Richmond grapples with budget, political boundaries
on June 22, 2011
At a spirited and sometimes testy City Council meeting Tuesday night, residents voiced concerns on issues as varied as funding for Latino youth soccer leagues, earthquake preparedness for senior citizens, potentially dangerous city intersections and even a threat from Mexican drug cartels using the city’s new municipal identification cards. Meanwhile, a divided council weighed in on several issues, including increasing funding to local housing programs and projects and casting a symbolic vote in opposition to a proposed Congressional reapportionment that would move Richmond into the same district as Berkeley and Oakland.
But it was the audience that was particularly lively Tuesday. Many turned out to fight for and celebrate books, as droves of residents spoke out about the demise of public libraries, especially children services. Several parents brought their elementary school-aged children to witness the meeting and hear about their civic responsibilities.
Perhaps the night’s most passionate voice came from Rev. Kenneth Davis, a well-known North Richmond activist. Davis’ spoke about quality-of-life issues for young people in his community. Another North Richmond activist, Saleem Bey, joined Davis in reading a prepared statement about how a mitigation fund committee – which includes several city leaders – voted to take $175,000 from an at-risk-youth job-training program while providing $633,000 to county law enforcement for two sheriff deputy jobs.
“What type of leadership would fund law enforcement and cut job training?” asked Bey. “What is the logical outcome of this? The answer is more arrests, more violence, more imprisonment, more death, poorer quality of life for North Richmond residents.”
Later, Councilmember Nat Bates questioned a 10 percent budget increase for professional services by the Richmond Housing Authority. The increase would raise funding from about $1.5 million to $1.7 million. Bates said the total was about five percent of the city’s total budget.
Tim Jones, executive director of the Richmond Housing Authority, said the increase was primarily due to the fact that the agency had to re-bid services such as landscaping, security and maintenance at higher than expected rates.
The budget increase was approved with only Councilmember Bates objecting.
Another topic that struck a nerve with Councilmember Corky Boozé was the city’s budget for the $1,265,000 Miraflores Housing Development project. His concern was the request by the Richmond Community Redevelopment Agency to add an additional $200,000 to the existing loan. This new money would be used for the predevelopment design stage of 80 affordable senior housing units.
Councilmember Boozé’s wondered aloud whether not granting the additional funds would halt the project. Steve Duran, executive director of Richmond’s Community Development Agency, responded that the project would not stop but without a predevelopment design, they could not look for other grant and tax credit funding to continue with construction. The council’s unanimously approved the budget increase.
In a symbolic gesture, the council also opposed a state commission’s congressional redistricting proposal that would remove Richmond from Congressman George Miller’s 7th District and add it to Congresswoman Barbara Lee’s 9th District, which includes Oakland and Berkeley.
Jeff Ritterman said that as the second largest city in Congressman Miller’s office, Richmond enjoys a lot of attention. “If it’s not broke why fix it?” Ritterman said.
The resolution passed with a 5-2 vote. Several residents voiced opposition to the proposal during public comment periods, arguing that Richmond’s economic needs would take a back seat to Oakland’s under the proposed reapportionment plan.
The commission’s will make it’s final determination on Congressional districts by mid-August.
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