by a credible expert but instead by Michael Gliksohn, “a member of the Richmond Progressive Alliance and recent chair of its Housing Action Team,” described in the in the staff report written by the RPA as having “taken an active role in promoting affordable housing. He has participated with the Ensuring Opportunity Campaign to End Poverty in Contra Costa in their county-wide housing forums and town halls. He worked with the Haas Institute in support of their Housing Policy and Belonging in Richmond report. He spent nine years working for Resources for Community Development where he learned the mechanics of tax credit-financed affordable housing developments.”

The slide show presented by Glicksohn proceeded to tell us what we all already well know about housing:

  • It’s a regional problem
  • There is a great need for new housing
  • Contra Costa has a shortfall
  • New housing bills passed the legislature
  • San Francisco has built a lot of housing
  • Some people want to put an affordable housing measure for Contra Costa on the ballot
  • Accessory dwelling units could address the shortage
  • Affordable housing requires subsidies
  • Richmond has a lot of sites
  • Affordable housing is a high priority
  • There are housing projects in the pipeline in Richmond

There was no new information provided. Several presentations with the same content have been made in the last couple of years. It was a total waste of time.

Then, Gliksohn went into “next steps,” listing a number of things Richmond has already done, including dramatically increasing allowable density around transit corridors, consulting with non-profit housing developers, researching funding sources and preparing development plans.  Apparently, neither Gliksohn nor any of the panel members  had looked at our General Pan 2030, our Zoning Ordinance or our latest updated General Plan Housing Element. Gliksohn, who works in Berkeley, was insinuating that Richmond City staff had their heads in the sand, and he was revealing information they hadn’t even thought of.

Gliksohn put a lot of emphasis on identifying potential sites, developing inventories, producing maps and doing other paper-shuffling, make work efforts.

After Gliksohn finished, Dan Sawislak (for whom Gliksohn works at Resources for Community Development in Berkeley) chimes in, bragging about how many units he had built and emphasizing the critical role subsidies play in affordable housing development. We know that.

Don Gilmore, Executive Director of the Community Housing Development Corporation also spoke but had little to add. Gilmore has his own problems. Abandoning several sites in Richmond that were given to him along with millions of dollars to develop, but he couldn’t get it together.

Nikki Beasley, Executive Director of Richmond Neighborhood Housing Services also told us how important affordable housing is to Richmond.

Then, the RPA-related public speakers and City Council members told us all how important affordable housing is and what great presentation we had just seen. They also wanted to make sure we did not build homes for wealthy people and made sure that inclusionary housing in upscale projects is included in the project rather than the developer paying an in-lieu fee. There was also an insinuation that City staff was pretty much clueless about affordable housing and that building a new housing bureaucracy was what we needed to solve that problem.

Remarkably, RPA mastermind Mike Parker even blamed me for forcing the RPA to write an admittedly flawed rent control ballot measure!

Someone then handed out a sheet listing “Six things to do to accelerate Richmond’s Affordable housing planning and construction program,” including:

  • Forming an Affordable Housing Advisory Committee
  • Making affordable housing a priority
  • Express support for a housing bond
  • Building coalitions
  • Making sure Richmond gets its share of new state funding
  • Creating maps and databases

After the RPA City Council members lauded the presenters for such inspiring revelations, I provided the following:

  • Richmond already has one of the most aggressively pro-housing growth general plans in California with plans for some 30,000 units. Most of the actions urged by the presenters are already included in our General Plan and its Housing Element. We also have one of the most aggressive ADU (accessory Dwelling Unit) and JADU (Junior Accessible Dwelling Unit) ordinances in California.
  • Cities don’t build housing, including affordable housing. Developers do. No matter how bad a city wants affordable housing, some developer, profit or non-profit, has to be motivated to build it.
  • Affordable housing needs three critical ingredients: (1)  a motivated developer, (2) subsidies, and (3) available sites. Richmond has plenty of sites. City staff will help anyone find a site, as will real estate brokers and even the Mayor’s office. I spend a lot of time talking to housing developers, as does City staff. I invited any prospective developer to call me personally for assistance.
  • The same subsidies are available in Richmond as anywhere else: (tax credits, (2) cap and trade, and (3) in-lieu fees from inclusionary zoning. We have used them all.
  • City staff in Richmond are very knowledgeable about affordable housing tools and have successfully worked with developers using all the available tools: (1) tax credits, (2) state housing bonds, (3) cap and trade, and many more, including social impact bonds.
  • The RPA and social justice people don’t like in-lieu fees because they want to see poor people live next to rich people. While that may be a compelling goal, it does not maximize affordable housing. In-lieu fees can be highly leveraged and are a critical component of affordable housing financing. For example, the Terminal 1 project will produce about $5 million in in-lieu fees. For that money, you could build 10 units inside the project or help leverage as many as 100 units somewhere else in Richmond.
  • One of the biggest impediments to housing in Richmond is the NIMBY tendency of the RPA. They stalled and caused downsizing to several projects, stopped one  100% affordable project, and most recently opposed a settlement for Point Molate that includes 740 units.
  • The RPA’s support of Costa Hawkins repeal would surely expand rent control in Richmond if it passes, thereby further discouraging housing development.
  • Contrary to Nikki Beasley’s criticism of the RCF Richmond Housing Renovation Program using social impact bonds as simply a blight abatement effort, the program has gained national recognition for placing low-income families into home ownership.
  • Multifamily housing financing north of I-580 is essentially redlined by lenders – a huge and probably illegal problem.

I asked Dan Sawislak why he had not developed housing in Richmond, and he couldn’t really answer. Like the other panelists, he seemed to want to blame City staff for not working hard enough. I called him and the other panelists out on this.

I guess what frustrated me about the presentation is that it had no substantive or useful content; it was purely an RPA self-promotional exercise; it tried to place blame for lack of progress on City staff, and it ignored many impediments that actually could be addressed.

Several Council members had closing remarks, and when they were done, I  started on my closing comments. According to Rosenberg’s Rules of Order, which we use for parliamentary procedure, “What the chair should do, however, is strive to be the last to speak at the discussion and debate stage.”

Councilmember Beckles apparently did not like what she thought I would say and motioned to cut off debate, and one of the RPA Council members (Willis?) seconded it.

If a vote had been taken, the motion would have failed because it requires a 2/3 vote, meaning five councilmembers. Myrick had left the building and Choi was absent, meaning there were not five votes present to pass it.

But I was so tired of the RPA efforts to shut down any remarks they disagree with, I chose to simply take a walk. Sometimes, the insufferable ways of the RPA are simply overwhelming. To preserve my sanity, I went home, had a glass of wine and was asleep before the meeting was even over. I felt much better the next day – thank you.

So to close this out, I want to tell you what a failure Jovanka Beckles is as a City Council member and urge voters not to support her effort to become the next Assembly District 15 representative. If elected, she would be a disaster.

  • Instead of reading her City Council packet, Beckles has others read it for her and tell her what questions to ask and how to vote. Mike Parker once explained, “Because she has to work, she does not have time to study her packet, so we do that for her and provide guidance.”

  • Beckles is among the least engaged of City Council members,. She represents Richmond on only two regional boards (North Richmond Mitigation Fee Joint Committee and West County Agency) that meet infrequently, and she has missed more than half the meetings of the latter.

It is a mystery to me why Beckles works so hard to challenge me. No one has been more aggressive than I in defending her from routine verbal assaults from Mark Wassberg and other City Council yahoos. I have had Wassberg ejected multiple times for, among other things, verbally assaulting Beckles and refusing to shut up. I even encouraged the entire City Council (and I joined them) to walk out on Wassberg once for his verbal tirades against Beckles.

No good deed goes unpunished.

To conclude, as much as I would like to see Beckles off the City Council, I cannot in good conscience recommend that anyone vote to send her to the California Assembly where she would most surely be an unmitigated disaster.