At last night’s Richmond City Council meeting the Council refused to place the Kids First initiative on the November ballot. Richmond Mayor Tom Butt has weighed in to explain, from his perspective, what happened and some of the rationale involved in the Council’s decision.
Radio Free Richmond has requested a guest editorial from some of the young people involved with this issue.
At last night’s City Council meeting, the Richmond City Council showed rare unity in deciding not to move the Kids First Initiative to the November 2016 election. Instead, it will have to wait for the June 2018 election.
The Kids First Initiative had enough petition signatures to qualify for the ballot, but the count was certified too late to get it on the July 26 City Council Agenda. It would have taken five votes to add it to the Agenda as an emergency item, but City Council support was not even close. The first motion by Council Member Myrick failed for lack of a second. A subsequent motion by Vice-mayor Martinez and seconded by Myrick got not a single vote of support from the remainder of the City Council. Even though Martinez voted to place it on the Agenda, he later rose in Open Forum to speak against the initiative.
Opposition was predominantly based on the following factors:
· The measure had no funding source and would wreak havoc on an already fragile budget projection that still needs significant work to remain balanced.
· The result would mean privatizing existing services provided by unionized City employees and possibly reductions in force (layoffs). The RPA is particularly close to SEIU 1021, which opposed the measure. The Richmond Police Officers Association also opposed it.
Several dozen young people who showed up to support the measure spoke passionately about it during Open Forum following the City Council’s decision not to move ahead with it for the November election. Most of them appeared to be associated with the Richmond youth organization, RYSE, which is the apparent local leader of the effort to pass Kids First. RYSE is neither the only nor the largest Richmond organization serving youth, but clearly the most aggressive.
What we are seeing is a failure of the adult leadership to steer these young people towards a model of accomplishment that is based on collaboration rather than confrontation. Instead of working with the Richmond City Council and City staff for a cause we all believe in, they staged the equivalent of a hostile takeover. Instead of building a funding source into their initiative, they decided to figuratively scale the walls and sack the City treasury. Instead of seeking support of the City Council, they chose to alienate them. This is not a good model to teach young people how to get thing done.
The organization behind these Kids First initiatives is Funding for the Next Generation led by Margaret Margaret Brodkin. In every other place that Funding for the Next Generation is trying to create a fund dedicated to youth, they included a funding mechanism, usually a sales tax. But not in Richmond.
All of the following are from Funding for the Next Generation Facebook page, reporting the fate of other youth oriented funding measures in the last couple of months. All but Richmond included a funding mechanism.
· On July 4, the Funding for the Next Generation Facebook page reported, “On June 28, the Solano County Board of Supervisors unanimously requested its staff to work with community groups to draft a tax measure to create a Children's Fund.” This was following a poll where “Just over two-thirds express initial support for a measure that would raise the sales tax or establish a soda tax to support services for kids and youth.”
· In Sacramento, a measure that was proposed to be funded by marijuana taxes failed, “ Measure Y, Sacramento's proposed tax on marijuana dispensaries for a youth fund received a whopping 65.8% of the vote - it needed a 2/3 vote.”
· Yolo County Board of Supervisors rejected even a sales tax measure, “Despite over a year of work on the part of preschool advocates, led by County School Superintendent Jesse Ortiz, and promises of support, on June 21, only 2 supervisors (Jim Provenza and Don Saylor - thank you very much) voted to place the sales tax on the November ballot.”
· Napa County ran Measure Y as a sales tax, but it went down to defeat, “It was a huge victory to get a children's measure on the ballot in tax-averse Napa County, and getting 45% of voters to support it.”
Although RYSE was the sparkplug for the initiative, it was supported by a number of otherwise respectable non-profits looking for a windfall, including (as reported by Funding for the Next Generation Facebook page, Community Health for Asian Americans, The Ed Fund, East Bay Center for the Performing Arts, Healthy Richmond, Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN), Youth Enrichment Strategies, Education Matters, Mindful Life Project, Funding the Next Generation, Pogo Park, Building Blocks for Kids.
I just wish these organization would have been willing to come together to work with City staff and the City Council to find a win-win way of better serving youth in Richmond. And it’s not like we aren’t trying. The City Council dedicated more than half of the Chevron ECIA $90 million to youth, including the $35 million Promise Program and $6 million in grants. The Mayor’s Office restarted the annual golf tournament for a youth fund that had distributed over $25,000 this year. In the face of sever budget challenges, we have kept libraries open and recreational programs as intact as possible. The City is a prime partner with RPAL, which serves far more young people than RYSE, and the City subsidized both the East Bay Center for Performing Arts and the Richmond Art Center. The City has partnered with Pogo Park, Urban Tilth and others to win millions of dollars in grants for projects largely oriented towards youth.. I could go on and on.
In the best of all worlds, we could sit down and work this out instead of fighting it out again at the ballot box in June of 2018.