The Activist

Issue #253, 09-18-2018

In this issue:
Join the Team! (Team Richmond)
A step forward for an East Bay public bank
Preventing housing discrimination in Richmond
Pt. Molate Park supporters win court victory
Rocketship loses appeal in Sacramento!
Rise up for rent control -- and some arresting stats on Richmond
9/29: RPA fall membership meeting
Why being corporate-free matters

Join the Team! (Team Richmond)

With campaign season in full swing, there are more chances than ever to help carry progressive, people-powered candidates to victory.

Jovanka Beckles, running for Assembly District 15 will be at:

  • A Unity Rally at Berkeley's King Middle School on September 22 from 6-9pm. She will be joined by three other warriors: Nina Turner of Our Revolution, actor/activist Danny Glover, and former Golden State Warrior and President of Democracy Matters, Adonal Foyle; with RPA co-founder, KPFA deejay, and Communities for a Better Environment's Andres Soto as emcee. Purchase tickets for the rally here and spread the word via facebook here!
  • A Berkeley Hills house party brunch on September 23 from 9-11am. RSVP for the brunch here, and spread the word about the houseparty brunch here.
  • Can't make the events? You can donate or volunteer with Jovanka's campaign here.  

Melvin Willis, running for Richmond Mayor, will be at

And Team Richmond needs you! Councilmembers Ada Recinos (running for City Council), Eduardo Martinez (running for City Council) and Melvin Willis (running for Mayor) rely on the passion and dedication of volunteers to counter the corporate money behind those candidates running against them. Join the Team!

A step forward for an Oakland (and East Bay) public bank!

Some pretty big news --  on September 11, after reviewing a public bank feasibility study, the City of Oakland’s Finance and Management Committee unanimously recommended to continue moving forward with the process of creating a public bank! The next step for Oakland is to take it to the full City Council.

The public bank movement has just grown stronger in the past years, as people and cities have sought to sever ties with disgraceful banks such as Wells Fargo and moved to divest from fossil fuel banks that have funded controversial projects such as the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Councilmember Eduardo Martinez, a key champion of public banking in Richmond, says “Public banks are essential for keeping city money in the city. Every time we issue a bond, al the interest leaves the community that needs it the most.”

Martinez also pointed out that Richmond would benefit from a public bank because conventional banks will not provide services to cannabis businesses, due to federal insurance requirements. “With the increase in the cannabis economy in Richmond, we need a banking service that the cannabis economy can put its money into,” says Martinez. “Right now it’s a cash economy, and that creates a public safety issue for them and the people around them.”

In May, Richmond voted in favor of a resolution to support Oakland’s efforts to create a public bank by helping fund a feasibility study; to direct the Richmond City Manager to investigate the possibility of forming a mutually beneficial partnership with Oakland; and to consider, if Oakland’s initial feasibility study yields positive results, providing funds for a future business plan.

Martinez says that the next step is likely to be the creation a regional public bank. “Richmond does not have the ability to start a public bank on its own, and neither does Oakland, so it is going to take a regional effort. Right now Alameda, Berkeley, Richmond and Oakland is in conversation about creating a regional public bank, and I understand that San Francisco may be joining as well.”

“I’m very excited about the prospect of having a regional public banks,” he added. “It’s something that is long overdue.”

Preventing housing discrimination in Richmond

The fight for housing justice continues!

The RPA Housing Action Team, ACCE, Safe Return, and the Haas Institute are doing a study session at the September 25 city council meeting on two tenant protection ordinances. 

One prohibits discrimination based on a tenant's source of income including section 8 housing vouchers. According to the Haas Institute:

“Interviews with Richmond [Housing Choice Voucher, formerly known as Section 8] holders revealed that landlords often justified not renting to them out of discriminatory perceptions of Section 8 tenants (e.g. they are loud, damage the apartment, irresponsible) or the challenges of the bureaucratic process, both of which are factors that are reflected nationally.”

“Landlord refusal of HCV tenants tightens the housing market for low-income renters and means a loss of income for the Richmond Housing Authority, which collects administrative fees for utilized HCVs (the Richmond Housing Authority reports 300 HCVs out of 1,851 are not being utilized). . . Source of income is sometimes used as a proxy for race or familial status, and is thus a pretext for discrimination. At a minimum, source of income discrimination has a disparate racial impact.”

The other requires landlords to accept a reusable tenant screening that is good for 30 days. Again, the Haas Institute:

“Reusable reports save tenants from paying an application fee each time they apply and gives the applicant control over what information they would like to share with the landlord while allowing tenants to verify that all of the information collected about them is true.”

“In a competitive rental market like Richmond, tenants often have to apply multiple times, incurring fees that are especially burdensome to low-income tenants. Fees are generally about $30‑$50 per application and applicants often have to submit dozens of applications. Landlords often do not have written selection criteria and therefore the tenant has no way of knowing whether or not they qualify for the housing until after the application is denied. Reusable reports do not cost landlords anything and reduce the amount of work that a landlord would have to do in conducting background checks on applicants.”

Please come out and support these important ordinances! 6:30pm on September 25 at the City Council Chambers, Richmond Civic Center.

Pt Molate Park supporters win court victory

On September 11, a federal judge ruled in favor of Citizens for East Shore Parks and other plaintiffs, objecting to the City of Richmond’s secret adoption of the Pt. Molate settlement in closed session. The city moved to dismiss the lawsuit, with the city attorney claiming in open court that it was filed by “hippies,” but the judge agreed with the citizens and environmental groups that decisions such as these must be done in the open, with public participation.

The Brown Act requires there be a public process in determining zoning and other uses of public lands, and as the RPA noted (in its statement on Pt. Molate), “The City Council had voted three times in open session (2012, 2016 and 2017) to direct staff on conducting an open public process to determine appropriate land uses and a whole array of potential development options for all of Point Molate --including innovative combinations of commercial, educational, research and development, parks, agricultural, historical preservation, etc. with or without some housing.”

But under the terms of the closed door settlement between Richmond Mayor Tom Butt and developer Jim Levine - who once planned to build a mega-casino at Point Molate - at least 670 units of high-end housing are to be built. According to the RPA, “The settlement mandate paves the way for Pt. Molate to be an enclave for luxury development. . . It did not even require that the development include affordable housing units (inclusionary housing). It specifically allowed the far-too-low current in-lieu fee.   This means that if housing is built under the terms of the settlement (market rate sales) it will almost certainly be all luxury housing.”

The case will now proceed on its merits. Pt. Molate Alliance Co-Chair David Helvarg said, “Eight years ago the people of Richmond voted overwhelmingly against a casino in this special place.  We’re confident we can now move forward to protect and restore Point Molate for all citizens, the youth of Richmond and the Bay Area and as a natural refuge and destination in a wilder, climate-impacted future.” 

Rocketship loses appeal in Sacramento!

Wow – after a months long battle, the California Department of Education on September 7 rejected Rocketship’s application to form a corporate charter school in San Pablo! You may recall that this chain charter school pulled every dirty trick in the book to try to get its application approved – including running a very sketchy and irregular petition drive to “prove” that local parents wanted the school and busing in people from out of town to WCCUSD School Board meetings to show that there was “community” support.

After the WCCUSD rejected their application, they appealed to the CCC Board of Education, who also said no; so Rocketship appealed yet again to the California Department of Education. According to an article in EdSource,

Chief Deputy Superintendent Glen Price, who was sitting in for State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, said the California Department of Education was concerned about the lack of students with disabilities in Rocketship schools, lack of information about its English learner program, high suspension rates among some student groups and its governance model, which includes charter school board meetings held in San Jose. Price, who lives in Contra Costa County, said meetings that far away were “counter to all of our objectives for parent and stakeholder engagement.”

United Teachers of Richmond and other advocates of public education did an amazing job over the past year, turning out hundreds of teachers, students, and families in opposition to Rocketship and in defense of our neighborhood public schools. Congrats on a great victory!

Rise up for rent control (and some arresting stats on Richmond)

With rents in Richmond going up around 5 percent in the last year, Richmond voters will have an opportunity this November to vote on Proposition 10, which would repeal Costa Hawkins, the California law that limits what cities and counties can do in terms of enacting rent control.

As predicted, the landlord lobby is spending millions to defeat Prop 10. But it’s not just individual landlords, big Wall Street investment firms are also trying to tank the ballot measure. For example, Blackstone, one of the world’s biggest private equity companies, is shelling out $4.2 million to oppose it. And a glance at the maps below reveal why Wall Street cares so much.

A recent analysis shows that California is prime territory for Wall Street-owned rentals.

Zooming into the SF Bay area, it’s clear to see that Richmond and Vallejo are a particularly attractive destinations for Wall Street landlords.

And this housing affordability crisis is hurting families. Check out these stats from California Housing Partnership Corporation:

These stats are sobering, but the public is with us! We can fight back against these corporate landlords and real estate billionaires, and take on the biggest barrier to winning real housing justice.

Join the Rise Up for Rent Control Coalition Meeting Wednesday, September 19th at 12 noon - 1:30pm at the Bobby Bowens Progressive Center (2540 Macdonald Ave.) Lunch will be provided. And Yes on Prop 10 will host a Campaign Kick Off Event on Saturday, September 22nd, 9am -1pm at Grace Lutheran Church (2369 Barrett Ave.) Be there!

9/29: RPA fall membership meeting (a big one)

Please mark your calendars for Saturday, September 29 from 2:30-5pm for the quarterly RPA membership meeting at the Bobby Bowens Progressive Center (2540 Macdonald Ave.).  

Since the election is just around the corner, it is going to be a big meeting – not only will we be talking about critical election stuff, including voting on school board endorsements; but there will be important business to conduct, such as formally incorporating the RPA as a 501c4 organization. (Don’t know that that is? We’ll explain what it is and why it’s important!)

More information will be going out soon to all active members. If you think your membership may have lapsed, make a donation and you’ll be up to date.

Why being corporate-free matters

Egads, did you see the September 4 East Bay Express article, “Richmond Mayor and Sons Profiting from Cannabis Compliance Push”? It describes how the city red-tagged an illegal cannabis grow on Hensley Street, giving the growers two days to get their plants out. The operation remained out of compliance after multiple inspections, yet the city allowed it to stay in business instead of shutting it down.

Journalist Josh Slowiczek details how Daniel Butt, one of the Mayor’s sons, started a company called Great Farm Development to help the Hensley Street cannabis growers seek permits from the city. Great Farm then hired Mayor Butt’s architectural firm to help legalize and potentially expand the grow operation. To make matters even more dodgy, Mayor Butt appointed another one of his sons (also part of his father’s architecture firm) to be Vice Chair of the Planning Commission, which approves cannabis warehouse applications in the city. The icing on the cake, so to speak, was the fact that the corporate owner of the Hensley warehouse gave Mayor Butt a hefty $2500 campaign contribution shortly after city inspectors figured out that the Hensley Street operation was unpermitted.

In the article, Mayor Butt claims he has done nothing wrong. But Slowiczek writes that the Hensley case “raises questions about whether city officials should get personally and financially involved in the booming cannabis industry — an industry over which they have new policy-making and permitting powers.” He quotes a University of Santa Clara government ethics expert as saying, “[Government officials] have to put the public's interest before their own personal interest. They also have a duty to preserve and maintain trust in government, because without trust, government fails."

Far be it from me to comment on the specifics of this case. But even the appearance of self-dealing or conflicts of interest can erode confidence in our local government. I think this simple statement from Team Richmond’s Ada Recinos, Eduardo Martinez and Melvin Willis states it pretty well:

We are proud to be part of a tradition of political reform in Richmond. We do not accept contributions from corporations, including Chevron, or from developers. Owing no favors to the business interests of Richmond leaves us free to address the needs of regular working people like you (and like us).  This fact is what separates us from many of the other candidates in this race.

Amen to that!

- Michelle Chan