The events of 2015 set the stage for what’s to come in the new year. From the battle over rent control, to the fight to balance the City’s budget, there is a lot of unfinished business in the city. Here are six key issues to keep an eye on.
1. From Balancing the Budget to Long-Term Sustainability: What Will Happen with Richmond’s Finances?
Arguably the most contentious issue of 2015, Richmond’s fiscal trajectory, management, and stability are likely to remain hot issues in the coming year. At the end of last year, a grim five-year fiscal forecast outlined how the City needs to trim expenses or increase revenues by $8.7 million, or 7.6 percent, in the coming fiscal year to achieve a balanced budget.
During the same City Council meeting in which the five-year forecast was outlined, Mayor Butt announced that the City Council will hold monthly conversations about the City’s budget in preparation for finalizing the City’s budget by the end of June.
“These conversations will get more detailed and get more contentious as the months go on, and hopefully we’ll hang in there and get through this together,” Mayor Butt said at the time.
On top of that, the City received a handful of credit downgrades from Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s throughout the year, a message that the credit rating agencies lacked confidence in the City’s fiscal condition.
A sign of hope came in the final days of 2015, however, when Standard & Poor’s decided to maintain its rating of the City’s issuer rating. Still uncertain is what it will take for the City to pass a balance budget for the 2016-17 fiscal year, and the coming months will prove pivotal for the City’s fiscal future.
2. Public Safety at a Crossroads: Who Will Lead Richmond's Police Force in the Future?
After ten years of service, Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus is heading to Tucson, Arizona to take the reigns as Chief of Police there, leaving a vacancy for the City’s leading police officer.
As Magnus departs, the big question is who will fill his place, and how his replacement will handle community-police relations at a time when crime is on the rise. Assistant Police Chief Allwyn Brown, or AB as he is known, will be filling in for the interim, and some expect that he may take the role full-time. The City Manager is expected to make the decision of who will be the City’s new Chief of Police by the end of February.
3. The 2016 Election: Will the RPA Gain a Majority?
Three City Council seats — those of longtime councilmember Nat Bates, Vice-Mayor Jael Myrick, and newcomer Vinay Pimplé — will be on the ballot come November, along with a handful of unique ballot measures. Together, these issues are sure to make for a heated fight over who and what ideas will guide the future of Richmond.
In a follow up to the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) sweep of City Council seats against a slate of Chevron supported candidates during the 2014 election, the progressive organization is expected to support a select handful of candidates who share their progressive aspirations for the city. Unclear is whether Chevron Richmond will be as involved in the 2016 election as the refinery was in the previous election cycle or even if they will be involved at all.
Beyond City Council seats, a handful of key ballot measures are expected to come before the electorate in 2016. Starting with whether to approve or deny the construction of the Richmond Riviera development during the June primaries, voters in the city are also likely to determine the future of rent control as well as whether to implement district elections in the city.
4. The Berkeley Global Campus: Myth or Reality?
After years of negotiations between UC Berkeley and the City of Richmond, changed plans, and public rallies, 2016 may be a make or break year for the Berkeley Global Campus.
The project, which would be Richmond’s largest economic development in recent memory, has been met with excitement at its educational opportunity and concern over its potential for gentrification and displacement.
Summer 2015 saw rallies calling for guarantees of affordable housing and local hiring, despite the UC Berkeley Chancellor and organizers meeting with numerous community groups since Spring 2014 to create a comprehensive plan that is feasible for the university and beneficial for the community.
During 2016, the UC Berkeley Global Campus will either languish in talks over plans, or it may yet finally break ground on the project that will take some 40 years to complete.
5. Will Richmond’s Crime Rate Continue to Rise?
After years of successful community policing efforts which lowered crime rates across the city, Richmond saw a sharp spike in crime during 2015. The murder rate of 11 murders in 2014, which was the lowest in decades, ballooned to 21 in 2015, prompted by pocketed retaliatory violence among a small number of people in the city.
In a departing letter from Chief Magnus, the outgoing Police Chief impressed the urgency of continuing to provide support — both from the community and the city budget — to combat this spike in violence. The next 12 months will show whether the increase in crime during 2015 was an anomaly in a city on the path to lower crime rates, or a sign of a new pattern of increased violent crime in the city.
6. What's Next for the Richmond Promise?
The Richmond Promise, the $35 million scholarship program for Richmond students that comes as part of the city’s agreement with Chevron for the refinery’s modernization program, is set to provide scholarships to the first class of students this spring.
When the City Council made pivotal decisions on the nature and direction of the Promise in November of last year, it was determined that the greatest number of Richmond students possible would be included, even if it put the program’s long-term financial sustainability at risk.
In the coming year, the nonprofit organization that will take control of the scholarship program from the City will become responsible for distributing funds for the program, ensuring its fiscal sustainability, and hammering out the details of the Promise program.