Councilmember’s blindness mocked in ‘ugly’ display by RPA

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Richmond Councilmember Jovanka Beckles “screamed” in the face of blind colleague Vinay Pimple following a vote Tuesday, calling him “disgusting” and reciting to him a message on an insulting banner held by members of her group, the Richmond Progressive Alliance.

“[Beckles] added loudly and multiple times that she wanted to tell me about the things I couldn’t see,” Pimple said.

On Wednesday, Pimple spoke out about the ugly episode described in Mayor Tom Butt’s e-forum newsletter. It occurred after a proposed 45-day moratorium on rent increases and no-cause evictions failed to garner six votes (East Bay Times) from the seven-member council.

Pimple said Beckles screamed in his face while reciting the message on one of the RPA banners that stated: “Vinay is the Pimple on Tom’s Butt.”

“During this entire display, I sat quietly, not speaking a single word,” Pimple said.

Richmond Mayor Tom Butt said Wednesday it was the RPA’s special brand of political theater. While the RPA, which currently holds three seats on council, knew the rent moratorium measure would fail, as it has failed in the past, “the sole purpose” of including it as an agenda item was to launch a demonstration, Butt said.

The RPA also used the City Council forum to promote its preferred candidates for City Council. During the council meeting, the RPA featured interviews on social media with their candidates Ben Choi and Melvin Willis. With Pimple up for re-election, the RPA took to Facebook Wednesday to target attacks against the mild-mannered, soft-spoken councilmember.

“Both Pimple and Bates [who voted against the temporary moratorium on evictions until the electorate votes on the Measure L rent control ballot measure in November] are up for reelection,”‘ the RPA post stated, adding, “Shame on you.”

It wasn’t the first such display. In June, as part of its campaigning alongside tenants’ rights groups, the RPA was accused of unfairly branding an 82-year-old Hispanic woman as a greedy landlord and sending protesters to her home.

“Unfortunately, we have become used to the RPA turning council meetings into political theater,” Pimple said. “But yesterday marked a new low that I hope we don’t see again.”

Councilmember Nat Bates, who also reportedly endured Beckles’ close-encounter shouting, at one point said, “This isn’t necessary.”

The debate over rent control has been heating up with Measure L on the November ballot. The measure would implement rent control and just cause for eviction policies in Richmond administered by a new city rent board.

Advocates of rent control — which include the three RPA members on council, Gayle McLaughlin, Eduardo Martinez and Beckles — argue the policy is needed as the technology boom and housing shortage have led to increased rents. Without rent control, low-income residents are being displaced, they say. The policy is being considered in several other Bay Area cities.

Opponents of rent control — including Mayor Butt, Pimple and Bates — say the policy hasn’t been implemented by a jurisdiction in decades because it has proven not to work as intended. And they add that while the RPA appears to fight for affordable housing, its members on council have recently blocked two proposals for affordable housing projects.

While Richmond opponents of rent control agree something must be done to keep rents down, such as increasing housing supply, they point to research showing that a majority of economists believe rent control does not accomplish its intended goals.

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