Public Comment

The Richmond Chamber of Horrors

By Tom Butt
Tuesday March 16, 2010 - 05:44:00 PM

The Richmond Chamber of Commerce, erstwhile defenders of land speculators and global oil corporations, just can’t let go of politics. They should rename themselves “Richmond Chamber of Horrors.” 

There was a time when local chambers of commerce were interested in the greater community good, particularly focusing on the needs of the whole community and small businesses that don’t have the in-house marketing, management and political savvy of larger corporations. Following is a definition of chamber of commerce I found on

Any of various voluntary organizations of business firms, public officials, professional people, and public-spirited citizens whose primary interest is in publicizing, promoting, and developing commercial and industrial opportunities in their local area, and usually also community schools, streets, housing, and public works. 

At the local level, chambers of commerce strive to develop and publicize business opportunities in their communities, as well as work for the betterment of local schools and other community institutions. Local chambers of commerce offer a range of programs and services to their members, including information and advice on timely business matters, opportunities for networking, and a variety of publications. Local chambers of commerce also provide their members with numerous forums—task forces, committees, special events, and so on—in which to express their specific views and concerns, whether pertaining to the challenges facing small businesses or to the issues surrounding international commerce. Depending on their geographic settings, local chambers of commerce can be small or large in terms of their membership and scope of activities.


There is nothing in this definition about local chambers of commerce becoming political powers unto themselves and campaigning for specific candidates and against others. With more challengers than winners in every election, the Richmond Chamber manages to alienate in every election more than half the community leaders who have the motivation to offer themselves for public service. 

The Richmond Chamber of Commerce apparently strives to style itself after the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which with the American Petroleum Institute, is being paid by Big Oil as its mouthpiece trying to discredit climate change. Many large companies, including Nike and Apple, have resigned in protest. Apple wrote: 

We would prefer that the Chamber take a more progressive stance on this critical issue and play a constructive role in addressing the climate crisis. However, because the Chamber's position differs so sharply with Apple's, we have decided to resign our membership effectively immediately. 

Several years ago, the Richmond Chamber of Commerce decided to get more political. This worked as long as the Richmond Mayor and City Council members met the Chamber’s litmus test for “business friendly candidates” (read “boosters of Chevron and land speculators”), but when the Chamber ran an all-out campaign against Gayle McLaughlin, they lost the key to the Mayor’s Office. And now they can’t figure out why Richmond’s mayor is not altogether enthusiastic about hanging around with the Chamber leadership. So now we have a Chamber leadership that has alienated itself from the City leadership, not necessarily a good thing for Richmond small businesses who need all the help they can get from anyone who has something to give. 

Regarding the proposed General Plan, almost every change area identified in the plan “up-zones” property all over Richmond, increasing the allowable density and versatility of potential development in areas that are served by infrastructure, services and public transit. Not a word of encouragement, however, about that from the Chamber, which is so utterly focused on a handful of Northshore properties that they can’t see anything else.  

Following is the latest rant from the Richmond Chamber of Horrors: 


A Message from the President 

A message to the Richmond Chamber Membership and the Community 


Richmond City Councilmember Tom Butt and Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, on March 9, 2010, made a motion to down-zone, to open space, valuable industrial land located on Richmond's northern shoreline. Councilmember Butt and Mayor McLaughlin believe that all of the land on the northern shoreline should be open space and parks. However, they want to avoid having the City buy the land to make it into parks and open space. Instead, they want to re-zone the land so that the property owners will no longer be able to develop the land, and the land will become open space and parkland merely because the City won't let the property owners do anything else with it.  

The motion failed, but the Richmond Chamber of Commerce is alarmed and shocked that any elected official could believe that it is just and moral for the City to create parkland by eliminating the development rights of property owners without any compensation to those property owners. The Chamber is also concerned that this sends a message to developers, investors and businesses everywhere that they should avoid investing in Richmond, because if they do, they risk having the City take away their investments arbitrarily. Finally, the Chamber is worried that, once again, radical environmental interests mostly from outside the City, although (obviously) with some local support, are willing to put their agenda ahead of most of Richmond's residents, who would benefit from the jobs and tax revenues that would flow from development in Richmond. 

City Councilmembers Nat Bates and Jim Rogers voted against Mr. Butt's motion, and the Chamber salutes them for that. City Councilperson Maria Viramontes has written the following editorial:  

Imagine a thoughtful approach to preserving and planning the shoreline. I guess, Mr. Rogers, we will never live to see that day. Instead, what we get, as usual, is Mr. Butt's accusation that any council-member with a different point of view is owned by developers. Of course, the Mayor never corrects Butt's personalizations, lies of wrongdoing etc., and, as usual, anyone with a different point of view gets the gavel from her. 

However, Mr. Butt's, policy of "Manifest Destiny" -- a policy the Mayor shares -- translates in real life to: we can take any private land without compensation through the technical land use trick of down zoning. Oh well, poor them, is their attitude; these poor individuals who own private land, too bad they got in the way of "Manifest Destiny". After the Butt and McLaughlin zoning tinkering is done; the land is worthless and maybe twenty years from now the city or park district might get around to buying it. 

I believe in open space, and I have raised and fought for millions of dollars for it. If you want open space, buy it. If you are going to use eminent domain you should be honest about it and have the integrity in the process to pay people equitably for their land. But, of course, Butt and Mclaughlin are "progressives." I call it something else.  

The shoreline is our most precious asset, for sustainability in its own right and for the gift of service for human kind.  

The City began because of the shoreline, and marine activity was the first economic activity sustaining Richmond families. 

It is still providing livelihoods for families, if allowed. But, then, some members of the Council don't understand the need for creating a general environment that promotes work for Richmond Families...they are too busy with "Manifest Destiny" for that concern.  

Their eye is on international resolutions and the global economy rather than what happens to Richmond Families.  

Of course, when they can come down from the clouds to Richmond, their first discussion on the agenda is what to do with Chevron's land when it leaves.  

So much for the strategy of keeping major employers in Richmond, beyond giving them a plaque. They think that a few small boutique developments on a few blocks will make up for the lost jobs to the community and the lost tax base for the city which is always challenged to pay for services for our residents.  

Literally, this is their plan. Wake up Richmond.  

As Council members, we have seen it and touched it and unfortunately, the policy of "Manifest Destiny" will result in reducing the middle class in Richmond and driving low income families out of town...then I guess they will finally be happy. 

These are not shoreline wars. I am an environmentalist of long standing. This is a cultural and economic equity war, and not everyone has figured out where they stand in it. 

Judy Morgan 


Richmond Chamber of Commerce