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.”

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, RP Editors

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.

 

Guaranteed College Tuition Could Be Game-Changer in Richmond

News Report, Nancy Deville

 

Paying for college will soon become much easier for Richmond families, with city officials announcing a new program that will cover college tuition fees for local high school graduates.

The $35 million, 10-year initiative known as Richmond Promise will cover college tuition for Richmond students who graduate from any West Contra Costa School District high school. Funds for the project will be drawn from Chevron’s $90 million community benefits package, an agreement between the city and the oil giant that was negotiated as part of the company’s $1 billion initiative to update and improve its Richmond refinery. The scholarship program will likely launch in 2016, city officials said.

Councilman Jael Myrick, who proposed the idea, says Richmond Promise will be life changing for many students who may have never considered attending college otherwise.

“This is going to create a lot of hope for a lot of Richmond families,” he said. “There’s a cultural shift that happens when people know that their community is investing in them and expecting them to succeed. And that’s what this is about.”

While specific criteria — like how long a student must attend a West Contra Costa school to receive the scholarship – have yet to be established, Myrick said students must enroll in a California public university or community college to be eligible. Similar programs in other cities pay full tuition for those enrolled in the public school system since kindergarten, and 65 percent for those who only attend in high school.

A specific grade point average won’t be required, Myrick said. Program funds will be administered through a local nonprofit, yet to be determined.

Myrick hopes the allure of free college tuition will be the catalyst Richmond needs to boost its economy.

“Over the next 10 years this really has the potential to change the trajectory of our city and has so many benefits beyond education,” Myrick said. “People are going to want to live here and put their kids in our schools and that’s a good thing.”

Besides donating $35 million to launch Richmond Promise, Chevron officials also agreed to assist the city with its fundraising efforts to ensure the program can continue beyond 10 years.

Richmond parents are praising the new program, and many say it eases the burden of trying to figure out how to pay skyrocketing tuition costs.

“It gives me great relief to know that my daughter is ensured enough money by the City of Richmond to attend college,” said Dion Clark, whose daughter attends El Cerrito High.

“This puts a whole different light on the future of a lot of kids in Richmond who can be progressive individuals, if given the chance. And it makes me proud and thankful that the City of Richmond is giving them that chance.”

Richmond’s free college tuition plan is similar to an initiative in Kalamazoo, MI. The effort called Kalamazoo Promise has invested about $55 million to assist more than 3,000 students. In 2005, a group of anonymous donors launched the program, pledging enough funds to pay the tuition of students to attend any of Michigan’s public universities or community colleges. Ninety percent of the district’s graduates enroll in college

Since the program was announced nine years ago, the school district’s enrollment has shot up by 25 percent and test scores and graduation rates have steadily increased, said Bob Jorth, executive director of Kalamazoo Promise. The city also has the third lowest unemployment rate in the state, he said.

“If you want a vital community, socially and economically, you have to have an educated population and the Promise seems to be supporting that,” Jorth said. “Seventy percent of students in Kalamazoo public schools are on free and reduced lunch, so naturally affordability was one of the biggest hurdles for students to go to college.”

“It certainly has made a difference in how many students start college,” added Jorth, “but the challenge remains in getting more students through college.”

Richmond History Museum Hopes to Take a Step Toward the Future

By Nancy Deville

 

If you’re looking to learn more about Richmond’s storied past, an often overlooked historic building in the heart of the Iron Triangle may be a good place to start.

The Richmond Museum of History, adjacent to Nevin Park, boasts a collection that includes hundreds of pictures of the Kaiser Shipyard during its World War II heyday, an extensive newspaper collection and an actual Model A Ford that rolled off Ford’s Richmond assembly line in August 1931. It also has a ship.

The Richmond Museum Association, which owns the history museum, also owns the SS Red Oak Victory, a World War II cargo ship docked at the Port of Richmond. The Red Oak was built in the Kaiser Richmond Shipyard and came home to Richmond in the 1990s. It is still under restoration, but is open five days a week for tours. The museum host special events on the ship and plans to start cruising the bay once it’s fully restored.

But while the former Carnegie library building, at 400 Nevin Avenue, is rich with history, the museum is unbeknownst to many—including people that live within a few miles of it. Museum workers say it’s a struggle just to get visitors through the door. Considering the museum is a non-profit organization, which relies solely on the support of the community through annual paid memberships and fundraising—getting people in the door is key to its success.

“That’s one of our biggest challenges,” Melinda McCrary, Director and Curator at the Richmond Museum of History said of getting new visitors. “If I can get people to come here, I can make them proud about Richmond.”

We have a collection that allows you to see Richmond in a whole new light,” McCrary added. “There is a lot of really wonderful African American, Latino, Japanese and Chinese history here.”

McCrary hopes that the museum’s new leadership, coupled with a mix of potential new exhibits, will spur attendance. Like many local museums across the country, officials in Richmond are looking to make exhibits more interactive and participatory. There are also plans to take the museum experience into Richmond schools so students can learn about their city while studying American history. Sparking an interest among the younger generation is key, McCrary said, and expanding the collection to include high tech exhibits is crucial to igniting that spark.

“Our permanent exhibit is outdated, so I’m fundraising to start a chorological renovation,” McCrary said. “If you get kids in the museum while they’re young, they will be museum lovers for the rest of their life and they’ll also get the parents to come. This is how we are going to sustain ourselves.”

But, as Beth Javens, Executive Director of the Richmond Convention and Visitors Bureau, pointed out, attracting tourists to Richmond in general can be a challenge. Smaller cities are often at a disadvantage because they don’t have the capacity to bring in large events. In Richmond, a reputation for crime and attractions scattered around the city’s sprawling limits is also a drawback.

“We are working to change people’s opinions about Richmond,” Javens said.  “It makes it hard for people to get out there and want to explore because there is a fear factor.”

Javens said the Richmond CVB is working to schedule tours for travel writers to show off the city’s attractions. More tourists would also help spur the city’s sagging economy.

However, Javens said it’s not all bad news. “Once people come here they become advocates for our cause,” she said. “The Richmond Museum of History is a beautiful facility, we just have to work extra hard to get people to come to Richmond and visit it because it’s really great.”

 

If you go: The Richmond Museum of History, at 400 Nevin Ave., is open from 1-4 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday. Cost is $2 for adults, $1 seniors or students and kids under 12 are free.

The museum continually collects artifacts and photographs from current and former Richmond residents.

For more information, call 510-235-7387 or visit www.richmondmuseumofhistory.org

 

 

Richmond to Have Highest Minimum Wage in State

News Report, Malcolm Marshall

Last week, the Richmond City Council voted in favor of a city ordinance that will increase the local minimum wage from $8 to $12.30 an hour by 2017. The increase will be phased in over 3 years, and positions Richmond to have the highest minimum wage of any city in California.

While the minimum wage increase was initially going to be left up to voters in November, Mayor Gayle McLaughlin opted to have city council members vote on three minimum wage proposals of $11 an hour, $12.30 an hour or $15 an hour. The council voted 6-1 in favor of the increase to $12.30, with council member Tom Butt casting the lone dissenting vote.

“I wish it could be more, but it showcases that Richmond has the political will to move forward,” said Mayor McLaughlin.

After hearing from staff and community groups in the weeks leading up to the city council meeting, McLaughlin said it was clear that residents supported a minimum wage increase and she wanted to respond by voting on it as soon as possible.

If the council approves a second draft of the ordinance next month, the first increase to $9.60 per hour will go into effect in 2015, with successive increases to come in phases.

Melvin Willis, 23, lives in Richmond. He works with the community group Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), whose mission it is to raise up the voices of low income, immigrant and working families across California. Willis supports the increase in minimum wage because, “it is just unrealistic to believe that people can survive and maintain a life, maintain family, and bills [on a wage] of $8 an hour.”

Willis says $15 an hour would be amazing for people currently earning minimum wage working jobs in the fast food and retail industries, but he’s happy with the increase to $12.30 for now. “I have to ask myself, is $8 an hour enough for people to afford today’s rent, enough to sustain a family, some people being single parents? My answer is no.”

Robert McCauley, 61, also of Richmond, is another of the many residents who are happy about the increase. “Employers like Wal-Mart and Target direct people (employees) to get food stamps and public assistance because they pay so little. I don’t even shop at those stores, but I’m subsidizing those stores (with my tax money going to social services).” McCauley said that if those companies want to make billions in profits, they should pay their employees enough to live on. “When FDR (Franklin D. Roosevelt) passed the minimum wage, it was meant to be a living wage.”

Pamela Davis grew up in Richmond and now lives next door in El Cerrito, after she lost her home in Richmond when the housing bubble burst. She is currently living with family. She worked for Wal-Mart at Hilltop Mall but says she was fired for speaking out against Wal-Mart’s employment practices.

“I had an excessive work load and I was being treated unfairly… Wal-Mart treats people bad on so many different levels,” Davis explained. “I was approached by some union organizers that asked me to join OUR (Organization United for Respect) Wal-Mart,” a group made up of current and former Wal-Mart employees, that she says is trying to change the way Wal-Mart treats employees.

“When I became an OUR Wal-Mart leader they retaliated against me,” said Davis. “What Wal-Mart is doing now is cutting back hours and laying people off or just getting rid of the older people… and if they make $10 or more (per hour) they just get rid of ’em, just phase ’em out.”

Until the Richmond wage increase, San Francisco was the city with the highest minimum wage in the Bay Area at $10.74 an hour. San Jose is next at $10.15 an hour. The current California state minimum wage is $8 an hour with an increase to $9 set for July 2014 and to $10 in 2016.

But not everyone in Richmond is on board with a minimum wage increase. Critics say raising the minimum wage could slow hiring and raise prices for consumers. Some say businesses and customers could end up leaving Richmond for others cities.

Richmond resident Don Gosney supports a minimum wage increase, but only on a state or federal level. “I do not support a minimum wage that is regional only. We don’t live on an island. As for where I’m at right now, if I wanna get my bucket of KFC I’ve got a choice – I can go to the KFC in Richmond and spend $16 for it, or I can buy it from San Pablo for $12. It makes a big difference.”

Gosney believes the increased cost of labor will hurt local businesses. He also takes issue with a part of the ordinance that exempts small businesses with fewer than ten employees. “If you’ve got nine employees and I’ve got ten, the cost of my labor is higher than yours. How do I stay in business? How do I compete against that? I don’t. I pack up and go someplace that is more business friendly,” said Gosney. “$15 an hour — I have no problem with that at all, but you can’t just do it here.”