Nat Bates has long been involved in politics at all levels of government.
He remembers the 1976 presidential election, in which he was initially a supporter of then Governor Jerry Brown’s campaign. He ended up siding with the winner, President Jimmy Carter.
His solid relationship with people inside the Carter administration led, in part, to the extension of I-580 through Richmond to the San Rafael Bridge, a route that formerly took drivers down congested Hoffman and Cutting Boulevards.
“The train would come and stop all the cars and cause massive traffic backups. Some people would park in the middle of traffic, get out of their cars and grab a drink at the bar in Point Richmond while waiting,” he said.
“John Knox, our State Assembly member at the time, approached me and said we needed funding from the federal government to get the project done. I set up a meeting with the Department of Transportation (DOT) through a very close friend of mine, Ben Brown, a former Georgia Assembly member who had been elevated as a top assistant to President Carter.
“We travelled to Washington D.C. with then-San Francisco Senator John Foran to lobby for the freeway funding,” said Bates.
Along with other elected officials, Bates presented plans to DOT, White House staff, Congressman Bizz Johnson of Sacramento, the Chair of the powerful Ways and Means committee at the time, and Congressman George Miller, who was always supportive of the effort.
“Several weeks later, Congressman Miller announced the Carter Administration, and Congress had appropriated 95 percent of the funding for the project now known as the John Knox Freeway,” Bates said.
Maintaining good relationships can make a lot of things happen, and Nat Bates has leveraged many of his contacts for the benefit of the community. “It’s not about what you know, but who you know,” says Bates. “That’s how things get done. “
This type of leverage was successful in bringing the U.S. Post Office Bulk Mail Processing Unit and the hundreds of jobs that came with it to Richmond. “We were in heavy competition with Oakland, San Francisco and Hayward for the project,” said Bates. “We learned through a personal friend, the late Austin Simon, then the Regional Postmaster, that the postal service was looking for a location, and we were able to maneuver and show them the site in Richmond.” The rest is history.
Another project where Bates utilized his experience is the Social Security center. “In 1971, we successfully used our political power to locate what is now known as the Frank Hagel Federal Building in Richmond. It took a collaboration of Republicans and Democrats, business owners and residents coming together to make it happen,” said Bates. “Both the post office and the social security center brought real jobs to Richmond.”
What’s next on Bates’ agenda? “We need to keep our focus on jobs,” he said. He is working with the Port to expand the auto warehousing company, already the number one distributor of Hondas and Subarus in Northern California.
He is also working to expand trade with foreign countries. “Now, we are going after Toyota and Chinese electric auto exports. The Port has brought in millions of dollars to Richmond and has the potential to bring even more revenue and jobs.”