By Richmond Mayor Tom Butt,
Chancellor Dirks broke the news last night that the Berkeley Global Campus project in Richmond has been suspended (project site pictured). With 73 days to go in this City Council election season, this shocking turn of events should become a cautionary tale about what might happen in Richmond if the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) wins even a single additional seat and takes full control of the City of Richmond.
The RPA and their allied organizations have made it a political priority to use the Richmond Global Campus project to shake down UC Berkeley like an almond tree, but it has finally backfired. In the e-forum I wrote on April 24, “The Ambush of UC Berkeley in Richmond,” I cautioned:
‘I don’t have any problem with a community benefits agreement, and in fact, I even voted for a City Council resolution supporting an eventual agreement, but I do not believe the tactics and misinformation being used by ACCE, CCISCO, AFSCME, the Haas Institute and others are appropriate or productive. The University of California is not Chevron, and it is not a profit-driven wealthy real estate developer. We have no regulatory power over the University of California, and they need no permits or entitlements from the City of Richmond. They are, like us, a public agency. Our relationship with the University calls for collaboration, not confrontation.
Richmond, with its sympathetic and super-progressive majority City Council is increasingly being used as a laboratory for social activists, many from outside Richmond, to use Richmond as a venue to implement initiatives they are unable to move forward elsewhere, even though the underlying justification may be much greater elsewhere.
Chancellor Dirks has been the most enthusiastic supporter of the Richmond Global Campus, and he hoped to have its establishment as a key accomplishment of his administration, but he is now a lame duck, and his support has been fatally eroded by events largely triggered by those who most would most benefit.
Earlier this year, the RPA and ACCE (both represented by City Council candidate Marvin Willis) railed against UC Berkeley, and by inference, Chancellor Dirks, in a rally preceding the fateful working group meeting. The RPA is unbelievably skilled in their ability to turn a positive into a negative. Note McLaughlin’s statement, “ Richmond… will not allow residents to suffer from the campus’s arrival.” Suffer from the campus’s arrival? Well, we won’t have to worry about suffering any more, as ACCE and the RPA have put us out of our prospective misery.
The new campus is “something that can literally make Richmond or break Richmond,” Willis said.
According to Willis, the only way to ensure that Richmond residents benefit from the campus is if the campus commits to community improvements that the Richmond Bay Community Working Group has approved. He said that UC Berkeley has responded only when community members unite and put pressure on decision makers.
Gayle McLaughlin, a Richmond City Council member and former Richmond mayor, said at the rally that Richmond is prepared to stand up for “what we believe in” and will not allow residents to suffer from the campus’s arrival.
“We welcome them, but we welcome them to do the right thing for our community,” McLaughlin said.”
Last year, the RPA, ACCE and others took their protests to the Chancellor’s residence, pounding on the front door and vandalizing property. The fence that was later completed to provide a measure of privacy for the chancellor when he is home became part of a rallying cry for his dismissal. “The San Francisco Chronicle reported that a security fence built around the chancellor’s campus residence had ballooned into a $700,000 project,” story here. Also see:
The Global campus concept has been increasingly fragile as interest groups fight for pieces of the inadequate UC Budget. Students are angry about tuition increases. Staff and faculty want raises. ACCE and the RPA want housing, jobs and other benefits for Richmond. There wasn’t enough to go around, and guess who ended up on the short end? We did.
The problem with organizations like the RPA and ACCE is that they understand only one way of achieving objectives – protests and vitriol. In delicate situations like the Global Campus, collaboration and diplomacy would have been more effective than ham handedness. Instead of playing a major role in crippling Chancellor Dirks, they should have been among his most ardent supporters. Instead of pounding on his door in the middle of the night, they should have been singing his praises and giving him awards for his vision.
Surprisingly, the RPA has also let their principles obstruct other opportunities. When the $90 million Chevron Environmental and Community Benefits Agreement was being negotiated, the RPA refused to participate in negotiations with Chevron on principle and then voted against it. If they had controlled the City Council at that time, we would not have $90 million to fund the Richmond Promise and millions of dollars of environmental programs.
Opportunities for both UC Berkeley and Richmond remain at the Richmond Field Station, but if they are to be nurtured, they beg for collaboration and cooperation rather than conflict. We need City Council members who know how to get things done rather than attacking every opportunity as an enemy to be vanquished.
This post was originally published in Mayor Butt’s e-forum newsletter.