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’

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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.


Catahoula Coffee Hosts Customer Appreciation Event


Photo Essay, David Meza

Catahoula Coffee, a local go-to caffeine spot in Richmond since 2008, opened its doors last Sunday to say, “thanks,” to its many loyal patrons with a customer appreciation day.

The 6th annual, “Party in the Parking Lot,” featured free coffee, live music, classic cars and furry friends. In appreciation of its patrons, the locally owned coffee shop also dished out free hot dogs and other yummy snacks, including a fan favorite: Japanese Mochi Bread, made at its sister location in Berkeley.

To many in Richmond, Catahoula is close to the heart simply because it’s close to home. The shop’s owner, Tim Manhart said he started the event to celebrate the community and its support of local businesses.

DSC_0164“If you’re going to have a business, you might as well have fun with it,” Manhart said, at the event.

Among the local businesses present was Urban Tilth, a non-profit gardening organization that is expanding its retail portion, offering deep cleansing soap bars with used Catahoula coffee grounds in the ingredient list. Also embracing community, by selling local honey, was the owner of Richmond Gold and Vice President of the Alameda County Beekeeper Association, Catherine Edwards.

“This is great stop on a bike ride,” said local photographer Mindy Pines as she stopped by the event for a bag of coffee beans.

A family favorite of the day was the Little Explorers Petting Zoo featuring Kanga the rabbit, Duchess the pig and Bella the goat.

Adam and Jinny Pagle, of Pagle Homestead, who grow food and sell custom planter boxes and homemade jam, have been bringing their children to Catahoula for years. The couple said they admire the friendly atmosphere and like many others, enjoy the company of neighbors while supporting a thriving local business.


Cinco de Mayo Festival, Better than Imagined


Photo Essay, Josue Hernandez

Each year thousands of people come out for one of Richmond’s biggest events, the annual Cinco de Mayo Festival organized by the 23rd Street Merchants Association. This year it was held on May 2, and for the first time I decided to see what all the hype was about.

The free, all day celebration of Mexican culture included exhibits, live music, dancing, food and fun for the kids with jumpers and slides.

After years of not attending, I went this year to work with my mom, Gloria Hernandez, selling food at the event. My Mom has always been a good cook and last year she started her own business, Gloria’s Tacos, catering weddings and parties.

My sister, Karina Hernandez, and I took orders as Mom made traditional Mexican fare —tortas, tacos, aguas frescas and more.

Once there, I was surprised by how many people families attended and I wondered why I didn’t come every year. I thought it was going to be people drinking, being obnoxious and not celebrating in a respectable way, but it was not like that and it blew me away.

The vibe was energetic with something happening at every spot along two miles of 23rd Street between Clinton Avenue and Rheem Avenue. Seeing the traditional native dancers perform the dances that my ancestors did while chanting in old native languages made me feel connected to my Mexican roots. Vaqueros atop horses also danced around, performing and low riders showed off their classic cars.

Mexican flags waved in the wind around the festival and people sold handmade, traditional goods from Mexico. My grandmother also had her own booth, selling Mexican ponchos and folklórico dresses.

After such a good time this year, I’m ready for the next one.

DMC to Close April 21

By Nancy DeVille

It’s the decision that many hoped would never come: Doctors Medical Center is closing April 21.

The board of West Contra Costa Healthcare District, which governs DMC, made the decision Thursday after they were advised the hospital is running out of money and has exhausted opportunities to borrow additional funds.

“This is a very sad day and a huge loss for our community and for all of us who have worked so hard to keep our community hospital open for all our residents in [a] time of need,” Eric Zell, chairman of the board of directors, said in a statement.

“We have exhaustively pursued every alternative over the past weeks, months and years. Unfortunately, we have completely run out of viable and responsible options.”

Once the hospital closes, West Contra Costa will lose 79 percent of its inpatient hospital capacity, and an Emergency Department that historically has provided 59 percent of emergency treatment in this portion of the county—including all severe heart attack care. DMC also has provided vital outpatient services such as cancer treatment, dialysis and free breast-cancer screening for low-income women.

“The impact is going to be catastrophic,” said Maria Sahagun, an emergency room nurse at DMC, who spent months urging the board to come up with a viable solution to save the hospital.

Since DMC stopped accepting patients, those needing emergency care are being transported to Richmond’s Kaiser Permanente, Contra Costa Regional Medical Center in Martinez or Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Berkeley.

But an increase in transportation time could have “devastating” effects on their health, warned Sahagun. Former DMC patients are now riding public transportation to chemotherapy appointments at Richmond’s Kaiser Permanente three times a week, she said, while others have complained about relatives being transported to Berkeley.

“If you have a stroke or heart attack, every minute counts,” she said.

Sahagun, who lives in Richmond, started working for the hospital seven years ago. Despite its financial woes, she said, she always believed DMC played a crucial role in the community.

“After all, we do serve some of the poorest communities within the Bay Area,” she said.

Sahagun said the decision to close the hospital sends “a clear message that we, the residents of West County, do not matter.”

County health officials are working with other West County healthcare providers and hospital systems to provide primary, urgent and emergency care alternatives for residents.

Dr. William Walker, Contra Costa Health Services Director and a member of the DMC Governing Body, said health officials are working with Lifelong Medical Care of the East Bay to establish an urgent care center across the street from DMC on Vale Road in San Pablo. The county’s health center, just two blocks from DMC, is also adding more evening and Saturday appointments to see patients.

The hospital, which opened in 1954 as Brookside Hospital, has been teetering on the verge of closure for years. Last spring, voters in the district failed to approve a $200 parcel tax, which would have directed $20 million to eliminate its annual operating deficit.

“Continuing further operations would only put the hospital deeper in debt, and jeopardize its legal and fiduciary obligations to pay its employees, physicians and vendors,” said Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia.

New City Councilman Discusses Working With Business Community

Interview by Vernon Whitmore

EDITOR’S NOTE: Richmond’s newest city council member is Vinay Pimple (pronounced Pim-PLAY), a 47-year-old attorney who has been on the job for less than a month. Pimple was selected unanimously by the city council from a group of 17 contenders to fill the seat vacated by Mayor Tom Butt. Born in India, Pimple has been completely blind since the age of 10. He came to the United States in 1993. Vernon Whitmore, Chair of the Board of Richmond Chamber of Commerce, sat down with Pimple to discuss his approach to working with the Chamber of Commerce and the local business community.

 Vernon Whitmore: How has your adjustment been to your new life as a city councilman?

Vinay Pimple: It is exciting. I’ve gone to quite a few neighborhood councils and it’s really nice to meet the people and I definitely feel like people are very warm, very welcoming. You know, I didn’t quite know how people would react but now I’m getting kind of used to people being so welcoming of me. Initially I just felt very touched by it because of the first council I went to was the Santa Fe Council.

VW: Yes, we were so happy to have you there!

VP: I was just really touched by it, you know? It was just, it was so warm and welcoming, you know?

VW: And then I saw you at the Marina Bay neighborhood council meeting last week and they were very receptive.

VP: Oh yeah, there, too. And so it was just really nice. You go in thinking that yes, I’m here because I want to help people out, you know? Because otherwise there’s no point in this job. But you so often read the media and the media tends to be very negative about politicians. And so you just have this fear, as someone who is new to this, that people probably don’t look at you in a very nice way. But actually most of the people who are actively engaged, if you go out to them and if you engage them and try to help them out, they’re actually very appreciative.

I have to say that I’ve been welcomed by not just the folks in neighborhood councils but even the political people so far. Certainly even the political people that I have talked with across the board, they have been pretty welcoming. That could be a false perception but at least it seemed to me like they are pretty welcoming. Everyone from RPA to Chevron, they all seem to be very welcoming and positive, prepared to work with me, and so I feel that I really want to work with everyone on the council and every one of our engaged constituents.

VW: As chairman of the Board for the Chamber of Commerce, one thing I’ve been doing recently is to work on the huge disconnect between the city and the Richmond Chamber of Commerce. As you know, the chamber has found out information late, so we’re always a day late and a dollar short. When you show up to the council after the deal is done, what can you really do? What is your vision for working with the chamber and the local business community?

VP: Well, see my thing is this… Not just does it happen that you are late, but also it means that you are not always able to gather and give all the pertinent information. You’re going to give your opinion rather than an opinion backed by information. And so what I would ideally like to do is any important thing that is going to affect our business community should be told it beforehand. I’m interested in your perspective, sure, but more than the perspectives, I’m interested in systematic information… because sometimes opinions differ.
I know that Mayor Butt was saying to me how the Richmond Chamber of Commerce is not connected with the National Chamber of Commerce, and I certainly don’t agree with a lot of the policies of the National Chamber of Commerce, I don’t think they are good for small businesses. I think they’re maybe good for big businesses. I don’t think they’re good for small businesses and small businesses are very important for us. And so sometimes my opinions may be quite different but definitely I always want information. I want information first and perspectives based on that information. The more time we give you the more likely we are going to get that information.

If I work with the chamber I might also tell you, hey, let’s try and figure out some of the information that we may need about our business. So we have a good sense of how many businesses do we have or how many larger businesses do we have or of what sectors are our businesses in, so when we try to design policies we know exactly what the impact is likely to be.

I think that perspectives can be more important in things like how do you recruit a businesses, because recruiting businesses is often not just about information. You can tell people all you want about the advantages of Richmond but if they’re not open to that, they wont do it. It’s not like because I’m into facts, I will put facts ahead of everything. You have to understand with which situation facts are more important, and which situation opinions are more important.

VW: I saw Mayor Tom Butt was a little distressed after some council members went against city staff at the last city council meeting on the youth projects.

VP: Yeah, well, you know, I did vote against most of those spending measures and I was the one who voted against the largest number of those ’cause I voted against almost everything. I really felt that there was not a process being followed and people were putting things on the agenda without any idea of how much it would cost.

I was kind of shocked that people voted, like, OK, say initially it was $4,000 for the plaque and many of the people thought that was for the chair plus the plaque; it was just for the plaque. And then they cut it down to $1,000, even though five minutes before they had checked on the web that a plaque cost $60. I’m like, Well, why are you spending $1,000 when you just found out that it costs $60? I tend to be kind of reluctant to see money go.

Some people’s approach is I’ll say yes unless there’s a really good reason to say no. Mine is the opposite. I will say no unless you convince me to say yes. With spending of money, one thing where I do think I need to work on is I tend to be more focused on saving than on growing the money. I think that is the kind of place where I think interfacing more with the business people would actually help.

Who Will Benefit From Berkeley Campus at Richmond Bay?

By Melvin Willis | Photo by Alice Kantor

A new UC Berkeley campus being planned for Richmond must take into account the needs of the city’s residents. That’s the message the Richmond City Council sent UC Berkeley last month, when the council called on UC Berkeley to sign a community benefits agreement.

The agreement now awaits the signature of UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks.

But Richmond residents aren’t just waiting quietly. This week, about 30 people – some of whom stripped to their underwear — disrupted a UC Regents meeting to demand that UC sign the agreement with Richmond, the Daily Bruin reports.

Their concern is that the massive new campus, which has the potential to bring jobs and opportunity to Richmond, could also drive up housing prices so high that residents will be forced to leave the city.

The Berkeley Global Campus at Richmond Bay by 2050, approved last year by the University of California Board of Regents, would be the largest economic development to come to Richmond since the shipyards of World War II. The campus is expected to be three-quarters the size of the University of California at Berkeley.

UC Berkeley is planning to build the campus at the Richmond Field Station, a site with sweeping views of the bay and the San Francisco skyline just off the Regatta Boulevard exit of Interstate 580.

Chancellor Dirks announced plans to develop the “global” campus in October, saying it would allow UC Berkeley to partner with universities and corporations on research into problems of worldwide concern. The project had initially been conceived as a part of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, but stalled after federal budget cutbacks two years ago.

The plan has been met with excitement by many in Richmond because of the job opportunities and economic boost the campus could bring to the city. Some 10,000 people will work there daily. Five million square feet of office and lab space will be developed.

But residents also want to make sure the community benefits from the new jobs and opportunities.

One major sticking point is that the project does not include housing, even though the development will likely have a major impact on raising housing costs in the area.

According to the report “Anchor Richmond” by the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society, more than 9,000 Richmond residents — nearly half of all renters — are low-income tenants overburdened by housing costs, making them vulnerable to displacement as rents rise and wealthier tenants move in.

According to the Association of Bay Area Governments, Richmond will need 742 more affordable housing units over the next eight years. While the city is developing new land use designations in the campus area, some community groups say they remain uncertain that it will meet the new affordable housing demand.

In response to these concerns, a coalition of community and labor groups has pushed the city council to adopt a legally binding community benefits agreement with the university.

The coalition, aided by the Haas Institute, researched ways the community could benefit from the campus, along with the potential impacts the proposed development would have on Richmond. Issues of concern included housing, local hiring, fair treatment of workers, education and business development.

In February, the coalition convened a town hall meeting at Miracle Temple on Cutting Boulevard to educate local residents about the campus and encourage Richmond City Council members Jael Myrick, Jovanka Beckles and Eduardo Martinez to pass a resolution calling on the university to sign the community benefits agreement.

As part of the agreement, the coalition called for funding for development of affordable housing, training for local workers to get jobs at the campus, a living wage policy for the campus and hiring local workers in the campus’s construction. It also called for a labor policy that would protect current UC Berkeley workers from losing their current positions, investment in local small business, and funding for local students to help receive career opportunities and education.


Melvin Willis is an organizer with ACCE (Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment)

A New Restaurant Brings a Taste of Louisiana to Richmond

By Nancy Deville

photoLilly’s New Orleans Café declares its enthusiasm for all things New Orleans from the moment you walk into the door and are greeted with the aroma of southern cuisine and décor reminiscent of Mardi Gras celebrations.

The small take out eatery is the brainchild of Mary Butler and her son Surako Follings, also known as Chef Rock, who runs the restaurant fulltime. Other family members pitch in on the weekend shifts.

But it’s the food that has customers taking notice. The menu is full of creole favorites like red beans and rice, po’ boy sandwiches, jambalaya and seafood gumbo. There are also southern staples like greens, yams, macaroni and cheese and Cajun smothered potatoes. Desserts include banana pudding, sweet potato pie and southern lemonade pound cake. The restaurant’s signature drink is swamp juice, a lemonade tea base with fresh mint leaves and other secret ingredients.

“What I enjoy most about cooking is seeing the people enjoy the food,” said Follings. “We’ve only been open three months, but the response from the community has been very good. This allows us to go back to what we once had here in Richmond — black owned businesses.”

“It’s a lot of work and you really have to have a lot of heart if you want good food,” Butler added. “I bring the same love to cooking the food at Lilly’s that I would if I was cooking for my own family. Everybody likes good food and we try to keep our prices affordable for the community that we’re in.”

It’s a simple order-at-the-counter sort of spot and Butler loves to offer samples of the menu to help customers decide what they might want to eat. While she talks about the menu, Butler offers a touching story of the restaurant’s history and its homage to her mother who died in 1993 and always hoped to own a Louisiana themed restaurant in the Bay Area.

“She was a fantastic cook,” Butler said. “When she cooked, everybody would come and she loved for people to enjoy her cooking. I know she’s happy now that we’ve opened Lilly’s.”

The family spent years trying to find the right location, but when a spot on Carlson Boulevard became available, they jumped at the opportunity.

“I used to always see this place and say, ‘That should be ours. We would do good there,’” Butler said. “We didn’t give up because it was something that we really wanted. It’s amazing that we are here now; sometimes I have to pinch myself.”

Butler’s roots are in the Bay Area, but her heart is in Louisiana — at least when it comes to food. She learned to cook by watching her mother. After retiring as a respiratory therapist Butler worked as a cook at an Oakland Christian school.

“The gumbo is my favorite thing to cook because it reminds me so much of my mom,” she said. “She taught me the little things, like the twist of the wrist and the turn of the spoon, all of that makes a difference.”

“She taught me about the love that has to go into cooking gumbo. I take my time to cook. You can’t rush,” she explains, while stirring the base of the gumbo known as the roux.

photo copyChef Rock has been cooking professionally since 1996 and prior to the restaurant he was a teacher at an Oakland school.

“Our passion and love is here,” he said. “We’re putting in the work to have the world’s best gumbo. We’ve got so many more recipes that we are going to pull out that represent my grandmother.”

Currently the restaurant is open Thursday through Sunday, but the family hopes to expand to five days a week. There are also future plans for a full service restaurant in Richmond.

“We really like the area and the people here,” Butler said. “And we’re really trying to help bring the pride back to Richmond. We’re here to feed people’s soul. Everything that we cook here is prepared with love.”

IF YOU GO: Lilly’s New Orleans Café, 1305 Carlson Blvd., is open from 11 a.m. – 7 p.m. Thursday – Sunday. For more information, call 510-255-7071.