Felix Hunziker & Don Gosney: Rent Control Debate Creates Unprecedented Divide on City Council


Richmond’s rent control divide, having already strained relationships between progressive Councilmembers and their more radical counterparts, deepened to uncharted depths following a stalemate at the July 28 “second reading” of the contentious legislation.

The Rent Control and Just Cause Eviction ordinance progressed steadily through City Council since discussion began in earnest in June, and it was poised for final approval last Tuesday — only to be delayed when a motion to extend the meeting past the mandated 11:30 pm adjournment failed to muster the requisite supermajority of five votes. With the Council’s August recess effectively begun, the only way to conclude the remaining business was to hold “special meetings”, subsequently revealing a political chasm never before seen in Richmond politics. 

On Wednesday, Mayor Tom Butt scheduled a special meeting of the Council for Monday August 3 at 6:30 pm to address all outstanding agenda items from the July 28 meeting including the second reading of the rent control ordinance. 

Nevertheless, on Thursday the über-progressive majority (Councilmembers Beckles, McLaughlin, Martinez and Myrick) scheduled their own special meeting for Friday July 31 at 6:00 pm, for the sole purpose of passing the same rent control item already on Mayor Butt’s agenda. In a possible violation of the Brown Act, McLaughlin had previously mentioned that four Councilmembers would be available on August 3 -- and yet Mayor Butt appears to have been left entirely out of the loop about the special meeting called for July 31. He stated that “They did not ask me or the other three [sic] council members if we were even available”. An email to Councilmember McLaughlin requesting clarification went unreturned.

As a result, Richmond is now in the unprecedented and difficult position of having two City Councils holding separate meetings, one an ideological majority intent on furthering its agenda at any cost and the other a bruised minority trying to make its more moderate voice count. Mayor Butt, a veteran of many factional disputes, remarked in an email:

“It kind of takes me back to the old days when Darrell Reese ran the City Council by controlling the majority….Now we have a new majority, creating their own agenda of entitlement, victimization and socialism, freezing out us minority members, making us irrelevant. What's the point of even showing up? I guess this is what the people wanted, and this is what they have.”

Rent Control and Just Cause Eviction will become law in Richmond. The question is, can the divide created by this legislation ever be bridged again or will ideological wedge issues dominate Council business until the next election?


By: Felix Hunziker and Don Gosney


Photo courtesy of Richmond Confidential 

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