Mayor highlights Hilltop Mall and Hacienda relocation in State of the City address
on January 28, 2015
Richmond’s new mayor Tom Butt made his first State of the City address on Tuesday night, announcing that “Richmond is open for business” and saying that his office is checking on the Hacienda public housing complex resident relocation every day.
Butt started his address by thanking former Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, City Manager Bill Lindsay and all city employees for the “8 great years” when McLaughlin served as the mayor. “Richmond has clearly changed for the better and we want to continue that,” Butt said.
He acknowledged Richmond’s achievements in crime reduction, job creation and quality of life in the past year and laid out his three groups of priorities for the city: economic development, environment and sustainability and improvements in the quality of life.
The crime rate in Richmond continued to drop in 2014, he said. “Compared to 2013, the crime rate is down 13 percent overall,” Butt said. “2014 is the first year in over a decade with under 1,000 violent crimes.”
In 2014, a total of 11 homicides occurred in Richmond. That number is the lowest since 1971, Butt said.
The unemployment rate is also dropping as more jobs are created in Richmond. In 2014, the Richmond unemployment rate was 9.4 percent.
“In the last four years, Richmond employment has increased by 5,000 jobs,” Butt said. He highlighted Nutiva and Alta Vista, two small businesses in Richmond, for being fast-growing and creating jobs.
However, Butt expressed his concern with Richmond’s unbalanced budget. “The city of Richmond faces a budget deficit in the fiscal year 2014-2015, has to reach into its reserve to make ends meet,” Butt said. “Getting the budget under control remains a major challenge for 2015. We are going to have some really hard work to do.”
In the second half of the address, Butt laid out his three priorities, starting with business, jobs and economic development, with a slide that read: “Richmond is open for business.” Butt spoke briefly about getting the Richmond Ferry Service started, planning Point Molate development and creating a new identity for Richmond to better market the city.
Butt devoted five slides to Hilltop Mall. The mall was once the place where residents across the West County went shopping. Now it suffers from a significant decline in sales and revenue and is waiting for a new buyer. “Hilltop is not alone. Malls are dying all around the country,” Butt said. “Malls are also being revived all around the country.” He said in 2015 the mayor’s office will work on finding a way out for Hilltop Mall.
Butt next discussed environment and sustainability. He talked about encouraging urban agriculture, and further developing the Bay Trail and Richmond Greenway in 2015.
And finally, he spoke about improving equity and quality of life. Butt vowed to get the Hacienda relocation done, a process that helps tenants of the public housing building move out and find new housing before renovation at Hacienda can begin.
Butt said the demolition and disposition application for Hacienda had been approved by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) on January 16. The Section 8 voucher application to complete the relocation was approved by a HUD field office in San Francisco on January 23, and is pending the final approval from the Washington D.C. office. Tenants will be able to use the vouchers to subsidize their rent payments after they move to a new apartment.
“The mayor’s office is checking on this every day, and I will be in Washington D.C. next week in person to check on it,” Butt said.
He also mentioned continuing crime reduction, developing housing opportunities for people of all income levels and collaborating more with the West Contra Costa Unified School District.
Butt’s council colleagues did not offer rebuttals. Two members of the public spoke in response during the public comment session, complimenting the address and urging the new council to work as a team to address issues in Richmond.
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What is happening at the Hacienda is a disgrace. Housing Director Tim Jones should be fired and the housing maintenance director and her husband should be headed for prison. Unfortunately, in West County politicians and upper management rarely if ever go to jail for anything that the residents would do time for.