Council re-affirms support for Occupy

From left, Jon Gordon and Barbara Stauss hold signs at Tuesday night's council meeting. Michael Beer said that Chevron wants back in tax refunds an amount equivalent to 25 years of its charitable giving. (Photo by: Alexis Kenyon)

From left, Jon Gordon and Barbara Stauss hold signs at Tuesday night's council meeting. Michael Beer said that Chevron wants back in tax refunds an amount equivalent to 25 years of its charitable giving. (Photo by: Alexis Kenyon)

Although national polls show Occupy Wall Street losing the public’s favor, the Richmond City Council re-affirmed its support for the movement on Tuesday, then targeted Chevron, Wells Fargo, and PG&E on its agenda.

The council passed a resolution to ask Chevron to withdraw its pending tax appeal – a complaint that seeks up to $60 million in tax refunds from Contra Costa County.

The council also voted to withdraw city funds from corporations it says dodged property taxes, including Wells Fargo and PG&E.

“We can stand up as a city and say, ‘Hey, Wells Fargo, guess what? We can move our money … to Mechanics bank, a local business, and next time, next year, maybe think about paying income tax,’” Councilmember Jeff Ritterman said.

He added that he thought federal and state governments were not taking the lead to fight wealth inequality.

“I think this movement is terribly important to the nation,” Ritterman said. “If every city council in Northern California, or in the state, or in the country moved their money that would make a difference. That’s how movements get started.”

Councilmember Nat Bates abstained from voting on the divestment item, and Corky Booze was the lone vote against. Both councilmembers said they supported a fight against Wall Street  — just not in Richmond.

Bates questioned the effectiveness of spending city money to research property tax payments for multinational corporations.

“You are proposing our staff invest a lot of time in this?” he asked. “Don’t we have better things to do than research things that we have little control over?”

Booze said the City Council’s stance against corporations slights the real problems facing Richmond residents.

“Let’s not be fake,” Booze said. “You got to take care of home first before you take care of other people.”

Anti-Chevron feeling ran high in the public comment session.

Michael Beer, a Richmond resident and activist, approached the podium with a large sign comparing Chevron’s charitable giving to the county and the amount it wanted back from it. He held up the sign and pointed out that the tax refunds would amount to 25 years of charitable giving.

“This is the moment of truth,” Beer said. “The Chevron corporation is going to respect Richmond and Contra Costa county, or it’s not.”

Tarnel Abbott, a Richmond activist and retired librarian, lamented what she called corporations’ lack of commitment to public interest.  She said it’s hard for her to pay taxes too, but she does it.

“Too bad Wells Fargo and PG&E couldn’t afford it,” Abbott said.

Jessica Tovar said divesting in Chevron and in all big corporations that seek tax loopholes or avoid taking social responsibility, is equivalent to investing in a better future for Richmond.

“Chevron has one of the dirtiest track records in the world,” Tovar said. “We all know Chevron owes more — in terms of money and especially in terms of life — than we will ever see.”

Most who approached the bench backed the council’s stand on the Occupy movement.

“You are making history tonight by even bringing these items forward,” Abbott said.  “I am so proud to be part of this. It’s a great feeling.”

Mayor Gayle McLaughlin shared the crowd’s enthusiasm. She compared Occupy with the Vietnam movement, when she said a collective mind-shift occurred as people stood up for themselves and others.

“This movement is asking something of us as elected officials,” she said. “It is asking us, ‘Who do you represent … the many? Or the few?”

Councilmember Jovanka Beckles recalled the Civil Rights movement.

“This Occupy movement is bringing about a resurgence of ‘All power to the people!…’” she said. “We have got to stick together in thought and in deed…We actually do have the power to do something.”

But the talk of empowerment did not sit well with Booze, who said that as a former Black Panther himself, people not of color could not understand the struggle of African Americans in the civil rights era.

“I am so tired of sitting here on this council hearing people who are not of color try to talk about Martin Luther King and what he stood for,” Booze said. “I’m tired of people trying to talk about the Black Panthers without knowing its history.”

Ritterman responded, “In order to have a very unequal distribution of income and for people to accept it, you have to fool some of the people all of the time. And that’s the way that’s done — by dividing us in all different ways.”

The audience of more than 20 cheered as Ritterman spoke. On person shouted, “Don’t let them divide and conquer!”

Filed under: Front, Government

6 Comments

  1. Richmond warrior

    “I am so tired of sitting here on this council hearing people who are not of color try to talk about Martin Luther King and what he stood for,” Booze said. “I’m tired of people trying to talk about the Black Panthers without knowing its history.”
    is this guy Serious wow Corky is a Freaking Ignorant Moron how did this guy ever get elected into Office. OK Corky next time we will quote Hitler lol. Corky loves the 1 percent.

  2. Earl Shorris

    The council passed a resolution to ask Chevron to withdraw its pending tax appeal – a complaint that seeks up to $60 million in tax refunds from Contra Costa County….and where was Corky Booze when the council was voting in favor of this reasonable request?
    Corky was hiding in the bathroom, ashamed to vote against Richmond and affraid of upseting the Chevron bosses!

  3. Don Gosney

    ABOUT THE ‘TAX DODGERS':

    I’m confused here: If you or I take advantage of the tax laws to minimize our income taxes, are we tax dodgers? Are we to be ridiculed and decried?

    I’ve never met a single person who didn’t try to take advantage of the deductions allowed on his/her income tax return to put more money back into their own pockets instead of giving it to the government. I’ve also never met anyone who volunteered to give the government any more than they were required.

    So what makes these people okay and these businesses evil?

    If we have a problem, wouldn’t it be with the people who wrote the laws that allow these corporations so many write-offs and deductions? Keep in mind that it was these very same lawmakers who took away many of the deductions that regular folk used to take advantage of.

    On another note, although the audience of “more than 20″ sitting in the RPA section of the Council Chambers may have been rabidly shouting out their approval for their Council representatives, there were significantly more in the audience who were shaking their heads in shame and disapproval. Many of which were sitting near you but because we weren’t shouting you may not have noticed us.

  4. Don Gosney

    ABOUT CHEVRON’S PROPERTY TAXES:

    As a corporation, Chevron’s Board of Directors have an obligation to maximize the profits of their company and return as high of a stock dividend as they can. This means minimizing their operating expenses and part of this means making efforts to reduce the taxes they pay–income, sales or property.

    Rather than using the weak argument that “we need the money more than they do”, perhaps our community ought to take a closer look at the argument Chevron (and the County’s other oil refiners) is using to justify a reduced property tax.

    They’re all claiming that no matter what kind of capital improvements they make on their refinery, it’s worth less than the assessor says it is. They’re claiming that even though these individual units are still making them megabucks in profits, that they’ve been depreciated to the point that they no longer have a value.

    Here’s a specific point: In the mid ’90’s all of the area’s refineries spent billions of dollars in capital improvements to reformulate their gas so they could sell it in California. These were the Clean Fuels Projects. [Union Oil called their's the "Cleaner Fuels" project because their fuel was already clean.]

    Although they all tried to have their facilities reassessed at a lower value, the Shell Refinery in Martinez may have been the most egregious.

    Shell spent in the neighborhood of $1.8 Billion in capital improvements and then tried to claim that the value of their whole refinery was only $900 million. As a stockholder I might be concerned that for every dollar spent to improve the refinery I got only 50¢ in value. Add to that the fact that they were saying that they had a negative value for the VERY LARGE refinery before the improvements.

    That’s an insulting argument.

    Even if their claim was rejected and negotiated up to $1200 million, isn’t that a victory for the refinery? It’s still significantly less than the original valuation.

    The same thing is happening with the Chevron Refinery in that they’re saying it’s worth far less than what a reasonably informed person knows it to be worth.

    Here’s a test for them: If they say that’s worth $XXX, what would they do if someone offered to take it off their hands for only $XXX. Do you think they’d jump at the chance? I don’t think so.

    What this community needs to do instead of arguing that they need the money more than Chevron is to argue that Chevron’s claim is bogus and should be rejected.

  5. Zusha Thompson

    Gosney is a contradiction walking in two feet. On one hand he argues well that Chevron is missrepresenting the value of the Richmond refinery; on the other he has been a long time subservient supporter of Chevron and every Chevron campaign and candidate standing against Richmond.
    What Gosney does not get is that Chevron is not a person entitled to the same rights and considerations of a human being. This is hard for him to understand, and not totally his fault (Supreme Courtand and Chevron’s PR and all), but I wish his alledged working class experience would reflect an ounce of a very basic universal class experience: Greedy companies like Chevron are not human and will not respond to the validity of an argument or the persuation of prose: These all eating machine and their armies of lawyers will devore everything, including Gosney, unless they are stopped by us.
    We have weak tax laws and week regulations for these companies because people like Gosney have supported corporate puppets in Congress and the White House. Fortunately times are changing…

  6. Mere Citizen

    Thank You City Council. Thank You Mayor McLaughlin.

    Richmond has paid lip service to human rights and corporate accountability for too long while happily allowing corporate polluters fund their council campaigns.
    It takes guts to stand up to Chevron, it took guts to vote against deep pocket casino interests, it takes guts to tell entrenched “community ” interests enough is enough.
    You are showing the nation a model of responsible governance and giving us a reason to be hopeful.

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