The grand jury verdict is still fresh, and we are still processing our emotional reactions to it. Immediately, although we are not surprised, we are outraged by the decision of the grand jury in failing to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the Michael Brown killing in Ferguson, Missouri.
We are outraged that Prosecutor Robert McCullough could still bring a case against Darren Wilson, but he has said that he would not. We are outraged that while the protesters and sympathizers are being asked publicly to be peaceful, to remain calm, and to practice restraint and tolerance, there was no such restraint and good judgment on the part of Darren Wilson when Michael Brown attempted to surrender and was killed, allegedly in cold blood.
US Attorney General Eric Holder is quoted as saying "It does not honor his memory to engage in violence or looting." We say, it does not honor the memory of Michael Brown to let his killer go free without any serious repercussions or legal consequences. What happened in Ferguson tonight is a travesty of justice to say the least.
Black lives matter. Black lives matter in Ferguson, Missouri. Black lives matter in Richmond, California. Black lives matter everywhere.
On June 3, 2014, the Richmond City Council unanimously passed a first reading of our Minimum Wage Increase Ordinance. The second reading will take place on June 17th and is expected to pass again with unanimous support. This great victory for Richmond is long overdue!
This ordinance mandates a phased-in approach to raising the minimum hourly wage in Richmond in the following way:
Jan 2015 $ 9.60
Jan 2016 $11.52
Jan 2017 $12.30
Jan 2018 $13.00
Cost of living increases every year thereafter.
We are on our way to providing a wage that will help more families live with dignity. We are also helping our business community; when residents have more money to spend, our local economy has an opportunity to thrive and expand, and to create more jobs.
Make no mistake: the new wage level still leaves workers below the “living wage,” and we must do more. But the ordinance represents a significant and continuous increase in the wages of low-paid workers.
This successful initiative is also a prime example of the grassroots model to produce change, from the bottom up. Local communities like Richmond can spur change at the state and—eventually—the federal level by creating a multi-city, multi-state insurgence of demands. Richmond benefited from the small steps taken by other California cities, by the example of fast-food workers all over the nation who mobilized and went on strike for “$15 and a union.” Our local mobilization influenced other communities in the East Bay and elsewhere who joined in with their own initiatives, ordinances and ballot measures. Now the State of California is proposing measures similar to what we proposed and gained in Richmond.
The fact that this first reading, introduced by myself, Vice Mayor Beckles and Councilmember Myrick, passed unanimously is especially noteworthy given the recent history of this ordinance. At a previous meeting, several odious amendments were proposed by councilmembers in response to pressures from some businesses. We were able to get the Council to back away from exempting youth, nonprofits, tipped workers, and other unfair exemptions, which would have made the ordinance unworkable. A lot of credit goes to the Labor movement, especially to SEIU, for filing a ballot measure without carve-outs and with a faster phased-in approach. The filing of this ballot measure put pressure on the councilmembers who favored these amendments. The current ordinance still has a few carve-outs that may make it somewhat hard to implement. We accept these for now in order to get this ordinance on the books and enacted. With the victory of Team Richmond in November 2014, the Council will change, and we can improve the ordinance.
This is a time to celebrate our progressive journey in Richmond. With the support of labor and our working families, we put the needed pressure on the City Council and showed once again that we are building on a decade of progress and leading the way to a just future for all!
As I am sure you are aware, charter schools promote a pernicious two tier system of education, leaving children with learning disabilities, emotional problems, behavior issues, etc. in one poorly supported school, while the charters skim or "cherry pick" the high performing students with parents who advocate for them.
Charters' teachers and staff are not unionized. By state law, charter schools must have their facilities maintained first, and district funds must be allocated to the charters off the top, meaning that regular public schools take the cuts. Charters are heavily promoted by corporate interest who approve of the privatization of public education, and are able to turn a profit from tax payer funds for education.
I teach at Nystrom Elementary, on the same block in West Richmond as Richmond Children's College Prep Charter School. I see daily the two tier system of public school vs. Charter, and I know it is detrimental to the education of my students.
Charters are not held accountable to the state. Many financial and administrative scandals regarding charters have surfaced, because there is no one overseeing the charter schools. With a pro-charter majority of candidates on the WCCUSD School Board, we need to be informing voters of the negative issues of charter schools in Richmond.
Months after Benecia rejected Valero's oil trains project, the San Luis Obispo Board of Supervisors voted this month to reject Phillips 66's proposed oil train offloading terminal. The project was denied with a 3-1 vote, with one supervisor recusing himself in a conflict of interest.
If built, the Phillips 66 oil trains terminal would have allowed more than 7 million gallons of crude oil to be shipped via rail to its local refinery each week, and made it possible for Phillips 66 to refine volatile and carbon-intensive tar sands crude from Canada. Tar sands crude, when prepared for transport, is thinned with an unstable blend of chemicals that have been known to explode in derailment incidents, which have become increasingly frequent in recent years.
Trains servicing the Phillips 66 project would have traveled from the north and south through hundreds of major California cities and smaller communities, including Los Angeles, Sacramento, Davis, Berkeley, Oakland, and San Jose. These trains also would have jeopardized numerous ecologically sensitive areas including the San Francisco Bay and California's iconic central coast.
The California Values Act, SB 54, cleared an important hurdle on Monday, and is poised to move to a full Senate vote. The bill would prohibit state and local law enforcement from acting as federal immigration officers and bans immigration enforcement at public schools, hospitals and courthouses.
SB 54 has been met with staunch opposition from the California State Sheriffs' Association, including Contra Costa County Sheriff David Livingston. On Wednesday, local activists turned out in force at a Martinez rally to protest Livingston's active campaign against the bill. They also called for the release of Yazmin Elias, a mom and domestic violence survivor currently held in the West County Detention Facility under the Sheriff's multi-million dollar contract with ICE.
Meanwhile, the sanctuary city movement in California has continued to grow. On Tuesday, the El Cerrito city council unanimously voted to declare itself a sanctuary city by adopting a policy of not gathering or release information about the immigration status of residents to federal authorities. The council also called for Contra Costa supervisors to do the same, and passed a resolution in support of SB 54.
And on Wednesday, Richmond announced a lawsuit against Trump's executive order to deny federal funding to sanctuary cities. Richmond currently receives about $77 million per year in federal funding. "We will not allow intimidation to disrupt our commitment to our residents and their safety," said Mayor Butt at a press conference. San Francisco announced a similar lawsuit in January.
Finally, if this news is leaving you inspired, please consider joining the new RPA Immigration Action Team, which had its inaugural meeting this week. Contact Sharron SK Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org
On Tuesday, March 21, the Richmond City Council voted unanimously to appoint a 5-member rent board. This board will be responsible for implementing rent control: setting a budget for the Richmond Rent Program, hiring an Executive Director and setting regulations.
The newly appointed members include Nancy Combs, a volunteer at Saffron Strand; real estate agent Virginia Finlay, former president of the Marina Bay Neighborhood Council and former Richmond Planning Commissioner; Emma Gerould, a former tenant advocate in the San Francisco Tenderloin; Lauren Maddock, an employee of Mercy Housing; and David Gray, former chief of staff to Mayor Butt who is currently with the San Francisco Public Utility Commission.
Mayor Butt does not support rent control, but after Measure L passed, he was given the authority to name Board members. Given that 2/3 of Richmond voters supported Measure L, the RPA vigorously advocated for at least three of the five members of the Board to be strong rent control proponents. As Cecilia Cissell Lucas and Jeff Shoji said at the March 7 Richmond City Council meeting, "We deserve a transparent process in which rent board appointees are publicly vetted and approved by those who actually support Measure L… This should not feel threatening to anyone who is not attempting to obstruct the fair and legal enforcement of an ordinance that passed with a vast majority of the vote. It's time to listen to the will of the people." Unfortunately, only two of the 5 members of the rent board are strong rent control supporters.
A statement from an RPA subcommittee (the RPA reps to the Fair and Affordable Richmond Coalition) explained its reasoning for agreeing to a compromise: They became convinced "that the rent board slate presented by Mayor Butt on March 21 is the best we can get from him, and it certainly could be worse. So, faced with the choice of a less than optimal rent board or no rent board at all for the remainder of his term as mayor, the Fair and Affordable Richmond Coalition (of which the RPA is a member) decided to support this slate and move forward with implementation as best we can."
Onward in the struggle for housing justice!
One feature of the new rent control law is that it protects the right of tenants to organize together. The law provides that:
- Tenants have the right to organize. It is illegal for landlords to retaliate;
- Landlords must recognize and deal with an organization designated by the tenant as the representative of the tenant;
- Tenants organizations have standing before the Rent Board.
These provisions apply to building-based tenants organizations, landlord-based tenants organizations (that may include tenants from multiple buildings owned by a single landlord), or to long-standing tenants organizations like Tenants Together.
Why is this so important? Even though the new law protects tenants and gives them new rights, landlords typically still have much more power than individual tenants. Landlords usually have an edge in knowledge, legal support, and resources to engage in prolonged legal disputes. It is easier for a landlord to win in court even when the facts point the other way. Often the only way to successfully take on a bad landlord is by organizing together, pooling resources for legal help, and bringing public and political pressure on landlords to settle. Rights are fine, but you have to organize and take action to make them real.
As you know, President Trump and Republican leaders are moving quickly to repeal the Affordable Care Act and gut Medicaid - threatening the healthcare and lives of millions of low to moderate income Americans while handing huge tax cuts to the rich and big healthcare corporations. By mid-April, we could be living in the new world of Trumpcare nationally. In California though, we have the opportunity to not only resist these extreme attacks on our healthcare and lives, but to expand and create the healthcare system we truly need – guaranteed, comprehensive, universal healthcare for all regardless of income or immigration status.
Last month, the Healthy California Act (SB 562) was introduced by Senators Lara and Atkins as a key step towards creation of a single payer universal healthcare system for all Californians, and a broad-based statewide coalition, Healthy California is coming together to advance this exciting, visionary campaign for healthcare justice.
Along with groups like Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, who are educating residents about Measure L, the City of Richmond is hosting a series of education workshops and computer lab sessions on the Rent Program and the Richmond Fair Rent, Just Cause for Eviction, and Homeowner Protection Ordinance.
The next two sessions will be March 23 and March 30 from 6-8pm at the Richmond City Hall computer lab. Attendees will receive computer lab assistance to access and complete online forms; learn more about the Richmond Rent Program; and explore resources for Tenants and Landlords. Space is limited – find more information at http://www.ci.richmond.ca.us/3364/Richmond-Rent-Program.
Here are four observations for the City as it contemplates how to respond in the wake of Oakland's Ghost Ship fire.
1. When there is not a sufficient supply of cheap housing or when wages are not sufficient to support what housing is available, it is predictable that many will become homeless and others will look for inexpensive ways to live -- often in buildings not really suitable or safe for housing. The campaigns we have had in Richmond to develop more affordable housing and protect the affordability of the housing we have through rent control are critical first steps -- but we need much more.
2. Young people need and will find venues to engage in social and artistic activities. Ghost Ship provided something more than just cheap places for living -- a supportive community culture. We must develop more inexpensive venues for holding events and exhibitions.
3. We need better, more effective, and fairer enforcement of local safety requirements. A flurry of "cover-your-ass" activities after disasters like Ghost Ship are not a substitute for a regular enforcement program that helps people meet safety requirements. Simply closing a place and making people homeless transfers a problem without solving it. And we must develop ways to help people stay in their places or continue their work while improvements are made.
A knee-jerk reaction to greatly increase the number of inspectors is not the answer. First, it is expensive and will take funds away from other needed city services. Second, when tenants fear retaliation from a landlord or fear that they will lose their housing if an inspector finds code violations, their refusal to open doors, cooperate, or report violations makes inspection programs ineffective.
4. The key to tenant safety is most of all tenant involvement: tenants knowing and demanding removal of dangerous living conditions; tenants reporting landlords who maintain unsafe housing conditions. One of the important features of the recently adopted rent control ballot measure helps make this possible. The new law prohibits landlords from evicting or otherwise penalizing any tenant who reports safety problems or demands that landlords correct dangerous conditions. It also protects tenants who are forced to leave because a landlord has not complied with building codes. Whether or not the landlord is operating legally, the landlord is still subject to providing relocation assistance in these cases.