Council takes on alcohol billboards, solar costs and free Internet

Richmond city council members voted unanimously Tuesday to ban alcohol advertisements on billboards near schools and other public institutions. City officials hope the new law will reduce the number of minors drinking before they can make informed, mature decisions. The council also lowered solar-power fees, and began looking into options to provide Internet to residents who can’t afford it. Vice Mayor Corky Booze and council member Nat Bates were not in attendance.

The council meeting agenda stated that: “the findings in the ordinance eloquently point out the devastating effects of exposing our youth to clever ads that get kids to drink alcohol.”

Naomi Williams, chair of the Richmond-based West County Alcohol Policy Working Group pointed out that there is a billboard on top of a church at 23rd street and MacDonald Avenue. “They do specialize in targeting certain people,” said Williams, referring to advertisements in Spanish, targeting Hispanics, and advertisements facing public housing units, targeting lower income people.

Beyond schools, the ban prohibits alcohol ads on billboards near childcare centers, libraries, places of worship, playgrounds, public parks, and recreational centers.

Richmond residents and Richmond Progressive Alliance members Marilyn Langlois and Eduardo Martinez urged council members to adapt the amendment by banning soda advertisements near schools as well, but the council did not consider their request.

“Our kids are not only at risk of alcohol abuse but also at risk of soda abuse,” Langlois said. She reminded the council that Mexico is currently considering adopting a nation-wide soda tax. “Here in Richmond, we didn’t adopt a tax, but our community last year became much better educated about the negative impacts of sodas on our children,” she said.

The city of Oakland banned alcohol and cigarette advertisements on billboards in residential areas and near schools in 1998.

The council also voted unanimously to cut the cost of solar panel installation permits from $615 to $100, making them more affordable to Richmond residents.

“Lower fees are going to let our residents with moderate incomes put in solar and save on their electric bills and will save additional time and money for the installers and that means additional savings for the homeowners,” said David McCoard, chair of the Sierra Club’s San Francisco Bay Area Energy and Climate Committee.

Councilman Tom Butt recalled reading that Richmond’s solar permit fees were previously the highest in the East Bay, whereas El Cerrito boasted the lowest. “I suggest we match El Cerrito at a 100 dollars,” proposed Butt. And within minutes, the proposal was passed.

“I’m really excited that this item has come forward,” councilwoman Jovanka Beckles said. “It’s actually long overdue.”

The council also approved a request for staff to create a grant-funded strategy to provide free Internet access to low-income Richmond residents.

“I think we’re all familiar with the problems due to the digital divide,” councilman Jim Rogers said. Richmond residents who typically lacked educational, economic, and recreational opportunities, would have a lot more access to those opportunities with free Internet access, Rogers said.

After an initial upfront cost of $200 to $250 per housing unit for a receiver, residents will enjoy free Internet.

“All right, another step toward equity,” said Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, after the council unanimously approved the request.

2 Comments

  1. It might be helpful when you report that Councilmembers Bates and Boozé were not in attendance to finish the sentence by telling your readers that they were representing Richmond on a trade mission to China. Otherwise they might think they were off on a pleasure trip some place for their own amusement or a vacation to Ecuador and were simply shirking their responsibilities as an elected representative.

    I was curious about the Mayor’s suggestion that giving some of Richmond’s residents free Internet access was ‘equity’. If things were equal, wouldn’t she be advocating for free Internet access for ALL of her constituents?

    And while I agree that we need to do everything we can to make the installation of alternative power supplies affordable, as elected officials shouldn’t they keep their eyes on the City’s budget? They never really discussed how the City would make up the shortfall caused by reducing the fee for the solar permits by nearly 85%. Since the City is only supposed to charge for the permits what the actual cost is in manpower and support, that means that in order to balance the books the City will need to raise the cost of some other permits. This may only be about $50,000 per year but that’s the cost of one half time employee that may have to lose his/her job. To his credit, Councilmember Butt did say he would find that money elsewhere. We should all look forward to his announcement of where this newfound money will be coming from and how sustainable it will be.

  2. Don’t get me wrong—I have no love for alcohol inspired billboard ads and could easily live without them.

    I’m curious, though, that considering the wide spread restrictions about where these billboards will NOT be allowed—anywhere near schools (public or private), parks, child care centers, churches, playgrounds, recreational centers and libraries—just where in Richmond would such a billboard be considered legal?

    Just as we did when we outlawed how close convicted sexual offenders could be to similar locales, if we were to pull out a map and draw 1,000 foot circles around each of these locales, we might find only a street corner or two where this law does not apply. For all intents and purposes, haven’t we effectively outlawed alcohol billboards in Richmond?

    This might be a fun exercise for an enterprising investigative journalist to undertake and publicize. I know I’d enjoy seeing such a map.

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