The addition of new city councilmember Jael Myrick didn’t stop the council from falling back on its old argumentative habits during Tuesday night’s city council meeting. The council passed most items unanimously or with just one vote against—but the majority of the time was spent debating procedures about when a councilmember can make a motion and discussing what Councilmember Corky Booze considers to be South Richmond.
Myrick, a field representative in Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner’s office, was appointed from among twelve hopeful applicants at Monday night’s special meeting to fill the vacant seat. He was nominated by Councilman Jim Rogers and received votes of approval from Rogers, Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles and Councilman Tom Butt. Myrick had a poor showing in the city council election in November—receiving just over 5 percent of the vote—but had another chance at a seat after councilmember-elect Gary Bell fell ill and was unable to take office.
After taking the oath of office at the start of the meeting, over twenty people offered their support and words of advice to Myrick during the public comment and open forum periods.
“I’m glad that you appointed Jael,” said Eleanor Thompson, a candidate in the last election and applicant for the vacant seat. At 27, Myrick is now the youngest on the council. “He’s a young man and it’s nice to see him up there,” Thompson said, while smiling at Myrick. “And, always be your own self. You know? Have your own thoughts, make your own decisions.”
“You’re in there now, and let’s see what you’re going to do for us,” said Richmond resident Naomi Williams. “Remember we are here,” she said, gesturing to herself and the audience. “Not up there,” she added, looking pointedly up at the councilmembers on the dais.
Myrick thanked his supporters and asked for a moment of silence in honor of Gary Bell. “Obviously I’m not here under the best of circumstances,” Myrick said. “I think all of us would want to see Gary Bell recover and to be able to be at his full strength.”
Not everyone was excited about Myrick as an addition to the council. Mark Wassberg, a city council hopeful in 2012, and for the vacant seat, criticized Myrick for not attending meetings regularly—as Wassberg does—or being more involved in city issues. When Wassberg began to make heated comments criticizing the city’s ordinance that allows it to give out municipal ID cards to residents, regardless of immigration status—a topic he frequently brings up at council meetings—Myrick turned to whisper with McLaughlin.
“When I talk to you, you listen!” Wassberg yelled suddenly, startling Myrick and audience members who called out for Wassberg to have respect.
After the public comment session, Myrick had his chance to reply to Wassberg. “I actually wanted to respond and actually thank Mr. Wassberg by welcoming me to the council and doing what he always does by saying a bunch of nonsensical stuff,” Myrick said. “If Mark Wassberg isn’t attacking you, you aren’t doing your job.”
During discussion to approve an additional $64,000 to construct gender-specific restrooms at Richmond Fire Station #61, the old rivalry between councilmembers Booze and Tom showed itself.
“I motion to move approve the item,” Butt said, cutting off Booze before he could speak on the item. Booze responded by asking McLaughlin to clarify procedures on the council, and judge whether or not Butt’s motion was appropriate. The item was eventually approved after nearly ten minutes spent debating protocol.
But the arguing over when a councilmember could make a motion continued for the next few agenda items, as councilmembers spoke over one another to make various motions.
“I motion that the item be approved,” Councilmember Nat Bates said loudly into his microphone during discussion of a revised environmental impact report for Chevron’s hydrogen renewal project, while McLaughlin again tried to describe the correct process for making a motion.
Audience members laughed and clapped in response to Bates’ interruption.
“I think there is a question about being rude and a question about moving an item for the sake of expediency,” McLaughlin said after a long pause.
The night’s most contentious moment arose as an impromptu debate over what area constitutes South Richmond. The argument came up as the council discussed approving a contract for $17,600 with the El Cerrito-based consulting company, Glen Price Group, to help the Richmond Police Department prepare a grant application for a $1 million award from the Department of Justice that would focus on crime prevention in several neighborhoods. Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus said the grant would focus on Belding Woods, the 23rd Street corridor, Richmond High School and parts of the North and East neighborhoods.
Booze, who often advocates at meetings for representation of South Richmond, said that he would support the contract but he wanted to see more resources going to the south side—an area he said doesn’t get the attention it deserves.
“I’m putting you on notice,” Booze said to Magnus. “If I don’t hear the south’s side name come up on some of these grants I’ll just have be a bad guy,” he said, adding that he may not support similar items next time around. “You have to hear what’s on my mind. I’m just furious,” he said. “I’m going to support it though.”
“If I could just assure you that first of all we picked a neighborhood that we thought would best likely receive this funding,” Magnus said, listing the qualifications for the funding and saying he felt the areas the department chose to focus on exemplified those problems with the highest rates of burglary, auto theft and human trafficking in the city.
Several other members pressed Booze to define what he considers Richmond’s south side. According to Richmond’s policing sector map, Southern Richmond comprises three areas: Land south of Ohio Ave., west of Garrard Blvd. (which includes Point Richmond) and the area west of San Pablo Ave. (before it crosses Ohio Ave.). However, there is no officially demarcated city area called “South Richmond.”
“I would like to ask the Vice Mayor [Booze] where the south side is,” Butt said, following Magnus’ explanation. “I’ve heard this term used many, many times. I’m not sure where he’s speaking of.”
Booze started to list off the neighborhoods that he considered part of the south side (“Santa Fe, Iron Triangle, Pullman, Lower Park, from McDonald Ave to 580 FWY, from 80 freeway down to your precious Point Richmond”) and said he thought it was ridiculous that after 18 years on the council Butt does not know what is the “south side.”
McLaughlin and Councilmember Jovanka Beckles sided with Butt, saying they too would like to hear Booze’s south side boundaries.
Booze motioned to table, or end, the conversation about where the south side is and move on to voting on the contract. His motion failed with Beckles, McLaughlin, Butt and Rogers voting no.
“I thought you loved the south side. I don’t understand,” said Beckles.
“I think it might be a good idea to clarify because you bring up the south side,” McLaughlin said, to explain why she was pressing the issue.
Booze refused to give any further explanation, and instead turned on the other councilmembers, saying that he didn’t appreciate that they were “playing a game,” by trying to get him describe the south side.
“It’s very racist, downright low statement to the public,” Booze said to Butt as Beckles and McLaughlin mumbled under their breath about him not telling them what he considers to be South Richmond.
McLaughlin then motioned for a vote on the contract. It passed with Butt abstaining because, he said, he still didn’t know what Booze considered South Richmond.
The meeting closed with approval of a five-year lease agreement between Auto Warehousing Company and the Port of Richmond for a portion of terminal three. The item passed 5-1-1 with McLaughlin voting no and Butt recusing himself due to campaign funding conflicts.
“Jael, it’s too late to resign, honey,” Bea Roberson, a former council candidate called out after McLaughlin adjourned the meeting. “You’re stuck.”