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Over a hundred people debate general plan at city council meeting

on April 18, 2012

An unusually large number of people attended Tuesday’s city council meeting in Richmond. Many carried banners or wore bright colored shirts with slogans like “Don’t kill our jobs,” which others changed in “Don’t kill our kids” later in the evening.

The council was scheduled to debate the proposed general plan that outlines Richmond’s long-term development vision until the year 2030. Both the council and members of the public clashed on whether or not the plan should include an amendment by Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), a California based social justice organization with a focus on environmental health and justice.

The proposed amendment would impose stringent environmental regulations, reducing the amount of emissions by local business and industries and requiring any new investment within the city to use “least emitting” technology. The city’s Planning Commission supports the proposal, while city staffers advised the council to adopt the plan without these measures.

Slightly over 100 people, many from outside of Richmond, signed up to speak about the amendment. Even with speaking time limited to three minutes, the public comment period went on for so long that the meeting concluded without the council debating or taking a vote.

A general plan is required by the state of California and must include at least seven elements: a plan for a city’s transportation, open space, conservation, land use, noise, and safety. The Richmond plan has an additional eight elements, such as economic development, education and human services, growth management, and historic resources.

The proposed plan deals with current issues such as public safety, but also focuses on the challenges Richmond will face in the future such as an increase in population. The 2010 Census listed 103,701 Richmond residents. Estimates by the Association of Bay Area Governments predict that this number will increase by at least 28 percent in the next two-and-a-half decades.

Although the general plan can be adapted by the city council, no more than four changes a year are allowed. “It doesn’t set your vision in concrete. But maybe it does make a sandcast,” City Manager Bill Lindsay told the councilmembers.

Opponents fear that the extra costs the plan will impose on business would hurt business and constitute unnecessary government interference. Supporters argue it is needed to deal with Richmond pollution levels, which are several times higher than the state average.

“The planning commission’s unnecessary air quality restrictions will do much to retard growth,” said Chris Thornberg, an economist, during the public comment period.

Gary Levin, CEO of Levin Richmond Terminal Corporation, said “Small businesses are already doing enough without the planners’ recommendation.”

But Henry Clark of the West County Toxics Coalition said that more regulations about emissions are needed. “Certain areas of this city are already disproportionately impacted by industrial pollution, like North Richmond. We are talking about not adding more fuel to the fire, not having more injustice,” he said.

Even though councilmembers were not allowed to ask questions, and speaking time was limited to three minutes, the debate ended after midnight. The council debate and final decision has been postponed until a later meeting.


  1. Scott Littlehale on April 19, 2012 at 6:44 pm

    Thanks for covering this. It’s shameful that the West County Times did not. Makes me consider diverting my subscription funds …

  2. Scott Littlehale on April 19, 2012 at 8:49 pm

    I think it’s important to clarify that the policies that were most controversial were about specific emissions: Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions.

    Part of the controversy is a debate about whether regulating local GHG emissions would be effective, either in addressing climate change or as a strategy to reduce the air pollutants that have localized and direct impacts in the form of asthma and cancer).

    I’ve looked at the regional Air District’s cancer risk models for diesel particulates, and the numbers for homes near freeways, rail yards, and ports are deeply concerning.

    In my opinion, job one is to attempt to build Richmond’s “likely voter” base and , thereby building our clout with regional and state-level

    I *like* the fact that groups active in REDI and local unions aim to do exactly this. I hope we can regroup and find common ground around smart growth & tackling harmful diesel particulates and regional air pollutants like NOx and ROGs.

    • Scott Littlehale on April 20, 2012 at 8:18 am

      whoops: “In my opinion, job one is to attempt to build Richmond’s “likely voter” base and , thereby building our clout with regional and state-level … *regulatory bodies*.” [household duties cropped up that caused me to hit “post” prematurely]

      My point is this: going after local GHG emissions does not directly target the air contaminants and pollution that are most immediately harmful to locals.

      Check out this paper: Yeah, the paper is funded by the Chamber, but Stavins is no right-wing, anti-government flack. Google him and you’ll find him writing on HuffPost, Think Progress, the New Yorker, and cited in the NYTimes. His analysis is guided by pretty conventional economic models, but just because they are conventional doesn’t make them wrong in their application to the proposed General Plan policy amendments in dispute.

  3. Joahna Carmichael on April 19, 2012 at 9:09 pm

    The best part of the night was going through 5 hours of public statements without Corky being able to say a word! Oh what a night!

  4. Scott Littlehale on April 20, 2012 at 8:41 am

    Here is a link to an addendum to the Staff Report that summarizes the “unintended consequences” argument:

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