Richmond mayor took money from landlord PAC before he voted ‘no’ on eviction moratorium

by Lynda Carson

Richmond, Calif. – On Sept. 13, Richmond Mayor Tom Butt and Councilmembers Nat Bates and Vinay Pimplé blocked a proposed 45-day “urgency” moratorium on rent increases and no-cause evictions that was proposed by Councilwoman Gayle McLaughlin and supported by Councilmembers Jovanka Beckles, Eduardo Martinez and Jael Myrick.

Richmond renters and their supporters rally Sept. 13 before the City Council meeting to urge the council to vote “yes” on the moratorium against rent increases and evictions. – Photo: Abner Hauge, Richmond Confidential
Richmond renters and their supporters rally Sept. 13 before the City Council meeting to urge the council to vote “yes” on the moratorium against rent increases and evictions. – Photo: Abner Hauge, Richmond Confidential

Before Mayor Tom Butt voted “no” to block the moratorium, he failed to disclose to the residents at the Sept. 13 City Council meeting that he has been accepting political contributions from the California Apartment Association (CAA), an organization representing the interests of landlords, not tenants.

According to public records, on March 9, 2016, the California Apartment Association Political Action Committee (CAA-PAC) gave $500 to Mayor Butt from its contributions account. Public records also reveal that on the same day the CAA-PAC gave an additional $500 to Mayor Butt from its expenditures account. (If there is a problem with the links, click on them again until they work. There are 250 items in the expenditures link).

In the run-up to the last Richmond City Council election, in November 2014, the CAA made even larger contributions to two other candidates – Nat Bates, who was running for mayor and lost to Tom Butt but retained his City Council seat, and Corky Boozé, who lost his City Council seat.

Both Bates and Boozé were also heavily supported by Chevron, which ran Richmond as a “company town” until the 2014 progressive sweep; Chevron famously spent $3 million on the 2014 election and lost every race. And both men are running for City Council again in the November 2016 election.

On Sept. 13, Richmond Mayor Tom Butt and Councilmembers Nat Bates and Vinay Pimplé blocked a proposed 45-day “urgency” moratorium on rent increases and no-cause evictions.

On Oct. 10, 2014, the CAA-PAC donated $1,100 to Nat Bates for Mayor from its contributions account and another $1,100 from its expenditures account. On the same day, the CAA-PAC gave the Corky Boozé campaign $750 from its contributions account and an additional $750 from its expenditures account.

The CAA’s most notorious meddling in Richmond affairs was the big money it spent opposing renter protections in 2015, when they used signature gatherers who lied to the residents of Richmond to trick them into signing a petition that was used to block the renter protections from going into effect.

The signature gatherers told voters the petition would strengthen renter protections. Presently, the City of Santa Rosa is hiring a special investigator to probe voter fraud in a situation that appears very similar to what happened in Richmond in 2015.

Before Mayor Tom Butt voted “no” to block the moratorium, he failed to disclose to the residents at the Sept. 13 City Council meeting that he has been accepting political contributions from the California Apartment Association (CAA), an organization representing the interests of landlords, not tenants.

CAA is currently running attack ads against the renter protection ballot measures in the cities of Richmond, Alameda, Mountain View, San Mateo and Burlingame.

The CAA attack ad against Measure L in Richmond uses lies and deceit by claiming that Measure L would require landlords to subsidize the renters. This is patently false. Measure L helps to stop the landlords from engaging in price gouging and blocks the landlords from engaging in eviction-for-profit schemes.

Measure L makes the landlords accountable for their actions when engaging in price gouging. If passed by the voters in November, Measure L would help to stabilize families and communities in Richmond.

At the Sept. 13 City Council meeting, reportedly people were literally begging the council members to vote for the moratorium to save their families from unreasonable rent increases, evictions and displacement from their homes and communities.

On election night, Nov. 5, 2014, Nat Bates and Corky Boozé watch election returns at Bates’ campaign office. – Photo: Brett Murphy, Richmond Confidential
On election night, Nov. 5, 2014, Nat Bates and Corky Boozé watch election returns at Bates’ campaign office. – Photo: Brett Murphy, Richmond Confidential

A day after the 45-day moratorium failed to pass, Councilwoman Gayle McLaughlin said, “I am troubled by the lack of humanity by some on our City Council. Even those who don’t support rent control should have had the decency to support the moratorium to stop these mass evictions in the interim period before the voters weigh in on Measure L. I find this extremely disturbing and an affront to our democracy.”

The high hopes of people across the city of Richmond that the council would help them stay in their homes and neighborhoods were dashed by the two council members who voted against the moratorium during residents’ time of need and the mayor, who has been accepting political contributions from the California Apartment Association.

On Sept. 17, in Jovanka’s Real Talk newsletter from Richmond Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles, she wrote in part: “My heart broke this past Tuesday night, Sept. 13. I became pained and angry as I watched centuries of oppression and injustices perpetrated against people of color and low-income people continue to be enacted. So much suffering could have been prevented had Mayor Butt and Councilmembers Bates and Pimple voted for the 45-day moratorium on no-cause evictions and rent increases above 3 percent.

“As Councilmember Myrick pointed out, this was not a radical measure – the Alameda City Council, also facing a rent control measure on the ballot this November, voted unanimously to pass such a moratorium to avoid the extreme hardships that many would face without it.” Read the entire newsletter below.

The median price for a rental unit in Richmond has skyrocketed to $2,388 per month according to Zillow.

The CAA attack ad against Measure L in Richmond uses lies and deceit by claiming that Measure L would require landlords to subsidize the renters. This is patently false.

Renter protections will be on the November ballot in six cities in the Bay Area. No matter how hard the landlords and the California Apartment Association try to stop the renters’ movement, which held protests against high rents and evictions around the nation Sept. 22, tenant advocates across the Bay Area are urging renters to vote on strong renter protections in the cities of Richmond, Oakland, Alameda, Burlingame, San Mateo and Mountain View. The activists are urging people to vote “no” against any weak proposals placed on the ballot by the city councils in Alameda and Mountain View.

No one was available when I called the mayor’s office seeking a comment for this story.

Lynda Carson may be reached at tenantsrule@yahoo.com.

A heartbreaking vote

by Richmond City Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles

My heart broke this past Tuesday night, Sept. 13. I became pained and angry as I watched centuries of oppression and injustices perpetrated against people of color and low-income people continue to be enacted. So much suffering could have been prevented had Mayor Butt and Councilmembers Bates and Pimple voted for the 45-day moratorium on no-cause evictions and rent increases above 3 percent.

“Team Richmond” progressive City Council candidates Gayle McLaughlin, Eduardo Martinez and Jovanka Beckles celebrate their victory in the November 2014 election, ending decades of domination of Richmond politics by the Chevron refinery and other oppressive forces. – Photo: Tom Goulding, Richmond Confidential
“Team Richmond” progressive City Council candidates Gayle McLaughlin, Eduardo Martinez and Jovanka Beckles celebrate their victory in the November 2014 election, ending decades of domination of Richmond politics by the Chevron refinery and other oppressive forces. – Photo: Tom Goulding, Richmond Confidential

As Councilmember Myrick pointed out, this was not a radical measure – the Alameda City Council, also facing a rent control measure on the ballot this November, voted unanimously to pass such a moratorium to avoid the extreme hardships that many would face without it.

Some have been characterizing my reaction to the vote and the reactions of many residents in the room, as a “riot.” This is a gross mischaracterization of what happened. Watch it for yourself here. (The item begins at 2:42:45. The actual vote happens around 4:19:00.)

There was no “riot.” Many in the room, including myself, said “Shame on you” to Mayor Butt and Councilmembers Bates and Pimple. That was an expression of pain and anger – very rational emotions when the well-being of hundreds of our residents, including children, is being threatened by likely displacement and possible homelessness.

My heart is broken by the callousness and lack of compassion expressed by my colleagues who were unwilling to offer essential protections to Richmond residents – protections that would cause no harm to the city or to landlords, as we were voting on a measure that would only last 45 days. This should have been a completely uncontroversial measure, regardless of one’s position on the larger issue of rent control and just cause for evictions.

So much suffering could have been prevented had Mayor Butt and Councilmembers Bates and Pimple voted for the 45-day moratorium on no-cause evictions and rent increases above 3 percent.

There have also been false accounts circulating that I specifically bullied Councilmember Pimple in a way that insulted him for having a disability. In the past, my colleague Vinay has requested that I read to him the signs that people bring to city council meetings so that he is aware of the full context of the room.

In reading the signs to him last Tuesday, I was merely continuing a practice that I commonly engage in at his request. I do recognize that, as a result of the pain and anger I was feeling, the tone in which I read the signs probably felt confrontational.

That confrontational tone should not be misinterpreted as any disrespect for Councilmember Pimple’s disability. I know very intimately what it feels like to be on the receiving end of identity-based bullying and would never subject another person to that kind of treatment.

I am willing to acknowledge that I may have unintentionally caused pain to my colleague, and for that reason, I apologize. I’m sorry for his pain as I’m sorry for the pain he has caused hundreds of people who are now evicted.

I remain incredibly upset by the immense amount of unnecessary hardship that Mayor Butt and Councilmembers Bates and Pimple were unwilling to prevent. And I am disappointed by how much some people have been focusing on criticizing the emotional expressions of people reacting to this devastating vote.

If we want to talk about the need to apologize for less-than-perfect actions, it seems to me that we should be demanding that Mayor Butt and Councilmembers Bates and Pimple apologize and make amends to all of those residents now facing displacement and homelessness. The harm caused by their votes is incomparably larger than the harm caused by any emotional reaction people had to those votes.

I remain incredibly upset by the immense amount of unnecessary hardship that Mayor Butt and Councilmembers Bates and Pimple were unwilling to prevent.

It is not too late – it would bring me so much joy if Mayor Butt and Councilmembers Bates and Pimple were willing to take as much time self-reflecting on what happened last Tuesday as I have, and to make amends by initiating a renewed vote to pass a moratorium on high rent increases and no-cause evictions until after the election.

They all say that they care about Richmond’s low-income residents. I would like to see them prove this by doing everything in their power to prevent this unnecessary harm. That is much more important than this finger-pointing blame-game that has been happening.

They all say that they care about Richmond’s low-income residents. I would like to see them prove this by doing everything in their power to prevent this unnecessary harm.

I look forward to continuing to work with everyone on the council on multiple long-term solutions to our affordable housing crisis. I would like our current residents to still be here when we start implementing some of those solutions.

For that, we need to apply whatever band-aids we can apply right now. I urge Mayor Butt and Councilmembers Bates and Pimple to do the right thing by initiating a reconsideration of the moratorium to stem this tide of devastation.

Peace and blessings,

Jovanka

Richmond City Council member Jovanka Beckles works as a mental health specialist for Contra Costa County and serves on the Richmond Progressive Alliance steering committee. She was born in Panama City, where she grew up in a bilingual, multicultural household. Her family moved to the United States in1972, and she has lived in Richmond for nearly two decades. She can be reached at Jovankabeckles@gmail.com. To receive her newsletter, subscribe here.