A monthly update by Michelle Blackwell, Chair, Richmond Chamber Government Relations Committee.
The September meeting of the Government Relations Committee was lively and focused on two major issues that will impact the Richmond Business community if they come to fruition. BART Board member Zakhary Mallett came to the meeting to give us an overview of negotiations with BART unions. Mr. Mallett explained his position regarding cost of living increases for BART employees. He believes the BART workforce’s pay is over-and-above the market rate for their line of work however he conceded that the BART management has agreed to increases to move the negotiations forward. There did not seem to be much light at the end of the tunnel and it sounds like a strike in October is imminent. When asked about contingency plans including training replacement drivers, Mr. Mallett revealed that by contract BART cannot train new drivers until the existing drivers go on strike. There are preliminary discussions for management employees to provide skeletal service during the strike pending a Board discussion and approval. The committee voted to recommend that the Chamber Board send a letter supporting arbitration to local state and federal representatives.
While we are on what seems to be imminent – the City has continued down the path of figuring out how to use eminent domain to seize under water mortgages. Just the threat of this action seems to have had negative impacts in Richmond. The committee received a report from Josh Genser and Jeffrey Wright. Apparently the City was unable to sell bonds in the open market recently. Per Mr. Genser, the City routinely sells short term bonds in the fall to make payroll until property tax dollars come in later in the year. Mr. Wright reported that the repercussions in the real estate market are very real. A property sale in Richmond that was in escrow was cancelled by the buyer because of the eminent domain issue. So while the City is getting a lot of publicity – it may be harming everyday property owners in Richmond. The City is moving forward with the plan assuming it can find other cities willing to share the liabilities. Apparently MRP (the investment company that is working with the City on this idea) is not going to provide the type of insurance the City needs to move forward on its own. Reportedly, Vallejo is interested in the JPA. The Chamber is asking Mr. Lindsey to come to a future Government Relations meeting to explain the City’s point of view on this program. Meantime, Tom Barnidge wrote a “not” complimentary editorial on the subject in Monday’s Contra Costa Times. SF Gate, The New York Times, Richmond Confidential and many other news organizations have also reported on this story – so there is lots of information out there if you are looking for additional background. We will continue to follow this as it moves along, assuming it moves along.