Tom Butt
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  Getting to a Balanced Budget - Two Weeks to Go
June 18, 2020

After a long and contentious City Council meeting on June 16, the City Council provided additional direction to the city manager regarding how to balance the budget. We have two weeks left. The City Council directed the city manager generally to pursue the Staff Proposal C, shown below.

Figure 1 - Source: Presentation from June 16, 2020, City Council meeting

Proposal C will disappoint some and please some. The most important take-away is that it includes no contribution from the reserves and includes a presumption of $6.7 million in concessions from the unions following collective bargaining. The union position continues to be no layoffs and no concessions, setting up a major faceoff. It appears the unions have so far achieved their no layoffs objective but not their no concessions objective. If concessions cannot be successfully negotiated, the City Council could fall back on layoffs. Will the City Council have the backbone to go head to head with the union on these issues? We shall see.

The union proposal is shown below. It depends on spending nearly $4 million of reserves, a strategy that the City Council so far has mostly rejected.

Rather than push to impose labor and service cuts on workers and residents who are already understaffed and under-resourced, the Richmond Union Coalition recommends balancing the remaining projected $6.5M FY 20-21 Budget Deficit by the following combination of reductions/deferrals of General Operating Items and responsible spending down of the City’s reserves: 

  1. Additional Departmental Savings beyond what’s already contemplated in the 6/9 budget presentation: $170,045
  2. Additional Vacancy Savings: $1,196,755
  3. Suggested Expenditure Deferrals Pending New Revenues $1,233,900
  4. Spend down a responsible amount of reserves: $3,899,300

Total savings to close the gap: $6.5M

  1. Departmental Savings

Additional Dept. Level Cuts


City Manager

City Council Retreats


City Council

Sister City Travel


Public Works

3 Pickup Trucks


Public Works

Travel and Training


Economic Development

Various items (agreed to)


Subtotal, Additional Departmental Savings



Additional Vacancy Freezes:






Police Lieutenant (1FTE)

Offset by SRO contract expiration


Police Officer (2 FTEs)

Offset by SRO contract expiration


Police Sergeant (1 FTEs)

Offset by SRO contract expiration


PW positions -- Landscape Maint. (1.5FTE)

(1/2 of 3 FTE funded 50% by Marina Bay Landscape District


Subtotal, Additional Vacancy Freezes



Suggested Expenditure Deferrals Pending New Revenues

Community Services

 Travel, computers, furniture


Human Resources

 Recruitment / labor neg / test materials


Human Resources

Citywide Compensation Study


Internal Services

 Travel and training


Neighborhood Safety



Planning Building

 Travel and training



$1.295m  vehicle replacement already in budget


Subtotal, Suggested Expenditure Deferrals Pending New Revenues


Use of Reserves


  • The average Year-End reserve for the last ten years: $13.4 million.
  • Reserve Balance after FY19-20 cost saving measures: $18.8 million
  • If the City spends $3,899,300 of reserves as recommended to close out the remaining deficit, City would still maintain a reserve balance of $,14.9M which is above the 10-year, Year-End reserve average.

Source: Richmond 2019 CAFR p222.
Additional Departmental Savings:                                                                   $170,045
Additional Vacancy/Freeze Savings:                                                                 $1,196,755
Suggested Expenditure Deferrals Pending New Revenues                              $1,233,900
Responsible Reserve Spending:                                                                      $3,899,300
Total Gap Closing:                                                                                            $6,500,000     

The City Council took a couple of actions last night advocated by the unions that slightly modify Proposal C and make it look more like the union proposal, except for use of reserves. They froze the remaining vacant police positions and public works positions, but they also added back in $289,000 to fund three more Office of Neighborhood Safety employees.

There were hours of public comments, both emailed (read by the clerk) and phoned in. Advocates for swimming pools and libraries should be happy that those programs remain intact, although some reduction in service is probably inevitable. Pools currently remain closed due to COVID-19 orders, and the Main Library is open only for storefront service.

Most of the public comments were related to police, and whether verbal or written, generally followed the most recent demand of anti-police activists shown below in a formula email:

For the past few weeks our council has debated how to balance the 2020-2021 budget, amidst the backdrop of national and local calls to defund the police. Today, I am urging the Council to turn that vision into reality, by instituting the following:

  • Approve a motion to reduce the Richmond Police Department budget by 20%.
  • Place a moratorium on future spending for the Richmond Police Department which includes capping spending for equipment, capital improvements, and overtime spending.
  • Create and fund an ad hoc committee composed of community leaders and key stakeholders to develop a plan to transition critical services and functions outside of the scope of the police department to a transformative justice, restorative and comprehensive community safety program. 
  • Ensure that there is accountability: Richmond Police Department must be held accountable for its actions AND its spending, which, if I may add, is scandalous when we compare this Department funding to that of other vitally important services, such as Capital Improvement, Infrastructure & Maintenance, Library and Cultural Services, Office of Neighborhood Safety (including our Neighborhoods City Councils,) Recreation, and Information Technology.

Critical services (our public schools, libraries, swimming pools, youth and elderly programs, parks and recreation, housing) have been threatened over and over for years now, but even more so since the beginning of the Covid-19 Pandemic. Yet our city has the 40th largest police budget in California. This year alone, the police budget made up over 40% of the city’s general fund, totaling over 71 million dollars. 

I urge you to take funds out of the Police Budget and strengthen (and/or create) alternative programs and systems to respond to: housing that people can afford (which is different from “affordable housing”,) homelessness, blight, code enforcement, accountability, technological upgrades.

When I ask that you defund the police, I do not mean defunding for the sake of defunding. Money should be allocated where it is needed, where it makes sense, where it will truly make a difference in public safety. Money spent in policing, trials and prisons is, in a great many instances, a total loss of tax payers money and a useless depletion of federal, state and local coffers. We need real change. We must stop investing in police and incarceration and instead, we must empower alternative models centered in all of our communities’ well-being, not just the predominantly white and/or well-off neighborhoods.

Once again, I urge you to defund the Richmond Police Department and make greater investments in our public schools, youth and elderly programs, health care, parks and recreation, libraries, swimming pools, and other communal services that genuinely keep our communities safe. Investing in our communities’ health and well-being by increasing these kinds of investments will undoubtedly increase public safety, because a good quality of life for all is key to a city’s positive energy and tranquility.

A number of Richmond police officers and firefighters spoke against reducing the funding for the Police Department.

A vote was taken on the motion by Willis, seconded, by Martinez, to reduce RPD funding by 20 percent and distribute it to other departments and programs. The votes were as follows:

  • Choi                 No
  • Johnson          Abstain
  • Bates               No
  • Martinez          Yes
  • Myrick             Abstain
  • Willis                Yes
  • Butt                  No

The motion did not carry. The critical take-away from last night’s vote and the vote last week to table a discussion of defunding is that the Richmond City Council majority is not prepared to defund or substantially reduce funding for the Richmond Police Department, although they did freeze some nine vacant positions, essentially reducing funding by about 4%. All City Council members have stated one way or another that they are prepared to review opportunities for making RPD more effective and more efficient – as well as less likely to act inappropriately on racial biases and overreacting in confrontations with suspects and the community (de-escalation).

I have discussed with the chair of the Community Police Review Commission making it a priority to agendize discussions of policy changes to better align RPD with the eight policies advocated by 8 can’t wait, and the chair has agreed. I have also agreed to Vice-Mayor Bates’ request to appoint a City Council ad hoc committee to review police organization and polices.

Personally, I believe the pleas by dozens, if not hundreds, of Richmond residents to defund or significantly reduce police funding as a part of the budget adoption for FY 2020-21 is extreme, precipitous and unsupported by the vast majority of Richmond residents. The people of Richmond are not growing disgusted with the police department. In fact, positive ratings of the police in the biannual Community Survey have climbed 32% since 2007, peaking in 2015 when popular Chris Magnus was still chief. Crime prevention, similarly, has gained support, rising 200% since 2007. Note that ratings of traffic enforcement have declined.

Figure 3 – Source:

Reducing crime and disorder remain the top priority of Richmond residents, as shown below from the 2019 Community Survey.

Figure 4 – Source:

Until the George Floyd incident, which had nothing to do directly with Richmond Police, only a few residents were even talking about defunding or reducing police. That incident unleashed a flood of emails advocating police reforms and defunding of the police department, most of which were not from Richmond residents. Before George Floyd, the overwhelming requests via email and social media, were for more, not less, police presence and patrols, as people complained about fireworks, gunfire, car thefts, bicycle thefts, car break-ins, burglaries, speeders on neighborhood streets, vehicles blocking sidewalks, dumping, abandoned vehicles, noise and loud parties. Police also continue to take take guns off the street, making us all safer.

In my opinion, the idea that social workers and mental health professionals can be first responders is flawed. Keeping a broad array of experts on 24/7 call is unrealistic. If the dispatch center gets a call about someone screaming and threatening people with an unknown object, how is that dispatcher supposed to know if the person is intoxicated, drugged, having a psychotic break or just a common criminal bent on destruction? Someone has to get to the scene fast and make that call. That would be a police officer, hopefully well enough trained to call it accurately and deal with the situation appropriately. If it happened at 4:00 AM, the likelihood of getting a social worker or mental health professional on the scene is scant, even if that is what is needed most.

The same thing happens when there is a medical emergency. The first responder is a medically-trained firefighter. If ambulance transport is required, American Medical Response, which includes paramedics, is summoned. Eventually, the patient may be delivered to a hospital, and after examination, a specialist, such as a brain surgeon, psychiatrist or neurologist may be called in. The point is that the first responder is not the brain surgeon, psychiatrist or neurologist. There is a system of evaluation and triage that has to be used.

Figure 2- Richmond Police take a lot of guns off the street, preventing crime and saving lives

Although steadily dropping, Richmond still has one of the highest crime rates in California, but at least partially a credit to RPD, homicides are currently trending at the lowest rate in recent Richmond history. Our first homicide of 2020 occurred on April 2.  Prior to this killing, we had not had a homicide in Richmond since October 2019 (that’s six months without a single homicide), and we have only three so far this year. We don’t want to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

An article in today’s Chronicle, “This Bay Area city radically reformed its police department. Here's how it went,” praised Richmond’s police department, comparing it to Camden, the poster child of defunding advocates who extoll dismantling and reforming police departments. “While much of the United States looks to Camden, an example of a dramatically reformed police department centered around the principles of community policing exists right here in the Bay Area.”

Having said all that, can we do better? Of course, we can. A thorough review of the RPD is overdue. Based on the Chronicle article, 'Defund the Police'? Here's how much Bay Area cities spend on police departments, Richmond has the highest per capital police budget of any Bay Area city. Is this sustainable?

Richmond: $708.15 = 44.3% of general fund budget
Oakland: $678.02 = 44.1%
San Francisco: $686.06 = 10%
Palo Alto: $657.01 = 19%
Berkeley: $616.56 = 38.1%
Hayward: $493.21 = 45.7%
Concord: $467.22 = 56%
San Jose: $433.80 = 29.6%
San Rafael: $412.14 = 30.7%
Fremont: $390.09 = 42.2%
Vallejo: $379.98 = 41.8%%
Walnut Creek: $365.20 = 28.1%

The RPD has already spent nearly $5 million on overtime this fiscal year, blowing its budget by a third. Two police lieutenants made over $157,000 each in overtime last year. In my opinion, this is a serious problem.

Figure 3- Source:Presentation at June 9, 2020, City Council meeting.

And earlier this year, there was the Dejon Brown incident, now the subject of a lawsuit against the City of Richmond. Richmond police have no history of recent abuse of deadly force, but there is always room for improvement.

This Bay Area city radically reformed its police department. Here's how it went.

By Michael Rosen, SFGATE
Published 10:50 am PDT, Tuesday, June 9, 2020

In this photo taken Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2014, Richmond Chief of Police Chris Magnus stands with demonstrators along Macdonald Ave. to protest the Michael Brown and Eric Garner deaths during a peaceful demonstration in Richmond, Calif. The Northern California police chief noted for his community policing efforts raised a few eyebrows when he joined a peaceful protest, holding a sign with the popular Twitter hashtag of 'blacklivesmatter.' Magnus said he attended to show the department's commitment to peaceful protest and that minority lives matter. (AP Photo/Bay Area News Group, Kristopher Skinner) Photo: Kristopher Skinner, Associated Press
Photo: Kristopher Skinner, Associated Press

In this photo taken Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2014, Richmond Chief of Police Chris Magnus stands with demonstrators along Macdonald Ave. to protest the Michael Brown and Eric Garner deaths during a peaceful demonstration in Richmond, Calif. The Northern California police chief noted for his community policing efforts raised a few eyebrows when he joined a peaceful protest, holding a sign with the popular Twitter hashtag of "blacklivesmatter." Magnus said he attended to show the department's commitment to peaceful protest and that minority lives matter. (AP Photo/Bay Area News Group, Kristopher Skinner)

In the wake of nationwide pleas for "defunding the police," national media has honed in on one city in particular: Camden, New Jersey. In 2013, Bloomberg reports, Camden "dissolved its local PD," heavily invested in community policing, and instituted strict and clear use of force guidelines in response to a 2012 spike in the total number of homicides in the city. In the ensuing years, Camden's use of force complaints and crime rate dropped dramatically.

While much of the United States looks to Camden, an example of a dramatically reformed police department centered around the principles of community policing exists right here in the Bay Area. In 2006, the city of Richmond hired Chris Magnus as their police chief. He had most recently served as the chief of police in Fargo, North Dakota, a city without a ton of diversity. The vast majority of Richmond residents, on the other hand, were non-white.

It was an unconventional choice, but the decision appeared to largely pay off. When Magnus left Richmond for the top job in Tucson in 2015, the city had seen an overwhelming decline in the major crime indices. According to a USA Today profile of Magnus in 2015, Richmond had "38 homicides, 1,078 violent crimes and 7,090 property crimes" in 2004. In 2015, "those numbers were down to 11, to 833 and to 4,282, respectively."

How did Richmond do it? According to the assessments of local and national media, Magnus's emphasis on community policing laid the groundwork for the transformation. In a profile in Humanity Magazine, Magnus explained his policing philosophy.

“There’s not one simple thing like, ‘Add this set of ingredients, stir and voilà, you’ve got a successful policing program,’ ” Magnus told Humanity Magazine in 2017. “You have to hire people who are really invested in this kind of work, who want to be a police officer and who want to serve their community for the right reasons, and see their job more broadly than just doing enforcement.”

In practice, this took a number of forms. Richmond officers assigned to specific beats were required to operate with a high level of transparency, publicly listing their phone number and email and posting their work shifts online, according to a Richmond Confidential story from 2015.

“People trust the police more now when we have the cellphone numbers of the beat cops, we wave to them in the street, they stop to chat with us and they actually know us,” Felix Hunziker, a member of the Richmond Police Commission, told Richmond Confidential. “Now they’re talking to us.”

After Magnus took over, incidents of officers using deadly force essentially disappeared. Relative to its size, Richmond's lack of officer-involved shootings stood out to experts interviewed in a 2014 East Bay Times story.

“The chief is key in setting policy and tone,” law enforcement expert Tom Nolan told the East Bay Times. “If they haven’t had an officer-involved shooting that’s resulted in death in a city like that, it’s commendable.”

Magnus also showed a willingness to perform politically risky acts of solidarity. In 2014, the chief appeared at a peaceful protest against police brutality holding a sign that read "Black Lives Matter" while in his police uniform. The images went viral. Magnus endured criticism from the Richmond police union for his actions, but received plaudits from anti-racism activists across the country.

After a decade in Richmond, Magnus departed for the top job in Tucson at the end of 2015, where he remains to this day. Allwyn Brown, who replaced Magnus as the chief of police, had a shakier tenure than his predecessor. In 2019, Brown lost his job as chief after a no-confidence vote from the rank-and-file.

Despite the turmoil in the department following Magnus's departure, the murder rates remain significantly lower than the highs of the mid-2000s. Bisa French, Richmond's current police chief, appears to espouse the same ideals that Magnus promulgated when he arrived in the Bay Area in 2006.

"When I first started (in 1998) we were more in a survival mode, I would say," French told the Richmond Standard in 2019. "We were a very dangerous city, probably in the top 10 in the country. So we were just in the responsive mode, going from call to call. Most of the time it was violent crimes we were responding to. We have now come around to working with the community, so we are not having such violence in the city. We work to build community support and trust. Sometimes that trust is broken and we have to deal with those issues. We must work with our community because we can’t do it alone."

Michael Rosen is an SFGATE digital editor. Email: