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Media Coverage
Letters From West County Times Readers - City's Infrastructure Needs Attention
September 7, 1997


Wednesday, September 17, 1997
Section: Opinion
Page: A13
Thomas K. Butt
Column: Readers' Forum

Rob Shea's recent articles in the Times on two of Richmond's deteriorating assets ("Last splash for Plunge?" Sept. 5 and "Richmond Parkway is deteriorating," Sept. 7) just scratch the surface of an infrastructure crisis of mammoth proportions that has resulted from years of mismanagement, incompetence and political weakness.

The city's sewer system leaks so badly that more water gets in from rain than from toilets. The sewage treatment plant is so poorly maintained it is a continuing source of foul odors and mosquitoes in an area that boasts one of our most celebrated businesses, Pixar.

A computerized pavement management system, intended to track the condition of streets, was abandoned several years ago because no funding was provided for an engineer to maintain it. Leaky roofs plague city buildings and much of the port would have already been condemned as unsafe if it were privately owned.

A succession of city managers has failed to implement an effective program for evaluating, funding and maintaining Richmond's streets, buildings, sewer system, urban forest and parks. In fact, Richmond is so inept in this regard that no one even knows what exists in the way of fixed assets. The last audited financial statement echoed many previous ones in stating, "The city does not maintain a complete list of its fixed assets, and complete documentation is not available to support cost and ownership of its fixed assets Generally accepted accounting principles require the reporting of fixed assets at cost and the maintenance of fixed asset records."

The City Council is as much to blame as the city manager. Last year, a council majority voted to deny residents the opportunity to vote on a $60 million bond issue that would upgrade streets, sewers, parks and buildings. In defense of those council members who opposed the bond issue, there were legitimate concerns about the quality of the information used to compile the list and the ability of inept Community and Cultural Services Department leadership to carry it out.

Now comes Measure H, the latest attempt to at least begin to get a handle on some of Richmond's most critical infrastructure needs those involving public safety. Once again, four council members opposed giving the public the right to decide.

What is even more appalling is that the opposition of those four elected officials had nothing to do with the substance of the measure; they were manipulating it as a pawn in a power struggle involving the city manager, the fire chief, Firefighters Local 188, Darrell Reese, and the organization, Black Men and Women.

Forty-four percent of the Richmond City Council voted to sacrifice public safety and the city employees' ability to provide it, in a sleazy political power struggle.

If residents care about Richmond, they should let their elected officials know they want the opportunity to decide whether or not they want to pay for a city that works.

Butt is a member of the Richmond City Council.