Mugsy took a vacation and was absent during the past several weeks but he was back at his post Tuesday night as the City Council continues to sputter along. In Executive Session, the Council received a tentative plan by the City Manager in response to the City's $20 million budget shortfall.
Without revealing the details, it seems certain there will be layoffs to erase part of the deficit. There are two positive sources of new income. First will be the sale of the Terminal One property to developer, Mr. Wu for $10 million. He will build a $150 million project that will generate additional building fees and property tax. It is Port property and thereby the Port will reimburse the city a portion of the several million dollars it has borrowed to develop the Port.
The second revenue generator will be the Shea Development in Point Richmond with anticipated building fees, etc. Hopefully, other new developments will provide additional revenue including several hundred of thousands dollars building fees from the Chevron Modernization Project. Oops, there we go again depending on Chevron for financial assistance. Remember, this is the same company Mayor McLaughlin, Vice Mayor Beckles and the RPA slate of candidates for the November election wish to run out of town. A recommendation regarding the budget will be forthcoming from the City Manager later this month.
The Council agenda started with explanations regarding the rules and regulations imposed by the Mayor. It seems that the Council spends more time arguing over the rules than the content of the various items on the agenda and conducting important City business.
(See web site below which is a humorous cartoon, “Council In Recess” by Radio Free Richmond. It is also attached above in the event if you are unable to open it.)
Under Open Forum, Community Activist Mark Wasberg challenged Vice Mayor Beckles regarding her support and participation of the Juneteenth planned event later this month. His complaint related to comments during a television Council debate where Beckles denied she was an African American and referred to herself as a Black Latino. His comments drew protests from the Mayor and Vice Mayor and consequently the Mayor had him removed from the chambers.
I realize there is an upcoming election in November, but there is a constitutional 1st Amendment right that guarantees freedom of speech. Yet, the Mayor has arbitrarily determined that no speaker may make statements regarding Council Members or those running for public office. To my thinking, that is a clear violation of the Bill of Rights. If a person does not use foul language or loudly disrupt the meeting, they have a right to express themselves regardless of your support or disapproval of their comments. Elected officials are subject to criticism by any citizen and that is their constitutional right. As President Harry Truman once stated, "if you cannot stand the heat then get out of the kitchen". If elected officials cannot stand the criticism or heat, they should resign.
Two agenda items dealt with the RPA dominated Planning Commission. They are suspected of attempting to stall the Chevron Modernization Project for political reasons. Concerns by some Council Members are that the RPA wants the project pushed back to become an election issue in November. Several Council Members requested the Planning Commission move forward with a recommendation to the Council on or about June 23-25. The motion passed with Butt, Rogers, Myrick, Booze and Bates voting yes and "Anti-Chevron" McLaughlin and Beckles voting no.
A related item proposed by Councilmember Butt introduced an ordinance establishing new procedures for matters previously considered and decided by the City Council. In effect this item legally authorizes the Council to require items from the Planning Commission be brought forward in a timely manner. Failure to do so may be disallowed by a writ from the court. This new ordinance provides protection for the Council in the event that the Chevron Project item recommendation is not provided by June 23-25. Voting in support of the ordinance were Butt, Booze, Myrick, Rogers and Bates. Voting no was McLaughlin, with Beckles having left the meeting.
After several minutes of negotiations between Mclaughlin and Rogers, the Council eventually voted unanimously to adopt the Living Wage Ordnance with various exemptions. The conclusion is that the ordinance calls for a transition period beginning January 2015 and ending December 2015 with an hourly rate of $9.60; January 2016 through December 2016 the rate will be $11.52; January 2017 through December 2017 the rate shall be $12,30; January 2018 through December 2018, the rate will be $13.00 per hour.
Vice Mayor Beckles introduced an item requesting that City Staff provide research on affordable housing, attempting to disguise rent control. “If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and looks like a duck, it is in fact a duck”. That is what this item is all about. Ms. Theresa Karr, representing the California Apartment Association presented evidence showing rental units in Richmond are the lowest among rent control cities like San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland. In fact the rental rates per sq foot for a 2br apartment in Oakland is ($2.34), SF ($3.76), Berkeley ($4.25) and Richmond ($1.54). That is a partial example of actual rates. Other than McLaughlin, Beckles, and Myrick, each Councilmember stated they would not support rent control, yet the majority voted to spend valuable City resources researching the issue. What a waste of time and resources as Beckles, McLaughlin, Butt, Rogers and Myrick voted to proceed. Voting no were Booze and Bates.
A very interesting item was an appeal by a neighbor, Mr. Andria Sassi and Margaret Jordan, President of Point Richmond Neighborhood Council representing that organization (she is the spouse of RPA member and Mayoral candidate Michael Parker) who were appealing the approval by the Planning Commission allowing the construction of a new home owned by Mr. Vern Verling and Ms. Cheryl Lawson on a lot located at 70 Belvedere Avenue in Point Richmond. Apparently this lot has been vacant for years and was used as an unauthorized trail or shortcut to another street. The new owner refused to allow the trail to continue on his property and wants to fully develop his lot. The lot had no city easement nor were there any legal rights to deny the applicant the opportunity to fully development the property, yet for political reasons, Councilman Butt and Mayor McLaughlin (in support of the RPA and Point Richmond Neighborhood Council) refused to vote in support of the applicant. Justice prevailed when Bates made the motion and Booze seconded to deny the appeal and were supported by Rogers, Myrick and Beckles thereby allowing the development to proceed. Please, just for one moment while using plain common sense, put yourself in the position of a homeowner who has purchased a lot for between $50 to $100 thousand dollars and proceeded to pay for plans in preparation for construction, and out of the blue, someone wishes to deny your construction because you refuse to grant a free trail on the property you have purchased. How in the world can any Council Member or elected representative vote against this family? It must be a mystery unless they have hidden motives. That is exactly what has been occurring constantly on the City Council in Richmond for the past several years and only a change in November will make a difference. On a personal note, voting to assist individuals like Vern and Cheryl, whom I have never met, in achieving their dreams and goals is one of the highlights of my years as a Council Member. I wish them the very best of longevity, happiness, love, and most of all, good health as they enjoy their new home and apologize for the ill manners by some of our residents.
Mugsy was rather quiet Tuesday night with only one citizen thrown out of the council chambers and one five-minute recess.
The above comments are personal analysis of Councilman Nat Bates and do not reflect any other Council Member or City Staff.