Richmond Kids First Editorial

Don Gosney


The following is an open letter/editorial by Mayor Tom Butt to some of the sponsors of Richmond Kids First.


I am writing you because you are listed as a sponsor of the Richmond Kid’s First campaign. Individually, you are all among the people I most admire in Richmond and West County.

I have to tell you, however, that I believe the Richmond Kids First initiative is a huge mistake and will cause possibly insurmountable fiscal problems for the City of Richmond.

Based on The presentation by Russ Branson, (Five-Year Forecast), preceded by a presentation by City Manager Bill Lindsay (Status Report on City Finances), on December 15, 2015, the City of Richmond is facing a $8.7 million deficit next year and a $22.7 million negative fund balance by 2021, without significant cuts in expenditures and/or increases in revenue.

The Kids First initiative would require Richmond to increase spending for kids programs over the next five years, topping out at 3% on general fund revenue in 2021, the same year a $22.7 million negative fund balance is forecast. Based on today’s budget, that would amount to about $5 million a year, and will probably be lot more in 2021. The initiative has an emergency provision based on reduced revenues, but no provision for rising expenses, which is the more likely scenario to throw the City into a fiscal crisis.

The 3% requirement would be on top of what the City is currently spending for kids’ programs, which is substantial. The City already substantially subsidizes several of the sponsoring organizations that provide services to kids, including the East Bay Center and The Richmond Art Center. And the City spends substantial funds supporting programs for kids, including libraries, recreational programs of many types, PAL, the Youth Council and job training to name a few. I played a major role in negotiating the $90 million ECIA that includes the $35 million Promise Program, the largest in California. Richmond is not ignoring its young people.

Since drafters of this initiative provided no new source of revenue, the only source of funding is to rob existing City of Richmond programs and projects. Since the initiative would disallow cutting any budgets of existing kids’ programs, the cuts would have to come from somewhere else, like Police, Fire, Public Works (streets, parks and buildings), adult recreation and services and senior centers. This is a classic unfunded mandate of epic proportions.

The initiative requires 70% of the set aside to go to non-profits, which means a giant transfer of millions of dollars from existing City employees, who all belong to unions, to non-union employees of private non-profits.

The initiative sets up a new and cumbersome bureaucracy to manage it, also with no designated revenue source.

Finally, many of the organizations sponsoring this depend on substantial donations from the general public. Assuming this passes, knowing that these services will now be government supported will discourage people from donating. They will look elsewhere. YES is a good example. I have supported YES for years, but if Kids First passes, I certainly will find a new organization that really needs my help.

I am simply asking you to reconsider what it is you are doing and how you are doing it. We can never spend enough on our kids, but this is not the way to correct that. It’s not too late to put this back in the bottle.

Mayor Tom Butt

450 Civic Center Plaza

Richmond, CA  94804

Phone:  510-620-6503

Direct: 510-231-7502

Cell: 510/220-1577


Tom Butt Political Website:

Board member and past chair, Local Government Commission

Alternate member, BCDC

Alternate member, Contra Costa LAFCO

Member, League of California Cities, Environmental Quality Policy Committee

Member, West Contra Costa Transportation Advisory Committee (WCCTAC)

Commissioner, Contra Costa Transportation Authority

Board Member, Richmond Representative, Vice-chair, MCE (Marin Clean Energy)

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  • Kristyn Jones
    commented 2016-07-26 02:41:18 -0700
    I wonder if the boards of directors of the non profits who will receive this money have publicly elected boards? If they are privately appointed, it seems problematic to vote to have public money taken out of the public and given to non public ententities. This is kind of the same issue with charter schools, which coincidentally many of the groups that are backing this initiative receive money from.
  • John Knox
    commented 2016-03-23 09:14:04 -0700
    Supervisor Gioia, who,is a backer of this I’ll considered initiative,, should know better. Budgeting by initiative is a supremely bad idea for the reasons that the Mayor mentions. I am quite sure Gioia would not like to have his hands tied in crafting the County budget in this way. This leads down the road to every special nterest group trying to carve out their own piece of the budget for special protection, which will ultimately lead to the city being unable to manage itself. We elect councilmembers to make the hard choices in preparing a budget, and they have to juggle many competing demands for limited resources. It is easy to say you support kids, but harder to say what other vital services you would cut to guaranty this increased funding. Of course, the initiative backers don’t have to answer for the cuts — layoff some cops, cut the library, eliminate code enforcement, housing assistance or other similar services? Just vote no, and if you want to truly advocate for kids, do it in front of the council at budget time, and be prepared to say where you would propose to get the funding!

    Here is an idea: marry the kids initiative with the so called soda tax! The last time the soda tax failed miserably in part because it was a general tax (requiring only a majority vote) and some people did not trust the council to spend it as advertised. Turns out that fear was well founded as we saw with measure U. If we had an initiative that combined the soda tax with the kids initiative, it would guaranty the funding without harming the budget. Of course, it would require a two thirds vote, but that is a small price to pay for a better solution.
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