News & Opinion » Feature

The Man Behind Richmond's Renaissance

Crime is down, business is up, and the city is avoiding major budget cuts thanks to Bill Lindsay, perhaps the Bay Area's best city manager.



Page 3 of 5

Lindsay made his mark by being remarkably adept at hiring new department heads, working with the city's unions, and establishing new administrative policies with an emphasis on governmental transparency. Under previous administrations, federal search warrants and FBI raids were about the only way the city would give up any embarrassing information. But under Lindsay, Richmond's government suddenly opened up as it never had before. When millions of gallons of Richmond's raw sewage overflowed the city's antiquated sewers in 2006, Lindsay stepped in front of a bank of news cameras and fully admitted the city's responsibility for polluting the bay. When a longtime government reporter at the West County Times requested all of the city's cell phone bills, he was amazed to receive all of the records within 48 hours.

Openness has now become part of the city's culture. Lindsay said the city attorney takes any request for public information very seriously and each one goes immediately into the queue. Transparency also has been a big factor in improving the flow of information between city departments. "Secrecy drags down an organization; it's pernicious and can pit one department against another," Lindsay explained. "Delivering the bad news can be rough at times, but you get more trust from the community and the council if you're open about the things that aren't so good."

Lindsay also formed a good working relationship with city unions that had been decimated by layoffs in the financial crisis. He credited them with cooperating with administrators to help the city begin its recovery. The police union and other public-employee unions agreed to 8 percent pay cuts (the firefighter union refused to cooperate, forcing the city to impose cuts when negotiations failed). Union cooperation not only helped lift the city out of its financial morass, but also helped inoculate Richmond against the national fiscal crisis that began in 2007 and has laid waste to city and state budgets and pension funds across the country.

Lindsay, meanwhile, also assembled his own management team. One of his key hires was Financial Director Jim Goins, who engineered effective strategies for regaining the city's bond rating, achieving balanced budgets, establishing regular department audits, and ensuring overall fiscal responsibility. Lindsay also brought in Assistant City Manager and Human Resources Director Leslie Knight, who created both stability and accountability among city staff, and Employment and Training Director Sal Vaca, who has helped expand the city's job training programs to include the award-winning RichmondBUILD, which offers hands-on training for construction and solar installation.

Lindsay also promoted Richard Mitchell to planning director, which proved to be a valuable move. Mitchell was born and raised in Richmond and has a reputation for bringing high standards to his hometown. "Richard Mitchell won't accept low-quality projects," Lindsay said. "If they won't let them build it in San Ramon, Richard sees no reason why it should be built in Richmond."

But Lindsay didn't completely clean house. He retained some effective department heads, including Community Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Steve Duran and Redevelopment Director Alan Wolken, who have overseen the city's revitalization projects. Port Director Jim Matzorkis was a key factor in securing the Honda and Subaru contracts.

"Duran, Wolken, and Mitchell have done an incredible job; they're about getting things done," said Eddie Orton, owner of Orton Development, which refurbished the historic Ford Assembly Plant into a prime waterfront office and restaurant space. The saw-toothed building also boasts the Craneway Pavilion, a 45,000-square-foot event space with sweeping views of the San Francisco Bay. "But the lynchpin is Lindsay. He's the lynchpin for Richmond's success, there's no question about it."

Richmond's new stability has caught the attention of businesses that are now willing to invest in the city and take advantage of its industry-friendly infrastructure. Besides Galaxy Desserts, there are a number of new, small, thriving businesses in the city, including the Artisan Kitchen and Cafe, which recently moved into one of Richmond's "commercial condos" near the waterfront, and Catahoula Coffee Company & Roastery, which has created an unlikely cafe society on San Pablo Avenue. Richmond also had attracted big-box stores — Walmart and Target, whose presence, while usually damaging to small retailers, shows that the city is now viewed as a place of economic opportunity.

But some of the most exciting businesses to come to town are green. According to the city, there are 65 certified green businesses in Richmond. Among them is SunPower, which leases space in the remodeled Ford building. Even Chevron, the city's largest greenhouse gas emitter, has gotten into the green mix with its Engineering and Technology Division, which employes one hundred renewable-energy researchers, making it the fourth largest green employer in the city. Councilman Jeff Ritterman, a heart surgeon who was elected to the council in 2008, has been one of the city's most enthusiastic promoters of Richmond's new green-friendliness. "The real challenge for us is bringing more of these companies that can provide jobs in a meaningful way," he noted.

Comments (17)

Showing 1-17 of 17

Add a comment

Add a comment

Anonymous and pseudonymous comments will be removed.