Public Comment

Jobs Seem to be the Issue in Richmond Mayor's Race

By Tom Butt
Monday September 27, 2010 - 06:59:00 PM

It’s interesting that the mayoral challengers have chosen to make this election about jobs, probably the one issue that the mayor has the least ability to influence. We are part of a regional economy that is well above the national average in unemployment, largely because of the bubble bursting in California’s overinflated housing market. This was not a city-driven phenomenon, nor will there be a city-driven solution. 

Bates and Ziesenhenne couldn’t go with crime because crime overall has continued to drop at about 10% a year, and homicides are less than half of last year. You don’t want to criticize a positive trend. 

They couldn’t attack fiscal mismanagement with a balanced budget, no layoffs and Richmond hiring cops while other cities are laying them off. The mayor supported a $114 million settlement with Chevron that took the edge off a significant drop in real property and sales taxes that hit other cities hard. With Richmond arguably the most complex and challenging city of its size in the Bay Area, Richmond’s city manager’s compensation is below that of smaller cities such as San Ramon and less complex cities such as Vallejo, Berkeley, Santa Clara and Sunnyvale. 

Even infrastruture is looking pretty good. Capital projects completed during Mayor McLaughlin’s term include the Honda Port of Entry, the award-winning Civic Center rehabilitation, Nevin Park rehabilitation and the Richmond Plunge rehabilitation. Add in the Ford Assembly Building as a unique public-private partnership. Street paving projects are going on all over town, and Richmond leads all other cities in Bay Trail construction. Planning for the Marina Bay railroad underpass is well underway, and have you noticed the landscaping on the Richmond Parkway? 

Recent polls show that 60% of Richmond voters are pleased at the direction Richmond is going. 

Accusations that the mayor doesn’t support jobs and economic development is a red herring that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. No mayor can single-handedly bring jobs to Richmond, but a mayor does have the ability to affect perceptions. It’s no secret that the biggest job growth is in small businesses and the green economy. Like Willie Sutton who answered that he robbed banks “because that’s where the money is,” the mayor is looking at the ecomomy sectors where the jobs are. 

Big businesses, like Chevron, can take care of themselves – they don’t need a mayor to hold their hand. And they are not hiring, they are laying people off. Since McLaughlin took office, over 700 businessses have started in or come to Richmond, employing over 1,000 people. 

Bates and Ziesenhenne have both maintained that McLaughlin will not meet with Chevron, like that’s some kind of litmus test for being pro jobs and “respecting” business. That’s patently false. I participated in at least one extensive meeting with the mayor and Refinery Manager Mike Coyle where a wide range of issues involving the City of Richmond and Chevron were discussed. 

The mayor is also concentrating on those quality of life isssues that make Richmond attractive for businesses and their employees, like public safety, neighborhood schools, parks and recreation opportunities. It’s worth noting that Bates opposed the City using some of the Chevron settlement money to stave off closing of Richmond schools, including Kennedy High School. 

As far as the Point Molate casino being Richmond’s golden goose, we have been pursuing this dream for over six years, and it is no closer than it was in 2004. Even if by some miracle, it were to happen, any related jobs would be years – maybe a decade – away. And even so, there is no guaranteee that those jobs would go to Richmond residents. 

So, c’mon voters, don’t fall for that phony Bates and Ziesenhenne jobs line. They have no silver bullet that can dramatically bring jobs to Richmond residents. Richmond is doing well, and our unemployment rate, which has always tracked state and natioonal trends, will go down when everyone else’s does. Meanwhile, we can make Richmond the best possible place to live, work and attract business, and that means keeping a successful and popular mayor.