Did you miss it? The RPA Housing Action Team did a superb job in their presentation to the Richmond City Council at an affordable housing study session.
For over a year, the HAT has been researching best practices in other Bay Area cities and counties to promote affordable housing. The HAT’s presentation this month was the culmination of that research, and featured three affordable housing developers.
One of the most notable aspects of HAT’s presentation was the ambition of its vision for affordable housing. Noting that the Association of Bay Area Governments has set a goal of constructing 700,000 new units by 2040 (50% affordable), the HAT pointed out that there aren’t many cities in the Bay Area able to or willing to contribute 5% of the total. However, in Richmond, where we have more vacant land and abandoned or underutilized properties with low market values, we could probably fit 30-40,000 units of housing.
The HAT also urged the City to stop worrying so much about attracting high end developers, who are very cautious about Richmond because upper middle class projects here can’t command the selling prices needed to make expected returns. (Meaning: no “trickle down” model of attracting market rate housing to generate in lieu fees to subsidize affordable housing). Rather, the HAT called on Richmond to work hard to facilitate the construction of 1,500 units per year, including 15,000 housing units at Hilltop and the South Shore, and 15,000 housing units in the Macdonald corridor, 23rd St and on San Pablo Ave
Finally, the Team also pointed out Richmond needs to staff up to ensure that we are well poised to take advantage of affordable housing development opportunities. It noted that we have 3.8 people in our Housing Department, while Oakland has 41.5 people.
One observer called the presentation “a model of what community involvement in the city can be” (not withstanding Mayor Butt’s hostility and arguments with guest panelists). If you haven’t had a chance to check it out, watch the video of the study session - it's around 1hr 14 min mark.
The recently announced settlement of the Point Molate litigation is a far cry from what the RPA has been firmly advocating for many years, namely maximizing public involvement in determining the future of this precious and unique resource owned by the City. We had no position on any particular use or project but we felt it crucial that we make it possible to hear all proposals for development so that the public could weigh-in with full information.
We believe that the settlement itself is greatly unbalanced. Upstream and its partners get a significant sum of money (in the tens of millions) from the City in a relatively short time, and no public review of settlement terms before they were finalized. All the City gets is an end to the litigation, yet it is losing not only a lot of money, but also any opportunity for a comprehensive and inclusive public process on what the future of Point Molate should look like.
The City Council had voted three times in open session (2012, 2016 and 2017) to direct staff on conducting an open public process to determine appropriate land uses and a whole array of potential development options for all of Point Molate--including innovative combinations of commercial, educational, research and development, parks, agricultural, historical preservation, etc. with or without some housing.
But instead of an open process, the Council in closed session voted to accept settlement terms that mandate residential land use for most of the buildable land, thus sharply curtailing the scope of the public process that was being planned. (Most of Point Molate consists of unbuildable hillsides, and was always earmarked as open space.) In closed session the Council bypassed open hearings on zoning and planning.
From statements of different Councilmembers we know that the City Council’s vote on the settlement terms was split. (Councilmembers are allowed to state their vote on an issue once the decision has become public.) We thank Councilmembers Eduardo Martinez, Jovanka Beckles, and Melvin Wills for refusing to support the settlement.
This is not the end of the RPA's advocacy on the Point Molate issue. In coming weeks, the RPA will invite its members to take action to help ensure that the land is used for public good, not private profit. Stay tuned.
More About the Settlement
The RPA acknowledges that the Richmond needs more housing, especially affordable housing, and we openly advocate for more transit oriented residential and mixed use development at vacant sites in the city’s core, with an emphasis on maximizing affordability. One example is the large residential development downtown on Nevin between 21st and 23rd Streets that was approved a few years ago and is now breaking ground. The desirability of extensive housing at Point Molate, however, given its remote location and access constraints, has been controversial and was supposed to be fully vetted in the public process that now is moot unless this settlement agreement is reversed through legal action.
The settlement mandate paves the way for Pt. Molate to be an enclave for luxury development. For developers, the fastest way to make profits at a beautiful setting in the Bay Area’s tight housing market is by putting up high dollar residences, as other types of development require lengthier planning and lead time.
In every respect the settlement is a setback for progressive values. It did not even require that the development include affordable housing units (inclusionary housing). It specifically allowed the far-too-low current in-lieu fee. This means that if housing is built under the terms of the settlement (market rate sales) it will almost certainly be all luxury housing.
There are many bad scenarios possible from this bad agreement. Luxury housing is one when in fact our need is for more affordable housing in our urban center accessible to transportation supported by parks on the shore. Problems with access and infrastructure may mean that nothing gets built and that the city is saddled with costs for maintaining the property through a decade or more of attempted sale under the settlement terms but has to give half the sales price to Upstream.
The public is not privy to confidential information and advice given to City councilmembers in closed session, in making their decision, so we can’t fully understand what motivated each person’s vote.
Thoughts about Decision Making
Councilmembers were in a in a tough position, undoubtedly facing intense pressure behind closed doors with skewed information biased towards the Mayor's preferred outcome of implementing the least community-friendly proposed scenario in the 1997 Base Reuse Plan at all costs. Perceived or exaggerated legal risks may also have been a consideration, though the case overall has always been very strong and clear-cut in the City’s favor—see below for a brief summary of background information on Point Molate. We also know that a strong-arming approach in closed session was expected by Pt Molate community advocates and many attempted to encourage the council to exhibit strong political will in spite of this.
In any event, nothing should have prevented the Council from insisting on bringing the proposed settlement to the public before finalizing it. Union and other negotiators will generally walk away from the table if the other side says that you have to decide now or the deal is off. Yet the City’s negotiating team agreed to Upstream’s demand for finalizing a settlement in closed session without public review.
A number of RPA members and community members who have devoted thousands of volunteer hours over the years researching and advocating for community participation in outcomes at a casino-free Point Molate, and who have acquired in-depth knowledge on all aspects of Point Molate, including legal ones, met with all of the RPA endorsed council members after rumors of a settlement began to surface. They urged caution and at a minimum no decision on settlement terms until after the City had determined appropriate land uses at Point Molate via the extensive public process that was being planned. And the RPA steering committee, at its March 15 meeting, voted to call for no settlement until after this public process was completed.
This issue also brings into focus questions about how elected officials make their decisions and how we as an activist movement can hold our elected officials responsible. The RPA is planning to examine these questions in the immediate future
Remember that chant “Bernie, Bernie, Bernie?
There’s a new one now: “Nina, Nina, Nina”!
Nina Turner, President of Our Revolution, is coming to the East Bay to help us send to Sacramento and the Alameda County DA seat three corporate-free, people powered WOMEN.
No one is more eloquent than Nina Turner, President of Our Revolution. Her grandma told her about three bones in the body (Ask her!) -- she’s got all three!
Nina Turner brings a powerful message to the Bay Area Saturday, April 28th at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School from 6pm-8pm.
Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign was attacked as mostly “Bernie Bros” - young men operating on social media. Never true. Here are the new “Bernie Bros”– four WOMEN, dynamic, experienced, and out to help us take back our government!
No one is a more determined and successful champion of all kinds of voters than Jovanka Beckles, Richmond City Council person, now Assembly District 15 candidate.
Gayle McLaughlin has been leading Richmond and the East Bay for years. Now she’s going (for us) for Lieutenant Governor.
Pamela Price promises to be an innovative, corruption-free Alameda County District Attorney, and she and Jovanka have endorsed each others’ corporate-free agendas.
These four women are people-people. They listen carefully. They craft solutions creatively. They fight resolutely for all of us who want corporate money out of politics, who want medicare for all now, who want the broken justice system fixed.
Come, celebrate and support four women who are fighting for us!
California’s environmental and environmental justice communities are unanimously opposed to Proposition 70, which they are characterizing at a Big Oil attack on California’s climate policy.
According to the No on Prop 70 coalition, if passed Prop 70 “would seize funding that is currently used to fight pollution and improve community health. It would subject this funding to a two-thirds vote in 2024, and by doing so, it would hold these climate investments hostage to the lobbying of corporate interests. Prop 70 would lead to budget gridlock, undermine California’s progress on climate change and clean air, and increase the power of corporate interests.”
California decided to stop requiring a two-thirds vote for budgeting because it introduced gridlock and dysfunction. It also increased pork barrel projects because a minority of legislators were able to delay the process and extract compromises in exchange for their votes. By requiring a two-thirds vote over climate funding, Prop 70 would enable powerful lobbyists to block good climate programs and to fund wasteful projects that only benefit corporate interests.
Richmond has been battling Chevron’s refinery emissions for decades. But did you know that just north of us in Rodeo the Phillips 66 refinery is planning a huge expansion that would double the number of tankers bringing crude oil into the Bay? To make matters worse, according to Baykeeper:
“The oil arriving at the Phillips refinery will likely be dirty, heavy tar sands oil. This type of oil is difficult, if not impossible, to remove after a spill. In 2010, when tar sands oil spilled into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River, response crews were unable to completely remove the oil from the riverbed, even after five years of cleanup efforts. If tar sands oil spilled in San Francisco Bay, it could irreparably smother bottom-dwelling life forms that are critical to the Bay’s food chain.
“The Phillips refinery also has a poor track record of oil spills. [In September 2016,] oil was spilled during the unloading of a tanker ship, causing large oil slicks in northern San Francisco Bay. Over 100 nearby residents sought treatment at hospital emergency rooms for exposure to unidentified fumes, and Vallejo officials urged community members to stay indoors with their windows closed. Until recently, the refinery denied any responsibility for the oil spill that is now linked to the nearby air quality complaints.
“More than doubling the number of oil tankers on their way to Phillips 66 via the Bay would increase the risk of spills. What’s more, the oil tankers will need to navigate through a San Francisco Bay shipping channel that is scheduled for less frequent dredging than in the past, due to new budget concerns raised by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. While the exact effects of reduced dredging on tanker traffic are unclear, it is possible that the risk of tankers running aground will increase."
Phillips is pushing this proposal because San Luis Obispo, concerned about oil spills and health impacts, recently quashed the company's efforts to bring more oil into their SLO refinery via train.
The Richmond City Council recently adopted a resolution in support of Freedom for Immigrants, a visiting program and hotline at the West County Detention Facility operated by nonprofit CIVIC. In February, Sheriff Livingston abruptly terminated this program following CIVIC’s public criticism of conditions at the facility.
In November, CIVIC published a letter last November detailing abuses at the jail. The abuses received widespread media coverage and calls for investigations, including from Representative Mark DeSaulnier.
According to CIVIC, “On February 15, ICE terminated CIVIC’s free hotline with no advance warning or subsequent explanation. CIVIC has been operating this hotline since 2011, and uses it to facilitate visits and legal representation. Shortly thereafter, on February 20, the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office suspended CIVIC visitation program coordinator Rebecca Merton’s visitation clearance with no clear explanation. After pressing the Sheriff’s Office for a reason, CIVIC leadership received an email on Monday from Captain Kristi Butterfield of WCDF, explaining that the Sheriff’s Office was revoking access for all CIVIC volunteers and terminating the visitation program at WCDF."
CIVIC notes that “the visitation program ban came the day before Attorney General Jeff Sessions filed a suit against California’s sanctuary laws, including AB 103, which CIVIC helped draft and provides the California state Attorney General with the power to monitor ICE detention facilities in the state. In Sessions’ complaint, he explicitly names the West County Detention Facility as a place he does not want the state monitoring.”
This week, the El Cerrito City Council will be considering a resolution similar to the one Richmond passed, expressing support for this program.
Last week, the West Contra Costa County Board of Education rejected an appeal by the corporate charter chain Rocketship to open a school in San Pablo! Rocketship’s application had been already turned down earlier this year by the West Contra Costa Unified School District. However, two rejections probably won’t be enough to deter Rocketship. They will likely appeal the decision again to the next highest body, the State Board of Education.
Below is an excerpt from our friends at PublicCore.net who provide a first-hand account of last week’s meeting:
Those opposing the petition from the WCCUSD, if they managed to get off work early enough to sit through an hour of rush hour traffic to attend the 5:00 pm meeting in Pleasant Hill, were greeted outside by a large private bus and a gauntlet of pizza boxes and stacks of purple T-shirts for Rocketship supporters. Inside, the billionaire-backed busload of people who had arrived earlier sat together on one side of the room wearing the matching T-shirts and waving signs they drew from a stack provided for them. The message on many of the signs read: “Parents deserve options. That’s democracy.” Considering that one of the concerns raised by BOE staff was that Rocketship only promised to “consider” holding public meetings once a year in the WCCUSD, the sentiment was not without irony.
Regardless of the obstacles, defenders of public education persisted. And this time, all of the money spent to defeat them was not enough. The final vote, not delivered until 10:20 p.m., denied the petition. One board member later said her vote to deny was based in large part on Rocketship’s inability to answer questions relating to Special Ed.
Voting in FAVOR of the petition:
Voting to DENY the petition:
In case you missed it, Richmond was recently honored by the Transnational Institute, a Dutch-based international research and advocacy institute committed to building a just, democratic and sustainable world.
Their Transformative Cities project stresses that the award “is not a process where we are going to judge social movements, civil society organizations, citizens platforms or other groups,” but rather a process to “extract lessons can bring unique insights about how to set up transformative political practices, from the strategic to the tactical level.”
Richmond was honored because of what it has been able to achieve in terms of environmental accountability over Chevron, raising its local minimum wage, passing rent control and “by appointing a visionary gay police chief, greatly reduced local crime rates, including homicides, through successful community policing."
The jury particularly noted that “The hybrid RPA has been central to all this. As a membership organization, a coalition of community groups, and a key coordinator of grassroots education and citizen mobilization, it works on issues such as labour, immigrant rights, environmental justice, rent, police accountability, fair taxation of business, community health and environmental protection.”
Jackson, MS was another US city that was honored for its progressive elected officials and growing network of worker-owned cooperatives. Other inspiring stories included efforts in Accra, Ghana to stop the installation of pre-paid water meters, and a successful campaign by mill workers in Mumbai, India to ensure that a portion of land slated for luxury real estate development was reserved for workers’ housing.
Public hold public dollars, such as taxes and fees, to keep money local so it serves the public interest, instead of giving it to Wall Street banks who charge high fees and interest rates. There is only one public bank so far in the United States, the Bank of North Dakota, which has been in operation for almost 100 years.
However, in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis and the recent malfeasance of big banks like Wells Fargo, there is now a vibrant movement to create more public banks in the U.S. at the city and state level. Locally, Oakland is making serious strides by taking the lead on a public bank feasibility study, which should be out this year. Alameda County, Berkeley and Richmond have all chipped in to help Oakland fund this study. And last May, the Richmond City Council voted on a resolution to support Oakland’s efforts to create a public bank; direct the Richmond City Manager to investigate the possibility of forming a mutually beneficial partnership; and consider, if Oakland’s initial feasibility study yields positive results, providing funds for a future business plan.
Advocates around the country are getting galvanized around the idea public banks for different reasons – a way to take one’s money out of big banks that fund the fossil fuel industry, as a potential source for local business, as a money-saver for cities, or providing financial services to the legal (but difficult to bank) cannabis industry. Another big potential benefit: it could help to relieve the burden of student debt that so many of us are struggling with.
Friends of the Public Bank of Oakland, the RPA and others will be hosting a student debt forum on Monday, April 9. CA lieutenant governor candidate Gayle McLaughlin will be the featured speaker at this free event, which is open to all.