All nine candidates for the Richmond City Council weighed in at a question-and-answer style forum at the Hilltop Community Church last Thursday night, where jobs, health care, and above all rent control dominated the discussion.
Vice Mayor Eduardo Martinez moderated the forum, which was organized by the Fairmede-Hilltop Neighborhood Council.
Candidates were sharply divided on Measure L, which would, according to the ordinance, control “excessive rent increases and arbitrary evictions” while ensuring landlords have “a fair and reasonable return on their investment.” The initiative would set up a rent board to carry out enforcement, funded by a fee paid by landlords and the general fund as needed.
Incumbent Nat Bates said the rent control board would drain landlords and city resources.
“That’s the damnedest bill, you better read it or you’re going to pay the consequences dearly through your pocket and the general fund,” Bates said.
Candidate Jim Rogers and incumbent Jael Myrick spoke in support of the measure, along with RPA member-candidates Melvin Willis and Ben Choi, who both gathered signatures for the initiative.
Myrick said Measure L would “provide stability” to about “ten thousand households” in Richmond. “I personally can’t leave those ten thousand families behind,” he said.
Willis described working with groups of tenants whose “buildings are falling apart.” Such tenants “are living in fear of addressing this to their landlords because they’re afraid they’ll have no other place to go,” Willis said.
Incumbent councilmember Vinay Pimplé, former councilmember Courtland “Corky” Boozé, and candidates Uche Uwahemu and Cesar Zepeda all spoke against Measure L.
Boozé said that Measure L was just one example of a bigger issue: Richmond’s attractiveness to outsiders, especially potential investors in the city. If the RPA gains a majority on the council, Boozé said, “you’ll get a one-sided council, you get Measure L, and you get a ghost town in the city of Richmond.”
Bates, too, expressed concern about creating a welcoming environment for business and investors in Richmond. He criticized the stalling of the Terminal One project by “slow” city staff and a lawsuit “over some nebulous idea.”
“To the business community, time is M-O-N-E-Y. If they can’t get their projects completed and approved, they’re going to look elsewhere,” Bates said.
Choi spoke in favor of “building denser communities” to support businesses that “spread wealth”—as opposed to businesses that take “wealth away from the community and put it somewhere else, maybe in the Cayman Islands or something.”
Willis said that developers in Richmond need to be asked, “What can you do to prioritize community members?”
Martinez also asked the candidates about the need for a new hospital or emergency room in Richmond in the wake of Alta Bates Hospital’s planned closure by 2030 and the 2015 closure of Doctor’s Medical Care Center in San Pablo. Candidates uniformly agreed that Richmond needs a new hospital.
“I think all of us up here are agreed that it’s a tragedy, what happened to Doctor’s Hospital,” said Rogers. Adequate medical services need to be brought back to Richmond, he said, “by hook or by crook.”
Candidates now have less than six weeks to campaign before the November 8 General Election.