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RICHMOND CITY COUNCIL FAILS TO UPHOLD DEMOCRATIC PROCESS
(RICHMOND, CA) – In a defiant move against their constituency Tuesday night, Mayor Tom Butt and the Richmond City Council squelched discussion of a ballot measure that garnered 6,476 signatures of support and sought to safeguard funding for integral youth services across the city. Now, in defiance of its own procedural rules, as governed by Resolution No. 2-07, the City Council is refusing to hold a regular meeting on Tuesday, August 2nd, to pass a resolution to place the measure on the ballot. This reveals the clear bias being exercised against the Richmond Kids First measure. In 2015, City Council held three additional meetings in late July and early August to review a City Ordinance on rent control.
Presented by the Invest in Youth Coalition (a cross-organizational coalition of stakeholders in youth development and health), the Richmond Fund for Children and Youth ballot measure proposes to let voters secure city funding for youth services.
Local and national data on similar funds demonstrate improvements in public safety, improved coordination of city services, better planning, and the leveraging of significant additional resources. The Richmond Fund for Children and Youth aims to help the city utilize its general budget with greater foresight without creating new taxes.
As the main oppositional voice, Mayor Tom Butt cast a clear ‘no’ vote—a defiant refusal to even consider the ballot measure during the evening’s council meeting. Abstaining from a preliminary but necessary vote to determine a space for the item on the evening’s agenda, councilmembers Jovanka Beckles, Gayle McLaughlin, Nat Bates and Vinay Pimplé ducked the issue altogether, citing flawed language and the quickly contested “failure” of measure organizers to meet submission deadlines for petition signatures.
The city qualified the initiative’s signature count prior to Tuesday’s meeting but only after the item had been hastily pulled from the agenda. Casting his vote for the inclusion of the Richmond Kids Fund as an agenda item, councilmember Jael Myrick was a lone voice. He later took to Facebook to post his thoughts on the council’s hostility toward the measure: “There is literally no other organized political interest group involved in Richmond that would have been disregarded in such a uniform and blatant way. I don’t believe my colleagues were aware of the message they were sending last night and I hope we can rectify this by holding a special meeting between now and August 12 to at least consider putting their item on the ballot. It’s not about whether we agree with the substance of the proposal, it’s about respecting the will of those 6,000 residents and the hard work of those young people.”
Audibly upset at the failure of the democratic process, members of the Invest in Youth Coalition reminded council members that the city had significantly misinformed the coalition of the number of signatures needed to secure the ballot measure as an agenda item. The coalition ultimately submitted the increased number of valid voter signatures, only to have the city’s delayed verification process prompt a premature removal of what otherwise would have been a legitimate agenda item.
Joel Mackey, Executive Director West Contra Costa’s Public Education Fund, rose in support of the Kids First initiative. Taking council members to task, Mackey told them, “You’re using your procedural authority to circumvent the will of the people, to deny the opportunity for democracy to work.” Mackey, a Richmond resident, continued, “I believe that there is a need for immediate action. I would urge you to schedule a special meeting so that this can be considered so that the opportunity for voters to decide on this matter will occur.”
Continuously during hours of open comment, speaker after speaker—including young people, youth sector workers, advocates, and parents—testified to secure youth service funding, even citing a decade of work in vain alongside former Mayor, councilmember McLaughlin to address similar needs.
“This is us trying to get your attention, trying to get a voice for ourselves,” said Diana Ramirez, a Richmond Kids First coalition youth member. “We’ve spent so much time and effort every single day going out canvasing, staying out in the sun, just to be able to get a chance for the community in Richmond to be able to vote on this.” Ramirez was one in a long line of youth speakers detailing their work to deliver the ballot measure.
Speaking to councilmembers, the district’s Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia said, “Last week you fulfilled the wishes of 5,500 Richmond voters and placed the rent control ordinance on this November’s ballot.” Supervisor Gioia was referencing a recent rent control ordinance of which other councilmembers expressed disapproval, but was passed through city council to land on the approaching November ballot on the principle of democratic process. Gioia reminded city council that the rent control ordinance had even less voter signatures than the proposed youth fund. “I’m here tonight with many others,” continued Gioia, “to ask you to support the will of 6,500 Richmond voters who have signed petitions and qualified this measure for the ballot. The issue isn’t whether it’s going to be on the ballot, the issue is when.”
But by then Mayor Butt, along with McLaughlin and Beckles refused to consider the measure. In a subsequent newsletter to his subscribers Mayor Butt called the Invest in Youth Coalition’s mere presence—which included nearly 70 young people of color—“the equivalent of a hostile takeover.”
Kanwarpal Dhaliwal, Director of Community Health and Integrative Practice at the RYSE Center, a major youth hub in Richmond, recognized the hard work of the room’s passionate, politically savvy youth. “The job of elected officials is to ensure every opportunity for democracy regardless of technicalities, in light of technicalities, despite technicalities. You have failed at this job,” said Dhaliwal during open comments. “We did our due diligence. We got the signatures. You put it on the agenda. You took it off of the agenda…Don’t lie to our young people. Do what’s right,” she said, “We ask that you model what it means to be a responsible adult, a responsible steward in a democratic society, and do your jobs.”
Despite their refusal to hear the initiative on Tuesday’s agenda, Richmond City Council has yet another opportunity to get the measure to the elections office and uphold its duty to encourage democratic participation and process. Constituents continue to pressure council members to call a special meeting by August 12th, dedicated to considering the Richmond Fund for Children and Youth in time for the November 2017 ballot.
The Mayor, City Clerk, City Attorney, and City Council were served a letter by legal counsel to Richmond Kids First in which they urge, “The Council has already failed to fulfill that duty once, when it refused to act on the Richmond Kids First Initiative at its July 26, 2016 City Council meeting. We urge you to comply with your duty now, at the next regular City Council meeting onAugust 2, as provided for under the City’s own rules, promulgated in order to comply with the City’s own Charter.”
Partners: RYSE Center, Community Health for Asian Americans, The Ed Fund, East Bay Center for the Performing Arts, Healthy Richmond, YES Nature to Neighborhoods, Mindful Life Project, Funding the Next Generation, Pogo Park, Building Blocks for Kids.
Additional Endorsers: Supervisor John Gioia, Urban Tilth, California School-Based Health Alliance, Students for Education Reform, Shields-Reid Residents Neighborhood Council, Teachers 4 Social Justice, CBE Action.