ONS proponents discuss City Hall fist fight, moving forward

By: Lexi Pandell | October 25, 2011 – Richmond Confidential

Office of Neighborhood Safety staff and supporters spoke publicly Monday night about the details of the fistfight that broke out among seven young men on October 14 in City Hall and what the altercation means for the future of ONS. In a nearly two-hour discussion at the Human Rights and Human Relations Commission meeting, they pointed to a failure of communication between the group and the Richmond Police Department directly following the incident, saying that the relationship needs repair.

Lynette Gibson McElhaney, LaVerne Vaughn and Eugene Jackson represented Ceasefire at last night’s meeting. They discussed how the October 14 fistfight has impacted their progress and how they hope to initiate the program soon. (photo by: Wendi Jonassen)

“I know there are probably many questions about the recent events in our office,” ONS Director DeVone Boggan said. “So I wanted to speak to those.”

The men who showed up in City Hall were “unannounced and unexpected,” Boggan said. The young men spotted each other in the City Hall parking lot where tensions mounted until, once in the ONS suite on the building’s third floor, a fistfight broke out. The scuffle lasted about two minutes, Boggan said, after which about half of the group lingered while others left the building. Boggan confirmed that one of the men broke his nose during the fight.

Some local news groups have reported that ONS was not cooperative with the police.

“I nor the protocols themselves allow for or condone any obstruction of justice by our staff,” Boggan said. “I can tell you that 10 minutes after the incident, I was on the phone with law enforcement.”

Richmond Police Captain Mark Gagan told Richmond Confidential in an earlier interview that police files detailing both the fistfight and allegations of sexual misconduct by an ONS female staff member were leaked to the media without authorization. Boggan said the release of the unredacted accounts was “malicious and intentional and targeted.”

“Was it personal?” Boggan said after the meeting. “I hate to speculate.”

Richmond Police Captain and Ceasefire liaison Anthony Williams agreed that there was a breakdown in communication between his department and ONS.

“The department absolutely supports the Office of Neighborhood Safety … we both have the same goal,” he said. “One of our goals is reducing violence in the city, and that is their whole goal.”

But Lynette Gibson McElhaney, executive director of Neighborhood Housing Services of the East Bay and a Ceasefire supporter, said she was concerned that Police Chief Chris Magnus had not sat down to discuss the problem, calling the problem a “relationship breakdown” rather than an issue of communication.

Rev. Eugene Jackson, another Ceasefire supporter, said the incident damaged trust between the police and ONS. He said that in a recent meeting, patrons of Ceasefire were concerned about being protected by the police if “ONS had been hung out to dry.”

As for the allegations of sexual misconduct on the part of one of his staff, Boggan said both the media and a city council member received the reports before he or City Manager Bill Lindsay had seen them.

“She wasn’t cited or arrested for any misconduct,” Boggan said in an interview.

Since the fight, Boggan has met with five of the seven young men involved in the incident, who, he said “understand the inappropriateness of their actions.” He also said he has met with the Richmond Police Department to “better appreciate what went wrong and how we move forward.”

Boggan said the fight could have easily broken out in the parking lot or could have resulted in one group following the other by car.

“I think they ended up in our office because they knew in the depths of their mind that it could only go so far,” he said in an interview.

ONS has recently been in the spotlight as a model program. Boggan and a small team went to South Africa as representatives at a World Health Organization Conference in September and were also included in a recent California Cities Gang Prevention Network meeting.

Seven audience members spoke in support of the group during a public comment session and five ONS staff members were in attendance last evening.

Boggan said ONS is looking to the future, but said they must solve tension between coordinating groups before moving forward.

“These last few weeks have created a challenge,” Boggan said. “Irreparable? No … We’ve got to find a way to preserve what we’ve started.”

Commissioner Vivien Feyer said the Human Rights and Human Relations Commission will propose ideas to the City Council and other administrators on how to deal with the issue.

“We’re stuck and this is the place where change can happen,” she said. “And it’s not change on the part of one group … the lines of communication have been opened.”

Richmond Residents Walk to End Hunger

Photo Essay, Todd Spencer

The Greater Richmond Interfaith Program (GRIP) hosted the 25th Annual Harmony Walk to End Hunger on Saturday, October 22nd. Presented by Chevron, the Harmony Walk is the largest fundraiser in West Contra Costa County.

Community members provide input on Richmond’s Climate Action Plan

By: Wendi Jonassen | October 25, 2011 – Richmond Confidential

Richmond hosted its first public meeting on its Climate Action Plan Monday, asking for community input about environmental and community priorities and concerns before the city hires a consultant.

The consultant firm will be in charge of drafting and implementing policies targeted to address greenhouse gases, pollution and ground-level ozone that have the potential to affect the community in Richmond.

“Generally, we like to talk about the kind of policies and choices that are made to be those that get you benefits in addition to greenhouse gases emission reductions,” said Abby Young, principal environmental planner at the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

One example: transportation. Adding more bike lanes will get residents out of cars, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and will also provide the added health benefit of exercise.

Community members also stressed the importance of transparency at every level of the CAP and emphasized the need for community engagement.

Low-income communities and people of color are disproportionately affected by climate change while contributing to the least to the problem, said Urban Habitat Executive Director Allen Fernandez Smith.

These communities are already more susceptible to disease because of minimal access to health care and fresh foods, and have fewer resources to respond to environmental concerns and disasters, Smith said.

Richmond, for example, has much higher rates of asthma hospitalization for children under the age of 14 than in the rest of the county, Michael Kent, Contra Costa County’s hazardous materials ombudsman, pointed out in a presentation at last night’s meeting.

“One of the things that we need to think about is how do we develop policies that can meet that disproportionate setup because we can’t continue to recreate that cycle,” Smith said.

In Richmond, roadways, freight lines, port activities, heavy industries and refineries produce particulates, which are known to create serious air quality concerns and health impacts on the community.

“There are so many large sources of air pollution, that together they make a situation that needs attention,” Young said.

Richmond is also a host to Chevron’s largest west coast refinery, which is the second biggest contributor to greenhouse gases in the county, according to 2007 data compiled by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

“We can’t ignore that,” Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said.

As temperatures rise, some of the other concerns of climate change in Richmond include a greater chance of heat emergencies, fire, flood and water-borne disease.

There is also a potential for population displacement as the sea level rises and water encroaches onto Richmond’s coast and into the communities, Kent said.

Other commenters, like Tom Waller, a consultant for the Richmond Chamber of Commerce, spoke on behalf of business.

“I sometimes see raw ideological willfulness,” he said. “I hope to see a sense of balance, along with a clear and transparent articulation of costs and benefits, other than this general notion of quality of life and ‘we want to save the planet.’”

Youth Homelessness On The Rise In Richmond

News Feature, Kia Croom

Continuously over the last four years, Jessica Comstock, 22, has been homeless, relying on a network of local emergency shelters for her survival. She is just one of a growing number of young people between the ages of 18-24 who are slipping into homelessness in the city of Richmond and throughout Contra Costa County.

According to a report issued by West Contra Costa County’s Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), there were 617 homeless youth between the ages of (14-24) served by shelters in West Contra Costa County in 2010. Of that number, 59 percent (361) were from Richmond. The 2010 countywide figures represent a 37 percent increase from the previous year.

“I’m scared every day of my life,” said Comstock, her eyes welling up with tears. “I’ve experienced a lot of things that are not okay for a young person to experience.”

These transient youth and young adults often describe their experience with homelessness as a revolving door that takes them from the streets, to hospital emergency rooms, to jails and back again – a vicious cycle that can sometimes seem like it has no end in sight.

Looking back, Comstock can identify the factors that led to her becoming homeless. In high school she came out as a lesbian, struggling to come to terms with her sexual orientation while seeking comfort and acceptance from family, friends and peers who were not always accepting. Soon afterward in early 2008, said Comstock, her emotional whirlwind hit an unexpected peak, when her mother suddenly died in her sleep. The death sent Comstock careening into a state of depression. To numb the pain, she turned to drug use: Comstock’s drug of choice? Crystal Meth. The substance abuse would quickly gain momentum, and life as she had come to know it quickly unraveled.

“My dad kicked me out due to my [drug] use,” she said. “He couldn’t watch me kill myself.”

“If it wasn’t for Calli House (a youth shelter) answering the phone at one in the morning… I would have ended my life,” Comstock said sobbing.

Today, Comstock can celebrate being drug-free for 60 days. However, the taste of victory is bittersweet. She is still homeless and estranged from her family. And although she’s proud to be sober, Comstock longs to repair the relationship with her father. In the meantime, she’ll continue to participate in the program at TLP and is holding out hope to find a job and stable housing. One day, Comstock says, she hopes to harness her experiences to help others, as a counselor for homeless youth.

From Foster Care to the Streets

Joanna was 18 years-old and recently emancipated from the foster care system when she first became homeless.

“I was living with my mom (after foster care), but our relationship wasn’t good, so I ended up moving out. I became homeless and eventually had to go to the Callie House shelter,” she said.

For the two years since then, Joanna has been in and out of emergency shelters, motels and abandoned homes.

“I was basically in survival mode—getting what I needed by any means,” Joanna said. “I didn’t have any income coming in, so I would prostitute to get food and money for motels. It was either that, or live in the streets.”

There was no such thing as a typical day for Joanna, who was focused just on getting by, one day at a time.

“We would get up and leave the motel, me and my ex-boyfriend,” she said. “We would just walk and walk. We had nothing to do in the morning. I wasn’t looking for employment and I knew I wasn’t ready for a job. I was just in survival mode. One night, me, my ex-boyfriend and some friends slept in a ‘bando’ — an abandoned house. It was scary.”

Eventually, Joanna became a client of the Contra Costa County Transition Age Youth (CCTAY) Program. As a CCTAY member, Joanna was able to receive support at the Fred Finch Youth Center in West Contra Costa County. Joanna recalls falling out of communication with the CCTAY program staff on numerous occasions while she was living on the streets, and she credits the persistence and support of her case manager, Jessica Martin, as the thing that helped her turn her life around.

“At times when I was missing, she (Jessica) drove the streets looking for me,” said Joanna. “She didn’t quit. A lot of people would have given up on me, but she didn’t and I’d never had that before.”


Life as Joanna knew it was able to change in the blink of any eye, largely because of non-profit community partnerships between the Fred Finch Youth Center and Shelter Inc (both members of the Contra Costa Youth Continuum of Services). The county programs gave Joanna a pathway to move into a partially subsidized apartment, where she is required to contribute 30 percent of her income to rent.
Today, Joanna is the mother of a 10-month-old son, balancing new obligations of motherhood with school. She earned her high school diploma and is currently a student at Contra Costa College. She hopes to one day become a pediatric nurse or physician.

“I’m glad I’m not on the streets anymore,” Joanna said, with a smile that conveyed relief.

Services Can’t Meet Growing Demand

The economy is the primary contributing factor for the countywide increase in homelessness among youth, according to those familiar with the problem in Contra Costa County.

“We hear story after story about how a family lost their housing, or got evicted,” said Jenny Robbins, Director of Contra Costa Youth Continuum of Services.

“The family goes to a friend’s or relative’s house and soon there is not enough space (for the whole family),” Robbins said. “So sooner than later, the oldest youth is the first to go, especially when that youth is not working, when there are behavioral issues involved or when there are untreated mental health problems.”

“There is [only a] small group of beds for this large group of kids who need a home,” he continued.
Contra Costa County, like any other county, has a limited supply of shelter beds and housing vacancies for youth like Joanna and Jessica. Furthermore, the youth served by those programs have complex and diverse needs that exceed the basic services offered such as food and shelter, according to Rosalind Silva, a case manager at Callie House.

“These youth need relationships that offer support and healing,” she said.

Walking the Streets to Bring the Peace

News Feature, Kim MacDonald

On a warm, Fall evening in the Bay Area’s North Richmond scores of residents came out to the Missionary Baptist Church for the first of what organizers hope will be a series of “night walks,” calling attention to street violence and proposing a ceasefire in the city of Richmond. The event, organized by Cisco and Operation Richmond, the night walks are being planned for every neighborhood in the city that has been impacted by gun violence. North Richmond was chosen as the neighborhood to kick off the walks, because it has been a hot spot for numerous shootings and homicides in recent years.

During the walk, people handed out flyers for the ceasefire, letting folks in the North Richmond community know that far too many people have died before their time, and far too many are wasting their lives in prison. The ceasefire movement is focused on stopping the killings, without sending more people to jail. The flyers are all carrying the message, “We love you and we want you to be alive and free”.

Coming out on the streets to engage those who may be most at risk of violence, I found unity in the community. One gentleman I spoke to said he was trying to make a difference.

Kevin Williams, 44, knows violence all too well. He grew up his whole life in South Richmond, but that didn’t detour him from coming to North Richmond to do the night walk. Williams said he’s trying to make a difference and return Richmond to “One Richmond.” He said he thinks it will take time, but will eventually happen when people from each side come together and share ideas. Williams said that it’s okay to have pride in where you’re from, but the violence that is attached makes it hard to raise your families here. He’s looking to do just that.

Williams understands the pride, but he also knows about those he’s lost before. “You cannot say they died for nothing — you diminish their existence”.

Kevin has seen many die on the streets of Richmond, and said he is walking for those who didn’t make it. He believes that every side has a common denominator: Love for your family, and being able to see them live their lives here in Richmond.

Those who walked were from all walks of life. Megan Roberts felt like she couldn’t do anything to stop the violence until she heard about the ceasefire movement. She walks and talks because she feels like she’s empowered and wants to do something to stop the violence.

“They are killing our babies and [I’ll do] whatever I can do to say, ‘this is no longer accepted in my community,’” she said.

As the night walk came to an end, everyone stopped to talk about what worked and what didn’t. As these night walks continue I know that more community members will get involved, because the energy and feeling was that of empowerment. These are people who want everyone to know that gun violence will not be tolerated in Richmond, and the community wants to deliver the message loud and clear!

The next Richmond Ceasfire/Lifelines To Healing Training will take place on Thursday, October 13 at 7:00pm at Church of the Deliverance, 107 Macdonald Avenue in Richmond.