Youth groups express anger at Richmond council for stalling initiative

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Richmond City Council opted against having voters decide on the Kids First Initiative in November, despite the initiative receiving enough petition signatures to qualify as a ballot measure.

The initiative must now wait for the June 2018 election, Mayor Tom Butt reported in his e-forum newsletter on Wednesday.

The decision enraged and frustrated youth groups that supported the proposal, which would amend the Richmond charter to mandate that 3-percent of the city’s general fund budget be set aside for youth services. The minimum percentage would be phased in over three years and re-evaluated after 10 years.

The youth coalition had hoped to place Kids First Initiative on the November ballot and had secured more than 6,000 petition signatures to do so. But on Tuesday, council — which recently completed a grueling budget session during which it had to cut city services to rectify a $13 million deficit — showed little interest in pursuing the ballot measure in November.

During public forum Tuesday, dozens of supporters of the initiative, including several youth from the RYSE Youth Center and Supervisor John Gioia, were none-too-happy when councilmembers rejected attempts to place the initiative on council agendas, ultimately blocking it from the November ballot. They accused the councilmembers of abandoning their progressive values by standing in the way of the Democratic process, and for doing so in support of special interests.

However, Mayor Butt described the council’s decision as “a rare moment of unity,” saying all members agree the Kids First Initiative would be bad for the city.

Opponents, which also include SEIU-1021, which represents most city workers, and the city’s police union, argued that while funding for youth is important, the initiative as proposed would further cripple a city struggling through a projection of annual budget deficits. They also said it would lead to privatization of work done by city employees, resulting in layoffs.

Supporters of Kids First are well aware of the city’s financial struggles. The ballot initiative was introduced after the city learned it would need to significantly slash expenses or face a $22.7 million deficit by 2021. When it was first introduced, supporters of Kids First said in a statement the initiative would “help the city utilize its general budget with greater foresight.”

Mayor Butt said he hoped to “work this out” in a way that would not lead to “fighting it out again at the ballot box in June of 2018.”

Photo: Richmond Kids First Initiative Facebook page.

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