Richmond city council fails to announce Bell vacancy as meeting ends in stalemate

Richmond community organizer Kathleen Sullivan is among the three candidates vying for Bell's seat. Photo - Tawanda Kanhema

Richmond community organizer Kathleen Sullivan is among the three candidates vying for Bell's seat. Photo - Tawanda Kanhema

A meeting that began with warm sentiments as the city council praised Salute restaurant owner Menbre Akililu for her Thanksgiving Day meal giveaway for the homeless quickly spiraled into arguing, showmanship and—at the very end—confusion.

As the time ticked down for the meeting—which according to city bylaws officially ends at 11 pm, unless a majority of the councilmembers vote to extend the session—Mayor Gayle McLaughlin expressed concern that they might not get to her last agenda item: officially announcing a vacant seat on the council.

The seat in question was left vacant by councilmember-elect Gary Bell last Tuesday when he was unable to attend the swearing in ceremony. According to the city charter, councilmembers must be sworn in on the second Tuesday in January. But Bell fell ill shortly after his election win in November. His family has said he is in a medically-induced coma to help him recover from complications from a serious bacterial sinus infection, which caused swelling in his brain and required Bell to undergo two neurosurgeries.

If the council decides to appoint someone to Bell’s seat, they must move quickly; they have 60 days from the date the seat is vacant to make an appointment, or else the city must hold a special election. McLaughlin added an item on Tuesday’s agenda that she hoped would set a timeline for filling the vacancy: Announce it on January 15, establish January 31 as deadline to accept statements of interest from potential appointees and February 12 as the public meeting to fill the vacancy.

So far three candidates have expressed interest in filling the seat since it became vacant: Eduardo Martinez, Don Gosney and Kathleen Sullivan. Martinez, a member of the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA), came fourth in the November election and has been recommended as the appointee by the RPR’s steering committee and councilmember Tom Butt. Fellow RPA members McLaughlin and councilmember Jovanka Beckles have also stated that Martinez should get the seat because of his vote tally in November, when he trailed Bell by just over 500 votes.

Gosney is a community activist and regular city council attendee—he is a former co-chair of the Point Molate Restoration Advisory Board and past president of a local plumbers and steamfitters union. Sullivan, President of the Richmond/Contra Costa Chapter of Black Women Organized for Political Action (BWOPA) and longtime Richmond activist, was recently endorsed by the county’s Black American Political Action Committee (BAPAC). Sullivan also confirmed that she would run in a special election if council failed to nominate a candidate before March 8.

Councilmember Nat Bates, like other special election supporters, argues that the only fair choice is to send the vote back to the voters. Martinez, he says, is too far politically removed from Bell. “Gary was pro-business, and if I am going to support a candidate, it should be a candidate whose philosophy reflects what the voters want. So I wouldn’t support Eduardo,” Bates said after last week’s swearing in ceremony.

Similarly, councilmember Corky Booze supports a special election to fill the seat.

The council showed that division Tuesday night as the votes came down over whether to extend the meeting past 11 pm in order to let the council officially declare the vacancy, putting the appointment process into action. “We still have a lot to do,” McLaughlin said. “We have to declare this seat vacant.”

Booze moved to end the meeting at 11 am, and Bates seconded the motion. The rest of the council voted against it, causing the motion to fail.

Next, McLaughlin moved to finish discussion of the item they were on and set the timeline to fill the vacancy. Her motion failed, too, with just her and councilmember Jovanka Beckles voting in support of it.

McLaughlin tried to amend her original motion so that the council would simply hear the announcement of the vacancy and proposal of the timeline– but not listen to any of the public speakers who were there to comment on the vacancy and how it should be handled. That failed, too. Councilmember Jim Rogers pointed out—and the city attorney verified—that it would be illegal because the public has the right to speak on agenda items.

Finally, Bates pointed out that it was well after 11 pm and declared the meeting had to end because there was not enough support in favor of continuing. McLaughlin acquiesced.

The council’s failure to announce a vacancy and set a date for a public hearing created more uncertainty for residents and candidates vying for the seat, who had anticipated that an announcement on Tuesday would kickstart the nomination process.

“I was looking forward to an announcement, what happened to tonight is proof that an appointment needs to be made as soon as possible,” Martinez said after the meeting. “It leaves us in uncertainty for longer than we need to be, longer than we need to be as a city.”

Gosney, who declared interest in the seat last week, said he would run in a special election if the nomination process failed. Gosney, who identifies himself as pro-business, said it was important to prevent the RPA from controlling city council. “It is my intention at this time to follow through with an election if it comes to this,” Gosney said in an email after the meeting. “I’m still in the process of drumming up my support base and securing the financial support I’ll need. If I don’t feel I can run a successful campaign, then I’m not going to waste anyone’s time or money.”

The council also considered several other agenda items Tuesday evening, including proposed reforms to the city’s blight abatement policies and adoption of the updated housing element of the city’s general plan. The housing element is a state-mandated component of the city’s plan that must be updated every five years to ensure that the city is meeting the housing needs of residents from every income bracket. City Manager Bill Lindsay said the plan has to be approved by January 31 for the city to be eligible for $44 million in funding from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s One Bay Area grant program.

City staff recommendations and the appointed planning commission’s recommendations differed on four key issues regarding he housing plan: Instituting a local zoning policy that would include specific percentages for low or moderate income housing that must be included in new residential developments, establishing a community land trust program to provide permanently affordable housing, expanding the city’s just cause for eviction ordinance to apply to all rental properties, and creating a rent control board in the city to stabilize rents.

The planning commission’s recommendations were to create a program/board for each of those four elements. The city staff recommended that they research each proposal further. After over two hours of debate and public comment, the council took each of the above points one by one and approved the staff’s recommendations to further research each element and adopted the housing element into the general plan.

The council unanimously decided to give Chevron and General Chemical two years to comply with Richmond’s amended industrial safety code, with the amendment that a company could appeal to the city manager for an extension.

The next item on the agenda—dealing with an ordinance to require registration of vacant buildings with the city—was never resolved. Prior to the public hearing, Bates motioned to postpone the topic for a week to give staff time to discuss the proposed ordinance with other groups, including the public safety committee. The motion was supported by Bates, Booze and Vice Mayor Jim Rogers but ultimately failed. Because the council ran out of time and did not vote to extend the meeting, this item was left unresolved.

In other council actions, restaurateur Menbre Akililu received a city commendation from McLaughlin and Rogers in recognition of her second annual dinner for the homeless last November. “So far her humble efforts have impacted the lives of over 900 people,” McLaughlin said.

Akililu said she was homeless when she first came to Richmond (“From Africa via Italy,” she said) and has never forgotten her beginnings. After getting an entry-level job at Salute, she worked her way up and purchased the restaurant a few years ago. “I really, really appreciate this from the bottom of my heart,” Akililu said, wiping tears from her eyes as people around the chamber stood to applaud her.

“You allowed me to do this great thing,” Akililu continued. “I am the one lucky to be in this great city, Richmond. It’s the most wonderful place to live.”

3 Comments

  1. This is strange. I strive so hard to have people refer to me by my first name—Don—and to see me referred to in articles and in Tom Butt’s eforum as ‘Gosney’ just seems strange. I’ve known Tom Butt and been friends with him for a great many years so it’s especially difficult to see him refer to me in such an unfamiliar and distant way as if we’re enemies or something.

    While this article labels me as “pro-business”, that’s not entirely accurate.

    As a leader of working men and women for many decades and as someone who has sat in on countless negotiations between employers and employees, I’ve learned that there exists a symbiotic relationship between business and workers where they cannot exist without each other. When you go in understanding this, then you know that you have to find a way for both sides to co-exist and find a happy medium.

    The same goes when it comes to the environment. We all have to find a way to protect the environment while still allowing businesses to exist and for people to live and enjoy the pleasures they’ve grown used to.

    With everything, there has to be a balance. It’s never just black and white with the need to take a position at the extreme end. There’s always a middle ground. It just takes an open mind to see this and be willing to meet the opposition somewhere in the middle.

    That’s why when I see a label attached to me positioning me as pro-business, while true, it’s not completely accurate and requires an explanation. I’ve always advocated for the people first and foremost—but never to the exclusion of businesses. I don’t believe we have to shut our businesses down or tax them into oblivion in order for ‘we the people’ to have a better life.

    What I would love to see us do is to find a way to have all interested parties on an issue be able to sit and calmly discuss the issues and try to find that middle ground. I think we can do that without calling the other side “criminals”, coming to the meeting with our faces covered by masks like terrorists or by throwing vegetables at the people who may not agree with everything being said by the masked vegetable throwers.

    As I mentioned last night, there seems to be something in the air where some of our neighbors feel that owning a business is a crime and making a profit is a bad thing. Even the many workers’ cooperatives that are being pushed these days have a business plan where someone actually owns the business and the goal is to make a profit.

    I don’t believe that we should embrace a society made up only of the proletariat where once you’ve gotten ahead in life where you own your own home or can afford some of the nicer things that you suddenly become the enemy of “the people”.

    As with everything, there has to be a balance, and I think I can help us move in that direction and find that balance.

  2. US “progressives” are nothing more than Socialists which is just a polite word for “Communist.”
    They are definitely anti-private enterprise type businesses. “Progressives” favor BIG GOVERNMENT control of all businesses. This is already happening in the US today and the so-called “green” movement, one of the planks of the “progressive” movement, is pushing “green” technology BIGTIME.
    Unfortunately, “green” technology is a Malthusian concept, one that will eventually send the US back to the 19th century in the way we produce energy with a concommitant lowering of the standard of living of all US citizens.
    A recent Contra Costa Times article was entitled “Cleantech Finds Few Cheers in ’12”. In spite of this the Feds continue to pour millions of taxpayer $$ into such companies and indirectly support such groups as the RPA.
    These “general plan” updates are nothing more than a way for the Feds, via regional government entities, to control the way our tax $$$ are spent on transportation and infrastructure. It’s extortion pure and simple.
    Please, no more RPA members on the Richmond City Council.
    PS Either Mr. Booze or Mr. Bates’ has an ongoing problem with the expensive electronic system which shows McLaughlin who wants to speak…this needs to be fixed!!

  3. Tony Suggs

    “and creating a rent control board in the city to stabilize rents.”

    Wow, this should have landlords worried. Just look at cities that have rent control. San Francisco, Berkeley and others, have actually created a shortage of affordable rentals.

    Why?

    Because once someone rents a unit, the rent is held to a certain amount regardless of economics conditions at the time.

    So, most renters stay in those units, because if they move out, the rent will be raised.

    There have been situations where properties have been sold, but the new owners could not move in because the tenants were grandfathered in.

    Other landloads will not do major remodeling beause they can not recoup the cost at the lower rent amounts.

    Less turnover of tenants create a shortage of units.

    Another seemly good idea that causes unintended consequences.

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