Council hears plans from Marin Clean Energy, foreclosure solutions firm; runs short on time

City Council Dias

The current city council is one of the most contentious in memory, long-time observers say. (Photo by: Tawanda Kanhema)

The Marin Energy Authority presented to the city council Tuesday night a plan to educate Richmond residents about their choices in switching to a new renewable electricity source.

The nonprofit energy corporation plans to hold a series of meetings at neighborhood council meetings and houses of worship, Marin Clean Energy (MCE) community outreach representative Alex DiGiorgio told the council in his presentation.

“Community choice programs only work when people know they have a choice and can make an informed decision,” DiGiorgio said. The point, he said, is to “empower people to make a choice where there was none before.”

In July, residents will automatically be enrolled in the Marin Clean Energy service, unless they choose to opt out. Fifty percent of the program’s energy is derived from renewable sources, such as wind and solar generation. A “Deep Green” option offers 100 percent renewable energy.

Last June, the council voted to switch the city’s electric service from Pacific Gas & Electric to MCE, joining a number of other cities.

“This is about us as a community, us as a state, us as a country doing something as a collective to slow down global warming,” Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles said Tuesday.

Several councilmembers expressed concern about raising rates, but DiGiorgio assured them that competition will keep the company’s rates lower than PG&E. A city staff report shows MCE currently offers slightly lower rates than PG&E, but those numbers are likely to change as the electric company’s rates continue to fluctuate. Plus, Richmond can always abandon its MCE partnership and return to PG&E, DiGiorgio said.

“I welcome MCE,” said Richmond resident and business owner Dameion King during the public comment period. “We need more agencies like that to challenge the status quo so we can embrace innovation.”

The council also heard a presentation from representatives of Community Leaders Organizing Undocumented Dreamers (CLOUD) and discussed partnering with the youth-led group to develop city policies that will improve the lives of undocumented residents in Richmond.

The presenter, Joshua Tovar, an intern with the council and UC Berkeley student, spoke about the experience of undocumented young people on behalf of CLOUD and fielded a barrage of questions from Councilman Corky Booze.

Booze sought clarification on one of the definitions of “undocumented,” which Tovar defined as entering the country without showing a passport or going through Customs.

“When I go to Cananda, I have to show mine when I come back. I go to Mexico, I have to show mine when I come back. When I go to China, I have to have it there,” Booze said. “Anytime you enter the United States or go into another country you have to go through Customs. I did that in China just recently. … I’m just trying to figure out so we don’t lead young people astray … are you saying there’s a new law that no one will have to do that anymore?”

The audience started rumbling. Tovar and Beckles, who agendized the talk, both said they didn’t understand Booze’s question.

Finally, another CLOUD member jumped in to explain. “You cross the border without the proper documents. That’s how you become undocumented, sir,” he said.

The council voted unanimously to become an “ally” of undocumented residents, meaning that it would support efforts to help them.

In an agenda filled mainly with proclamations and presentations, the council’s most divisive decision of the night proved to be whether to extend the meeting an additional 30 minutes past 11 p.m. They spent 10 minutes debating that point.

“If you guys would stop talking so much we would get this meeting over with in a timely manner,” Councilman Nat Bates said.

Councilman Tom Butt agreed, noting this meeting’s particularly benign agenda.

“Here’s a meeting that’s made up of presentations, study sessions, nothing controversial and we just go on and on and on. We’ve fallen into this habit of no matter how small our agenda is … we just go on and on and on. We won’t get out of here before midnight,” Butt said. “We have to learn how to get out of here at a reasonable hour. This is unhealthy … it’s ineffective.”

Mayor Gayle McLaughlin moved to extend the meeting. Bates, Butt and Booze voted no, not enough to delay the rest of the agenda for a later date, so the meeting continued past midnight.

The last item the council had time for was a presentation from San Francisco-based Mortgage Resolution Partners, a community advisory firm that works with cities to stabilize local housing markets. Graham Williams, the group’s chief executive officer, asked the council to let his firm design a program to assist foreclosed homeowners who want to stay in Richmond. The partnership would not cost the city any money, he said, and the firm believes it can help 1,400 Richmond homeowners.

MRP currently works with four cities, using a plan that uses eminent domain to refinance underwater mortgages at current property values.

“Only you can prevent foreclosures in Richmond,” Williams said.

Booze was skeptical, saying he thought the group was coming in to take advantage of the city, but several Richmond residents at the meeting who waited hours just to speak on the item supported the idea.

The council unanimously voted to develop a foreclosure assistance plan with MRP.

Despite the extended meeting, one discussion fell through the cracks. The Public Works Department was scheduled to deliver a report on reopening Point Molate Beach Park after 10 years of closure, but the mayor had to push the item for next time.

4 Comments

  1. Concerned Richmond residet

    Got to give it to Corky Booze asking a bunch of nonsensical questions interrupting the City council meeting. that is why they can’t even finish a Meeting on time.

    • While Corky may ask a lot of questions, the issue of whether they’re nonsensical may be a matter of perspective.

      Take a look at so many of the other issues in last night’s meeting and then ask why the meeting drug on.

      For instance, when discussing the Affordable Care Call Center–an opportunity for more than 200 new jobs in Richmond–the Council debated at length whether to allow Richard Poe enough time to give a comprehensive report. Mr. Poe is considered the leading expert on Richmond’s bid since it;’s his property that would be used. The Council spent considerably more time arguing whether he should be allowed to speak than it took him to complete his report.

      Also, when we were supposed to hear about Marin Energy’s community outreach efforts, the Council spoke for nearly an hour about the merits of MCE’s partnership in Richmond. Since these arguments were the kind that should have been voiced BEFORE signing agreements with MCE and had virtually no bearing on the outreach efforts, this may be yet another reason the meeting lasted as long as it did.

      And then there were the endless presentations where elected officials get to participate in the rituals of the Mutual Admiration Society where they get to bring some of their friends up before the audience and tell them how great they are. Then other members of the Council get to chime in and sing their praises before junior members of the Society rise to praise the recipients and then praise the members of the Council that spoke in support of their friends. And it goes on and on and on. Thank goodness that politics never enters into the mix.

      If this were a business hosting such a meeting, heads would roll as an example to the others to stay focused on the business of the meeting.

  2. What concerns me about the Marin Clean Energy presentation is that there was no real presentation. Pretty much all they did was say that they had a 50 page report embedded in the 960 page agenda packet from last week and again in the 160 page agenda packet from last night.

    Considering that those in the audience and those watching at home don’t get those agenda packets, it would have been nice had the MCE representatives made a presentation to explain exactly what kind of community outreach they’re doing.

    Come to think of it, I would think that this presentation would be considered community outreach and perhaps that’s part of the problem–they’re not really reaching out to the community.

    Very little of the Council’s time was spent questioning the outreach efforts. Most of it had to do with the actual program and how it was going to affect Richmond residents. Excuse me for pointing this out but this is the kind of stuff that should have been asked and brought up BEFORE the Council voted to embrace MCE and sit on their Board of Directors.

    I tried to speak on this report and the hidden items included therein when it was slated as a consent calendar item last week. I–and two other speakers–were thwarted, though, when the Mayor refused to allow us our right to speak and personally passed the agenda item (without even asking for a vote from the other members of the Council).

    If she passed the agenda item, though, why was it brought back tis week as a study item and took better than an hour to discuss?

    If anyone runs into an investigative journalist they might suggest there could be a story in the outreach efforts of a project that will affect every living soul in the City. They also might want to ask why an alternate Director of the Marin Clean Energy Board of Directors refused to allow the public to speak about this report and tried to sneak it by the public and her fellow City Council members. I smell Pulitzer here.

  3. jim

    It seems that Mr. Booze is using his position to attempt to learn something about current events. Perhaps he now understand that there are many immigrants in the Richmond community that crossed the border desperately seeking work without permission from the authorities. What next will he learn? It is a bit embarrassing that a councilmember can be so uninformed.

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