Virginia Finlay placing her campaign literature on Kate Lord's table.
by Jean Womack
How I learned about the coffee klatch for Virginia Finlay is this: I walked out of my house about 9:00 a.m. on Saturday, October 30, to get the morning newspaper. I saw former Richmond Mayor Rosemary Corbin walking up the street holding canary yellow fliers in her hand. "We need five people for this," she said. "Kate Lord is giving a coffee for Virginia Finlay." I promised to be there. Kate lives down the street and around the corner of this intensely political neighborhood of Richmond, California. A normally intense election year is becoming an unusually stressful experience with several hot potatoes on the ballot and a hard fought battle for city council and mayor. Compare this to El Cerrito where only two people are running for the two available seats on the city council. We are receiving an avalanche of political mailers this year: more than I have ever received in my life. Every Tom, Dick and Harry are running for Richmond City Council. And Virginia Finlay is running for it too.
Virginia Finlay preparing to answer questions.
Her web site is www.electfinlay.com She is a realtor specializing in residential real estate sales. She served on the Planning Commission for 16 years, much of that time as its chairperson.
Kate Lord is offering Virginia Finlay
coffee and warm cinnamon rolls.
I first became aware of Virginia Finlay when I started watching Planning Commission meetings many years ago. She has been on the planning commission for 16 years and been its chair for seven years. Her skill at running a meeting is that of a world class diplomat. One cannot fail to observe her ramrod straight posture, her carefully considered sense of humor and her special wild west real estate lady coiffure. The Planning Commission is a commission which can bring a person's lifelong dreams to fruition or dash their hopes with a few words. Virginia treats all the members of the public with the same dignity and respect as she treats the staff and the other commission members. The planning commission is traditionally the place from which city councilmen and women are drawn.
Margaret Morkowski is the one with the blue blouse,
in the foreground.
Kate Lord put it like this in her flier, "To any of you who has attended or watched a planning commission meeting, I am sure that you can appreciate, as I do, Virginia's no-nonsense and dignified approach to the matters at hand, always keeping the agenda items on point and the discussion within the parameters."
Rosemary Corbin seized the opportunity to ask
Virginia questions about her position on certain issues.
The meeting was to be a dialogue rather than a speech by a candidate. I hope I never get put on the hot seat by this braintrust, but I guess that's what it's like to be a city council person.
Jeff Lee, current planning commissioner (r). I do not
know the name of the person next to him.
Virginia was asked if she was for or against a casino at Point Molate. "The condition on which the Navy gave the land to the city was that it would be developed for substantial employment. It won't come from housing or industry, so that's what they finally settled on," she said, referring to the casino project. She apparently thinks of it as just another entertainment business.
Virginia Finlay fielding questions about all issues.
As if attempting to give Virginia a chance to demonstrate her powers of diplomacy, Rosemary Corbin disagreed with her, without rancor. "When I was mayor, we drew up a plan that the community college would have an executive retreat center there, that the culinary arts department would operate out of Winehaven and the housing would be the cottages. On that basis, the Navy gave us the land," Rosemary said.
Virginia Finlay making a point.
However Virginia Finlay was not to be deterred by Rosemary Corbin. "At this point, until a different plan comes forward with financing, this is what is in front of us," she said. "The Bureau of Indian Affairs has not given final approval for the tribe to establish itself on the land…The contract would still allow development rights."
She said she was disappointed when Congressman George Miller opened the door to Indian gaming, but that's where we are now. "Washington is waiting to get a better feel for what the public wants." She's hearing all kinds of different stuff. "The difficulty is that we have a contract with Upstream."
Rosemary disagreed. She said the contract had expired. Virginia said that the time span was given because of lawsuits. Rosemary said, "People should have to go to the trouble of getting there. If it is in an urban area, too many people get addicted to gambling."
Virginia is winning votes even though she is
disagreeing with Rosemary Corbin. Anti-casino
people are caving in because she is so good at
explaining the issues..
Margaret Morkowski interjected a comment. "There is a rumor that Pixar wants to come back to Richmond."
Another person said that at one time Chevron said they wanted that land for their security. Virginia replied, "Chevron security? There is no building on the uphill hillside next to Chevron. The Lawrence Laboratory mentioned a supercomputer construction site. It would be superior to have that here. We have three potential enormous proposals coming up," she said.
Virginia Finlay has an awe-inspiring understanding
of the land-use review process and the ability
to communicate it to the voter.
She is expecting infrastructure to be the main issue coming up. "Because our infrastructure is so old that we don't have the broadband internet WiFi we need. We've got to have a fertile business environment. We have transportation but we have to have the computer ability. Staff will take their lead from the leadership (of the city). If the leadership is not for business then staff takes that as guidance. It's easy to say no ( to a new project). In the hospitality industry we say, "The fish always thinks from the head—look to yourself first."
Rosemary Corbin is still not convinced.
Regarding crime: crime is down. The Chief truly believes in community policing. We need to upgrade technology. We have COMSTAT, shotfinder, and DNA matching. There is a prosecutor on board, police are getting better training. Her suggestion is to take a staff person and make that person a public information officer. Package what the good stuff is and give it to the newspapers. Then we can change the perception of Richmond as having a lot of bad stuff.
Virginia has three more events to go
Regarding traffic stops: she has a problem with selective enforcement. She approves of random stops. "It's draconian if you take people's cars away from them, but if you can get someone else to drive you home, that's OK."
Glad to see old Planning Commmission friends.
She doesn't understand how the federal law is against marijuana and the state can be in favor of it at the same time.
Kate's house is so pretty and clean,
with a lot of fresh air and sunshine
and a nice view too..
"The new truancy program has shown early success. They are taking the children to the Ryse center. They are taking a casebook approach. So far it looks like it's working." Kate Lord said that San Pablo and El Cerrito are not participating in the truancy program. Virginia replied, "If it's successful they will also get involved."
Kate Lord asked Virginia, "What possessed you to run for City council?" Virginia said, "I was termed out of the Planning Commission. I grew more and more concerned about what I was seeing on the council. I see an anti-business stance. Property taxes are going down. We already have the highest utility tax. We are taxed out as a community. Yet our needs as a city aren't going away. The one thing we can do is create a business environment that is welcoming. The issues have to be brought into the conversation with employers—that creates sales tax.
Time to stretch one's legs and smell
Jeff Lee mentioned, "About ten percent of Chevron employees live here. The rest of them go home at the end of the day. Except for lunch, how do they benefit the city?" Finlay mentioned gasoline purchases.
Rosemary mentioned that Viramontes, Rogers and Lopez are up for reelection. Running against them are Corky Booze, Jovanka Beckles, Eduardo Martinez and Virginia Finlay. Rhonda Harris is also running for a council seat.
Regarding planning violations that are appealed to the council, such as asking for a three-foot retaining wall when a six-foot retaining wall is needed, Finlay stated, "I wish we would red tag more of the gross violations. It would put a stop to it." Rosemary Corbin added, "When I was Mayor, we made people rip whole pieces out of their houses because they had not gotten a permit to build it."
Virginia has three more events to go
to today, so she needs to get out
of the corner and leave.
Architect Ron Gammil was there with his wife Elwonda. "Is it the city's business to settle neighborhood disputes or enforce the city's rules?
Jeff Lee replied. "We (on the planning commission) just have a little subset of what the city council does. At the city council there are no bounds." Jeff Lee is on the planning commission.
Virginia mentioned, "If you do it (the council job) correctly, it's a full time job. There is a lot of reading to do and meetings to go to. They get paid about $1,000 a month. There are health benefits. There is probably a phone. They should be paid far more than that. I was on the planning commission for 15 years and my payment was bottled water. She is a real estate agent to make a living.
A few people appreciate
Virginia Finlay as a
super star in the business world.
This is a non-partisan race so no one
asked her what political party
she belongs to.
She added, "It's absurd to frontload a city council meeting so you're up until 2 a.m. (by giving out plaques of appreciation.) It doesn’t work. What are you doing to staff? There's a disconnect. How do you get people to work for you? How can you get any enthusiasm for serving the public with that kind of disrespect for the public? It's much easier to work with people and give them the dignity and respect they deserve.
To a question about whether Chevron runs Richmond, she answered, "I have not seen it. I haven't found that to be true. Chevron doesn't run me. They haven't contributed any money to me and Upstream hasn't either. I'll accept a cup of coffee but no more than that."
Looking east towards the El Cerrito hills, Point Richmond is a
residential neighborhood on San Francisco bay
right next to a large area of heavy industry, as you can
see in this photo of the railroad switching yards
on the other side of the freeway. This ain't the suburbs folks.
Hate campaigns launched against big oil affect
everyone in this area, even if they have nothing to do
with big oil, do not benefit from it and only live near it.
The refinery is off to the left, out of this picture.
The red brick building is the Hotel Mac.
Richmond is remarkable because it has more miles
of waterfront parks than any other city in the San
Francisco Bay Area, thanks to the foresight of city
council and planning commissioners. The fight over Point
Molate is just one example of how precious the waterfront
land is to us.