Thursday, February 23, 2012

What's wrong with this picture? Why Richmond Needs District Elections

2011-2012 Richmond Councilmembers neighborhoods (click for larger image)
T'he yellow pushpins in the photo above represent the neighborhoods of the current Richmond, CA city councilmembers.

What's wrong with this picture?

A quick glance reveals the obvious: the unequal representation of the "representative" council.

As you can see, three, that's right three, of the council members live on the hill in Point Richmond less than a mile from each other.  A fourth lives less than a mile from those three in Brickyard Cove.  The other three are located on the city's borders. 

So what about everyone else who lives in the middle?  Who represents them?

Richmond's council is "at-large".  There are no districts or neighborhoods specifically represented on the council.  In other words, anyone living anywhere within incorporated Richmond city limits can run for council regardless if their next door neighbor is already a councilmember.  It's the reason Richmond is so lop-sided in its supposed representation of the people.

In cities where there is an actual attempt at equal representation, the city is divided into districts or neighborhoods.  One person is elected to council to represent each district and that person must reside within the district ensuring each community has a voice.

"At-large" representation like in Richmond is fraught with problems.  Three that immediately come to mind:

  1. Not every neighborhood is represented 
  2. It allows for a concentration of councilmembers in a particular neighborhood (like described above in Point Richmond)
  3. A candidate has more of a need to raise a large amount of campaign funds since he or she has to appeal to the entire city as opposed to just his or her district.  This also makes receiving corporate contributions more enticing and justified. (one Richmond representative raises over $100,000 for his campaigns.  One dollar for every man, woman, and child in Richmond!)
For the most part, Richmond council members historically have lived in neighborhoods with low crime and relatively sound infrastructure and therefore lack an appreciation or understanding of the ills that the rest of the city faces.  Therefore, they can devote their time to the concerns of their own neighborhoods not to mention the concerns of their aforementioned corporate benefactors.

For example, the council voted to siphon over $300,000 from the Parks And Recreation Reserve Fund for a moveable bulkhead at The Richmond Plunge (located in Point Richmond) while kids showed up at the council meeting with pictures of their dilapidated soccer fields and baseball fields asking "Wait, what about us?  What about our neighborhood?".

In Marina Bay the council voted to spend $37.5 million for a railroad underpass.   Marina Bay was built approximately twenty years ago surrounded by railroad tracks (duh!) with virtually only two ways out.  During the time the vote was passed two council members were residents of Marina Bay. 

Imagine if Richmond was divided into districts and there was also a councilmember who lived in the Iron Triangle, North Richmond, Atchinson Village, Southwest Annex, etc.

Imagine if these neighborhoods had someone sitting on the council that could say "Wait, what about us?  What about my neighborhood?"

If a council member only has 15-17,000 people to represent and is a resident of the district/neighborhood it:

  • ensures the member's focus on his/her neighborhood and true representation and accountability  
  • eliminates the need for raising an inordinate amount of money for campaigning and thus tempers the temptation from corporate contributions from Veolia, Chevron, etc.
(currently VEOLIA contributions: Tom Butt, Nat Bates, Jim Rogers; CHEVRON: Bates, Rogers)

You can view campaign statements HERE

While we're at it, let's add TERM LIMITS to the equation.  Once voted onto the council you serve no more than two consecutive terms (eight years total).  Also, if you choose to run for mayor while you're on the council, you relinquish your council seat.

Don't forget to vote in 2012! 



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