Richmond’s Native American Health Center Hosts Children’s Mental Health Day

by Malcolm Marshall

More than 15 years after a landmark Surgeon General’s Report on Mental Health brought attention to mental illness as an “urgent health concern,” many youth and adults with mental illness are still not getting the treatment they need.

To begin tackling this issue, and expand awareness of mental health issues, the Native American Health Center in Richmond hosted its third annual Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day on May 8. This year’s free community event featured guest speakers and youth workshops aimed at developing a community definition of mental health.

“I looked up the definition of mental health, because I didn’t know it,” said Michael Dyer, program manager at the health center, as he welcomed youth and families to the event. “It said ‘a state of well-being’. It’s very vague and you don’t quite get the meaning from that. We can define mental health together.”

The lack of a working definition means youth aren’t always able to identify their problem, Dyer said, so they don’t seek treatment.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 20 percent of youth ages 13-18 live with a mental health condition nationwide. In California the children with the highest rates of serious mental illness include Latinos, African Americans and Native Americans, according to a 2013 study by the California HealthCare Foundation.

The Native American Health Center serves Native American youth and adults, offering crisis prevention and early intervention services like support groups and counseling. It’s also a cultural hub for Native Americans, where people can learn about their culture through traditional art and music classes.

“When we were asking the youth [what mental health meant], during the planning stages for this event, no one knew what it meant,” said Dyer. “The one person that did raise their hand to answer said, ‘mental health is when you go crazy.'”

As part of the day’s activities, the center’s media team set up a video booth to interview people about their own personal definition of mental health. In another room, the center asked people to write on a wall what mental health meant to them.

Some of the phrases written were, “loving yourself and others,” “friends and family,” “listening to your body and heart,” “being positive,” and “keeping your mind fit.”

The center’s event was part of a national movement to increase awareness of mental health issues. This year marked the 10th anniversary of a national awareness day, meant to raise awareness of mental health in children and advocate for comprehensive care.

Newly appointed Surgeon General of the United States, Vivek Murthy, told the Washington Post that he believes in improving public health by creating a prevention-based society. And, he said he has included emotional and mental well being in his top four rules for health.

In Richmond, Dyer said he hoped to also highlight the things that go into having a strong mental state.

“We want to show the community that it’s ok to reach out,” he said. “Being able to check in with yourself, and acknowledge that you’re sad or depressed and that you need a support system.”



The Great Tomato Sale

Photo Essay • David Meza

Did you know that Russia has its own special tomato? How about Japan? Kentucky?

If you attended the Great Tomato Plant Sale, “Heirlooms Of The World,” at the AdamsCrest Urban Farm in East Richmond Heights Apr. 11, you would have seen all of them and more. University of California Master Gardeners,
along with city environmental officials and local agricultural advocates, all collaborated to host the annual event, now in its fourth year.

The sale featured high-quality heirloom tomato and vegetable plants, each for $3. More than 200 attendees chose from over 50 varieties of tomatoes, raised by master gardeners from the university and recommended to grow well in home gardens in this area. Also for sale were varieties of vegetable plants, grown on the farm by Urban Tilth, which advocates for healthy food and cultivates agriculture in the county.

The tomato plant sale proceeds will go to support community education classes and the community gardens at the university. Master gardeners from the university were also on hand to answer questions on plant selection, planting, fertilizing, pruning, harvesting and protecting plants from insects.

In partnership with the master gardeners, the city of Richmond’s Environmental and Health Initiatives gave away free compost to community members at the event. Traditionally, the city hosts its own annual compost giveaway, but this year joined forces with the university and Urban Tilth for a community collaboration.

“Instead of hosting [the compost giveaway] independently like past years, we felt the event and donation would be more effective if we collaborate with groups already leading gardening and urban agriculture initiatives in the community,” according to Richmond Health and Sustainability Associate Mike Uberti.

Republic Services donated the compost from its Richmond facility. Richmond remains one of the only cities in the Bay Area with a closed-loop composting program, in which it transforms food scraps from residents into compost and returns it to them.

Along with offering vegetable and locally made honey, staff from Urban Tilth coordinated their monthly volunteer day, in which community members can learn hands-on about sustainable methods for growing food while harvesting fresh fruits and vegetables.

AdamsCrest Farm, formerly a field of the recently closed Adams Middle School, was repurposed by Urban Tilth into an operational farm in 2009.

DMC to Close April 21

By Nancy DeVille

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ER Nurse: Closure of DMC Will Be ‘Catastrophic’

By Nancy DeVille | Photo by David Meza

As the threat of Doctors Medical Center’s shutdown draws closer, Maria Sahagun says she still hasn’t given up hope.

An emergency room nurse at DMC, Sahagun and her colleagues have spent months urging the West Contra Costa Healthcare District to come up with a solution to save the financially strapped hospital from closing. She posts updates on Facebook to inform residents of the latest hospital news and she regularly attends community and city council meetings advocating for resources to keep DMC afloat.

Her latest campaign is a series of YouTube videos offering warnings of the dire effects the hospital’s closure will have on the San Pablo and Richmond communities.

DSC_0048“I cannot let this go without turning [over] every stone,” she said recently following her shift in the hospital’s ER. “There are so many families out there that will be affected because of the lack of access if this hospital closes.”

For Sahagun, the fight for quality accessible health care is personal. She vividly remembers watching her ailing mother, who was battling terminal cancer, wait for 12 hours in a Compton, CA. emergency room just to see a doctor. That experience is the drive that keeps her fighting, she said.

“If this hospital closes,” she said, “there will be increased waiting times at area hospitals. And it hit me that so many families with a great matriarch will be affected like I was because of lack of access to the medical system.”

“The impact is going to be catastrophic,” she said.

Sahagun says residents are already seeing an impact since services at DMC have been discontinued. Former DMC patients are now forced to ride public transportation to chemotherapy appointments three times a week, she said, while others have complained about relatives being transported to Alta Bates Hospital in Berkeley since DMC no longer accepts ambulance service.

Shuffling these residents around could have “devastating” effects on their health, Sahagun said.

“Because of the increase in transport time, there will be death and disability,” she said. “If you have a stroke or heart attack, every minute counts.”

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

As the hospital’s board continues to debate its future, Sahagun says she has no plans of walking away.

“We’re really serving a population in need,” she said. “I am committed to staying until the end.”

Study Shows Gaping Holes in Safety Net for California’s Uninsured

The safety net for uninsured Californians is full of holes – and those holes are much bigger for the state’s undocumented people.

That’s one of the main findings of a new study by the statewide health care advocacy coalition Health Access. The organization’s executive director Anthony Wright says the “uneven safety net” puts the state’s remaining uninsured in a position to “live sicker, die younger, and be one emergency away from financial ruin.”

“Counties should maintain strong safety nets for the remaining uninsured, through the county-led programs that provide primary and preventative care,” Wright said on a press call last week. “Counties that do not serve the undocumented should reconsider this policy, and focus their indigent care programs on the remaining uninsured population that actually has the most need for a safety net.”

Over a year into the full implementation of the Affordable Care Act, some 3 million Californians still lack health insurance. For many, that’s because coverage is still unaffordable. And almost half of the 3 million are undocumented, and thus shut out from federal health programs.

By law, counties have to provide care to low-income individuals who are uninsured and don’t qualify for other programs. But, says Wright, “Counties interpret this responsibility widely and wildly, in very different ways.”

For example, of the state’s 58 counties, only 10 “explicitly serve the undocumented in their programs for those who meet other qualifications such as income,” says Wright. “The rest do not serve the undocumented outside of emergency care.”

The study found that the number of people enrolled in county-based care programs for the uninsured varied widely according to different counties’ eligibility requirements.

Counties that have more inclusive eligibility requirements, in terms of income and immigration status, still have thousands of people using their indigent care programs – in Los Angeles, for example, over 80,000 people are enrolled in the My Health LA program, which is open to undocumented immigrants, and assigns individuals to community clinics.

But counties that have more stringent eligibility requirements have far fewer people enrolled. Counties like Merced, Placer, and Tulare report that they now serve no one in their health care programs for the poor and needy.

That’s not because there isn’t a need, according to Wright, but because “those programs aren’t geared to the remaining uninsured that are left.”

Sacramento County is one of the 48 counties that don’t provide care to undocumented immigrants. It used to, but stopped in 2009 during the financial crisis.

Carlos Garcia, who spoke on the call along with Wright, is undocumented and recently moved to Sacramento from San Mateo. He hurt his leg in an accident and now the leg is infected. He says he was prescribed antibiotics instead of more comprehensive treatment because he doesn’t have health coverage, but he can’t even afford the medication.

He’ll need to drive back to San Mateo for further treatment – San Mateo is one of the 10 counties that provide care to the undocumented – but he’s worried about being able to pay for gas.

“I haven’t been able to work because of this,” he said through a translator. “I feel desperate.”

The proposed “Health For All” bill (SB 4) could help Garcia if it passes this year. The legislation, originally introduced in 2014 and re-introduced in 2015 by Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Los Angeles), would guarantee health coverage to everyone in the state, regardless of immigration status.

“County-based programs should be a bridge to a statewide solution, as being discussed here in the state capital, that would extend affordable coverage to all Californians,” says Wright.

“Our health system is stronger when everyone is included,” he says.

Ceasefire Walks, Rain or Shine

Commentary, Leslie Basurto

It was 7 p.m. on a Friday night and I was attending my first Ceasefire night walk — a weekly trek where members of the community walk together through streets where gun violence has occurred in the hopes of putting an end to it. In recent years Ceasefire has received a lot of credit for Richmond’s reduction in crime and violence, and I wanted to learn about their approach.

The night was dark and pouring rain, I was thinking maybe they’d call it off because of the weather. But, I figured I would at least knock on the door of the Bethlehem Missionary Church — the meeting point — in case anyone was there.

To my surprise, the door opened and I was greeted by a group of people sitting in a circle. The mood was palpably serious. Rev. Donnell Jones, Community Organizer for the Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization, was telling them about recent deaths in the area involving gun violence. The men involved in the shootings were between 18 and 23 years old. “Babies,” Jones said, “robbed of the ability to dream.”

Jones explained the purpose of the walks and the strategy to end gun violence including “call-ins” where parole officers meet one-on-one with perpetrators, which has proven successful. Members of the group discussed the lengths they would go to get these youth help. Before we headed out, we gathered in prayer “for a generation of people that have been lost.”

After grabbing candles and signs reading a variety of things like, “Peace for Richmond” and “Honk to end gun violence,” we hit the streets, heading towards Cutting Blvd.

The signs we held suffered in the rain, but the enthusiasm and perseverance of the group persisted.

“I almost thought that maybe I wouldn’t come out to walk tonight because of the rain,” said Jane Eisenstark, a Richmond resident. “But then I realized that it was that much more important that I do.”

Throughout the trek the group chanted, “Ceasefire: Alive and Free,” and despite the poor visibility, drivers passing by honked in support.

We reconvened at the initial meeting point at the end of the walk, drenched from the rain. The gathering closed with a prayer and some words from Jones about taking the work to the next level outside of walking. The goal, he said, is getting at risk youth help through any means.

I left feeling overcome with emotion. I thought about peers who had been lost too soon and how senseless these deaths always are. Gun violence does not occur everywhere. We do not need it. It is hurting our community.

I also felt intense gratitude for the people who walk weekly, as well as those who are involved in the fight against violence in other ways. It is clear that these people have unconditional love for their community. Any of them would help if someone who needed it reached out.

Residents at Troubled Housing Complex to Soon Move Out

News Report, Malcolm Marshall

During the first week of February, newly elected Mayor Tom Butt announced that residents of the dilapidated Hacienda public housing complex will receive federally funded Section 8 vouchers to move into new housing.

At a press conference at the 150-unit Hacienda complex at 1300 Roosevelt Ave, Butt—along with Richmond Housing Authority Director Tim Jones and Congressman Mark DeSaulnier—announced the new developments.

The news came a year after the Center for Investigative Reporting published a series of articles detailing terrible living conditions in the complex filled with mold, roach and mice infestations and leaky roofs. A month after the stories broke, the Richmond City Council voted to relocate residents, many of who are elderly and or disabled.

The vouchers, which were recently approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), will allow residents to move to other public housing structures or private market housing.

The Richmond Housing Authority will help residents with costs associated with moving, and has opened a relocation office to assist tenants with finding new places to live.

After all the tenants have moved out of the building built in 1966, the Hacienda will undergo around $20 million in renovations, paid for by HUD. Jones estimates the renovation will take 18 to 24 months to complete and current tenants will have the option of returning after it’s done.

“The residents of Hacienda were in dire need of safe and improved living conditions,” said DeSaulnier in a statement. “I am pleased to have assisted the City of Richmond in expediting the issuance of vouchers which will allow individuals and families to immediately begin finding and settling into a better housing situation.”

Sandra Burell says she has lived at the Hacienda a little over ten years. She says the last year has been difficult, “waiting, not knowing what their going to do, not knowing how long I’m going to live here.”

“I’m the type of person that believes in action,” said Burell after the press conference. “Now they’re actually doing something, and I’ve heard it from the horses mouth, so I’ll believe it.”

Burell says she would like to stay in Richmond, close to the area she’s in now. “Hopefully right around Kaiser. All my doctors are at Kaiser and everything is a walk away for me and I’m in the chair now,” she said, referring to her wheelchair.

Jacobi Williams, 32, says he’s lived in the complex for the last five years and describes his last year at the Hacienda in the same way, “full of waiting, waiting, waiting, and waiting.”

“But not just last year,” he said. “This goes back to the relocation process that was happening in 2012.”

“There has been a few things changed,” said Williams. “They did the floor in here and they painted. You can change the comforter but if you don’t change the sheets your still going to get dirty,” he added, detailing the ongoing issues with health hazards that he said include rotting and mold growth on walls throughout the building.

Bernice Smith, a longtime Hacienda resident, said she’s heard promises of improvements at the Hacienda for years. “They been saying this for ten years,” she said. “I’ll believe it when I see it. They’ve disappointed us so much and I’m still paying rent.”

“What they say they’re going to do they don’t do it,” she added.

Edward Dunlap hasn’t lived in the building as long — just three years — but after losing a beloved dog because of, he suspects, the toxins in the building, he is ready to leave.

“I want to go somewhere else, I’m tired of this place,” he said. “All I want to do is live out my last days.”

Building a Bike Culture in Richmond

By Nancy DeVille

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo 1

Najari Smith of Rich City Rides helping a customer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting Richmond Covered

By Nancy DeVille

As open enrollment continues for benefits under the Affordable Care Act, Richmond health advocates are making an extra push to help residents learn what their options are.

Through February, Californians who currently don’t have access to health plans through an employer or private insurer can obtain coverage through Covered California, the state’s insurance marketplace.

In Contra Costa County, health care officials are especially focused on those who avoided signing up last year, including African Americans, Latinos, Asian and Pacific Islanders, the formally incarcerated and families with mixed immigration status.

“We’ve been working on a number of strategies around this idea of everyone having healthcare in Contra Costa County,” said Roxanne Carrillo Garza, who works for HUB Manager for Healthy Richmond, a 10-year, community-driven project to help improve the health and safety in Richmond.

“We are working to bring a variety of folks together who serve the hardest to reach populations,” she said. “We have to go into these communities, where people live, worship and where they feel most comfortable. Having healthcare is really a human right.”

Richmond recently held an enrollment event for the Asian and Pacific Islander community. It was one of the first cities in the state to target this demographic, Carrillo Garza said. It was the launch of several community workshops planned across the county.

“The idea is that it’s important to ensure access to healthcare to all Contra Costa residents to make sure we foster an environment where people are connected to prevention services as well as having health services,” she said.

Access to healthcare for some Richmond residents isn’t easy. Many undocumented immigrants have been shut out of access to health insurance, and they are not allowed to buy insurance on the health care exchange. Anyone can buy private insurance though, but often cost is a barrier.

Those that don’t qualify for the federally mandated health care options usually access emergency health services or visit local community clinics like RotaCare Richmond or LifeLong Medical Care.

There are some healthcare programs for undocumented immigrants. They include Family PACT, a state program that pays for sexual and reproductive health services; pregnant women are eligible for Emergency Medi-Cal, and some can qualify for the AIM Program– Access for Infants & Mothers.

Children under the age of 19 are eligible for Contra Costa County’s basic health care program, or Kaiser Permanente’s child health plan.

Despite the benefits, getting even documented Latinos to apply for health insurance can still be a hard sell—especially for those who come from mixed immigration status families. They fear their signing up could tip off immigration authorities to undocumented relatives and put them at risk of deportation.

Health care educators are now distributing flyers from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that reassures documented immigrants from mixed status families that the information they provide on their health care applications won’t jeopardize their undocumented family members.

“This year we are really stepping up our game and letting people know that we only need the social security numbers and consent for individuals that are looking for coverage from Covered California, not the people applying on their behalf,” said Nestor Certa, a Covered California certified enrollment counselor.

“Even if they don’t have a legal status, they can still apply on behalf of their kids and we encourage that,” he added.

Recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival, or DACA, can now apply for state-funded Medi-Cal if they meet the income eligibility, which is $16,105 for a single person and $32,913 for a family of four.

It’s good news for Raquel Perez, a DACA beneficiary. She was among dozens of Richmond residents who recently gathered at the Nevin Community Center to listen to presentations about what federal health care reform options are available. It was the first time she heard she was eligible for health insurance.

Not having health insurance “made things a little hard for me,” the 27-year-old Richmond resident said. She currently works as a substitute teacher and isn’t eligible for health benefits.

“I need to have insurance and I feel good that I’m eligible for something so I can see a doctor if needed and not have to worry about the bill,” she said.

Perez is now making an effort to let others know about what health insurance options might be available.

Transformation on the Richmond Greenway

Story, Malcolm Marshall | Photos, David Meza

It was a warm fall day, with temperatures near 70 degrees, when Iron Triangle residents and community members gathered to celebrate the grand opening of Harbour 8, Richmond’s newest park, designed and built by local residents.

“It takes a village to build a park,” said Toody Maher, executive director of Pogo Park, a local non-profit that renovates parks in Richmond, as she spoke to the crowd on the Nov. 7 park opening. One by one, she acknowledged the many residents, workers and financial supporters that contributed to the project.
Over the last nine months, residents have worked to transform this area of the Richmond Greenway between Harbour Road and 8th St. into a usable, kid-friendly green space.

The park was made possible thanks to an investment from The Trust for Public Land, a national non-profit that creates parks and protects land for people. Pogo Park secured a $150,000 Rapid Park Activation grant from the trust with the goal of renovating this public outdoor space on the greenway and bringing it to life.

“The Trust for Public Land was really fascinated by our community engagement process for Elm Playlot,” Maher said of Pogo Park’s earlier project at 8th and Elm St. Pogo Park and the Richmond Police Department recently won the 2014 MetLife Foundation Community Police Partnership Award for their work transforming Elm Playlot into a safe, vibrant and usable community playground. “So many parks in inner city neighborhoods fail. It doesn’t matter how much money you put in them, you build a playground and the moment people leave its gets attacked and destroyed.”

Gompers High School had a spot on the greenway known as Gompers’ Guerilla Garden that it started in 2010. Students painted a mural that was subsequently painted over by Code Enforcement, who said it was graffiti. The controversy and student protest led a to a revision of Richmond city code to prohibit mural removal on private property without the property owner’s consent. “That started it all and then people started coming out and doing murals,” said Gretchen Borg, Urban Ecology teacher at Gompers High School, of the beginnings of transformation at what is now Harbour 8 Park.

Borg said Maher approached her last year about partnering with Gompers to create a playground surrounded by planter boxes and trees so that people could get fruits and vegetables and the kids would be safe. “And Toody made it happen, lickity split,” Borg said.

Maher said this was The Trust of Public Land’s first project in the Bay Area.

“This is the kind of partnership that is putting Richmond on the map,” Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said. “This partnership of people coming together to own public space as our own.”

“Children will be able to enjoy this beautiful sand box and explore their creative possibilities,” she said. “Keeping public space for the public in Richmond is all part of showcasing that we’re a city that values the importance community leading the way.”

“Today we’re celebrating community members building their own park, and being involved with this whole process,” said Richard Muro, a Richmond resident who served as the project manager at Harbour 8, as well as part of the mural team that painted the new mural along the greenway.

Maher said many residents living close by as well as businesses in the area also contributed to help further the vision of Harbour 8.

“It’s truly a powerful place,” said Maher. “Harbour 8 park is within blocks from five schools. When kids are done with school what we want is for them to walk a few blocks to a refuge, a safe green space where they go.”

“Our whole mission for these parks is to foster the development of children and youth, transform lives by transforming public space,” she added.

The effort is not over. There are plans to build 22 raised garden beds and plant over 30 fruit trees, all of which are to be planted by the community.

Those interested in getting involved can contact Pogo Park at 510-215-5500 or

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