Issues

City Council Discusses Impact of Charters on Public Schools

On November 21, the Richmond City Council discussed a moratorium on all new school construction while the City prepares changes in zoning laws. Most of the discussion was about the functioning of charter schools and their effects on the public school system.

“Considering the fact that charter schools are popping up like mushrooms and taking prime real estate that would bring in businesses and bring in higher sales taxes as well as property taxes, I find that we need to reconsider zoning so that we don’t go the way of some cities on the East Coast,” said Councilmember Eduardo Martinez, as he introduced the item. “Moody’s as well as S&P have downgraded or threatened to downgrade the credit ratings of cities because they have too many charter schools. It’s our fiscal responsibility and our responsibility to our residents to ensure that we don’t go the way of losing revenue.”

Carlos Taboada, part of the RPA Schools Action Team, in his public testimony, cited former school board member Todd Groves, who said that in approving the Voices charter school, the Board cemented a $10 million loss equivalent to the Measure T parcel tax.

Mike Parker, another member of the Schools Action Team, testified: The RPA believes the schools are an essential part of improving conditions in Richmond. People make their decisions about where to live based on the schools, people make their decisions on what the community is like based on the schools. And they are especially important for people who are trying to climb out of poverty, people who are trying to climb in a decent life. So when we see our public school system being destroyed by the charter schools we have to start taking a stand.

The well funded California Charter School Association is now conducting a petition drive as part of an attempt to get the Council to reverse its position.  

To view excerpts from this City Council meeting, click here

Melvin Willis to Run for Mayor!

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On December 15, Richmond Councilmember Melvin Willis announced that he is running for mayor of the City of Richmond in the November 2018 election. The announcement was made at the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) holiday party, to a joyful crowd of supporters.

“Many people have contributed to Richmond’s transformation in recent years, and we are thankful to all. At the same time, many challenges remain, and a much better Richmond is possible!” said Willis.

Melvin Willis, a community organizer with Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), made history in 2016 when at 26 he became the youngest councilmember ever elected in the City’s history. He received the highest number of votes in the race, and his success was crowned by the passage in Richmond of the first Fair Rent Control and Just Cause for Eviction law in California in 30 years, a ballot initiative at the center of his campaign.

At the announcement, Willis was flanked by Vice-Mayor Jovanka Beckles and Councilmember Ada Recinos. In addition to Beckles and Recinos, Councilmembers Ben Choi, Eduardo Martinez and two-term former Mayor Gayle McLaughlin have all endorsed Willis’ candidacy.

“Melvin has the values, the vision and the commitment to lead Richmond to a higher level of progress and to make it a better city for all our residents. He thinks globally and organizes and mobilizes locally. He is thoughtful, caring, gentle and generous. People know him and love him. Melvin is the best of Richmond,” said former Mayor Gayle McLaughlin.

During his announcement Willis stressed that the important achievements that have transformed Richmond over the past decade and are inspiring many other communities throughout the nation need to be defended against undermining measures at higher levels of government.

 “As Mayor I will lead all those in Richmond willing to work to make our city better. Together we will sustain our accomplishments and keep folks in their homes, fight pollution, defend immigrants’ rights, improve our schools and libraries, and continue our progress in reducing violent crime. I will promote a community participatory process for the city budget. I will respond to the needs of our youth, I will focus on the creation of affordable housing, and my doors will always be open to every resident of our community to hear their thoughts and ideas,” Willis added.

Willis affirmed that his campaign for Mayor will be based on peoplepower and neighborpower, and free of corporate donations. He rejects the corrupting influence of corporate money and invites all residents to support a one-person, one-vote true democratic election.

Punishment Should End after Time Served

We were so moved after this recent OpEd by the amazing Tamisha Walker, Executive Director of the Safe Return Project, that we could not help re-publishing some of it.

The RPA partners with the Safe Return Project as part of the Contra Costa Racial Justice Alliance, which works to reduce racial inequalities in our criminal justice system. The coalition has successfully worked on many issues, including instituting “Ban the Box” in Richmond, and advocating for the appointment of Diana Becton for interim District Attorney.

San Francisco Chronicle:  Punishment should end after time served

By Tamisha Walker
November 14, 2017

Our system of criminal justice is built on a fundamental belief that those convicted of wrongdoing have a debt that should be paid to society, and then forgiven. But for many people with criminal records, the consequences of past mistakes continue to hamper our ability to thrive long after that debt has been paid.

I know these challenges firsthand. And I know the changes we as a society need to make to help people like me put their lives back together.

I have been one of the lucky ones. But for every success story like mine, there are dozens of people who continue to be shut out of society. There are nearly 5,000 different restrictions placed on people with felony convictions in California, making it difficult if not impossible for people to secure jobs, housing, student loans and other keys to achieving economic security and financial stability.

Federal, state and local laws on the books create obstacles for people trying to reassemble their lives after experiencing the trauma of incarceration.

The situation is particularly difficult for women, who face unique challenges and needs when they reintegrate into society. The majority of re-entry programs are geared toward men. Issues like access to housing, employment and public assistance become more dire for women, especially those with young children, as they try to put their lives back together.

When I was released from jail in 2009, my first priority was to regain custody of my kids. But in order to do that, I needed to have stable housing and a job. Time and time again, my applications for housing or employment were rejected simply because of my past mistakes. I remember going to the Burlington Coat Factory in Richmond, joining the hundreds of people standing in line for about 100 open positions.

I got through the first interview feeling really confident, leaving with a friendly handshake from the woman who conducted the interview. As I walked away, I saw her look at the application, and drop it in the trash. My heart sank. I knew I would never get a call back. More than 60 percent of formerly incarcerated individuals remain unemployed a year after their release, and when they are able to find a job, they often are paid less.

I had to check the box admitting to my past record. In a competitive hiring environment, I knew I didn’t stand a chance.

To read more, click here.

BAAQMD Opening Up Their Permitting Process

This is a big deal! For the first time in many years, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) will be considering revisions to their permitting process.  The Air District’s permitting track record is littered with examples of them rubber stamping projects that endanger community health and destabilize the climate.  Can that behavior be reformed?

With enough public pressure it can! Unfortunately, the Air District is claiming that AB 398—the recently passed cap and trade extension bill— prohibits them from directly regulating CO2 emissions.  Although the bill specifically restricts Air Districts from taking actions that produce CO2 reductions, BAAQMD legal staff insists that this also prohibits them from preventing future emission increases.  

As a result, staff’s proposed improvements to current permitting rules, Rules 2-X,  intentionally do nothing to control future CO2 emissions.  The result is that dangerous projects—like the proposed expansion of crude-by-ship into the Phillips 66 marina at the Rodeo refinery—will continue to be rubber stamped.  The “improvements” fail to prevent the increased emissions that inevitably follow from changes to dirtier, more GHG- and toxics- emitting crude sources.

Staff is using the same interpretation of AB 398 to argue that Rule 12-16, the proposed refinery emissions cap, can no longer be considered.

Gov. Brown: Not as Green as Meets the Eye

Brown_oil.pngGovernor Brown jetted to Bonn, Germany last month in an attempt to showcase California’s leadership on climate change. While there are indeed inspiring things happening in this state, savvy enviros and grassroots activists are not buying the Brown’s greenwash. When he was confronted with climate justice and indigenous peoples organizations chanting “Keep it in the ground!,” Brown retorted in Trumpian style, “Let’s put you in the ground.” (Ouch!)

A recent oped by Bill McKibben in The New Yorker, titled “Why Governor Jerry Brown was booed at the climate summit,” sums it up:

Brown has so far declined to curtail even fracking and urban drilling, the dirtiest and most dangerous kinds. In his Bonn speech, he offered the most tired of explanations: “If I could turn off the oil today, thirty-two million vehicles would stop, and ten million jobs would be destroyed overnight.” But, of course, no one is talking about turning off the flow of oil overnight. That’s the point of “managed decline”—an orderly retreat from the fossil-fuel precipice. And, in truth, no one is better situated than Brown to lead it. California doesn’t depend on oil and gas the way that, say, Russia or Saudi Arabia or Oklahoma does; the state is full of the world’s most vigorous entrepreneurs, many of them making fortunes on the energy transition.

And then there’s the fact that Brown is on the way out, term-limited and hence insulated from the political power of the fossil-fuel industry. He could do his successor—and the rest of the world—a huge favor by, for instance, announcing that California will no longer grant new permits for exploration or major infrastructure development. Such a commitment would shut down nothing except the petroleum industry’s scientifically and economically flawed assumption that it can maintain its business model indefinitely.

Brown may be captured by corporations like Chevron, which contribute millions to his campaigns, but real leadership is coming from the grassroots across California. Five counties have banned fracking (something that Brown is loathe to do). The most closely-watched ban is Monterey County’s Measure Z, which voters approved in a 2016 countywide ballot initiative. It calls for an end to fracking, new oil wells and a phaseout of wastewater injection in the county; and is being challenged in the courts by Chevron and other oil companies. A Monterey Superior Court judge is expected to rule soon on it.

Increased Funding for Adult Schools: a Social Justice Issue

Adult schools are the primary provider of English as a Second Language instruction to California’s large immigrant population. They offer a second chance at an elementary and high school education for adults who were unable to finish school as children, and provide educational opportunities for adults with disabilities. These students all tend to face more than the usual barriers as they pursue their educational goals.

But California’s adult schools have been hobbled by chronic underfunding since the Great Recession of 2008. Funding fell by about half from 2008 to 2013, and has been frozen ever since (even as funding for other branches of education has recovered).

The state also now mandates that adult schools and community colleges divide the work of educating adults. The community colleges, which are much better funded than the adult schools, generally educate the higher level students, the ones who are closest to being able to complete college level work. But it leaves the adult schools with the neediest and hardest to serve adults, and too little money to adequately serve them.

The state is currently in the process of creating next year’s budget; now is the time to ask the governor and state legislature to restore adult school funding.

Rising to the Occasion

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character give him power.” --Abraham Lincoln

For those of you who read Mayor Tom Butt’s e-forum, you no doubt have noticed how bitter he has become towards the Richmond Progressive Alliance.

His latest tactics – leaking private emails, sharing peoples’ home addresses, contacting their employers – are as low-down dirty as any corporate-funded political attack ad we’ve seen in this city … and we’ve seen plenty. To have it come from a sitting mayor is unseemly at best (can you ever imagine Gayle McLaughlin ever doing this?), and an abuse of power at worst. (How many private citizens have to worry about their Mayor spending hours digging up dirt on them and publicizing it?)

And to have it come from Mayor Butt, who has generally been above these kinds of smear tactics and decried them in the past, is just plain disappointing. The night after the 2016 elections, when we were all reeling from a vicious and degrading political season, the RPA and RPA-endorsed electeds released a statement saying,

At times, the members of the Council will surely disagree with each other about the best ways to solve Richmond’s many challenges. Our city will be well-served when decisions are debated with rigor, passion, and civility. Given the extreme challenges from the outcome of the presidential election, our national government may be wracked by division and malice, but in Richmond, let our Council demonstrate how dissent and decency can co-exist.

To Mayor Butt particularly:

We look forward to working with Mayor Tom Butt and Councilmember Jael Myrick in a spirit of constructive collaboration. There is common ground in many areas and it is land worth cultivating. Let us all bring our best selves to the table and rise to this occasion.

The statement was written in hopes that political discourse in Richmond could show that “dissent and decency can co-exist.” But Mayor Butt’s malice towards the RPA isn’t coming from radically different policy views (e.g. both Butt and the RPA agree about the importance of ensuring affordable housing, but disagree on the strategies), but rather a threat to his power. Butt is the most entrenched part of Richmond’s political establishment. He’s held power for 22 years, and doesn’t intend to let go in 2018. Now he is faced with young, diverse and dynamic new leaders.

A group of leaders who are rooted in the movements for clean energy and the rights of low income and working folks. Who are not backed by corporate money but hundreds of volunteers who believe in them and their vision. Who represent the future and all our hopes and dreams for it.

Many of us are inspired by this future and joyfully moved to action. Others are threatened and lash out.

ACLU Considering Taking on Tom Butt

In case you missed it, a recent Richmond Confidential article covered Tom Butt’s recent attack on Eli Moore and Claudia Jimenez, two RPA members; and the ACLU’s plans to consider getting involved

Opponents and supporters criticize Richmond mayor for ‘doxxing’ his political adversaries, call Tom Butt’s weekly email newsletter a ‘smear campaign’

Opponents – and even supporters – of Tom Butt say Richmond’s mayor is guilty of what one critic described as a “flagrant abuse of power” and a council member called “highly inappropriate” actions.

Emails between the mayor and residents, obtained by Richmond Confidential, indicate that many in the community were alarmed when the mayor used his regular “e-forum” to doxx political adversaries, sharing their home addresses and accusing them of violating Richmond’s rent control ordinance.

Butt rejects claims that he overstepped his bounds and has steadfastly defended his actions. But the drama could move outside City Hall, as the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California is reportedly looking into the controversy.

It all began earlier this fall, when Richmond Confidential quoted resident Eli Moore in an October 3 article about a new ferry service coming to the city. Butt, a major proponent of the ferry, took issue with Moore’s assessment that, while the ferry will greatly improve access to San Francisco, many residents will not benefit equally from the service.

A day after the story’s publication, in his weekly email dispatch known as the “Tom Butt E-Forum,” the mayor responded to the article by accusing Moore of “embracing the dark side.”

To read on, click here

Appalling Conditions for Female ICE Detainees in Richmond Jail

Recent news stories (broken by San Francisco Chronicle reporter Otis Taylor) about appalling conditions for female ICE detainees have prompted strong calls for investigations of the West County Detention Center in Richmond. The jail receives $6 million per year from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to run a federal detention center to house people suspected of immigration violations.

Taylor detailed accounts of women being locked up and made to wait up to 23 hours for bathroom access, and forced to defecate in plastic bags. The report also described other problems, such as lack of health services, and being punished for speaking Spanish. Several elected officials have called for investigations, including Nancy Skinner who requested that California Attorney General Xavier Becerra look into the allegations.

On November 4, members of the public rallied in front of the jail to protest the conditions. Former Richmond Mayor and current Lt. Governor candidate Gayle McLaughlin, went further, noting that “Citizens and elected officials of Richmond, myself included, have demanded repeatedly that you [Sheriff Livingston] cease and desist participating in ICE abuses and that you terminate your contract with ICE. You have ignored these requests and by doing so, have violated the dignity and principles of our City and County.”

Repealing the Costa-Hawkins Act

On Monday, a group of organizations, including Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, filed paperwork to get the ball rolling on a 2018 statewide ballot initiative to repeal the Costa-Hawkins Act, a 1995 law that limits California’s cities and counties from implementing rent control on newer properties.

In the words of Richmond City Councilmember and Assembly Candidate Jovanka Beckles, “This leaves millions of California tenants at the mercy of real estate speculators. By repealing Costa Hawkins, we can make sure low income families, students, educators and seniors with fixed incomes have the renter protections they deserve."

The next step is for the Attorney General to give the proposed initiative a title, summary and financial analysis. From there, organizers will have to collect enough valid signatures to place it on the November 2018 ballot.

There have also been attempts to introduce legislation repealing Costa-Hawkins, including a bill introduced this past February by Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), but he pulled it in the face of strong opposition from the real estate industry, and landlord/apartment lobby.