City council candidates clash over development, rent control and schools

Cartoon by Abner Hauge.

Cartoon by Abner Hauge.

Candidates for the Richmond City Council sparred over development, rent control and charter schools on Monday night at a forum held in the Nevin Community Center auditorium.

The Iron Triangle Neighborhood Council organized the event, which all candidates except for Cesar Zepeda attended. Radio Free Richmond editor and West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) school board candidate Don Gosney moderated the forum, which included questions for the candidates and time for rebuttals.

Candidates’ strategies for development across Richmond—and especially downtown—varied greatly.

“I would start at the end and bulldoze down and come back with brand-new units,” said former Vice Mayor Courtland “Corky” Boozé, who added that he would preserve the East Bay Center for Performing Arts and the Wells Fargo building for their historical value.

Incumbent Vinay Pimplé called for high-density and higher-rent development downtown. He also said cleanup of the chemically contaminated Zeneca site, the former site of a pesticide and pharmaceutical plant, is “absolutely crucial” to getting such neighborhood projects started.

Former Planning Commission member Ben Choi also called for high-density as well as mixed-use development downtown. Former councilmember Jim Rogers said that it was not enough to bring businesses to Richmond. “We need to make sure that we have city contracts with businesses that hire Richmond residents,” Rogers said.

Choi and Melvin Willis, both Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) members, said it was important to attract nonprofits as well as businesses to the city. Boozé—and incumbent Nat Bates—in turn accused the RPA candidates of “killing” the Global Campus.

Choi, in a rebuttal, said that the Global Campus plans collapsed because of Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, who announced his resignation in August following criticism of his handling of the university’s budget and several sexual harassment cases. Willis said that the push by RPA and other organizations for community input on the Global Campus ensured that there would be benefits for Richmond.

Gosney asked candidates their opinions on Measure L, the rent control initiative. Uche Uwahemu, Pimplé and Boozé, all opposed to the measure, directed their criticism at rent-control supporters Choi and Willis.

The measure would protect tenants against high rent increases and unfair evictions and set up a rent board, paid for by a tax on landlords and the general fund when necessary, to carry out the ordinance. In the wake of recent evictions, there have been disputes over claims that landlords are raising rents and evicting tenants in anticipation of the measure passing.

Boozé, Pimplé and Uwahemu blamed the RPA for these trends and threatened they would worsen if Measure L passed.

“Saying rent control causes higher rents is like saying plaster casts cause broken limbs,” Choi said in response.

Willis said that rents were rising well before the debate on rent control started and prove the measure is necessary. Surveys by Rainmaker Insights, a Pennsylvania-based data analysis firm that specializes in the rental market, shows that the average rent for all units in Richmond increased from around $1,100 in September 2012 to $2,100 in September 2016.

Gosney also asked candidates for their opinions on charter schools, which receive public and private funding, cannot require students to enroll in them, and are more lightly regulated than the public schools in their districts.

Speaking in support of the schools, Bates said that charter school Making Waves Academy’s college-ready graduation rate is above 90 percent while Kennedy High School’s is between 10 and 15 percent. California Department of Education data shows that close to 28 percent of Kennedy High’s 2014-2015 graduates completed courses required by the University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) systems. The Making Waves’ graduation standards meet UC/CSU curriculum requirements for English, history, lab science and other college prep classes, according to their 2014 Western Association of Schools and Colleges self-study report, and the school graduated 95 percent of its 2014-15 class, according to its 2015 annual report.

Other candidates were more skeptical of charter schools. Incumbent Jael Myrick said he doesn’t oppose the schools but was concerned that some families don’t have access to them. Willis said he supports a “parent’s right” to choose their child’s education but that charter schools aren’t “an answer to fix our education crisis.” Choi said he opposed expansion of the charter school system because it would take funds away from public schools.

Pimplé said he was “okay with charters, so long as they comply with the same rules that public schools comply with.”

Candidates now have less than three weeks to campaign before the November 8 general election.

20 Comments

  1. Confidential Commenter

    Willis and Choi do not know what they are talking about. Measure L will increase every owners costs and risks so who do you think is going to end up paying for that? The renter in increased rents. Yes rents have increased in the last several years but that doesn’t mean Measure L will not make them even higher as well.
    Measure L looks very likely to pass. But renters need to be honestly told that they are the ones who are ultimately going to bear the costs of a multi million dollar bloated rent control buracracy with higher rents. That isn’t a landlord scare tactic. It’s basic math and economics, which is why the majority of economists do not favor rent control either.

    • Confidential Commenter

      Conservatives often make the argument, “costs will be passed onto the consumer” and people believe it, though with rent control that logic doesn’t apply. Which would you rather pay, the $500/mo rent increase, or the $12/mo rent board fee? The math pencils out great for renters, and “bloated bureaucracy” is what people say to a rent board that will provide free legal services for thousands of people who otherwise can’t afford it.

      • Confidential Commenter

        ‘Conservatives often make the argument, “costs will be passed onto the consumer” and people believe it, though with rent control that logic doesn’t apply’

        First off, I’m not a conserative, I’m a liberal Democrat. Secondly, people believe that because that is exactly what happens. Only RPA members think money just falls like manna from heaven in an endless supply. That is why in a recent East Bay Times editorial the RPA were deemed ‘fiscally undisciplined’ and ‘the biggest deniers of the city’s fiscal crisis’. They conclude by warning voters ‘ For the sake of the city, for the sake of their pocketbooks, residents should vote carefully.’ Let the readers decide if it is wise to then vote for the RPA authored Measure L and create a multi million dollar buracracy run by ‘ fiscally undisciplined’ ideologes

        ‘Which would you rather pay, the $500/mo rent increase, or the $12/mo rent board fee?’

        What makes you think the rent board fee will only be $12 ? No one really can say yet what the actual costs are going to be other than that they’re going to be multi millions. Some owners I talked to are figuring $20 to $50 per unit a month just for the fees, they are adding more for the increased risks from just cause. Perhaps a professional like Jeffery Wright could chime in. Studies have already demonstrated that owners make up the costs of rent control with higher rents on vacated units. You simply don’t know what you are talking about.

        ‘The math pencils out great for renters, and “bloated bureaucracy” is what people say to a rent board that will provide free legal services for thousands of people who otherwise can’t afford it.’

        ‘Bloated bureaucracy’ is what people call the Berkeley rent board. We all know that rent control has been so effective there that the RPA people couldn’t afford to live there any longer and gentrified into Richmond unfortunately for the rest of us. Measure L is bad medicine for renters and owners alike, written by people who insist upon ignoring the very real negative effects of this particular way of doing it, and ignoring this particular ways failures where it similarly already exists. Be very careful what you ask for, you just might get it.

        REPLY

    • concerned resident

      There is a housing crisis, for sure but in most crises business people are not allowed to price gouge; why is housing different? The owners won’t lose any money, they just won’t be able to overcharge.

      • Confidential Commenter

        Think of the Kids First Initiative. Sounds great right? Who could be against kids? Well even the RPA was against it, especially when they discovered their backers would be hurt by it. When you dug down deeper into what would actually happen with Kids First, the negatives began to outweigh the positives. I believe that people are now trying to rewrite or come up with an alternative way of doing it without the negative effects.
        I’m suggesting the same with rent control, which I am not against, but I am very against Measure L because when you increase your understanding of what is actually going to happen you see that the negative effects eventually outweigh the positive ones. I believe it is going to pass because most people do not understand it deeply enough to see that, they just understandably want to do something about rising rents. And you are correct, owners will do what they can to avoid losing money by raising rents when and where they can. You the renter are going to pay for the increased costs which are going to be considerably more than Zak Wear keeps insisting upon. Believe the fiscally undisciplined if you wish, it’s your money.

    • Richmond Voter

      If Willis and Choi don’t know what they’re talking about, who does? I’m trying to decide who to vote for, and unfortunately, don’t have the benefit of having attended this meeting. Or even any online resources to compare the candidates would be useful. Thanks!

      • Confidential Commenter

        Personally, my opinion is that only a fool would think it a good idea to hand over control of the City council to any one group, let alone an extremist one with a poor track record like the RPA.

        Mayor Tom Butt has an excellent emailer that I highly recommend you sign up for and read. He has endorsed Jael Myrick and Jim Rogers because be believes they have the best chance of winning, and that he can work with them on the council. His site is full of good information about city issues, do go read.

        My faves:

        Vinay Pimple: Has already demonstrated his ability on such matters as the city’s budget, and complicated issues like rent control. It’s very notable that the East Bay Times has endorsed Mr Pimple and strongly advises Richmond voters to avoid the RPA like the plague. I highly recommend you read that editorial.

        Cesar Zepeda: He has the potential to really bring various factions in the city together in a way the RPA would like to, but never will because of their rigid ideologies. The East Bay Times also endorses Mr Zepeda. In fact, Mr Zepeda has quite an impressive list of endorsement, check it out.

        Jael Myrick: While I personally do not endorse him, Mayor Butt and the East Bay Times does. And for good reason. He is intelligent,capable and of late has demonstrated his willingness to think independently of the RPA, a good sign for Richmond residents but it has cost him the support of the RPA. ( yet another example of ‘thought police’ RPA behavior)

        Nat Bates: He has been involved in city politics since the late 1960’s. It’s popular these days to count that as a negative but in truth that kind of real experience is not to be taken lightly. Just look at all the foolish newby mistakes made by the RPA for example if you do understand my point. I’ve watched many a council meeting where Nat will pop out all of a sudden with a relevant point only aquired by many years experience. His experience is valuable.

        That’s my 2 cents worth. Your milage may vary.

      • Don Gosney

        Here’s the unedited video of that forum:

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8wEIcVJJ86M

  2. Confidential Commenter

    “I would start at the end and bulldoze down and come back with brand-new units,”

    That’s actually what we did in the late 1960’s. We leveled blocks and blocks of historic buildings and replaced them with either vacant lots, empty parking lots, or mostly, cheap ugly housing units. How has that worked out for us the past 50 years? If you want a nice downtown then you actually have to build nice buildings. It’s telling that the nicest structure built downtown in many decades is the Bart parking garage. Build it and they will come.

    • Sam Sara

      Well said. Richmond is ugly. It needs well designed and seismically safe buildings that fit with the environment. My understanding of the mixed use developments is that they are soft story buildings that would not fare well in an earthquake. it also needs foot traffic-Richmond is a ghost town! Richmond needs to attract some of the entrepreneurs who are being priced out of Oakland to come and open small businesses in Richmond – and not just Hilltop. Places where people can walk to-small business interspersed with housing, like you find in Oakland, Berkeley and Emeryville.

    • concerned resident

      Top that off with the Transit Village that was supposed to allow live/work spaces that face Marina Way between Barrett and Nevin. Who had the bright idea to block the front doors to these units with that lovely ironwork? The only way to access the unit is from the end of the block (no parking) or the back door. Not friendly at all.

  3. Don Gosney

    I’m concerned at any effort to promote non-profits coming into Richmond to the exclusion of for-profit businesses.

    While there is a value to the community having non-profits in a community, what Richmond needs badly are businesses that will be paying property and sales taxes–both of which non-profits would be exempt from.

    When UC Berkeley was looking to bring their Lab facility into Richmond, this would largely be exempt from property taxes and generate very little (if any) sales taxes. [I’m not referring to the Berkeley Global Campus.] This facility would have brought in new businesses un the surrounding area but the billion dollar campus itself would not have brought in the kind of revenue we need.

    • Confidential Commenter

      Well said Mr Gosney. Here again I wish to urge voters to look up and read the recent East Bay Times editorial endorsing candidates for the Richmond city council. Their advice is not to be taken lightly.

  4. Don Gosney

    By the way, even if that moderator looks like an ugly cuss (where in real life he’s devilishly handsome), the drawing used is a very nice touch–much better than any photo.

  5. ritchie

    Lets assume for now that the cost of a rent board is more than $12.00. Would it equal the $1,000 that the average rental has increased? Remember prop 13 was going to lower rents as the lower taxes were passed on to renters .Didn’t happen. Keep Richmond affordable vote yes on L!!!!!

  6. ritchie

    Lets assume for now that the cost of a rent board is more than $12.00. Would it equal the $1,000 that the average rental has increased? Remember prop 13 was going to lower rents as the lower taxes were passed on to renters .Didn’t happen. Keep Richmond affordable vote yes on L!!!!!Zak keep up the good work!!!

    • Confidential Commenter

      Here’s some real math for you ritchie. I suggest you try and solve the equation first before you attempt solutions based upon speculation.
      Rent in Oakland had doubled in the last two years in spite of the fact that rent control and just cause we’re in place. Who is paying those higher costs? The landlords or the renters?
      Measure L is an emotional reaction to rising rents, not a rational one. But go ahead and vote for it, it’s your money.
      I would suggest voters reject Measure L, which will surely fail in controlling rents as it has in Oakland, and reelect Vinay Pimple and in place enact his version of rent control, which will have more positive effect without the harmful blowback we will see from Measure L. I also ask voters to consider why they would vote for a measure written by the same people a recent East Bay Times editorial calls “fiscally undisciplined”. They conclude with the warning to voters, “For the sake of the city, for the sake of their pocketbooks, residents should vote carefully.”
      So vote carefully Richmond. Like the ‘Kids First’ initiative, sometimes you have to dig a little deeper to fully understand the ramifications of your vote.

  7. Maureen Decombe

    I like it that 1) Don Gosney is commenting in a non-anonymous and transparent way, and 2) the moderation of this and other candidate fora I’ve seen in person, and online, has been better than most of the presidential candidate debates. Good on you, Don, as well as the local community organizers for candidate debates.

    Our community associations and neighborhood councils are providing a great service to Richmond voters, and if you missed the North Richmond Neighborhood Council Candidates Night, it’s worth looking at on YouTube.

    (And, while it may be that anonymity offers a new context that may help transcend old conflicts, it would be great if others on this thread de-cloaked to comment under their real names. I’m tempted to break out the speech pattern bot!)

    • Confidential Commenter

      Why is it important to you that I use my real name? Perhaps I wish to remain anonymous and yet express my opinions. Does it matter who I am? I am not running for any office. I am nobody really, but I have the right to express myself here anonymously and I choose to do so. I notice that the RPA types seem to have the biggest problem with people expressing their own opinions and especially if they disagree with the RPA party line. They want to know who I am so that they may find a way to silence my opinions is the only answer I can figure. Frankly Maureen, I think you should ask yourself why you feel a need to ‘ break out the speech pattern bot’. It’s exactly that sort of disturbing behaviour that encourages me to remain anonymous.

  8. Maureen Decombe

    I apologize, I stated North Richmond Candidate’s Night, and I meant to say Iron Triangle Candidate’s Forum.

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