When the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) swept the November elections and gained command of council, the group heralded the victory across the nation as a win for democracy and a loss for special interests.
But since RPA members Gayle McLaughlin, Jovanka Beckles and Eduardo Martinez (pictured from left to right) assumed council control after defeating candidates backed by Chevron, the exact opposite has happened, according to several city leaders. In what he describes as blatant hypocrisy by the radical group, Mayor Tom Butt on Friday accused the RPA of ruling upon important city matters within its organization before the issues are publicly vetted at City Hall, which could be a violation of the Brown Act.
“We now have actually two city councils,” Mayor Butt wrote on his e-forum Friday. “One consists of seven elected members who meet regularly on Tuesday nights three or four times a month to conduct most of the City’s routine business in public. Then we have the parallel and alternative RPA City Council, which along with a fourth member, Vice-mayor Myrick, constitute a majority who can call a meeting anytime they want to with 24-hours’ notice, shut down debate, make their own rules and pass their predetermined agenda.”
The RPA has repeatedly denied making council decisions at its headquarters, saying its council members think and act independently from the organization.
However, an examination of council meeting minutes since January shows the group has been voting as a bloc, with apparent sympathizer Vice Mayor Jael Myrick often providing the trusted swing vote.
RPA council members, with Myrick’s support, voted in line on rent control, echoing complaints about affordability that have been raised for months out of RPA headquarters. In fact, a report by the The Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at UC Berkeley that launched the call for significant renters protections was co-authored by Eli Moore, the husband of RPA supporter and community organizer Claudia Jimenez.
Mayor Butt has criticized the report as “biased and poorly researched.” Regardless of whether that is true, the report worked to drum up enough support the RPA’s push for rent control in Richmond.
In June, the RPA council members and Myrick also voted in favor of plugging the city’s budget deficit by diverting Measure U tax dollars that had been meant for sustained road repair. Last year, Myrick was adamant about not pulling “shenanigans” on voters by diverting the tax proceeds away from roads, but later said the city’s worsening financial situation had forced him to vote alongside the RPA on the issue. Myrick helped pass that budget even after the RPA tacked on additional spending measures for pet projects such as Beckles’ Pride festival and an annual Saffron Strand homeless workforce conference.
Then came the space weaponry resolution. All RPA members, including Myrick, voted in favor of their resolution to support a ban on space weaponry as an anti-war measure. The RPA said it also pitched the resolution to appease conspiracy theorists who believe they are being targeted from space by the government’s futuristic weapons. Myrick laterexpressed regret over the vote, after the Richmond Police Department’s phones lines were overwhelmed with calls from “targeted” individuals worldwide. The councilmember later expressed concern that the vote may have had a negative impact on the mentally ill and their families.
Myrick hasn’t always felt comfortable with the idea that the RPA could dictate policy both inside and out of council chambers. Earlier this year, he voted against the RPA’s attempt to appoint a fourth member to fill the seat vacated by Butt’s election to mayor. Myrick’s rejection of a fourth RPA council member — which would have given the RPA a dominating majority and would also have greatly diminished the power of Myrick’s vote — led to the appointment of the pragmatic Vinay Pimple, who is unaligned and has not supported many of the RPA measures.
Only on rare occasions has an RPA council member voted against the group’s grain. Martinez did so on the Central Avenue affordable housing project. RPA members alsodisagreed on an ordinance regulating digital signs and billboards in the city.
Still, Mayor Butt compared the RPA’s current rule “to the infamous Richmond city councils of decades ago.”
“But it’s worse,” he said. “Instead of the majority of elected members meeting privately on Saturday mornings, members of the secret RPA steering committee, whom no one elected, meet with RPA City Council members to create their agenda. These steering committee members also perform, when necessary, the critical function of subverting the Brown Act, acting as illegal go-betweens to communicate with other Council members.”
Councilmember Nat Bates agreed and predicted “rocky and uncertain times” ahead as a result of RPA dominance.