Richmond Is First California City in Decades to Pass Rent Control



News Report, Malcolm Marshall

Beginning Dec. 1, 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 statues 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.”

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.

A Wage Hike for Richmond’s Lowest Paid Workers

By Nancy DeVille

Richmond’s lowest paid workers will get a raise Jan. 1 when the city’s minimum wage jumps from $9 to $9.60 an hour.

The ordinance, which was approved by the Richmond City Council in June, includes increases over the next few years, to $11.52 in 2016, $12.30 in 2017 and $13 per hour a year later. In 2019, the minimum wage would increase annually based on the Consumer Price Index.

Full-time employees, who qualify for the 2015 increase, will see roughly $100 more in their paychecks each month.

“This is an instrument to help workers and their families avoid poverty and economic hardship and enable them to meet their basic needs,” said Gina Baker, a compliance manager with the City of Richmond. “It’s very pricey to live in the Bay Area and imagine people who have to live here on $8 an hour.”

The hike is lower than raises in other Bay Area cities. San Francisco’s minimum wage will jump to $11.05 on Jan. 1 and Oakland follows with an increase to $12.25 in March, while the state wage is $9 and the federal rate is $7.25 an hour.

But, Richmond’s ordinance comes with two exceptions. Employers who pay less than 800 hours of wages in a two week period will be exempt. (But still must pay the state’s minimum wage of $9 an hour.) And businesses that derive more than 50 percent of their income from transactions outside of the city are allowed to pay their employees an intermediate wage, which is hourly pay ranging between the state’s and city’s minimum wage.

Low-wage workers at big box chain stores like Wal-Mart, fast food restaurants and locally owned businesses will be impacted.

“This is a start, but we still have a long way to go,” said a Richmond Wal-Mart employee, who didn’t want to give her name.

While workers welcome the wage hike, some employers worry the increase might affect their bottom line.

Zoe Smith, owner of Zoe’s Cookies and Other Delights in Richmond’s Marina Bay, is comfortable with a minimum wage around $11 but says the jump to $13 in 2018 is a bit excessive. She starts her employees off at $10 an hour.

“I don’t know if the city council members realize the impact the high minimum wage will have on a company like mine,” she said.

Smith regularly hires high school students to pack and wrap desserts a few times a week, but she may be forced to cut back on their hours come 2017.

“My company is a roller coaster ride and sometimes I might have to work in the red for a year before I actually see a profit,” she said. “Some years I can stay ahead and others I fall behind and have to borrow. It’s frustrating because I already know this is going to be hard.”

Baker says the city has distributed flyers to all employers and answered questions from business owners who want to make sure they are in compliance. It’s the employee’s responsibility to inform city officials if business owners are not complying with the hike, she said.

“We’ve had a couple of business owners that were upset, but most have been positive about it,” Baker said.

Building a Bike Culture in Richmond

By Nancy DeVille

When Matthew Schwartz moved to Richmond earlier this year, he noticed the city offered plenty of miles to bike, but no shop where he could take his bike parts and build a bicycle.

Buying a new bike didn’t quite fit into his budget, so he was forced to rely on public transportation.

But as he walked his normal route to the Richmond Bart Station one morning, Schwartz noticed a vacant building on Macdonald Avenue had transformed into a bicycle shop. He stepped in and owner Najari Smith assured him they could rebuild his bike and get him pedaling.

“When I came in here, these guys were really nice and I knew this was a total mom and pop operation I wanted to support,” Schwartz said. “I had bicycle parts but I didn’t know how to put them together.”

Rich City Rides Community Shop, which opened in September at 1500 Macdonald Ave., sells refurbished kids and adult bicycles, accessories and supplies and offers repairs. Bicycles range from $20 to $60 for kids and $50 to $300 for adults.

There is just enough room to walk between the rows of dozens of bicycles that crowd the spacious shop. Inside is everything from tricycles to bikes for the more experienced cyclist. There are cupboards full of bicycle parts and wheels hanging from wooden shelving. Repairs are done in the back of the shop.

The shop’s location is prime, Smith says. It’s a block from the Richmond BART Station and the area gets a lot of pedestrian traffic. It’s the only bicycle shop in the city after Richmond Spokes closed in 2013. The closest bike shop is in El Sobrante.

photo 1

Najari Smith of Rich City Rides helping a customer.

“For a bicycle shop it’s a great location,” Smith said. “If you get a flat tire you can get on BART, get off at the last stop and walk one block to a bike shop that can help you. There are community events that happen right here that bring people in.”

On a recent Monday afternoon, a stream of people trickled in, some were browsing for a new bike, or inquiring about replacing a part. Others were just curious about the new shop.

“A new bicycle shop in the hood. I sure am happy you’re here,” one passerby told Smith, who smiled and told the potential customer what the shop offers.

The bicycle shop is an extension of the nonprofit Rich City Rides that Smith launched in 2012. He started the bicycle advocacy nonprofit by repairing bikes on the Richmond Greenway. He shadowed neighborhood mechanics, picking up whatever skills he could. Smith later partnered with bicycle mechanics that embraced his concept and formed a staff to sponsor monthly bike clinics, offer valet bike parking at community events and pop up bicycle repair classes. The nonprofit receives its funding from the East Bay Bicycle Coalition and relies on community support and volunteers.

“When I first started one of the things I first noticed was that people in Richmond didn’t ride bikes,” he said. “There was this perception that the only people that rode bikes were homeless folks and crack heads. People didn’t want to ride if they thought that was the perception. So I wanted to change the perspective and really allow folks to understand the benefits of riding bikes.”

Starting in January, the shop’s staff will host an Earn-a-Bike program where kids ages 8 to 16 can work at the shop and, after completing 25 hours, get their own set of wheels. The kids will shadow the mechanics, restock the inventory and learn the ABC’s of bicycle safety — everything from the rules of the road to how to properly secure a bike so it’s hard to steal. Smith is hoping to feature a similar program for adults.

“I believe everyone should have a bike,” he said, “and all parts of the community deserved to be helped.”

Smith’s latest venture is the bike recovery program, an initiative he thought up after his bicycle was stolen in San Francisco. With photos and a detailed description of the missing bike, the Rich City Rides staff uses social media and word of mouth to try and recover it. Cyclists can also register their bikes at Rich City Rides for $5, which makes it easier to recover, Smith says.

So far, they’ve recovered six this year. Most were just brought back, and there’s never been a case where the police needed to be involved.

Despite its expanded bike lanes on major thoroughfares and 32 miles of bay trail, Richmond is not known for being bike friendly. Motorists are still trying to adapt to sharing the road and cyclists don’t always feel comfortable riding in certain parts of the city. It’s something Smith is working to change.

Since 2012, Rich City Rides has sponsored more than 30 community bike rides, as a way to get people comfortable riding through Richmond’s streets and to build camaraderie among cyclists.

Marilyn Langlois, an avid Richmond cyclist and a founding member of the city’s Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory Committee, said the city’s bike culture is changing.

“More Richmond residents are riding bicycles for a variety of reasons,” Langlois said. “The health benefits, it’s cheaper than driving a car and we all are trying to become more environmentally conscience.”

“The group bike rides that Rich City Rides sponsor also help generate enthusiasm,” she added.

Smith says he’s excited about the future of the shop and hopes to use it as a community space and a way to continue to get more people cycling.

And customers are thrilled too. When Schwartz stopped by the shop recently to check on the progress of his bike, he couldn’t wait to take it for a spin.

“I knew they were going to do something nice but this really exceeded my expectations,” he said. “It was in so many pieces for so long, but now to see it all put together, I’m real excited about that.”

Rich City Rides at 1500 Macdonald Ave. is open from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday –Friday and noon – 5 pm Saturday.
For more information, call 510-205-0625.

Local Happenings

From the Pulse News Desk, Posted Dec 24, 2014

Holiday Closures
Richmond city offices will be closed during the holiday week beginning Wednesday, Dec. 24 and reopening on Friday, Jan. 2, 2015.
The closure includes city offices as well as the Richmond Public Library and Recreation facilities. The Richmond Plunge at 1 Garrard Blvd. will have limited hours, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m, on Dec. 24 and Dec. 26-31.
Police and Fire departments will remain open, and R-Transit, Public Works, and Housing Authority departments will have partial services.
For more information visit:

Congressman-elect Opens Office in Richmond
Congressman-elect Mark DeSaulnier will open a Richmond office on Jan. 6 at the city’s Civic Center, 440 Civic Center Plaza, 2nd floor.
Among other things, the office staff will assist constituents with passport applications, applying to a military academy, requesting a tour of the White House or U.S. Capitol, a Presidential greeting, Congressional commendations or requesting a flag be flown over the Capitol.
“My top priority is to provide outstanding constituent services and I invite anyone who is need of assistance or information from the federal government to call or to stop by my Richmond office,” DeSaulnier wrote in a news release.
I am happy to be back working in West County.”
DeSaulnier will host an open house at his Richmond office in early 2015.

A Winery in Richmond
R&B Cellars, an Alameda based winery, plans to open Riggers Loft Wine Company at the Port of Richmond in the redeveloped Riggers Loft at 1325 Canal Blvd.
The winery will be adjacent to the SS Red Oak Victory ship and the Rosie the Riveter Home Front Park. Rigger’s Loft was originally part of Richmond Shipyard and served as a wartime supply shop.
Rigger Loft Wine Company will produce, bottle and distribute wine, as well as feature a tasting room and host private and fundraising events.
The Port of Richmond entered into a 20-year lease agreement with the Alameda based winery. The lease will generate $100,000 in annual revenue for the port, according to city officials. The company will move in early 2015.

Richmond has a New Fire Chief
Richmond has named a new chief to lead its fire department.

Adrian Sheppard, currently the Oakland Fire Department Battalion Chief, will start Dec. 31. Sheppard has worked for the Oakland Fire Department for 16 years, climbing the ranks from firefighter to battalion chief. Prior to his career with the Oakland Fire Department, Sheppard was a commissioned officer in the United States Air Force.

Chief Michael Banks is retiring after 34 years with the Richmond Fire Department. He was hired in 1980 and held several positions before being named fire chief in 2004.

Wanted: Student Leaders
The Richmond Youth Leadership Committee is looking for student leaders passionate about serving their community.
The program, designed for high school and college students who are interested in making a difference in their community through impact volunteering, is a part of the citywide Richmond Excellence Serving our Community initiative.
Students who join the YLC will attend innovative leadership workshops to both learn and apply essential leadership skills, including: ethical decision making, time management, goal setting, public speaking and conflict resolution.
As an YLC leader, students will engage youth in community service learning projects, organize community events to raise awareness of pressing issues facing the Richmond community and participate in leadership training.
The deadline to apply is midnight Monday, Jan. 26, 2015.

For more information, contact Jantsan Damdinsuren at or call 510-620-5576.