Despite another year of economic turmoil nationwide and deep cuts to public services at state, county and local levels, Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said Richmond has continued to make gains in public safety, environmental health and workforce development.
The 27-minute address, aided by an array of photo slides and bullet-points, McLaughlin used her annual “State of the City” speech to paint an overwhelmingly positive picture of the city’s recent history and near-term future.
“[Economic struggles] should not stand in our way, or in any way hinder us, as we look to the future with the highest expectations,” McLaughlin said, speaking from the City Council dais Tuesday night. “2010 was a challenging year, but also a great year, because we have looked only to ourselves, and by doing so we have shown we can make change.”
As she did in her State of the City address last year, McLaughlin hailed the city’s efforts to become a hub of environmentally-sustainable business, employment training, and youth outreach. But this time, McLaughlin spent more time highlighting community events, noting several inaugural celebrations organized by burgeoning grassroots groups in lower-income neighborhoods.
The crowd, which numbered more than 100, was quiet throughout, a change from last year, when applause interrupted McLaughlin several times.
The mayor, who beat out two challengers in November to secure a second term, pivoted away from the dour pronouncements on violent crime that she frequently made last January, when the city was reeling from the significant spike in homicides recorded in 2009.
With homicides plummeting from 47 in 2009 to 21 last year, McLaughlin spent just a few sentences talking about crime, praising the Police Department and intervention programs run by the city’s Office of Neighborhood Safety.
“Of course, one homicide is one too many, but we’re definitely moving in the right direction,” McLaughlin said, adding that “community outreach groups are really making the difference here.”
McLaughlin’s address was broken broadly into six-parts: Development, infrastructure, environmental initiatives, jobs, violence prevention and community events.
She led off with development, highlighting several projects that were recently completed or begun in partnership with other governmental entities and private interests.
The list included a “streetscape” project that beautified MacDonald Avenue downtown, groundbreaking on a five-story, mixed-use retail center and parking garage at the Richmond BART station, renovation of the East Bay Center for Performing Arts building, and recently-begun construction on the Lillie Mae Jones Plaza, an affordable housing project named after the longtime local activist.
Among other local accomplishments, McLaughlin said the city recently earned the distinction of having the highest per-capita solar panel installation rates in the Bay Area.
“We are really gaining notoriety that we’re a sustainable and healthy green city, clean-tech city,” McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin, whose political fortunes are likely to be bolstered by the November election of two of her strongest political allies to the City Council – Jovanka Beckles and Corky Booze – said she had high hopes for next several years.
She spoke of using her office to help form “worker-owned cooperatives” in the city to “promote worker empowerment.” McLaughlin also raised hopes of developing a “green campus”-style business park with the help of a growing list of local clean-tech firms.
She also raised eyebrows in the crowd by referring to the hotly-debated potential development project at Point Molate – which some residents and business interests hope to turn into a casino – with just one brief, unspecific line.
“We expect to have Point Molate resolved this coming year,” she said.
McLaughlin, who remains the only registered Green Party member to lead an American city of more than 100,000 residents, wrapped up her speech with the kind of lofty pronouncements and international and global musings that hearten her supporters and unnerve her opponents.
She said cuts to public services will continue at the state and national level with “corporations still holding their grips on many government entities.” She also railed against the national defense budget, which she said “still takes the lion’s share of taxpayer money.”
McLaughlin, who quoted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. several times, ended by striking broad themes of hope and change.
“We must continue to speak out against the greed that has defined 20th Century America,” she said. “It is only by deepening our human connection to one another that we will truly transition into the kind of 21st century future that each of us deserves.”
After her speech, which was roundly applauded, longtime resident Don Gosney, 56, said he would have preferred to hear more detail about pressing local concerns, especially the upcoming city budget.
Gosney also said the mayor was “overly optimistic” about Point Molate.
“If they boot [proposed casino developer] Upstream on April 1, which I expect the council will, that means a new environmental report,” Gosney said. “It took the city more than 3 years to come up with the last report and they still haven’t finalized it yet.”
Melissa Price, who works with local youth programs, said she generally liked McLaughlin’s address, but would have liked to hear more about youth violence intervention.
“I’m really anxious and hungry to hear more of her initiatives towards reducing youth violence and addressing drug and alcohol usage,” Price said. “I know the youth here really want jobs and opportunity, so I’d like for that to be one of her main initiatives for the future.”