Nature Walk Draws Out Hundreds

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By Luis Cubas

Clouds couldn’t stop the annual Walk to Nature, hosted by local nonprofit YES Nature to Neighborhoods, on August 29.

Nearly four hundred people came out to attend this year’s walk, designed to introduce residents of Richmond’s flatlands to the regional parks that line the city’s 32 miles of shoreline.

“A lot of people don’t realize that they have this beautiful, natural, pristine environment that’s very close to them,” said Eric Aaholm, executive director of YES. “It’s important for us to be able to show people that it’s straight in their backyard.”

Participants gathered for the third annual walk at the Richmond Greenway starting point on Sixth and Ohio streets around 9:30 a.m., their destination at Miller Knox Regional Shoreline and Keller Beach two miles away.

“It’s nice to be outside again, I’m really enjoying the day today and seeing the turnout,” said Kelsey Radmilovic, YES’ camp-to-community coordinator. “This is the first year that it’s been at the beach, which it looks like a lot of people are taking advantage of.”

Participants received t-shirts along with bags and water bottles at the start of the walk, while food and family activities like board games, volleyball, hula hooping, swimming, Zumba and more awaited them at the end.

“My children are having fun, and that’s what’s the most important,” said Aurora Alejo, who attended the walk for the first time with her family. “It was a really nice atmosphere and delicious food — taquitos, salad and natural water with cucumber and lemon.”

YES Nature to Neighborhoods offers leadership and wellness programs, along with family and summer camps, to bring the residents of Richmond closer to nature, and nurture leadership in the community.

“This is our biggest event,” said Tana Monterio, the organization’s community wellness coordinator. “We’re going to get people out into nature, we’re going to get nature to the people.”

The Night My View of Richmond Changed


By Ronvel Sharper, age 16 ­|Photos by Ann Bassette

On July 17, 2015, I joined about a hundred other people taking to Richmond’s streets for a Ceasefire night walk through neighborhoods impacted by gun violence. The weekly walks are the community’s attempt to lessen shootings in the city. Each week a couple of dozen regulars come out to walk in support of the cause, but the walk this week was different—it was the first of two larger citywide walks and, on a personal note, it was the first time I took part in something like this.

One of the first things that struck me was the diverse group of people participating, including Blacks, Whites, Latinos and Asians, all holding signs promoting peace. I felt as if we were all a part of one huge family, as if we are all indirectly related. It was empowering and made me feel as if I could contribute more to my community.

The atmosphere was positive; everyone was chatting with one another, singing, playing instruments and having a good time. As we walked, we chanted, “Ceasefire, Richmond” and, “Alive and Free.” Throughout our walk countless drivers responded to our “Honk for Peace” signs, signifying their support for our cause.

I was astonished to see people in cars waving and cheering for us. Going into this, I thought no one would have cared and would have just driven past. But they did care and hearing them blare their horns was breathtaking. The support they showed opened my eyes to the kind of people that live here in Richmond. There were people talking and hanging out, no one was alone or being a loner. Everyone was happy. They exhibited a different future for Richmond as a happier place to be.

Equally significant to what we chanted was where we were when we chanted, as Tamisha Walker, a frequent Ceasefire participant and founder of the Safe Return Project, a nonprofit that helps people in the area coming out of jail or prison, pointed out.

“We start in North Richmond and it’s really important to walk through Las Deltas projects to show folks that we’re around and we’re here for folks,” she said.

“Then to cross under the train tracks into the Iron Triangle, right in heart of Richmond, and be able to run into folks who’ve lived in Richmond honking and saying, ‘Thank you, we really need this’…and be able connect Richmond to say, ‘We can cross these barriers and feel safe,’ it was just amazing.”

Leaving the experience, I feel as if Ceasefire walks make a difference in the community, or at least can in the future. The sheer number of participants signifies that people are willing to make a change.

Luckily, I wouldn’t say the violence in Richmond has affected me directly, but before this I always thought that no one would help. That if something did happen, you and a small group of friends would have to tackle it alone. Participating in this event has shown me otherwise. Being a part of the walk has opened my eyes to what Richmond can be, if we continue these nonviolent events. Richmond can be a peaceful, safe and friendly community—a town with a bad past, and overall horrible environment, can become a safe and beautiful place.

At this rate, I think, it’s only a matter of time before Richmond becomes a city no longer plagued by a bad reputation and negative stereotypes. Perhaps in Richmond we will see a prime example of the powerful impact people can make when they come together and push for change.


Walking Against Oil and Coal Trains



By Alison Ehara-Brown

In the early morning of July 11th, I joined a group walk along the “blast zones” – the mile-wide sacrifice zones along the rail lines that would be destroyed in any kind of an oil railway explosion. Standing together in a circle as geese flew overhead, Native American leaders, local Refinery town residents and friends from Oakland, shared our concerns about the danger of neighborhoods being destroyed in an oil train blast.

The possibility of such an explosion is becoming more likely.

That’s because the fossil fuel industry is using more extreme methods of extraction in the Tar Sands in Alberta, Canada and fracking in North Dakota’s Bakken Oil Fields. The oil that’s being shipped through our neighborhoods is much more volatile and more likely than traditional crude to explode in the event of a train derailment.

Coal dust blowing off the trains also makes the tracks more slippery, and increases the chances of derailments and explosions. Coal dust also covers neighborhoods, causing respiratory illnesses. As we walked above the railroad tracks, we saw long lines of railway cars full of coal sitting on the tracks, blowing coal dust into the surrounding neighborhoods. Coal, like oil, is a fossil fuel whose use we need to reduce, not increase.

Oakland citizens joined us on the walk, concerned that Oakland developer Phil Tagami is converting the old Army base in Oakland into a port, and four Utah counties are now trying to use Utah state money to use this new port to handle coal. Bay Area residents are pressuring the Oakland City Council to invoke the public health and safety clause in the city’s agreements with Tagami in order to prevent him from building a coal export terminal to ship coal to China.

The walk, sponsored by Idle No More SF Bay and the Bay Area Refinery Corridor Coalition, was part a national week of action to stop oil trains. Participants came from Martinez, San Pablo, Richmond, Crockett/Rodeo, Oakland and Benicia.

It coincided with the second anniversary of the disaster of Lac Megantic, a small town in Quebec where a train oil explosion in July 2013 destroyed the downtown, killing 47 people.

After the walk we joined others at Atchison Village for a rally and march to stop oil trains, hosted by the Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN) along with many other community and environmental justice organizations. Before marching, we heard messages from Richmond Vice-Mayor Jael Myrick, Andrés Soto of Citizens for a Better Environment (CBE), and Richmond residents who live in oil train blast zones. They talked about the danger of oil trains, and demanded the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to revisit the permit they gave for the Kinder Morgan terminal to bring in oil trains to Richmond. They also called for a democratic process to be reinstated to involve proper public notice, public comment and a real review.

Hundreds of people marched to the Richmond BNSF Railway Yard where we stopped to hear Patricia St. Onge of Idle No More share a prayer. Citizens for a Better Environment attorney Roger Lin updated us on legal actions to keep our communities safe from bomb trains, and then we marched on to Washington Park in Point Richmond.

At Washington Park, we heard from a recently retired railway worker, Brian Lewis, who was appalled at the lack of basic safety procedures on the railways, as the cargo being carried becomes increasingly dangerous. We heard poetry from a young hip-hop artist, Kaila Love, sharing her reflections on justice. And we learned more about the big picture of the dangers of climate change from Ethan Buckner of Forest Ethics.

Southeast Asian refugees described leaving their war-torn lands to come to America, only to have their health compromised by the toxicity of living in the refinery corridor in Richmond. Vivian Huang of APEN connected our gathering to the many summer actions of the Our Power Movement. And we were inspired by the words of City Council member Gayle McLaughlin, who during her time as mayor, invited Marilaine Savard of Lac Megantic, to share her story with the people of Richmond, so that we could learn the personal stories of those whose communities were destroyed by bomb trains.

“This is more than just a fight against oil trains. Our lives are on the line,” said Kae Lin Saechao, of APEN, in a press release. “I’ve lived in San Pablo for over 30 years and seen my community suffer long enough from the impacts of the fossil fuel industry. We want to see solutions: a clean, renewable energy economy that serves both people and the planet.”

I was moved to tears many times, feeling that the earth and the air and all of life was cheering us on, that we have a chance if enough of us rise up everywhere to alter the course of history, and leave a beautiful, safe world for the next generations and all of life.

Alison Ehara-Brown is a member of Idle No More SF Bay


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.”

White, Upper-Middle Class and Living in Richmond


A view of the Richmond Hills near Cutting and Carlson Blvd.

Commentary, Sonya Mann

I was ashamed to live in Richmond when I first moved here 10 years ago.

In middle school, people would grimace when I told them I lived in Richmond. I’d hurry to reassure them, “Oh no, I don’t live in the drug-dealer part. My house is up in the hills.” I was quick to distance myself from the Iron Triangle, culturally if not geographically.

It wasn’t until halfway through high school that I realized that my reaction was problematic. Being white and wealthy meant that I had all the advantages in the world, yet I wasn’t leveraging my privilege to advocate for people in tougher situations. Instead, I was responding with the moral equivalent of “Ew, no!”

Over time I’ve learned to respect the city and the people who lived here before my family arrived, but I still occupy community space that used to belong to someone else, someone with less money. As an upper-middle class white person, my presence changes how people perceive the value of my neighborhood, a reality that persists despite being completely unjust.

Now I’m convinced that Richmond’s bad reputation is undeserved, or at least more complex than it’s made out to be. Many of the city’s residents are low-income people of color; the notoriously prevalent crime and violence exist because institutional racism makes people’s lives harder, leading them to turn away from the law in order to survive. When I first moved here, I perpetuated this oppressive system through my own ignorance. I was too immature to understand what I was doing, but that doesn’t absolve me of responsibility.

IMG_6561These days, I love Richmond unabashedly. Sure, if you walk down Cutting Boulevard, maybe a homeless person will ask you for money, and there will be a moment of social discomfort when you lie about not having cash, but that’s no different from any other city in the Bay Area, right?

But I know that for all my defense of the city, I’m still part of the changes that are leading it inexorably upmarket. Pressures on real estate haven’t impacted Richmond as dramatically as San Francisco or Oakland, yet. But we must plan for an influx of house-hungry tech workers—I’m surprised that we haven’t already been hit with a rush of them. Erin Carlyle reports in Forbes that rental costs in Bay Area cities have skyrocketed: San Francisco rent is up 12.8 percent, Oakland is up 10.5 percent, and San Jose is up by 11.3 percent, just in the last year.

The inevitable displacement of low-income Richmond residents isn’t exactly my fault, in a direct and intentional way. But in another sense it is totally my fault. As journalist Adam Brinklow commented regarding San Francisco gentrification, “Look, it’s cause and effect. [Tech companies’] business is the cause. Eviction is an effect. This isn’t a big mystery.” My dad doesn’t work for the new generation of tech startups—Facebook, Twitter, Uber, etc.—but he’s employed by one of the companies that dominated the 1990s.

IMG_6588We live on the edge of Wildcat Canyon, with a view of the classic golden hills of California. Our property’s sticker price was more than $1 million dollars. Obviously my parents didn’t pay the whole amount up front, but we’re financially secure.

Since we moved to Richmond a decade ago, the neighborhood has cleaned up, so to speak. My block used to be rough, but in 2014 the 20-something, frequently-jailed man – whom my parents suspected of fixing up old cars for street racing—moved because he couldn’t pay the mortgage. Or at least that’s what the neighbors speculated. A house-flipping developer bought the vacated home, fixed it up, and sold it to a family with toddlers. The father teaches computer science at UC Berkeley.

This story, a microcosm of how gentrification happens, isn’t new in the slightest, and it isn’t new here. The divide between “good” cities and Richmond has existed for a long time, and a similar divide has been evident within Richmond. Even before the rowdy neighbor moved away, everyone on my street was white. Now we’re all white and middle class. The supposedly “good” parts of Richmond are expanding, even though what counts as “good” is determined by oppressive power structures that date back to slavery.

Documentary About Young Richmond Poets Premieres at El Cerrito High

Story and Video • Ann Bassette

Hundreds of people filled the El Cerrito High School theater on April 29 to watch the world premiere of the film “Romeo is Bleeding,” a candid and revealing documentary following the lives of a group of young, spoken word artists — known as Richmond Artists with Talent, or just RAW Talent.

Led by first time director Jason Zeldes, this deeply researched and eloquently edited film, includes multiple views and stories to give outsiders an accurate illustration of life in Richmond, California.

The film focuses on Donté Clark, 25, during 2012 and 2013 as he and the RAW Talent team wrote, rehearsed and performed his first play, “Te’s Harmony.” The play is a modern day remix of Shakespeare’s classic “Romeo and Juliet.” It’s loosely based on Clark’s own life growing up in North Richmond, and focuses on the feuds between the neighborhoods in Richmond and how they affect the lives of the people who live there.

But more than capturing the artistic process, the documentary examines the intersection of life and art in a city plagued with street turmoil.

“‘Romeo Is Bleeding’ explores the roots of violence in Richmond,” said Molly Raynor, RAW Talent’s co-founder and Arts Program Coordinator, “and documents the efforts of young artists to heal themselves and their community through spoken word poetry and theater.”

The documentary shows what it’s like to live in Clark’s world as he makes his first attempt at playwriting. We see Clark as humble, analytical, honest and funny. Interviews with Clark’s older brothers give insight into what the streets of North Richmond looked like during the height of feuding. It also shows the pain and turmoil Clark went through as he grieved the loss of a friend and a RAW Talent co-founding member, 19-year-old Dimarea Young, who was shot and killed in front of his father and brother in the spring of 2013.

“I feel like in Richmond, California we have two sides who are at odds,” Clark said, describing the parallels between the city he knows and “Romeo and Juliet.” “But the thing is, it’s not two separate families. We’re all family, and we are intermixing, and we’re having young children who have to straddle the fence on my daddy is from this side and my mom’s from that side — but both of my cousins are killing each other. So, what we try to do is just take that story and show you that this is a family. It’s not a gang. It’s not individuals just out here doing wild things. It’s people who are hurt.”

“What surprised me was exactly what Donté says in the film, art imitates life,” Raynor said. “During the year we were creating a film aimed at eradicating violence in Richmond, four young men Donté knew were shot and killed.”

“While the film initially was going to focus in more on the actual nuts and bolts of putting on ‘Te’s Harmony,’ the violence itself shifted the course of the film,” she added. “Life influenced art.”

Inside the theater, the diverse crowd reacted with laughter and finger snaps throughout the premier, and applauded as the end credits rolled. A question and answer segment featuring the director and cast followed, explaining how the film is meant to serve as a healing tools for the cast and the community.

RAW Talent began as a school-based spoken word group but has gone on to create stage productions and a documentary film. “Romeo is Bleeding” is part of this year’s San Francisco International Film Festival. It will be showing next at 2:00 p.m. on May 3 at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley.

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.

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.”


Six Months Later, Family of ‘Pedie’ Calling for Officer to Be Charged

News Report, Edgardo Cervano-Soto

The family of 24-year-old Richard Perez III marked the six-month anniversary of his death with a protest March 17 at a Richmond City Council meeting, demanding that prosecutors charge the police officer who shot him, despite a conclusion by the District Attorney’s office that the officer had acted in self-defense.

Perez, better known as “Pedie,” died Sept. 14, 2014 in an altercation with Richmond police officer Wallace Jensen, who shot him three times during a fight at Uncle Sam’s Liquors on Cutting Boulevard after what the officer described as Perez’s attempt to take the gun from his belt. Perez had been intoxicated, and according to investigators had told family members he expected to be killed by police by the age of 25.

But Perez’s family said that focusing on such statements amounted to an attempt to discredit their loved one and to divert attention from what they say were the officer’s lack of training and mistakes made during the fatal events.

“We don’t approve of their police brutality, we don’t appreciate their lies, we don’t appreciate their lack of training, their lack of accountability, and their lack of transparency,” said Perez’s father Rick, at an hour-long rally after the council meeting. “They sit there at the table and yet they hide so much, [and] they misrepresent the rest of it… it’s not right for them to do that, but they get away with what they want.”

A canine patrol officer with seven years on the force, Jensen said he had patrolled the liquor store even though it wasn’t on his beat because it had repeated issues with loitering. He said he entered the store when called out by a store clerk. Jensen testified he attempted to detain Perez for public intoxication — and that when Perez resisted, his calls for backup never went through. According to Richmond Confidential’s report of the inquest, Jensen’s calls for support never went through because he had mistakenly set his police radio to a private channel.

IMG_7184Perez’s grandmother Patricia, who picketed the plaza outside the council chambers with other family members and supporters, wore a black T-shirt with her grandson’s picture on it. “He deserves to be in jail,” she said. “He murdered Pedie, plain and simple. There is no way to explain it.”

A coroner’s Dec. 10 inquest to determine the manner and mode of Perez’s death took testimony from homicide detective Hector Esparza, president of the local police union, along with Contra Costa County District Attorney investigator Jeff Soler, who had interviewed Jensen after the shooting, and from Jensen himself. The prosecutor’s office in January declined to file charges against Jensen, who had re-entered the police force in early October after a two-week paid administrative leave.

“It is not possible to prove Officer Jensen did not act in self-defense,” Deputy District Attorney Barry Groves wrote in a letter to Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus. “The facts and circumstances indicate that the officer acted in lawful self-defense.”

At the protest rally, however, Perez’s family criticized the inquest for excluding eye-witness accounts. Furthermore, according to the Huffington Post, the inquest didn’t feature any video footage from a witness’s cell phone camera.

Rhonda Reeder-Perez, Perez’s aunt, also criticized Jensen’s lack of preparation and crisis training. “As a canine handler, wouldn’t it be your first nature to push that button on your lapel to let your dog out if you are in fear of your life?”

“But he didn’t do that,” Reeder-Perez said. “He just stepped back and blew my nephew away.”

Kris Kelly, sister of Mario Romero, a 23 year old Vallejo resident killed by Vallejo Police in September 2012, spoke at the rally in solidarity with the Perez family.

Kris Kelly, sister of Mario Romero, a 23 year old Vallejo resident killed by Vallejo Police in September 2012, spoke at the rally in solidarity with the Perez family.

Roberta Shriver, a family friend, spoke during the public-comment portion of the council meeting, and urged council members to take action.

“Something could get a white, conservative, FOX [News]-watching woman off her couch, and that’s when a friend of her son is killed,” Shriver said. “Pedie and his family are precious to us. I was also married 19 years to a police officer, have a degree in criminal justice and worked for the LAPD, so I know about the brotherhood of the badge. I sat in that coroner’s inquest and I listened to every detail.

“At several points that officer could have used non-lethal force, and chose not to,” she said. “It’s up to you to do the right thing.”

The Perez family has hired civil rights attorney John Burris and has filed suit against Jensen and the city, arguing excessive force and violation of civil rights. Police Chief Chris Magnus, in an emailed statement to Richmond Pulse, reiterated the District Attorney’s conclusion that Jensen had acted in self-defense.

“We realize the Perez family has experienced a huge loss and appreciate that Pedie’s death was incredibly tragic to those close to him,” wrote Magnus. “In fairness, however, I need to remind our community that following a lengthy and thorough investigation into this incident, the Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office determined that the officer acted in self-defense and that the shooting was justified.

“It is understandable that Pedie’s family and friends are unable to accept this finding,” he continued. “We support the family’s right to pursue their case through the civil court process and believe a courtroom is the appropriate venue to reach a just resolution to this matter.”

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)