Richmond Takes A Piece of Pie: By BECKY O'MALLEY

Tuesday November 16, 2004

Richmond City Councilmember Tom Butt is an avid e-mailer. Every day, often twice a day, he fires off bulletins to his long list of correspondents with his opinions on topics of the day, links to stories in the press about Richmond, and sometimes even major documents like Chevron’s contract proposal for Point Molate. Last week he wondered in print why the Berkeley Daily Planet has taken such an interest in Richmond lately. “I would like to think it’s because there is a lot of news here,” he said. 

That’s true. There’s been so much going on in Richmond recently that it has from time to time consumed almost the full-time efforts of one seasoned reporter plus the part-time efforts of another one and a good effort from a diligent student at UC’s journalism school. And we could do more, if we had the resources. But for the Planet it’s more than just trying to fill our little news hole.  

We see the whole bayside corridor, at least from Richmond all the way down to the southern reaches of Oakland, as part of a web of interlocking issues which concern all of us. It’s not a seamless web: The many jurisdictions which line this stretch of shoreline have differing views of what the proper role of government should be on given controversial topics. But we’re more like each other than we’re like the folks on “the other side of the hill,” who tend to be less ethnically, economically and culturally diverse than us bay-siders. Our open space, what there is of it, boasts gorgeous views of the bay, but has been compromised in great part by irresponsible industrial users, and now needs to be reclaimed for citizens. The citizens themselves, in many areas, have been left behind when employers moved on, so the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of people who came here 60 years ago to support World War II in good factory jobs are now struggling to find any kind of work. 

All of us, no matter where we live, whether in Oakland or Berkeley or El Cerrito or Richmond, have a stake in what becomes of the bay shore. It’s our birthright, and all of us need to work together to make sure that some of us don’t just sell it off to meet current financial obligations, like Esau in the Bible, a poor brother who sold his birthright to his clever brother Jacob for “a mess of pottage”—a bowl of stew which fed him for only one day. In this economy, when the state and national governments seem to have abdicated their responsibility to provide for the common good, the pressure on local governments to cash out right now to put some stew on the table is fierce.  

But Richmond’s Point Molate deal, while understandable, looks like it could easily amount to even less than a mess of pottage in the long run. What it looks like, to many of us observers who are lucky enough not to have make such decisions, is the “pie in the sky by and by” in Wobbly Joe Hill’s song about the blandishments of capitalism. New Richmond City Councilmember Gayle McLaughlin, a Green, has the shrewdest take on the competing offers from Harrah’s and Chevron: they’re both suspect. The Levine-Upstream-Harrah’s crowd might never find a complicit group of Native Americans to back their casino, and if so Richmond would get a lot of upscale condos which would eventually demand more in services than they paid in property taxes, and provide no good jobs for residents. Chevron—but why would anyone trust an oil company? Chevron’s vague offer to keep Point Molate as open space could end up with parking lots surrounded by chain link fences under pressure from the anti-terrorism hysteria. 

The two offers look a lot like two different flavors of pie in the sky, and five years hence, when Richmond again looks to put dinner on the table, the down payments will be eaten up and the cupboard will be bare once again. The magnificent bay front sites which are jurisdictionally in Richmond could be around to sustain our children and our grandchildren and their children if we conserve them prudently. All of us, wherever we live, need to support McLaughlin and her colleagues in the Richmond Progressive Alliance in their goal of cleaning up the finances of the city of Richmond so that short-term sell-offs of precious resources like this aren’t a temptation.  


—Becky O’Malley