Richmond Chamber Honors Difference Makers of 2015


By Malcolm Marshall
A woman who worked in the male-dominated construction industry and a man who introduced young people to nature were among the individuals honored by the Richmond Chamber Of Commerce this year.

At its annual business meeting and “Thanks for Giving” luncheon, the Chamber Of Commerce recognized businesses, leaders and volunteers who have made a difference in the community in 2015. About 60 people gathered at the Richmond Country Club Nov. 19 for the ceremony.

“It’s about honoring people that have given of themselves in extraordinary ways,” said Chris Phipps, Chamber office manager. “This is the event Chamber members look forward to as the feel-good event of the year.”

The public relations firm J Majors & Associates took home the award for small business of the year, with its owner Jacqueline Majors honored for her work in the male-dominated field of construction, as well as for her Majors Foundation, which helps city youth travel out of the Richmond area through baseball.

Eric Aaholm, executive director of the ecology group YES Nature To Neighborhoods, accepted the award for non-profit of the year, for his organization’s work with Richmond youth and families that emphasizes leadership development in the outdoors. Entering its 17th year, the group recently celebrated the 5,000th young person it has hosted at outdoor camps, providing a learning space in nature for urban youth who would not otherwise get such an opportunity.

Louise Green of Fisher Realtors received the award for Ambassador of the Year, recognizing her work in the community and honoring her long career — including work as a medical transcriber at Veterans Affairs offices and hospitals in the Bay Area, a brief stint with the Richmond Police Department, time spent supporting the U.S. Navy and finally at the Social Security Administration. After 25 years working for the government, Green became a successful real estate broker.

Outgoing Chamber Of Commerce Chair Vernon Whitmore received special recognition for strengthening the chamber’s relationship with the city and state governments, local business and the non-profit community.

Also acknowledged were the winners of the 2015 Barbara Obele Community Service Award, given to local advocates in honor of longtime Chamber General Manager Barbara Obele, who died in 2009.

“We miss her greatly because she loved the city, the hard working people and especially the volunteers in the community,” said former City Council member John Ziesenhenne, who served as master of ceremonies for the event.

Recipients of the award included Cesar Zepeda of the Hilltop District Homeowners and Stakeholders Association, Menbere Aklilu of Salute e Vita Ristorante, community activist Naomi Williams, and Kyra Worthy, executive director of the non-profit group For Richmond.

Zepeda received recognition for creating change in the community through his homeowners association and the Hilltop District Neighborhood Council. Aklilu, a survivor of and activist against domestic violence, was honored for starting what has become one of Richmond’s most celebrated traditions, an annual Thanksgiving event for the needy in Contra Costa County.

The Chamber honored Williams for her decades of service in Richmond with the Pullman Neighborhood Council, Richmond crime prevention program, Richmond Police Commission, the Neighborhood Black Alliance and more. She has attended Richmond City Council meetings for the past 43 years.

Worthy, meanwhile, received honors for her work with the Chevron-funded non-profit For Richmond. Her accomplishments include the Job Barriers Removal Program, which prepares residents for employment and connects jobseekers to available positions.



Expo Showcases Richmond’s Latino Artists


by Tania Pulido | Photos by Katherine Rife

Nearly 100 people turned out for the Latina Center’s second Eco-Artisan Latin American Expo earlier this month, showcasing ecologically friendly products created by some of the top Latino craft artists in the Richmond area.

Held at the Middle Lovonya Dejean Middle School auditorium on Saturday, Nov. 14, the family-friendly event featured more than 30 tables of art, jewelry, pastries, food, info booths and art activities for children, with many crafts focusing on the upcoming holiday season. Many of the products available were made with recycled and re-used materials.

“The objective of the event is to get to know our community, and share our art, culture and crafts,” said Gloria Alvarez, one of the organizers. “Most people here run a home business, and this is an opportunity for them to show their talent. Alone, [an] artist couldn’t have organized this event, and this is how the Latina Center has helped.”

One of the artists who showcased her crafts was my aunt, Mirella Mora Solis, who collaborated with her daughters to make holiday items.

“The most important part was spending time as a family — I just bought the materials and allowed them to be creative,” she said of the miniature Christmas trees, wreaths and small fabric angels at her booth. “It’s important for girls to learn at an early age entrepreneurial skills, to know that they can make things and sell them.”

12240341_952493304797348_9141883546169166379_oFor other participants, art has become a material reminder of their creative resiliency. Salvador Ochoa, a Richmond resident, was invited to the event by his wife, a Latina Center member. Ochoa’s inspiration came out of a personal struggle — after years of working, he fractured his back, which led to unemployment and financial strains. Ochoa fell in love, but could not afford a wedding ring.

“I saw a spoon with beautiful designs, and decided to make her a ring,” he said. “She loved it, and made me a ring too.” The rings at his table ranged from roses with intricate designs to bulkier circlets with numerous patterns.

Another inspiring story came from Maria Gamboa, a member at the Latina Center since 2011.

“When I started at the Latina Center, I was dealing with chronic depression,” said Gamboa, who hosted a table full of handmade bags fashioned from a wide range of colors, sizes and patterns. “A friend invited me to the center, and I am no longer the woman who would stay home all the time. Now I’m a leader in the community.”

Like many women at the Latina Center, Gamboa reached out to the center during difficult times and found a family. She studied sewing in Mexico, and now teaches a class at the center, featuring sewing techniques traditional to her culture.

Since 2002, The Latina Center has served Richmond’s Latina community, trainings girls as leaders and working to create change by impacting families, neighborhoods and schools. Founder Miriam Wong says events like the expo not only help with the local economy, but with the emotional and spiritual well being of the community.

“Many of these people were artisans in their home countries and when they came to the United States they left everything they knew,” said Wong.

“When people who can’t find a regular job, at least they can make some money with things they know how to do very well.”



FUNdraising Good Times: Annual giving – five ways to say thank you


Column, Mel and Pearl Shaw


Many nonprofits will see an increase in gifts from individuals over the next few weeks. Some will be from faithful annual donors. Others may respond for the first time to your year-end appeal. Still others will feel an emotional tug on their heart strings and impulsively give online. As you prepare to say thank you we offer five things to consider

  1. If your donor took the time to give, you can take the time to say thank you. There’s always a lot to do, but “thank you” must take precedence. If you plan well, it shouldn’t take much time. And, it can be joyous – you’ve received a gift. If a donor gives online, send your thank you electronically. If your donor sends a gift, send your thank you by mail. If it’s a meaningful or unusual gift take a moment to pick up the phone and say thanks.
  2. Say thank you – plain and simple – without asking for another gift. We recently read a “rant” by Holly Hall via Inside Philanthropy. Her point: “thank donors without asking them for anything.” Research shows that’s what donors want. It may not be what you want, but with nonprofits losing 50% of the new donors they gain in a year, it might be a good idea to think about what donors want.
  3. Share the impact your donor’s gift will make. Donors want to know about impact. Maybe you can distribute more holiday gifts to children. Or expose more girls to careers in science and engineering. Maybe your advocacy resulted in a legislative change. In all cases, tell your story.
  4. Use an up-to-date thank you letter. Don’t use a general all purpose thank you. Share current information and perhaps a teaser about forthcoming projects or events. Keep it timely.
  5. Add a personal handwritten note. If you know a donor, its logical that she knows you. Show that you care by adding a handwritten note to the thank you, regardless of the gift size.

Over the years we have talked with many nonprofits about this topic. If a donor gives less than $250 there’s no legal requirement to say “thank you” or provide a written receipt. You may not be legally required to acknowledge smaller gifts, but what if you didn’t receive the gift? We also experienced an organization that received its largest gift from an individual as a bequest – it was a woman who gave $25 a year for decades.

Thank you deepens a relationship. Keep the focus on the donor, not on the next gift.

Copyright 2015 – Mel and Pearl Shaw

Mel and Pearl Shaw say “thank you” for reading our column. Happy Thanksgiving.

Urban Tilth Celebrates 10 Years of Food Justice


Photo Essay, David Meza and Malcolm Marshall

Marking a decade of community gardening, about 225 people came from across the Bay Area to the Craneway Pavilion on Saturday, Oct. 3 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the non-profit Urban Tilth.

The fundraiser included bus tours of some of Urban Tilth’s community gardens in Richmond, along with a seasonal harvest dinner prepared by the People’s Kitchen of Oakland. The event also featured live music and dancing, including a stirring a cappella performance by singer Jennifer Johns.

Urban Tilth works to put healthy and sustainable foods into the kitchens of Richmond and West Contra Costa County residents. Employing local youth, the group manages community gardens through the area — many in schools, where they grow and sell food and teach community members to cultivate their own gardens.

“What makes Urban Tilth so powerful is their commitment not just to healthy food or healthy land, but above all to healthy people and community power,” said Josh Healey, emcee for the evening.

“They put young people, black and brown people, at the center of the conversation about what food justice looks like in Richmond,” he said. “They have a bold vision. It’s not just about one little garden here or there; they’re on their way to radically transforming the whole food system in Richmond and beyond.”

Inside the Craneway, the event began with a screening of “Gaining Ground,” the new work from Portland, Oregon filmmakers Barbara Bernstein and Elaine Velazquez, which looks at both rural and urban farmers feeding local communities sustainably by changing their farming practices. Urban Tilth and its executive director Doria Robinson feature prominently in the film.

“Urban Tilth brings together youth organizing, environmental justice and urban agriculture in a totally unique, beautiful way,” said Healey. “As this drought continues in California, and climate change [continues] across the globe, they’re teaching all of us the skills we’ll need to thrive and survive as a community — and really, a species. I love Urban Tilth not just because they show me how to grow food and eat right, but because they really show us all how to live.”

Richmond Women Mean Business


By Keisa Reynolds

After dreaming at a young age of opening a local business, longtime resident Liz Gonzalez finally opened Ritzy Reuben, a hair and beauty studio in Point Richmond.

“It’s very rewarding to open a business in the city I grew up in. I am [trying] to bring something positive to the city. Hopefully as I as expand, I can bring prosperity and betterment to the city,” Gonzalez said.

Ritzy Reuben offers hair and beauty services, specializing in haircuts, extensions, and hair coloring. For Gonzalez, it is important for people to feel good about themselves.

“Our services are something that brings more than just a hair style or color or tint; we’re touching people personally, helping them feel better. People always want to feel the better part of themselves,” she said.

‘Women entrepreneurs outnumber men’

Women like Gonzalez continue to outnumber men when it comes to starting new businesses across the nation, with women of color leading the way.

According to research by the National Women’s Business Council based on U.S. Census data from 2007 through 2012, women owned nearly 9.9 million business as of 2012, up 2.1 million or almost 28 percent, since 2007.

Since 2007, the number of Hispanic women-owned businesses increased 87 percent, making Hispanic women the fastest growing segment of women-owned businesses in the United States. The number of African American women-owned businesses in the United States increased 67.5 percent, while Asian American women-owned businesses increased by 44.34 percent.

Bret Sweet is the program manager of the Renaissance Entrepreneur Center in Richmond, a small non-profit that provides support services and training for business owners. Sweet says his office is seeing many women in Richmond, as well as women throughout Contra Costa County, who are interested in starting a business from scratch or have already started but may have become overwhelmed.

“When women are starting a business, there are multiple considerations that they have to go through that the average comparable male is not considering,” said Sweet. “One thing to consider is that these women may have children… Or they’re taking care of a parent or maybe it’s a parent and a child.”

That makes it less likely that they’ll pursue a “foolhardy idea,” says Sweet, and more likely that they’ll weigh the options to make a responsible choice for their family.

“So they’re really calculating and scheduling and refining,” he said, “so that the business they are bringing to the table is about economic independence.”

‘An underserved population’

IMG_6837Vicki Harris and her business partner Claire Fleckles opened their dental hygiene practice Clean Smiles about a year ago. The owners, who are not Richmond residents, chose to open their business in Point Richmond because it was an “underserved” population that had a shortage of dentists.

Clean Smiles aims to change how people view their dental hygiene visits by creating “a calm and relaxed spa-like environment,” as advertised on their website. They say their prices also allow for a diverse clientele.

“We try to keep our prices affordable and inexpensive,” Harris said. “The patients love it. They love coming and having a different kind of service provided.”

‘You wear a lot of hats’

DSC_0032Hairstylist Sumatra McGilbery, who owns on Déjà Vu Hair Salon on Macdonald Avenue, says the hardest part of being a woman entrepreneur is that she has to wear a lot of hats. “I’m a mother, as well as a business owner, as well as a father,” she said. “So I have to juggle all those things at once. It never stops. But if you’re strong enough and you’re determined, you can do it.”

“My specialty is haircuts,” said McGilbery, who has been cutting hair for 17 years. “I do a lot of weave extensions, but I love to cut, that’s my favorite.”

“Hairstylists are in high demand because of the economic conditions,” she explained. “People are looking for us to make them look and feel better.”

The longtime Richmond resident says she has seen a lot of change in Richmond, much that she likes. But there a few things that she says could make the city better than it is.

“We do see a lot of new businesses coming in. We see a lot of renovation, but none of that is going to matter if we don’t do anything for our youth that’s coming up… As a community, [we would be better] if our businesses could provide more jobs to give these children out here something to do.”

More people want to support local business’
11046343_10153984877835968_8324400675188855464_nLaToya Carr’s business, LaToya’s All Occasion Gift Baskets, was inspired by her aunt who made gift baskets, Carr has made them for friends and family since she was a young girl. After deciding to take her creative talents to the community, Carr has received referrals from previous customers. Customers can order baskets for all occasions, including birthdays, weddings, and baby showers.

Carr does not have a storefront, but the Fairfield resident spends plenty of time making deliveries in Richmond where she says “things have gotten a lot better.”

Carr hopes her gift baskets help residents make deeper connections with their loved ones. “For me, it’s not all about the money,” she said. “It’s really rewarding to do something for children, men, and women; their baskets are all about what they like.”

For Carr, the sense of community makes Richmond a great place to do business. “People in Richmond have are better sense of community than before,” she says. “More people want to support the local, small and home businesses as opposed to the larger franchises because of where the economy is.”

Richmond Rent Control Stalls — and Could Go Up for a Vote



News Report, Nancy DeVille

Editor’s Note: Richmond was the first city in the state to pass a rent control law in more than 30 years. Now it could end up going up for a vote.

Richmond’s controversial rent control ordinance has hit a snag after the California Apartment Association submitted more than 7,000 signatures opposing the plan, a move that blocked it from becoming law.

The ordinance, which was approved by the City Council on Aug. 5, was scheduled to go into effect on Sept. 4. It was drafted to stabilize rents for about 10,000 residences in Richmond, limiting annual rent increases to 100 percent of the Consumer Price Index. Condominiums, single-family homes, Section 8 housing and properties built after Feb. 1, 1995 are exempt.

Once the Contra Costa County Elections Office certifies the signatures, the Richmond City Council can opt to repeal the ordinance, place it on the ballot next November or call a special election for voters to decide.

Tom Bannon, chief executive officer of CAA, argued that since the City Council “fast-tracked” the ordinance approval, the referendum would give residents more time to think more about what rent control means for Richmond’s future.

“Rent control has long-lasting, negative impacts on communities,” he said in a news release. “That’s one reason no other city in California has approved rent control in decades.”

But supporters of the ordinance worry that the plan’s delay will leave residents with rising rents or simply priced out of Richmond. According to a report by UC Berkeley’s Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society, the median rent in Richmond rose 13 percent between January 2014 and January 2015.

It’s an issue Joanus Youngblood knows too well. She was forced to relocate last year after her landlord raised the rent by $250. She has since settled in Oakland.

“I grew up in Richmond and I really loved living there and being close to work. But I didn’t have any other options and couldn’t find anything that was affordable,” she said.

Youngblood works as a case manager, helping Richmond families find affordable housing.

“Housing is the number one need for the families that I serve,” she said. “A lot of my families were depending on this rent control bill. Their kids are in school in Richmond but they can’t really afford to live there. So some end up in homeless shelters or living in their cars.”

Joe Fisher, a local realtor and longtime Richmond resident, says he opposes the rent control ordinance because it could be detrimental to the city’s future.

“Richmond is starting to change but it’s still one of the lowest [priced] places for quality living in the entire Bay Area. In the long range, we will be just like San Francisco and Berkeley, where everyday people will not be able to find a decent place to rent,” he said.

“When I talk to some people in Berkeley and Oakland, they wish they would not have voted for [rent control]. After a few years, some want to move to a larger unit, but they are stuck and can’t afford it,” he added.

Some proponents hope the rent control ordinance will curtail the exodus of African American residents from the city. The city’s black population fell by 12,500 people between 2000 and 2013, according to the UC Berkeley Haas Institute study. African Americans now make up 24 percent of Richmond’s population.

In recent years, black families have relocated to cities like Pittsburg, Vallejo, Fairfield and Antioch in search of cheaper housing. Eli Moore, co-author of the report, said nearly two out of three African American households in Richmond are renters.

“For those residents who do not have disposable income to cover the rising rent prices, rent control could prevent these households from being displaced,” Moore said.

While many have chosen to leave Richmond, Deyong Hollman says he is determined to stay. He’s seen some major improvements in recent years, including a decline in violent crime. And as Bay Area freeways become more congested, the city’s central location is prime for the daily commute.

Hollman, a real estate investor and lifelong resident who supports rent control, hopes to be part of the trend that transforms some of the city’s blighted housing.

“Richmond is prime for redevelopment,” said Hollman, “but the playing field needs to remain fair.”


Small Businesses Discuss What New ‘Global’ Campus Will Mean for Richmond


News Report, Malcolm Marshall

Just as the city of Berkeley developed around the University of California, Berkeley, the planned Berkeley Global Campus at Richmond Bay is expected to be an enormous economic development opportunity for Richmond. But what can be done to ensure that it benefits the city’s small businesses? That was the question at the center of a breakfast meeting in August at the Richmond Civic Center, where about 75 local business leaders filled the room.

The breakfast, sponsored by Healthy Richmond and Richmond Main Street Initiative, in cooperation with UC Berkeley, invited local businesses to discuss how businesses can prepare for opportunities and growth from the new campus. The breakfast also provided a chance to hear from locals on what the Berkeley Global Campus could do to support Richmond businesses.

“There’s going to be a lot of money invested,” said Roxanne Carrillo Garza, Healthy Richmond hub manager. “We’re interested in making sure that business owners themselves had a chance to weigh in on what they need to really be successful and be able to compete for procurement opportunities.”

Biggest economic development since World War II

The Berkeley Global Campus at Richmond Bay is slated to be the largest economic development to come to Richmond since the shipyards of World War II. It will be built at the Richmond Field Station, a site on the waterfront just off the Regatta Boulevard exit of Interstate 580 that has sweeping views the San Francisco skyline. The development will span 152 acres, about three-quarters the size of UC Berkeley’s main campus.

According to the recent “Anchor Richmond” report by the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society, the campus will likely become the largest employer in Richmond within a decade. By the year 2040, it’s projected to be at full capacity with a daily average of 10,000 workers, faculty, students and visitors.

A report by UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business estimates that construction costs could range between $520 million and $900 million. The “Anchor Richmond” report estimates that 2,700 jobs will be generated in the first phase (2014-2018) of construction.

How local businesses can prepare

“I think there’s a need for education, for workforce development, for helping businesses to build their capacities,” said Roesia Gerstein, UC Berkeley’s supplier diversity program manager.

Some groups are already working to give small businesses the tools they need to compete for campus contracts.

Among the attendees were representatives from small business development programs that offer local businesses training and technical assistance to help them compete for UC Berkeley procurement.

This fall, the city of Richmond is also launching the Richmond Build Contractors Resource Center, a new contractors’ capacity building center to help small, local contractors compete for jobs on large-scale public construction projects. According to the chancellor’s office, UC Berkeley plans to partner with the center.

Gerstein is also part of a committee where she represents UC Berkeley in discussions about how to support local businesses. The committee, which aims to draft procurement strategies and ideas, has recommended that UC Berkeley respond to the barriers that local businesses are facing.

Draft recommendations also include calling on UC Berkeley to set a specific goal for increasing procurement from Richmond businesses, partner with Richmond programs that build the capacity of local businesses to compete, and regularly address policies that may create barriers for small businesses to access these opportunities.

At the breakfast, Gerstein said she was energized by the amount of excitement and interest she heard from attendees.

“Part of the challenge,” said Gerstein, “is for us to work through the policies and the regulations and requirements that we have with the State of California and the federal government to able to use local businesses the best way possible.”

But some fear that Richmond’s local residents and businesses could be left out of the prosperity that the global campus will bring.

What happens in Richmond should benefit Richmond

Over a year ago, a coalition of concerned community members formed a group called Raise Up Richmond to make sure the campus is a win‑win for both UC and Richmond. They’ve sought to get UC Berkeley’s commitment to a Community Benefits Agreement that could include guaranteeing local hiring, a housing displacement fund, affordable
housing and the protection of longtime residents from displacement.

Earlier this year, UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks committed to entering into a Community Benefits Agreement but what concessions, if any, that agreement will contain is still being determined.

“The stakes are very high for the people of Richmond,” said Todd Stenhouse, spokesperson for Local 3299 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. “Whether it’s making sure there are good jobs in the community or making sure people aren’t displaced from their homes or making sure that small businesses have a chance to share in any prosperity that is connected to the project. Absent a CBA, there are no such guarantees that the project will realize its promise.”

Small business owners learning about new campus

Catahoula Coffee owner Timothy Manhart, who attended the breakfast, says he’s seen Richmond grow since he first opened his neighborhood coffee shop on San Pablo Avenue. He says he may not see a huge uptick in his business from the campus but is interested in the impact the campus will have on the overall Richmond community.

“When the housing collapsed, that’s when I started my business at Catahoula. Seeing all the turbulence that hit, what I saw as a benefit were young professionals who started seeking out Richmond,” he said. “That’s what I think will really help out the overall status of Richmond, just being the last affordable place that’s commutable distance to San Francisco to live.”

Carrillo Garza of Healthy Richmond said the business breakfast provided attendees with information on opportunities they didn’t know about.

For Salvador Moreno, who works at Pro Sound on 23rd Street doing car stereo and alarm installations, the breakfast was the first time he had heard about the planned UC Berkeley campus coming to Richmond. He said he came to the event in search of information about training to better serve his customers.

“Some trainings and connections with partners would help us most,” he said. “Training on how to use the Internet more. I’m just starting to learn it and now it comes with the new systems in the new cars so I need to learn a bit more to do better.”

Richmond resident Charlene Chabural, who works for local general contractor Overaa Construction, came to the event to network with other local business professionals.

“We’ve been following the story on the Richmond Global Campus and it’s something we’re very excited about,” said Chabural. “We know that it’s going to open up a lot of opportunities for our line of work and also for our subcontractors.”

“It really comes down to two things,” added Carrillo Garza. “It’s to make sure our local businesses thrive here and scale up so they can actually compete for these opportunities; and to make sure there are more jobs for our local residents. At the end of the day, we want to make sure that 1,000 people are getting hired for these business opportunities.”

Drought Pushes Small Farmers to Be at ‘Top of Their Game’

News Report,  Nancy DeVille

As California’s record-breaking drought extends into its fourth year, small farmers are struggling. But you wouldn’t necessarily know it by a trip to the local farmers’ market.

That’s because small farmers are doing everything they can – from ancient techniques to high tech – to become more efficient.

Still, many say they are afraid that they have reached “the top of their game,” and further cutbacks could cause economic pain.

“It’s definitely getting drier here and that makes me really nervous,” said Pilar Reber, owner of the Sunnyside Organic Seedlings in North Richmond. Her business grows about 400 kinds of vegetables and herbs to sell to Oakland restaurants and Berkeley co-ops. “I’m using water from a well that I have no way of finding out how much is in it or when it might go dry.  So I can’t plan unless I really know what the future is. If my well ran dry tomorrow, I just don’t know what I’d do.”

Reber is also using high-tech devices. She now uses a GPS system that tracks the wind and temperature to determine exactly how much water the plants need. She’s also planting less and going longer between watering cycles. The staff also mulches all winter long to hold moisture in the soil.

“I can know exactly how much water I need to put down that day because of how much sun and wind we got,” she said. “We are really on top of the curve as far as water management.

“Most farmers are already 75 percent efficient with their water use. So to ask us to cut back another 25 percent, that’s scary, because we are almost already at the top of our game. I think everyone is nervous about it.”

California’s drought can be felt nationwide as homeowners are urged to take shorter showers, stop watering their lawns and forgo the weekly car washes. But the agricultural community is seeing the biggest impact. A recent UC Davis study estimates the industry could lose 18,600 jobs and $2.7 billion in revenue this year.

But it’s not all bad news for smaller farmers. As the demand for local, organically grown produce increases, Richmond farmers’ markets remain popular. Fruits and vegetables are plentiful at the city’s various weekly markets as farmers work hard to keep up with the demand.

Jorie Hanson, owner of Buttercup Farms Garden in Clayton, sells her produce each Wednesday at the Richmond Main Street Farmers’ Market. She sells everything from tomatoes, eggplant, beans and lettuce to strawberries and plums. She’s managed to stay afloat and make a profit but is struggling to ensure that her water usage is compliant.

“It’s already hard to be a small farmer because it’s hard to make money growing vegetables,” Hanson said. “With the drought it adds more pressure to the process because we have to be more conscience of water usage. If they limit my water use any more, I’ll have to go out of business.”

Instead of raising prices, many farmers are choosing to plant significantly less produce than previous years, according to Alyssia Plata, spokeswoman for the Pacific Coast Farmers Association. The association operates over 60 farmers’ markets throughout the Bay Area including the Richmond Main Street Market.

“We do have some farms that just don’t have enough product to come to the markets to sell,” Plata said. “Some have dropped down to only participating in two markets instead of seven.”

“Agriculture has been getting a lot of flack over the drought, but we want people to understand that small farms can’t afford to irrigate with water. And because of the drought, many have reduced one-third of their operation.”

At the Friday Farmers’ Market at 24th Street and Barrett Avenue, some farmers are starting to reduce their volume, but the quality remains, said Steve Ghigliotto, who ran the weekly market for 12 years and recently resigned. The market averages about 20 farmers a week.

“The quality is just as good but they are reduced to selling seconds – fruit that might be bruised a little bit. But their attitude is very good and they are learning that they can do almost as good with less water,” he said.

“Most of them are just taking it in stride. They are not happy with it but they are doing the best they can. If the drought continues, it will have a greater impact.”

While the severity of the drought is constantly discussed, many agriculture advocates agree that the impact on farmers is not widely understood.

“I don’t think the consumer really understands the impact because they are not the ones growing the produce. They won’t really realize that, until a particular produce they like is not here anymore,” Ghigliotto said.

Plan Ahead, Richmond: BART Shutdowns To Affect 100K



By Nancy DeVille | Photo Courtesy of Richmond Confidential

Richmond residents may want to think twice before heading across the bay Aug. 1-2 and again on Labor Day weekend Sept. 5-7, as a Bay Area Rapid Transit tube closure is expected to displace about 100,000 transbay BART passengers.

BART will suspend train service between the East Bay and San Francisco to do $2 million of critical track repair work, replacing worn tracks and installing an interlock track between the West Oakland station and the eastern entrance of the Transbay Tube.

“We need to get in there and completely tear out that section of track and rebuild it,” said Jim Allison, spokesman for BART. “This means replacing 932 rail ties, 2,000 feet of rail and rebuilding all the switches. This is something that we can only do in an intense, very quick period of time.”

Affected passengers are encouraged to use other public transit transbay options, such as ferries and area bus service. The San Francisco Bay Ferry will have additional service on its Alameda/Oakland/San Francisco and Vallejo/San Francisco routes during the BART closures.

“Driving is not going to be a good option,” Allison said.

Ninety-four buses from the AC Transit, Golden Gate, Muni and SamTrans lines will operate as part of a continuous, coordinated “lifeline” shuttle service between the 19th Street BART station and the Transbay Temporary Terminal at Howard and Beale streets in San Francisco. Officials say riders should consider the buses a last option, predicting one to two hour delays for some customers. Riders are encouraged to lock their bikes at stations rather than bringing them onto crowded buses.

Other BART service, except for the closure at the West Oakland station, will continue to operate, though rerouting the trains will still cause delays elsewhere in the system, officials said. On average, BART’s ridership throughout the system hits well over 200,000 on Saturdays and more than 150,000 on Sundays.

“We understand the interruption in service will be a significant inconvenience for tens of thousands of people, but we simply can’t avoid making these repairs,” said BART Assistant General Manager for Operations Paul Oversier. “We need to completely rebuild one of the hardest working sections of track in the entire BART system. Once the work is finished, riders can expect a faster, smoother ride between West Oakland and Embarcadero.”

For tips for travel during the shutdown weekends, visit

Richmond Is First California City in Decades to Pass Rent Control



News Report, Malcolm Marshall

Beginning  Sep. 4, Richmond will become the first California city in decades — and the first in Contra Costa County ever — to enact a rent control ordinance, after a 4-1 approval by the Richmond City Council.

The new law will use the consumer price index for the San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose region to limit annual rent increases — essentially meaning that rents can’t increase more than the overall expense of living in the area. Exempt properties include condominiums, single-family homes, Section 8 housing and units built after Feb. 1, 1995.

“What it does is help those people who are currently renters in about half the rental housing, stabilizing their rents and only allowing them to increase a reasonable amount as long as they are renting,” according to Mike Parker of the Richmond Progressive Alliance. “This helps keep neighborhoods stable, and keep kids in the same schools. This helps everyone concerned about our neighborhoods.”

Council members Jael Myrick, Jovanka Beckles, Gayle McLaughlin and Eduardo Martinez voted in favor, while Nat Bates dissented. Councilman Vinay Pimple and Mayor Tom Butt abstained.

Many property owners opposed to the measure spoke passionately during the heated public comments section of the meeting, calling the new rules unfair to landlords and arguing that rent control statutes create unintended consequence for the city.

“This rent control is just a punitive law,” said 80-year-old Mon Lee, who told the council that he’s lived in Richmond for 25 years and owns property here. “It requires the owner to subsidize the renter, [but] you already have Section 8 for that.”

“I’ve worked all my life since I bought the property; it has been in a negative cash flow and nobody helped me,” Lee added. “Now that I’m retired and can’t work, you change the law.”

But supporters said that rent control will defend low-income renters from rising Bay Area rents forcing them out of their homes.

“It’s a moral issue. We need to protect the least protected, the most vulnerable in our community,” said Tim Laidman. “I have had great landlords, and I appreciate them and think they’re an asset to this community. I also think that this law won’t hurt them, it will help them. It will make the other people that aren’t good compete with their goodness.”

After the vote, Butt took to his e-forum to lament the decision.

“Although I am disappointed that rent control passed, I was prepared to live with it, even though it is a colossal mistake for Richmond,” the mayor wrote. “It is kind of like a lottery; every ticket purchaser (in this case, renter) sees themselves as a winner, although most renters will see no benefit. As time goes on, the number of beneficiaries will dwindle, as will the supply of low-rent units, while all other renters will be faced with rent increases that will exceed what they would have been without rent control. This is what has happened in San Francisco and other rent-controlled cities.”

Laidman, however, noted that the new law will assist nearly 10,000 residents, most of them low-income.

“It’s not a criticism that it doesn’t affect everyone and can’t help everyone,” he said. “It shouldn’t stop us from doing what we can.”

Parker, meanwhile, argued that the ordinance addresses broader issues, such as slowing gentrification in Richmond.

“This measure does not stop gentrification and it does not provide more affordable housing,” Parker said. “[But it] gives us more time to try to deal with fundamental problems, like encouraging the building of more affordable housing, requiring mixed-income housing in developments that are coming, [and] programs to refurbish abandoned housing.”

UPDATE: A previous version of this article stated that the effective date of the rent control ordinance was December 1, 2015. The December 1 effective date was removed per City Council direction during the first reading of the ordinance on July 31, 2015.