Former City Councilmember Donna Powers is considering a return to Richmond’s City Council. Powers first joined the local political fray in 1991 with a run for city council.
Community members remember Powers as someone who shook things up on the Richmond City Council in the 1990s. She developed a reputation as a councilmember who got things done when other council members and administration seemed mired in bureaucratic complications and political stalemate.
Now she is back and gearing up to take on the tumultuous problems that have taken over city hall.
Donna is a street-smart woman and one heck of a hard worker,” says retired Berkeley professor and businessman Bob Goshay, who has lived in Richmond since 1977 and has known Powers for more than 20 years.
Powers was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Shortly after her father left for the war, Powers’ mother moved the family to Oakland, CA. Powers recalls that those were tough times; her parents got divorced and her mother changed jobs often to try her best to provide for everyone.
After graduating from high school, Powers found work at a bank in San Francisco and moved to Point Richmond where she met and married her husband. They raised a daughter here.
In the early 1990s, Powers became deeply involved in local politics when she found some shocking evidence of financial mismanagement and malfeasance in the budget.
She sued the Richmond City Council and took the case all the way to the Supreme Court of California (Powers v. City of Richmond), where she won.
She was then elected to office in 1991 and used the Powers decision to help put into place Richmond’s “sunshine” ordinance, which governs the city’s disclosure of its financial records to the public.
In 1993, Richmond suffered the fallout from a chemical spill emanating from the General Chemical plant in town. Powers saw an opportunity to take the reins and help Richmond recover to bring some good from a tragic occurrence.
She immediately organized an effort on the part of the city, Contra Costa County, and industry experts to put into place a first-of-its-kind chemical and disaster warning system. The system was considered so revolutionary at the time that Powers and her colleagues on the project received an award from the federal government for their work.
Another significant contribution Powers made was the creation of the Rosie the Riveter memorial site and the movement to get the City to fund the honoring of the women of Richmond that had worked in the Kaiser shipyards.
Powers convinced the National Park Service of the site’s historical merit and President Bill Clinton signed the certification for the Rosie the Riveter National Memorial and for other sites throughout Richmond just before he left office.
“She went from having nothing to work with, to having a full-fledged national park in place within five years,” recalls Phyllis Gould, a 92-year-old Richmond resident whom Powers involved in the project. “It was simply amazing.”
Shortly after, Powers was forced to leave her council position to care for older family members. She left behind her a city with a new iconic mascot, a hugely improved system for financial disclosures for its officials, and a warning system that remains to this day one of the most important safety measures ever implemented in an industrial area in the nation.
“I am like water,” Powers says. “I will find a way around any obstacle standing in the way of efforts for this city; I will go up and over, around, or under anything to get things done.”