An unusually large number of people attended Tuesday’s city council meeting in Richmond. Many carried banners or wore bright colored shirts with slogans like “Don’t kill our jobs,” which others changed in “Don’t kill our kids” later in the evening.
The council was scheduled to debate the proposed general plan that outlines Richmond’s long-term development vision until the year 2030. Both the council and members of the public clashed on whether or not the plan should include an amendment by Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), a California based social justice organization with a focus on environmental health and justice.
The proposed amendment would impose stringent environmental regulations, reducing the amount of emissions by local business and industries and requiring any new investment within the city to use “least emitting” technology. The city’s Planning Commission supports the proposal, while city staffers advised the council to adopt the plan without these measures.
Slightly over 100 people, many from outside of Richmond, signed up to speak about the amendment. Even with speaking time limited to three minutes, the public comment period went on for so long that the meeting concluded without the council debating or taking a vote.
A general plan is required by the state of California and must include at least seven elements: a plan for a city’s transportation, open space, conservation, land use, noise, and safety. The Richmond plan has an additional eight elements, such as economic development, education and human services, growth management, and historic resources.
The proposed plan deals with current issues such as public safety, but also focuses on the challenges Richmond will face in the future such as an increase in population. The 2010 Census listed 103,701 Richmond residents. Estimates by the Association of Bay Area Governments predict that this number will increase by at least 28 percent in the next two-and-a-half decades.
Although the general plan can be adapted by the city council, no more than four changes a year are allowed. “It doesn’t set your vision in concrete. But maybe it does make a sandcast,” City Manager Bill Lindsay told the councilmembers.
Opponents fear that the extra costs the plan will impose on business would hurt business and constitute unnecessary government interference. Supporters argue it is needed to deal with Richmond pollution levels, which are several times higher than the state average.
“The planning commission’s unnecessary air quality restrictions will do much to retard growth,” said Chris Thornberg, an economist, during the public comment period.
Gary Levin, CEO of Levin Richmond Terminal Corporation, said “Small businesses are already doing enough without the planners’ recommendation.”
But Henry Clark of the West County Toxics Coalition said that more regulations about emissions are needed. “Certain areas of this city are already disproportionately impacted by industrial pollution, like North Richmond. We are talking about not adding more fuel to the fire, not having more injustice,” he said.
Even though councilmembers were not allowed to ask questions, and speaking time was limited to three minutes, the debate ended after midnight. The council debate and final decision has been postponed until a later meeting.