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.”



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.”

Seniors Struggling with Affordable, Safe Housing in West County


News Report, Ann Bassette and Malcolm Marshall
Video, Ann Bassette

Deborah Stein says she feels desperate. Between flood insurance and property taxes, the 67-year-old San Pablo resident can no longer afford to stay in her home.

Stein says she’s living on $1400 a month and her house payments have gone up $300 in the two last years.

“It’s very stressful. $900 is going to my house payment and the rest I’m supposed to live on,” said Stein, who says she lost half of her retirement in the stock market crash.

Stein was one of about 130 seniors who packed the San Pablo Senior Center to discuss affordable housing and other issues affecting Contra Cost County’s senior citizens at a town hall meeting sponsored by the West County Senior Coalition and the City of San Pablo.

Inside the center, chairs were shifted to make room for canes and walkers as seniors gathered over hot coffee to listen and voice their needs.

County Supervisor John Gioia described senior citizens as the “largest growing demographic in our country, in our state and in our county.” Seniors now make up 14 percent of Contra Costa’s population (about 150,000 people), according to the U.S. Census.

Congressman Mark DeSaulnier said the rising cost of housing in the Bay Area is “leaving behind those who need housing and assistance the most, including the elderly,” adding that programs that provide housing assistance to these populations “benefit not only our seniors, but our communities as a whole.”

According to report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, there are a total of 23 federal housing programs that target or have special features for the elderly.

Still, Gioia said there is a substantial shortfall of homes available to the low- and extremely low-income in Contra Costa County, where the  average monthly rent of a two-bedroom apartment is $1631.

“As we have more and more seniors who have more and more limited income, the problem will continue to get worse,” said Gioia.

The rising cost of rent leaves little left over for basic necessities for seniors who are on fixed incomes.

“I’m on a fixed income of less than $1,000,” said Betty Nicole Flowers, 68. “You build affordable housing for $800. How is that affordable? We really need to have a conversation about what’s affordable,” she said, as shouts of  “Yeah!” erupted in agreement.

Flowers said elected officials need to start thinking outside of the box to solve the housing issue, especially for seniors.

“Why couldn’t they turn the hospital that was closed, Doctors Medical Center, into affordable housing?” Flowers asked. “Another option would be looking at some of the warehouses and some of the spaces that have been abandoned and turning them into affordable studio units.”

“There’s also the old concept of affordable housing co-ops,” she added. “And I like the idea of intergenerational because not all seniors want to be in a senior complex.”

But affordability isn’t the only concern, said Ella Jones, 73, who is a member of the Contra Costa County Advisory Council on Aging, an advisory group appointed by the Board of Supervisors. Jones says many seniors in the county also struggle to find safe housing.

“No senior building I’ve visited here has any kind of security to monitor who comes and goes,” said Jones. “That’s an issue where I live at El Portal Gardens. Homeless people have been known to come in and sleep in the stairwells and hallways. I’m in the house shut in before dark unless my daughter or young friends take me, because I don’t feel safe.”

Other seniors recounted experiences of feeling that they had to compromise their safety in order to live in affordable housing.

“There is some housing in Richmond where the seniors have been coupled with young, addicted people where the seniors have to be in the house by 4:00 pm to feel safe coming in. And then, you have to get on the elevators with drunk, drugged up people in order to have affordable housing, and you don’t know if you’re going to make it to your floor with your wallet,” said one member of the crowd during a portion of the meeting reserved for comments from the audience.

Along with increasing wages and better-paid jobs, Gioia said more funding for affordable housing needs to be created. For example, some advocates have discussed a statewide bond measure that would help fund the construction of more affordable housing. So far, though, the measure has not gotten enough support to make it into the ballot.

For now, Gioia said, cities need to do their part to prioritize affordable housing. “Part of that is getting city councils to change the zoning to allow that to happen,” he said.

“Every city on the county needs to do its fair share,” said Gioia. “And that’s not happening.”

Demonstrators Call for UC Campus to Benefit Richmond


News Report • Keisa Reynolds | Photos • David Meza

Hundreds of people rallied in front of City Hall on June 4 to support a community benefits agreement for the proposed UC Berkeley Global Campus in Richmond.

UC Berkeley’s new campus will be the biggest economic development to come to Richmond since the shipyards of World War II. However, it presents a risk to locals because past projects have not benefited residents, according to Melvin Willis of Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) who emceed the demonstration.

The community benefits agreement would allow residents to benefit from the economic and educational opportunities the new campus will bring.

The demonstration was led by Raise Up Richmond, a campaign started by a coalition of local leaders, clergy, families and students.

DSC_0146City council members Gayle McLaughlin, Jael Myrick, Eduardo Martinez, and Jovanka Beckles made remarks in support of the agreement. West Contra Costa School Board member Valerie Cuevas, Tony Alexander from California State Conference and NAACP, and Enedina Mendoza from Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization (CCISCO) were also among the speakers.

On April 30, UC Berkeley students occupied the administration building after Chancellor Nicholas Dirks refused to sign a community benefits agreement. In the Richmond Standard on May 25, Mayor Tom Butt wrote a response to an article written by Alice Huffman and reassured residents and supporters that UC Berkeley would enter legally binding agreements.

However, some fear that the agreement will not benefit residents of Richmond.

The family of Rev. Dr. Alvin Bernstine of Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church migrated to Richmond during World War II. “I stand on the shoulders of people who, over 70 years ago, were invited to participate in making ships,” he told the crowd. “[After the war] they built churches and businesses. They established [our] community, always believing Richmond and the Bay Area would see value in including them in the benefits of California living.”

Elements of the community benefits agreement approved by Raise Up Richmond include housing, jobs, training, small businesses, and education. But the Global Campus is likely to increase gentrification and displacement of longtime residents. To prevent that, community members say, the agreement should include an anti-displacement fund that guarantees affordable housing and protects longtime residents from eviction that would result from project development.

For Stephanie Hervey, rent increases have made it difficult to find a one-bedroom apartment in Richmond within her budget.

“I support the community standing up for their selves and for the people who are here. I think it’s in our best interests to be at the table. If you’re not the table, you’re on the menu. The fact that it’s unifying us, it’s making us stronger so that when we do have the opportunity to benefit from whatever’s here, we can enjoy it.”

“I want to see more jobs, more participation within the community, and more resources to help Richmond get back the way it was,” added Cordell Hindler, another resident. “I want this community to benefit from this ordeal.”

Speakers at the rally also discussed opportunities for higher education, saying that children and youth in Richmond deserve access to the resources UC Berkeley is able to offer. Council member McLaughlin noted that there are still not enough youth graduating high school and attending college. Raise Up Richmond has called for the community benefits agreement to include an Opportunity and Education Fund to help build career pathways for kindergarten to twelfth grade students and community college students.

Pastor Joan Thompson-Katzenberger from New Hope Missionary Baptist Church in North Richmond said there is a need for the campaign. “The community as a whole needs it. I look at the young people and they need what we had. They are the future generation,” she said, adding that the agreement would enrich lives. “I just want to see a change. If we provide the opportunity, change will come.”

Black Families on Front Lines of Displacement in Richmond

News Report, Edgardo Cervano-Soto

Richmond resident J.C. Farr, 72, remembers the days black families populated his neighborhood in Richmond’s Southside. Walking through Booker T. Anderson Park, Farr points to a house where a black family used to live. It was sold, gutted and flipped by another owner, he says.

“We have people who come in and buy a house, renovate it, put in about $30,000 and leave with $200,000,” says Farr. “I tell everybody, ‘Don’t sell your house. Rent it. Make the money. You still own it and it’s part of you.’ But no, they sell it.”

This traditionally black neighborhood is changing as more Latino, Asian and white families move in. There is more diversity, Farr says, but he’s worried that with the way things are going, South Richmond will no longer be familiar to him.

Richmond’s black population dropped by a striking 35 percent between 2000 and 2013.

A study released in February by UC Berkeley’s Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society found that the black population of Richmond fell from 35,300 in 2000 to 22,800 in 2013. During the same period, the Latino population nearly doubled to 42,600, while the Asian and Pacific Islander population grew from 12,500 to 15,800.

The study found that Richmond is in the early stages of gentrification, as neighborhoods in the Iron Triangle, North and East, North Richmond, the Richmond Annex and Southside are seeing housing prices rise. These are the same neighborhoods that have seen a decline in the black population.

However, the study did not explore why black families are leaving Richmond.

“The Census data only tells you where people are at, specifically at the time. It doesn’t tell you where they moved to or why they moved,” explains Eli Moore, researcher and one of the authors of the study.

In order to identify the reasons for the decline, Moore says the city and community of Richmond need to engage in a serious effort – either through community forums, workshops or funding more research — to find out whether the black population is leaving Richmond for greater opportunities or if they are leaving because of pressures they face in the city.

‘It’s deja vu’

Anne Omura, director and attorney of the Eviction Defense Center, says 100 percent of her clients who are evicted from their homes in Richmond are low-income black and Latino residents.

A housing rights attorney for over 20 years, Omura says the same pattern she saw in Oakland, particularly the displacement of low-income black households, is about to intensify in Richmond.

“It’s deja vu from the late ‘90s during the dot-com boom, when all of a sudden we went from regular clients to a grandmother walking in with a 30-day notice when they have lived 40 years in the home,” says Omura. “We are seeing the exact same ingredients in Richmond. All low-income folks being evicted from Richmond are African American and are being priced out largely because there is no rent control there.”

Unlike some other Bay Area cities – including San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, Hayward, Fremont, East Palo Alto and San Jose – Richmond does not have rent control.

Nearly half of Richmond’s residents are renters, many of them low-income. According to the Haas Institute study, nearly 49 percent of Richmond households are renter occupied. That figure is as high as 80 percent in North Richmond, central and south Richmond. Among renters, more than one-third (37 percent, or about 6,740 households) earn less than $35,000 annually and spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing.

According to Omura, this leaves low-income renters, including many black families, more vulnerable.

“With a large working class base, why is Richmond behind other major cities? Why isn’t there rent control? They have those protections; why don’t we? Its about fairness, and the fundamental right that you shouldn’t just be able to lose your home,” says Omura. “Richmond would be on top of my list [in establishing rent control].”

‘There is no affordable housing in Richmond’

Stephanie Hervey, 42, a single mother of two teenagers and former North Richmond resident, was evicted from her home in May 2014. She and her children have been homeless and staying with friends until they can find housing in Richmond.

“For two bedrooms, there is no affordable housing in Richmond that we can find, that does not have a one year waiting list,” says Hervey. “And these are in not the best neighborhoods.”

Beginning in January 2014, Hervey was in dispute with her landlord for what she claimed were poor and unsafe housing conditions. She said the landlord did not fix home utilities and let pit bulls run into her space. Hervey was evicted by the Richmond Superior Court after a second hearing when, according to the judge, Hervey didn’t pay her complete rent.

Hervey says in order to find a home in Richmond, she and her family will have to share with other people. Yet her biggest challenge has been finding potential housemates who have good credit.

“It could be that I’m not looking in the right places,” says Hervey.

‘Once poor people are evicted, it’s really hard to stay’

Melvin Willis, community organizer at the Richmond chapter of Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), sees a need for a just cause eviction ordinance and a rent control policy in Richmond.

“With things changing in Richmond, crime going down, new business in the market, it makes it seem that Richmond is thriving. Yet as rent goes up significantly, we have not seen an increase in living wages, which unintentionally forces people out,” says Willis.

“We want to work together and make sure we have rent control and just cause eviction so vulnerable tenants are not displaced, and so landlords are not allowed to jack up the rent as much as they want,” he says.

In January 2013, the Richmond City Council debated stricter just cause eviction protections, and establishing rent stabilization and a rent control board. According to a report by Richmond Confidential, the City Council did not vote on these, opting instead to allow the Planning Division to take all of 2013 to research eviction and demographic data, and the cost of maintaining a rent control board.

On Feb. 17 of this year, the City Council passed a motion for city staff to convene a working group to bring the Council clear policy recommendations or a draft ordinance. According to City Council minutes, the motion directs staff to “establish a Just Cause requirement for evictions and consider the use of a Rent Board or a smaller Tenant Protection Commission.” The staff has until mid-May to give their recommendations.

But for Mayor Tom Butt, rent control addresses the symptoms, not the root cause of the problem.

“I think it’s a solution that sounds really simple to people but by and large it doesn’t work,” said Mayor Butt in a phone interview. “I don’t think a day goes by that you don’t read about the housing crisis in San Francisco and Oakland and Berkeley.”

Instead, Mayor Butt advocates “attracting business, job developers and building affordable housing are the way to go.”

“Rent control and just cause ordinances just scare the hell out of housing developers,” he said. “It could turn around and bite Richmond.”

Meanwhile, Omura of the Eviction Defense Center says that whether the City Council passes an ordinance, residents organize a ballot measure, or the city pursues other methods, Richmond has to act now.

“In Oakland, we failed the first time to place [rent control] on the ballot, but succeeded the second time. But that only stopped the bleeding,” she says. “So much damage had been done, entire neighborhoods wiped out. Once poor people are evicted, it’s really hard to stay.”

For Hervey, who has been homeless for a year now, the future remains uncertain.

“I want to stay in Richmond,” Hervey says, “because Richmond is really about change. I have established roots here and I don’t want to throw it all away.”


Tackling Poverty in the Bay Area

News Report, Ann Bassette

Concerned residents, researchers and public officials came together at the Regional Poverty and Policy Community workshop in Richmond last month to discuss causes and solutions of poverty in the Bay Area.

Participants at the event — held at Solar Richmond, a nonprofit that provides free training in solar and green jobs for low-income and under-employed residents — explored the definition of poverty, looked at ways to decrease it and discussed the potential benefits and drawbacks of policies like rent control, increased minimum wage and education systems.

Held in collaboration with Rise Together, a group of organizations and leaders from every county in the region who work together to deal with poverty, the event drew out roughly 40 people. Before breaking out into discussion sessions, participants heard presentations from Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society and the Insight Center for Community Economic Development, a national organization committed to building financial wellbeing and opportunity in vulnerable communities.

“This is part of a Bay Area wide effort to cut poverty in half by 2020,” said John Gioia, Contra Costa County supervisor and co- chair of the Rise Together group.

“This larger effort is meant to help provide more capacity to change policies, to help the people and organizations that are doing poverty reduction work today,” he added.

Riana Shaw-Robinson, a Richmond native and director of Rise Together, said the issue went beyond getting people out of poverty.

“How do they really get to experience prosperity?” she asked participants. “What does it really take to live adequately in the Bay Area, to be able to take care of your family, to be able to afford childcare and healthcare and food and housing?”

Gabriella Sandoval, director of research and chief economic security officer at the Insight Center, used her presentation time, in part, to tackle that question and describe the organization’s findings on cost of living.

“In Contra Costa County 28.7 percent of households live below the self sufficiency standard,” said Sandoval.

She said that the “Economic Self-Sufficiency Standard” measures how much income is needed for a family, living in a particular county, to adequately meet its basic needs — a measure that she said provides a more realistic sense of necessary earning than federal poverty levels.

As an example, Sandoval said for a family of three (one adult, one preschooler and one teenage child), economic security would require an annual household income of $58,650. But, if the adult is working a full time minimum wage job at $9 an hour, he or she is only making $18,720 annually. That’s just slightly under the federal poverty line of $19,790, but significantly less than the economic security level.

In the breakout group, following the presentation, some expressed concern that disadvantage begins early in Richmond, starting in elementary school. Residents said they were upset with the current education system and the lack of basic tools such as paper, pencils and books.

Kenyon Roy, a student with Solar Richmond recalled being handed photocopied papers instead of textbooks while attending Kennedy High School in the 1990s. (Research by the Insight Center found that an increase in high school graduation rates could create an average increase of $25,923 in household wages.)

Participants agreed uniformly that community members are not as connected as they should be, that many people are not taking advantage of local programs which can significantly enhance education and ability to earn more. For example, according to Roy, only five people are currently taking advantage of the free education Solar Richmond provides.

In addition to the education and opportunity gap, participants discussed concerns over they Bay Area’s ever-growing population. According to recently released numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau, the population in the Bay Area’s nine counties increased by about 100,000 people between July 2013, and July 2014 — nearly double the percentage growth rate the region experienced between 2000 and 2013.

People also expressed concern over rising rents as a result of the growth and discussed how policy changes like rent control and renter safety might help.

Edith Pastrano of Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, said the rent for some tenants the group works with was increased $50 per month last year, and now $200 per month this year, which she said creates a devastating impact.

Another popular topic covered, was an increased regional minimum wage. People said they felt that if more people could earn a livable wage, there would be less people relying on profit from underground hustles dealing with drugs, guns, prostitution, and theft.

“We can’t just focus on poverty in Richmond because people move, “ said Gioia in a phone interview. “That’s why the focus is on working a region. Changing policies from a regional level is what’s most important,” he said. “And the Bay Area economy is competing against economies across the world.”

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)

Study: Gentrification Isn’t in Full Force in Richmond Yet – But It’s a Real Threat

News Report, Malcolm Marshall

As concerns about affordable housing and gentrification grow in Richmond, a new study finds that it may not be too late to prevent residents from being displaced.

The study, by UC Berkeley’s Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society, was released Feb. 20 at a housing summit at the East Bay Center for Performing Arts. It found that the city is in the early stages of gentrification – and it may still be early enough to prevent further displacement.

“What is important for residents to understand is that the conventional model for development in the Bay Area has led to substantial displacement of low-income communities, and in particular African-American communities. Richmond is showing some of the signs that this is happening here,” said Eli Moore, program manager with Haas Institute, and co-author of the study. He presented the findings to about 60 community members, organizers, researchers and policymakers at a housing summit organized by UC Berkeley’s Haas Institute and supported by The California Endowment.

One of the most alarming findings was that Richmond’s African-American population dropped by 35 percent between 2000 and 2013. As Bay Area housing prices continue to climb, even more residents are in danger of being pushed out.

“Gentrification isn’t in full force in Richmond yet, but it’s real threat,” said Samir Gambhir, a researcher with the Haas Institute and co-author of the study.

But the study concluded that it still could be possible to turn things around. If local policymakers move fast to implement anti-displacement policies, they can help Richmond residents stay in their homes and avoid further displacement.

In order to do this, the communities affected need to be fully involved in the creation of these policies – and they need to know the history that created these conditions, said Richard Rothstein, a research associate of the Economic Policy Institute and senior fellow at UC Berkeley Law School.

“We have the general belief in this country that African-American ghettos in this country, black concentrations of populations in places like Richmond, happened by accident,” said Rothstein.

“The reality is that the segregation of the black community in Richmond, and in every metropolitan area in this country, was the result of the City of Richmond, the State of California and policies of the federal government,” he said. “They were not the unintended consequences of policies that somehow adversely affected black people. They were deliberate, they were purposeful, they were written into regulation in this country. And we’ve forgotten the history entirely in this country.”

Richmond’s population boomed during World War II, when there was more public housing here than any other place in the country.

“It was segregated,” explained Rothstein. “Most of the housing was for white workers only. The housing made for black workers were close to the plants and railroad tracks, close to the refinery. These were segregated housing projects built by the federal government with cooperation with the Richmond Housing Authority. Two standards of housing, one for white one for black workers, completely separate.”

Rothstein stressed that unless we reacquaint ourselves with this history it will be difficult to create a real solution.

Richmond City Manager Bill Lindsay noted that some policies for ensuring affordable housing are already in place.

“It’s especially important right now that we’re getting back into an era, I hope, where housing will be produced, where we’re going to have an increasing supply that is going to come to the community,” said Richmond City Manager Bill Lindsay. “Certainly there is an interest on the part of the City Council with making sure that housing is something that’s affordable in Richmond.”

According to Lindsay, one of the city’s policies to make sure housing is affordable is the inclusionary housing ordinance, which was adopted back in the 1990s. The ordinance requires that developers set aside a certain number of units (12.5 to 17 percent) as affordable housing, and to keep the units affordable for at least 30 years. It also provides an option for developers to pay a fee if affordable housing is not included.

With cuts to redevelopment funding, Lindsay said this fee is “going to be a very important piece of how we finance our affordable housing units in addition to whatever sources we can get through state programs.”

Moore added that the challenge of gentrification affects all communities in Richmond, and that all communities need to play a role in keeping families in their homes.

“There is a pattern of the early phases of gentrification in Richmond, which may be creating pressure that pushes vulnerable residents out of the city,” said Moore. “This is of concern to all who aspire to create opportunity and health that is inclusive of all.”

Etsy Gift Guide: Richmond, California

By Sonya Mann


Here’s an exciting prospect: shop locally without having to leave your house. With Christmas less than two weeks away, consider buying presents that can support your community at the same time.

Etsy.com is a website where local artisans can sell handmade goods, and plenty of Richmond entrepreneurs have opened online shops through it–making it easier this holiday season to consider buying gifts from your neighbors.

If you’re going to invite friends and family to a Christmas shindig, stop by All 4 Party Time and stock up on adorable crocheted ornaments, cupcake wrappers, sequined tablecloths and more. They’ve got what you need to add pizzazz to the party.

In the realm of tokens of esteem, Design Mosaic sells delicate polymer clay jewelry, feminine brooches and pendants with Victorian and nature motifs. And, Bottle Shock Boutique sells beaded jewelry, evocative of Moulin Rouge or The Red Violin.

Danielle Wood offers feminine bedroom-wear “inspired by vintage lingerie and traditional textiles.” Limey Ts features a variety of “whimsical T Shirt designs that make you smile,” including illustrations of foxes, penguins, llamas, otters and other cute critters. (Sizes are available for both children and adults.)

For the art-appreciators, Vivien Jenette creates striking pop-art portraits with colored markers, depicting such luminaries as actress Lupita Nyong’o. RodniDotCom makes “tiny artifacts,” many of which are bright postcards, some printed on aluminum.

These people aren’t the only local artists promoting their work online. Who else is out there? Let us know on Facebook and we’ll spread the word.

Uche Uwahemu’s Plan for Richmond

Interview, Vernon Whitmore


EDITOR’S NOTE: Richmond mayoral candidate Uche Uwahemu came to the Unites States 28 years ago from Nigeria. He grew up in Washington DC, before moving to the Bay Area and settling in Richmond. After over a decade working in non-profits, Uwahemu is now the CEO of Cal Bay Consulting Group, a strategic planning organization for business and non-profits. He has a Doctorate of Jurisprudence degree from John F. Kennedy University Law School and East Bay Law School, and a master’s in Business Administration from Golden Gate University.

Uwahemu spoke with Richmond Pulse contributor Vernon Whitmore about his views on Richmond—what he sees as its most pressing issues and how he’d shake up politics in the city if he were elected mayor.


Vernon Whitmore: The demographics of Richmond have changed over the past 10 years. What do you think caused people to leave and how can we attract new residents and business?

Uche Uwahemu: That’s a good question.  It’s not one thing that is causing it. It’s a whole slew of issues. One of the things is really poor education. That is the number one issue. In fact, we are in the bottom of the state, bottom of the county, bottom of the West Contra Costa school district.  That alone will drive people out of here.

The second issue is the economic opportunity.  You cannot close the upward mobility gap without providing opportunity for folks.

If I’m elected mayor, I will focus on recreating that opportunity and bringing people back here and allow them be part of what we are trying to do. So those two things—and then there’s safety.

The image of Richmond alone is something that makes people not want to come here, or want to live here. And businesses look for places that their employees can feel safe. Even though the crime rate is down, when you have that image that has been built over years it’s hard.

We need a change. When businesses want to rebrand their business they bring in an outsider for a reason. That’s what we need here. I’m not part of any inside group here. We have to rebrand this community.

VM: One thing on your platform as far as revitalizing the economic engine is the port. How would that help the local economy?

UU: Some people don’t event know we have a port here honestly. One of the things we want to do is expand our port in ways that will allow us to bring bigger ships here. And you know how it works with ports, the bigger ships you have, the more small businesses are coming into Richmond, the more jobs we have, the more we can hire police officers. So, this economy, this trickles down to everyone. But we can’t have a port here that is underperforming.

The Oakland port is too congested. If we have the right leadership here a lot of these things can trickle down here instead of getting congested in Oakland. Within four years, we can actually have 15,0000 jobs out of this port if we do it right. If we put the right people in charge. One of the things we have to do is take control from the city council. The city council is not in business and they should not be running the port. We should have a port authority and have an executive director that is running the port.

10364107_659908370767777_1626495152115061104_nVW: What is your opinion of the state of affairs of the current city council? What would you do to bring about change?

 UU:  I have visited most of the major cities in the Bay Area and observed their city council proceedings and there is no place like Richmond. It’s a shame and it’s really embarrassing. We have to have a whole scale change that way we can bring people in that understand that we can disagree and still go out to lunch. We can still disagree and focus on what’s best for Richmond.

If you elect activists and ideologists that’s what you get. That’s what you have in Richmond right now. We have too many ideological people in office.

VW: For the past eight years the business community and the city of Richmond have been at odds. How would you change the relationship between the city and the business community?

UU: In the past I have expressed my displeasure with the chamber. I think when you have a chamber in a community it should be business focused. The chamber is moving away from being business focused into focusing on appeasing certain groups or certain business. That’s not how it works. The chamber should not be in that position. I have met with the new chamber executive director and I have also expressed my feeling about that.

The relationship will get better definitely because I am a businessperson and I would like for us to do things the way it should be done. They have to move away from that isolated way of thinking. I want the chamber to think globally but act locally.

There is a lot of gap between the city and the chamber and I will definitely close that gap. But the chamber has to change the way of doing business. If you are the Richmond chamber of commerce we need to act for the benefit of Richmond.

VW: In light of Chevron ‘s $1.6 million being spent to support their candidates, how do you plan to offset that kind of money and win the election?

UU: Billboards are good but you cannot win by just placing people on the billboards. The beauty of Richmond is the grassroots. We did over 20,000 door hangers to pass Measure E.

The beauty of that is we’re engaging the community. They get to know who I am. They get to ask questions. The tough questions I don’t run away from. They engage me on those visions.

We expect that to happen but we’re going to run a campaign that involves the people and I think we have a strategy that will win the election. We are engaging people. We’re not running away from them. We’re not going to bombard people with mailings, we’re going to meet them where they’re at.

VW: Is Richmond big enough to start thinking about (1) a strong mayor to form a government and (2) district elections?

UU: I don’t think you need a community that is big or too large for a strong mayor. A strong mayor is someone that can make decisions without going through too much bureaucratic process to make decisions. There is a reason that large companies have a CEO and they are very agile in responding to issues. That’s one of the things that we need to have here. Being agile when there is a pothole out there, somebody is responding to it. When the community complains about a park, somebody responds to it. When an owner of a house wants to make an adjustment on their home, it doesn’t take them five years to do that. I welcome that conversation about a strong mayor but we also have to some changes at the city council to have that happen. We can’t have folks there that make this a career.

VW: So you think Richmond should implement term limits for the council?

UU: We need to have that conversation. I think Richmond would be way better if we had term limits. We would actually encourage younger people to participate in the process. We have a very dynamic community, very bright young folks that are not part of this process. Usually people that run for city council or mayor are retired.

We need an influx of younger folks that want to participate. After all this is their community. We need to get them engaged. I encourage young folks to get involved. That’s what we need to build this community. We have to bring that diversity of thought. Younger folks pushing and saying I have this great idea, how can we do this better, how can we do that better.