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Council’s lurch left shakes up city

on November 3, 2010

The progressives’ electoral victories last night will likely have a lasting effect on Richmond, further straining the city’s relationship with Chevron Corp. and throwing the future of the proposed casino at Point Molate into question.

With the ousting of pro-business councilmembers Maria Viramontes and Myrna Lopez, Mayor Gayle McLaughlin now has a firm grip on the city council for the first time. She can expect consistent support from four of the council’s six other members.

And for the first time, with no opposition to stall progressive action on the council, the mayor and her cohorts’ agenda will be tested in the real world. McLaughlin said they’re ready for the challenge.

“We know that this is a wonderful responsibility and mission that we have, and in that respect we take it very seriously and we think it will bring about much needed harmony and different ideas,” McLaughlin said.

By ushering in a progressive council, McLaughlin said the voters had given her group a mandate of sorts — and made governing a little easier for her, by voting out two opponents.

The mayor celebrates her victory at the Richmond Progressive Alliance on election night. (Photo by Tyler Osborne)

“[Voters] wanted a progressive city council as a whole and it’s going to take a lot of pressure off us (not) having to ward off those that have been saying otherwise — that ‘no the community doesn’t want this,’” McLaughlin said. “We see that they do now want this!”

The night’s results were a particular blow to Chevron, which spent $1 million supporting the campaigns of Viramontes, Lopez and mayoral candidate Nat Bates through political action committees. The oil giant, which in recent years has often been in negotiation with the city over tax revenues and oversight, can now only rely upon support from Bates, who remains a councilmember.

Chevron and Bates could not be reached for comment today.

Newly-elected councilmember Jovanka Beckles — who, along with her progressive running mates, did not take any campaign contributions from corporations — said Chevron will not be able to “pull any strings” in Richmond anymore, now that it lacks support on the council.

“They no longer have power over the Richmond city council, the city and residents — and that’s what is so exciting,” Beckles said. “We want environmental justice and we want Chevron to be a good citizen and we will hold it responsible for doing what’s right by us as a city. Do it the right way: You have billions of dollars. You’re not going to be above the law anymore.”

But Beckles, councilmember-elect Corky Booze and other members of the council’s new majority insisted they didn’t plan on running Chevron out of Richmond. All the night’s winners said they hoped to work with the company, whenever possible.

“[We] have every intention of sitting down with this corporation,” Beckles said. “We are neighbors and we need to get along — but that doesn’t mean you get to do what you want to do and continue to pollute our air and treat us like second-class citizens.”

The rejection of Measure U, along with the council’s realignment, came as a one-two blow to the developers of the proposed casino at Point Molate. Measure U, an advisory measure that asked voters if they would like a Las Vegas-style casino built on Richmond’s coastline, was rejected with 57.5 percent voting against.

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Andrés Soto, co-founder of the Richmond Progressive Alliance, shows his allegiance with his candidate buttons. (Photo by Tyler Orsburn)

The proposed development’s Environmental Impact Report must be approved by the city in order for it to move forward, but McLaughlin said her new majority planned to side with the citizens of Richmond.

“The voters have spoken and they don’t want a casino, McLaughlin said. “We have council member elects that have stated their clear opposition (and) that will be the direction that plays out at the council level.”

The developer of the proposed casino, Jim Levine of Upstream LLC, could not be reached for comment today, but he was not surprised when the votes for Measure U came up short last night: “Our goal was to get 40 percent of the vote,” he said at the time.

Levine stayed positive about the development’s prospects. He noted that the measure is non-binding, and added that the city council and the Department of the Interior will determine the project’s future.

“The decision will have to be made in the real world,” he said.

Despite the fierceness of this election season, councilmember Tom Butt said he believes the new majority will be able to work with local businesses and organizations — many of which opposed the progressives during the campaign. Butt, who was not up for reelection this year but supports the mayor, said he was looking forward to toning down the rhetoric and talking with opponents.

“Maybe the time has now come to work together on this, rather than sitting in the trenches shooting,” he said.

When asked what’s first on the new bloc’s agenda, Butt laughed and drew a blank.

“You play defense for so long, you forgot your offensive playbook,” he said. “We’ll figure it out.”

The mayor, however, had an answer ready:

“We want to come up with a real model for how a city can transform itself,” she said. “We are the architects and I’m looking forward to designing our future.”


  1. Karen Franklin on November 3, 2010 at 7:37 pm

    I find it so heartening that no amount of money or vitriol was able to confuse the voters of Richmond. (Or, for that matter, the voters of California, who stopped Meg Whitman in her tracks despite her $160+ million attempt to buy an election.) The “no” vote on Measure U (the mega-casino) should send a clear message to greedy developers that they cannot trample all over Richmond.

  2. Eduardo Martinez on November 3, 2010 at 7:58 pm

    “’The decision will have to be made in the real world,’ he (Jim Levine) said.”
    …so the will of the people is not the real world? What arrogance! It is people with a disregard of community that give “business” a bad image. The sooner we are done with people with such attitudes, the sooner we can get on with the concerns of the citizen and not of the money grubbers.

    • Don Gosney on November 3, 2010 at 10:32 pm

      And what would you do with us, Eduardo? Line us up against a wall or perhaps just “disappear” us?

      Since there are many citizens of your community that do not share all of your views, perhaps–as someone who just asked to be a representative of ALL of the people–that the RPA might consider working WITH the city as a whole rather than trying to alienate blocks of it.

      • Eduardo Martinez on November 4, 2010 at 7:42 pm

        We are speaking of majority rule here; that is what elections determine. Your melodramatic stance is the sort of rhetoric that alienates people. If you talk to all the candidates, even the ones whom you supported, I’m sure all will confirm that I was courteous and cooperative in our encounters during this race. I have even attempted to engage you in civil discourse, but you have ignored me. One can only do so much. Community can only be established when all are ready to lay aside animosity. Let’s be the first to do so.

        • Don Gosney on November 5, 2010 at 9:45 am

          I’m not sure what you mean by “civil discourse”. Nodding your head in my direction is not the same as actually talking to discuss issues. And to suggest that I have ignored you would be incorrect as well. I have even initiated the nodding in passage. Passing each other in a hallway or as I pass the RPA group when going to the Council mic is hardly the time to stop and engage in a meaningful conversation.

          I hope you can agree, Eduardo, that a personal conversation in a public blog as a part of a newspaper story is inappropriate. Even though I’m extremely public and my contact information can easily be found for those that want to contact me, I’m going to list my email address here for those that might want to engage in an actual conversation absent the political rhetoric, threats and chest thumping. dongosney*comcast*net

          • Eduardo Martinez on November 7, 2010 at 12:22 pm

            I’m not going to get into listing the times I’ve tried to initiate conversations with you, but you are the one who personalized this blog with your statements. I’m curious why you don’t think you can “engage in an actual conversation absent the political rhetoric, threats and chest thumping” on a public forum.

      • Nancy Irving on November 4, 2010 at 8:01 pm

        Mr. Gosney,

        If you read Mr. Martinez’ comment, you will see that he is referring to Jim Levine and “people with a disregard of community.”

        As far as I know (correct me if I’m wrong) Mr. Levine does not live in Richmond; and since I doubt you would include yourself in those who have a disregard of our community, your comment misses the mark.

  3. Not a Fan of Garbage on November 3, 2010 at 9:55 pm

    Shameful. Too bad the socialist mayor doesn’t understand that if she’d faced either Bates or Z alone, she would have lost in a landslide. She also fails to understand with out Chevron, there can be no Richmond. Richmond must be run like a business and have $$$ from businesses to survive.

  4. Don Gosney on November 3, 2010 at 10:29 pm

    When 60% of the voters–twice–said that they would rather have someone other than Gayle McLaughlin as their mayor, how can that be a mandate?

    And without even seeing the Final Environmental Impact Report for the Point Molate Resort project, how can an elected official say that they are representing the City? Aren’t they actually supposed to wait until the facts are in before making up their collective mind?

    In what world have they been living in where they think that they can now forge a positive relationship with the community’s businesses and union workers when they’ve been so hostile to them for so long?

    I want to give these people all reasonable chances to succeed but a some point maybe just one of them should stand to say that they deplore the violence, vandalism, law breaking, threats, intimidation and campaign shenanigans that were done on their behalf these past months.

    And for people who are constantly telling the world that they refuse corporate contributions, why is it that they never told the casino owners from outside Richmond to stop working on their behalf to get them elected?

  5. Mike Meagher on November 4, 2010 at 6:10 am

    The People, united, will never be defeated.

  6. Mike Meagher on November 4, 2010 at 6:12 am

    Karma, baby, karma.

  7. Sue VanHattum on November 4, 2010 at 7:49 am

    Richmond Confidential, I’m disappointed in the headline you chose, which makes it sounds like this move is a bad thing, what with the lurching and shaking up.

  8. Gwynn O'Neill on November 4, 2010 at 11:42 am

    I am SO proud to be member of the City of Richmond. This town has been in a state of corruption for years and years, not surprising in a company town. But. boy. have we risen above it!!!!!!!

    I believe Richmond will lead into green energy. and it has shown the power of the people instead of corporations.

  9. J S on November 4, 2010 at 1:19 pm

    The progressive officials have not alienated all union workers. They were strongly supported by the the Richmond’s union of City workers. And, Police and Fire opposed them not because of Gayle’s relationship with them (which has been exceedingly reasonable as proven in the increase in law enforcement officers). But, rather, because they answer to a higher power than the people, the one that spent $1 million on this election.

    As for a mandate, I think the mandate comes in the sweeping change in the makeup of the council. If not, Harris, Viramontes, or some other probably would have won.

    • Cathie on November 4, 2010 at 3:44 pm

      The election is now behind us. The Council needs to show it can work together with ALL Richmond residents, and All the businesses in our City. The Mayor should reckon with those voters that did not vote for her this time by showing that she can put aside her negativity and indeed sit down peacefully and work out any problems in a more positive way with the Corporations, etc. that are in our City. Like Jeff Ritterman did. Ignoring them is not productive in any way. My 2 cents here as long time resient.

      • Don Gosney on November 4, 2010 at 5:15 pm

        The election SHOULD be behind us but there have already been too many comments by the victors and their supporters to suggest that this is only the beginning. Eduardo Martinez has already written right here about how he wants “to be done” with people who don’t think like him.

        When I arrived at the Contra Costa Labor Campaign Center this morning I noticed the latest vandalism–the 17th act of vandalism here since we opened on Labor Day. Someone had stapled a Gayle McLaughlin sign on our front sign destroying the permanent sign.

        While two of my people were cleaning up one of the staunchest supporters of the new power elite came by and made snide remarks to them before cursing them and promising to run us all out of his town.

        On the evening of the election some of the victors were making remarks to the media letting us all know that our days in Richmond are numbered because this town now belongs to them.

        With all due respect, the healing can’t begin while the victors are still reveling in their victory. There has nothing said to date suggesting a conciliatory attitude about anyone who fails to drink their Kool-Aid,

        There was never a courteous discourse during the campaign so why should anyone expect things to change now. The race baiting during the candidate forums, the divisive racial tactics used in the phone calls in the last days of the election and even the untruthful racial comments made at the polling places strongly suggest that the victors don’t really want to form a coalition or work with those that may have differing opinions.

        And do we really expect that the same people who sit as a a block behind the microphone podium in the Council chambers will stop their booing, hissing, cursing, threats, and yelling? Now that they have their “mandate” why should we think that they won’t feel empowered and think their actions have been validated by the public?

      • Felix Hunziker on November 4, 2010 at 6:00 pm

        I agree with Don that Eduardo’s comment is WAY out of line. Now that the election is over is this the real face of the progressive bloc?

        Eduardo, you’re not “done” with anyone – you embrace them and find ways to work with them. Practice what you preach.

        • Eduardo Martinez on November 4, 2010 at 7:53 pm

          ““’The decision will have to be made in the real world,’ he (Jim Levine) said.”
          …so the will of the people is not the real world? What arrogance! It is people with a disregard of community that give “business” a bad image. The sooner we are done with people with such attitudes, the sooner we can get on with the concerns of the citizen and not of the money grubbers.”
          The above is my statement. Seeing that phrases can be misunderstood so easily by people looking for misunderstanding, I will rephrase my statement to reflect my intended meaning: The sooner we are done with such attitudes, the sooner we can get on with the concerns of the citizen and not of the money grubbers.

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