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.Politics As Usual: In Richmond elections, ‘follow the money’ is good advice

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As Election Day 2022 approaches, as usual, it’s never a dull moment in Richmond politics. Mayor Tom Butt is termed out, and the city is electing council members representing the three remaining newly districted seats, the result of a threatened lawsuit under the California Voting Rights Act. Richmond voters will also vote on Measure P, a rent ordinance, which would cap rent increases at 3%, or 60% of local consumer price index, whichever is lower.

A series of slickly produced flyers, purporting to come from a mysterious group called “Richmond Represented,” have arrived in voters’ mailboxes for months. These bash the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA), which currently holds a majority on the city council, and blame it for everything from an increase in the city’s homeless population to “defunding the police” as a result of budget reallocations to Reimagining Public Safety initiatives, including $1.3 million to help unhoused people and $1.9 million for YouthWorks.

Fingers have pointed at Chevron, with its long history of interference in Richmond elections, as the actual funder of these flyers, possibly because Measure U, passed in 2020, is scheduled for implementation. It changes the business tax calculation methodology, basing it on gross receipts in the City of Richmond instead of the number of employees, which would impact the refinery. A more corporation-friendly council might be able to circumvent this. However, no clear evidence has emerged to support Chevron’s involvement.

In the mayors race, four candidates are competing 

Former mayor and current city council member Nat Bates was one of a group of council members not re-elected in 2014 when activists united to protest Chevron’s influence on Richmond politics. Chevron-backed ads and flyers touted a slate that included Bates. He returned to the council in 2018, forming an alliance with former rival Tom Butt to support building housing on the Astra-Zeneca site and at Point Molate. His stated priorities include public safety, economic development and business.

Conflict resolution specialist Shawn Dunning has never held elected office. A registered independent, Dunning criticizes partisan politics, and wants to “increase public participation in democracy,” as well as encouraging more business investment in the city. His campaign has included a series of “collaborative community forums and workshops.” As of this writing, he has not released a platform of proposed actions, other than convening a meeting of neighborhood leaders and “power brokers.”

Current city council member and vice mayor Eduardo Martinez is a member of the sometimes-controversial RPA. Martinez’s campaign takes no money from corporations, business associations or developers. His platform includes full city staffing, “development without displacement” and a focus on environmental justice. He is the recipient of the Sierra Club’s 2021 Community Defender Award, in recognition of his efforts to fight coal shipments, clean up Astra-Zeneca and preserve Point Molate as public land.

Mark Wassberg is a gadfly, frequently appearing at city council meetings to spout anti-immigrant and homophobic rants.

Richmond’s current city council includes four RPA members, of which Gayle McLaughlin, Melvin Willis and Claudia Jimenez are not up for re-election this cycle. Fourth member Eduardo Martinez will be off the council if he is not elected mayor. Thus, the council’s balance of power will be decided in the November election.

In District 2, Andrew Butt faces Cesar Zepeda. Butt is the current mayor’s son, an architect and former Planning Commissioner, and solidly allied with his father’s positions, including his ongoing battle with the RPA. Andrew Butt’s platform priorities include “restoring public safety and rebuilding trust,” “fighting for economic development that benefits all of us,” and “addressing the affordable housing and homeless crises,” among others.

Zepeda currently serves as president of the West County Wastewater District. He founded and is the former president of the Hilltop District Neighborhood Council, and co-founded Richmond’s first LGBTQI organization, Richmond Rainbow Pride. An independent candidate, his platform priorities include housing affordability, fiscal responsibility and a citywide healthy environment, among others.

The District 3 race includes three candidates.

Former council member Corky Booze also lost his seat in the 2014 elections. During a recent neighborhood candidates’ forum, Booze stated that his experience makes him the most qualified candidate, and criticized the RPA for “defunding the police.” In 2014, he settled a lawsuit filed by the city for failure to clean up what the city called a “junkyard.” In his official candidate’s statement, he emphasizes public safety.

Oscar Garcia is the current president of the Iron Triangle Neighborhood Council, an environmental/chemical engineer and a former Chevron employee. During the candidates’ forum, Garcia stated that the RPA “does not care about the city’s crime rate.” His website lists his priorities as “revitalizing Central and Southside neighborhoods, public safety, addressing homelessness, and investing in Richmond’s youth.” He is endorsed by Mayor Butt, who has donated to his campaign.

Doria Robinson, running as an independent, is the executive director of nonprofit Urban Tilth, founded in 2005 “to help build a more sustainable, healthy and just local food system.” Robinson was appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom to the California State Food and Agriculture Commission. During the forum, she listed housing, economic development and climate planning as priorities. In her work, she said, she talks with unhoused people, “and we need a plan to stabilize and transition them.” She is endorsed by County Supervisor John Gioia.

In District 4, Soheila Bana, an electrical engineer/realtor, emphasizes she would bring representation to the sections of El Sobrante that are part of Richmond. Bana is the founder of the 94803 Emergency Preparedness Alliance, and president of the West Contra Costa County Fire Safe Council. Her stated goals include public safety, including “revisiting the issue of adequate police funding,” economic development, improving city services and protecting the environment. She is endorsed by Mayor Butt.

Jamin Pursell is a small business owner/artist. Pursell was a member of the May Valley Neighborhood Council for three years, and is a founding board member of Richmond Rainbow Pride. Stated priorities include cleaning up and protecting the city’s land, water and air from corporate polluters, focusing resources on crime prevention, and transforming abandoned commercial and residential real estate into affordable housing. His campaign does not take corporate funding. He is endorsed by the RPA and Sup. Gioia.

11/02/2022 Editor’s Note: Candidate Dunning’s platform is now available at 

https://www.dunningforrichmond.com/dunning_for_richmond_platform.

Measure P

This is supported by tenants’ rights groups and The Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment. It is opposed by the Association of United Richmond Housing Providers and the East Bay Rental Housing Association.

U.S. congressional district changes

Richmond is now in District 8, which means it will no longer be represented by its long term Democratic Rep. Mark DeSaulnier. The assumption is that the very blue district will elect John Garamendi, whose own former district was also re-configured. His Republican opponent is small-business owner Rudy Recile.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Janis,

    This article just came to my attention, and it has many inaccuracies.

    I was never interviewed, and your statement about my lack of platform is completely false.

    Your article published October 10th suggests that I have no platform, whereas my comprehensive platform was published way back in July for all to see: https://www.dunningforrichmond.com/dunning_for_richmond_platform

    Furthermore, my only reference to “power brokers” was on social media, and I was critical toward the way politics-as-usual works. I never talked about convening them…

    Kindly correct the record.

    Thank you,
    Shawn Dunning

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