The progressives’ electoral victories last night will likely have a lasting effect on Richmond, further straining the city’s relationship with Chevron Corp. and throwing the future of the proposed casino at Point Molate into question.
With the ousting of pro-business councilmembers Maria Viramontes and Myrna Lopez, Mayor Gayle McLaughlin now has a firm grip on the city council for the first time. She can expect consistent support from four of the council’s six other members.
And for the first time, with no opposition to stall progressive action on the council, the mayor and her cohorts’ agenda will be tested in the real world. McLaughlin said they’re ready for the challenge.
“We know that this is a wonderful responsibility and mission that we have, and in that respect we take it very seriously and we think it will bring about much needed harmony and different ideas,” McLaughlin said.
By ushering in a progressive council, McLaughlin said the voters had given her group a mandate of sorts — and made governing a little easier for her, by voting out two opponents.
“[Voters] wanted a progressive city council as a whole and it’s going to take a lot of pressure off us (not) having to ward off those that have been saying otherwise — that ‘no the community doesn’t want this,’” McLaughlin said. “We see that they do now want this!”
The night’s results were a particular blow to Chevron, which spent $1 million supporting the campaigns of Viramontes, Lopez and mayoral candidate Nat Bates through political action committees. The oil giant, which in recent years has often been in negotiation with the city over tax revenues and oversight, can now only rely upon support from Bates, who remains a councilmember.
Chevron and Bates could not be reached for comment today.
Newly-elected councilmember Jovanka Beckles — who, along with her progressive running mates, did not take any campaign contributions from corporations — said Chevron will not be able to “pull any strings” in Richmond anymore, now that it lacks support on the council.
“They no longer have power over the Richmond city council, the city and residents — and that’s what is so exciting,” Beckles said. “We want environmental justice and we want Chevron to be a good citizen and we will hold it responsible for doing what’s right by us as a city. Do it the right way: You have billions of dollars. You’re not going to be above the law anymore.”
But Beckles, councilmember-elect Corky Booze and other members of the council’s new majority insisted they didn’t plan on running Chevron out of Richmond. All the night’s winners said they hoped to work with the company, whenever possible.
“[We] have every intention of sitting down with this corporation,” Beckles said. “We are neighbors and we need to get along — but that doesn’t mean you get to do what you want to do and continue to pollute our air and treat us like second-class citizens.”
The rejection of Measure U, along with the council’s realignment, came as a one-two blow to the developers of the proposed casino at Point Molate. Measure U, an advisory measure that asked voters if they would like a Las Vegas-style casino built on Richmond’s coastline, was rejected with 57.5 percent voting against.
The proposed development’s Environmental Impact Report must be approved by the city in order for it to move forward, but McLaughlin said her new majority planned to side with the citizens of Richmond.
“The voters have spoken and they don’t want a casino, McLaughlin said. “We have council member elects that have stated their clear opposition (and) that will be the direction that plays out at the council level.”
The developer of the proposed casino, Jim Levine of Upstream LLC, could not be reached for comment today, but he was not surprised when the votes for Measure U came up short last night: “Our goal was to get 40 percent of the vote,” he said at the time.
Levine stayed positive about the development’s prospects. He noted that the measure is non-binding, and added that the city council and the Department of the Interior will determine the project’s future.
“The decision will have to be made in the real world,” he said.
Despite the fierceness of this election season, councilmember Tom Butt said he believes the new majority will be able to work with local businesses and organizations — many of which opposed the progressives during the campaign. Butt, who was not up for reelection this year but supports the mayor, said he was looking forward to toning down the rhetoric and talking with opponents.
“Maybe the time has now come to work together on this, rather than sitting in the trenches shooting,” he said.
When asked what’s first on the new bloc’s agenda, Butt laughed and drew a blank.
“You play defense for so long, you forgot your offensive playbook,” he said. “We’ll figure it out.”
The mayor, however, had an answer ready:
“We want to come up with a real model for how a city can transform itself,” she said. “We are the architects and I’m looking forward to designing our future.”