The Richmond City Council has voted to table indefinitely a controversial ordinance that would have beefed up proof-of-residency requirements for council candidates and members. Some had said the proposal was racist and would have discriminated against low-income political hopefuls.
Mayor Tom Butt, who drafted the proposed ordinance, said he would agree to strike language that called for landlords renting to council members or candidates to comply with all city ordinances regulating residential rentals, including registration with the city’s rent program.
Critics of the ordinance said the rental provision added a layer of hassle for landlords and thus would have discriminated against renters.
Butt’s concession wasn’t nearly enough for Councilman Jael Myrick, who moved to table the ordinance indefinitely, effectively killing it.
“The language in this is so inflammatory … I don’t want the drama that would happen with this,” Myrick said before making his motion. Myrick and fellow council members Ben Choi, Demnius Johnson III, Eduardo Martinez, and Melvin Willis voted along with Myrick; Butt and Vice Mayor Nat Bates voted no.
The entire discussion and vote was over in 10 minutes.
The ordinance, Butt said, was designed to require more thorough vetting to verify the residence of anyone who runs for City Council, to ensure they are residents of the council district they want to represent.
Butt said he used much of the wording in a similar ordinance in Coalinga to craft the Richmond ordinance.
Under the proposed ordinance, council members and candidates would have to show proof of home ownership — a copy of a grant deed, a mortgage payment billing statement, a homeowner’s property tax exemption filed with the Contra Costa County Assessor or any other document of verification. Renters would have had to produce a signed lease or rental agreement.
The ordinance, as Butt drafted it, would have also required landlords renting to council members or candidates comply with all city ordinances regulating residential rentals. That was the wording Butt said he was willing to cut from the ordinance.
Incumbent council members running for re-election would have had to supply a copy of a current California driver’s license and an affidavit saying that they have not relocated and that all previously supplied information remains correct. Currently, the only proof of candidates’ residence reviewed by the Richmond City Clerk’s Office is their address for voter registration.
While Butt said Tuesday night the ordinance wasn’t meant to hinder anyone from holding or running for office, critics had said the ordinance discriminated against renters, especially.
The Richmond Progressive Alliance had blasted Butt’s residency proposal as a “Jim Crow policy” that would disproportionately affect people of color.
The alliance said the ordinance was a specific attack on incumbent Councilman Melvin Willis and challenger Najari Smith, both of whom rent their homes in Richmond. Both also are Black, and have been opposed by Butt.
This is Richmond’s first City Council election in which the city is divided into districts, each represented by one council member. Until now, council members from any part of the city have been elected on an “at-large” basis.
The change was prompted by the threat of a lawsuit over what one attorney contended was a violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.