Richmond Co-op Does More Than Just Fix Bikes

News Feature, Monica Quesada

James Johnson, 20, is a bike mechanic. Born and raised in Richmond, Johnson has for years fixed bikes out of his own garage, all the while dreaming of opening up a bike shop where he could work with the proper tools, “without having to use hammers and stuff.”

Johnson’s dream became reality less than a year ago when – along with a group of other young people from Richmond, and under the direction of Brian Drayton, executive director of a non-profit called Richmond Spokes – he launched Spokeshop Bike Lounge, the only bike shop in the city.

“Spokeshop isn’t the regular bike shop,” Johnson said. “There’s not many bike shops where you can come in and instead of buying stuff just hang out, chat with the staff, come use the free wifi, and read bike magazines and stuff in peace, without people bothering you.”

Besides their welcoming atmosphere, Spokeshop has another element that sets it apart from most other businesses in Richmond: It is a cooperative, where all the members are both owners and employees – although, so far, none of the co-ops eight members are receiving a salary for their work.

“We are still working out systems,” Johnson said. “I definitely wanna… get paid, but I’m pretty much satisfied that I actually have my shop, because that is where all my money would have been going anyways.”

As the shop’s first anniversary approaches, members of the cooperative keep on showing up to volunteer their time in order to help it become a successful business.
“It is more like a split of profits,” said David Meza, 20, a co-op member. “We all equally decide what should be reinvested into the shop, and what should be [for] our personal gain. But [we put] the shop first.”

Helping Community, in More Ways Than One
“I like working on bikes because I think it’s a job that really serves the community in many ways,” said Roxana Alejandre, 21, a bike mechanic at the shop.

Alejandre echoes other members, who view the shop and their work as a community service; a way to help Richmond become a better city. Biking, they say, is not only a good way to improve community health by making exercise fun, but also a cheaper way to get around town, find better job opportunities and access better food sources.

“Most [businesses] give opportunities for jobs, but one thing they don’t give you is a way to get to that job,” said Johnson. “But with bicycles, not only are you giving (a person) a job but you are also giving (them) transportation, so you don’t have the excuse of, ‘I don’t have a way to get to work’.”

Filling a Need
Spokeshop Bike Lounge is one of the projects of the non-profit Richmond Spokes, the mission of which is to promote social and economic development through cycling.

Drayton, executive director of the non-profit, said he was approached by young people who told him they’d heard that he was “the person to call” if you wanted to grow a bicycle culture in Richmond.

“I came to Richmond and realized that there was no visible bike community, (yet) there is a large underground community of people that just bike until their bike fall apart and then they get another bike.” In addition to creating healthy opportunities for youth, he said, “The idea was to get some affordable bike repair here in Richmond and train people to build bikes and maintain bikes.”

In addition to Spokeshop Bike Lounge, Richmond Spokes operates other projects and services, like valet bicycle parking for public and private events, which Drayton hopes will build more awareness of the burgeoning bike culture in Richmond.

Youth Opportunity
Gerardo Lopez, 12, is the youngest staff at Spokeshop. He goes to school, but every spare moment he has he spends at Spokeshop helping clients, keeping the store clean and organized, and sometimes assisting the bike mechanics.

“My mom says it’s cool because I can have a lesson in life [about] how to build my own shop and how to do my own business,” Lopez said.
Like every other worker in the shop, Lopez doesn’t receive a salary for his work.
“I don’t really care about the money,” Lopez said. “I just want to help the community. I don’t come here for the money.”

Nonetheless, during the winter break he worked so hard that the other members of the cooperative decided to give him a thank you present, a little black BMX bike that he liked. Now Lopez said he has new friends, three bikes and the experience of participating in the brainstorming that happens at the cooperative.
Members of the cooperative describe the bike shop as an incubator for what could be future youth-led businesses in Richmond.

“I had an idea for a design studio,” said Jari Smith, a volunteer at the shop. “I came here and eventually it grew.” Smith now has plans to launch her studio, which will be the first entrepreneurial business to spin off from the Spokeshop co-op.
“If we had a cafe within the bike shop, eventually that cafe is going to outgrow the bike shop and it will be time for them to launch their business,” Smith explained. “Who knows what kind of businesses could grow from that, from people congregating in the cafe, dreaming, creating goals, putting deadlines on those goals and branching out.”

According to Drayton, Spokeshop already has all the necessary equipment to start a cafe, but they lack the money for the initial investment.

Growing the Ranks
One of the big challenges facing the cooperative, said Drayton, is attracting new members and keeping them active. If a person wants to join, he or she must commit to doing 6 months of volunteer work at the shop, while getting trained by current members.

“In disadvantaged communities, it’s hard to incubate people,” Drayton explained, “because if it takes 6 months to train someone and they don’t have another source of income, we lose people.”

“As people realize what it is that we are doing, they get passionate about it,” he added. “But we all have personal lives, we all have rent and food and bills and things that rack up, so it is a challenge to stay on top of [everything].”

In the near future, Drayton hopes to find bigger funders that could support a salary structure for co-op members, even while they are in training, to sustain Spokeshop’s model and “keep it going.”

Cooperativa de Richmond Hace Más Que Arreglar Bicis

Reportaje, Monica Quesada

James Johnson de 20 años es un mecánico de bicicletas. Nacido y criado en Richmond, Johnson ha arreglado bicis en su propia casa por años, mientras soñaba con abrir una taller de bicis donde pudiera trabajar con las herramientas adecuadas, “sin tener que usar martillos y cosas”.

El sueño de Johnson se hizo realidad hace menos de un año – cuando junto con un grupo de otros jóvenes de Richmond, y bajo la dirección de Brian Drayton, Director Ejecutivo de una organización no lucrativa llamada Richmond Spokes – lanzó Spokeshop Bike Lounge, el único taller de bicis en la ciudad.

“Spokeshop no es el taller típico de bicis”, dijo Johnson. “No hay muchas tiendas de bicis donde puedes entrar y en vez de comprar cosas solo pasar el tiempo, hablar con el personal, usar el wifi gratis, y leer revistas de bicis y otras cosas en paz, sin que gente te moleste”.

Además de su ambiente amable, Spokeshop tiene otro elemento que lo distingue de los otros negocios en Richmond: Es una cooperativa, donde todos los miembros son propietarios y empleados – aunque, hasta ahora, ninguno de los ocho miembros de la cooperativa están recibiendo un salario por su trabajo.

“Aún estamos ajustando los sistemas”, dijo Johnson. “Definitivamente quiero… ser pagado, pero básicamente estoy satisfecho de que actualmente tengo mi tienda, porque de todos modos a ese fin estaría usando mi dinero”.

Mientras se acerca el primer aniversario del taller este mes, miembros de la cooperativa siguen presentándose para dar su tiempo de voluntarios para ayudarla a convertirse en un negocio exitoso.

“Es más como compartir las ganancias”, dijo David Meza de 20 años, un miembro de la cooperativa. “Todos decidimos de igual manera que debe ser reinvertido al taller, y que debería ser para nuestro beneficio personal. Pero [nosotros] ponemos al taller primero”.

Ayudando a la Comunidad de Muchas Maneras

“Me gusta trabajar en las bicis porque creo que es un trabajo que realmente ayuda a la comunidad de muchas maneras”, dijo Roxana Alejandre de 21 años, una mecánica de bicis en el taller.

Alejandre comparte como muchos otros miembros, que ven a su taller y su trabajo como servicio comunitario; una manera de ayudar a que Richmond sea una mejor ciudad. Andar en bici, dicen, no es solo una buena manera de mejorar la salud comunitaria al hacer el ejercicio divertido, pero también una manera más económica de andar por la ciudad, encontrar mejores oportunidades de trabajo y conseguir mejores fuentes de alimentos.

“La mayoría de [negocios] dan oportunidades de empleo, pero la cosa que no te dan es una manera de llegar a ese trabajo”, dijo Johnson. “Pero con las bicis, no solo le estas dando un trabajo [a una persona] pero también [les] estas dando transportación, para que no tengas la escusa de, ‘No tengo manera de llegar al trabajo’”.

Llenando un Vacío

Spokeshop Bike Lounge es uno de los proyectos de la organización no lucrativa Richmond Spokes, cuya misión incluye promover el desarrollo social y económico a través de usar bicicletas.

Drayton, Director Ejecutivo de la organización, dijo que jóvenes llegaron a él porque habían oído que el era a quien acudir si querían desarrollar una cultura de bicicletas en Richmond.

Llegué a Richmond y me di cuenta de que no había una comunidad de bicicletas visible, (pero) hay una grande comunidad clandestina de personas que usan su bici hasta que se descompone y luego consiguen otra bici”. Además de crear oportunidades saludables para los jóvenes, él dijo, “La idea era de conseguir reparación de bicis económica aquí en Richmond y entrenar a las personas a construir y a mantener bicis”.

Aparte del Spokeshop Bike Lounge, Richmond Spokes también maneja otros proyectos y servicios, como valét de bicicletas para eventos públicos y privados, lo que Drayton espera aumentara la concientización de la creciente cultura de bicis en Richmond.

Oportunidad para Jóvenes

Gerardo Lopez de 12 años, es el empleado más chico en Spokeshop. Asiste a la escuela, pero pasa cada momento libre que tiene en Spokeshop ayudando a clientes, manteniendo limpia la tienda, y a veces asistiendo a los mecánicos. “Mi mama piensa que esta bien porque puedo tener una lección en la vida [de cómo] construir mi propio taller y como mantener mi propio negocio”, dijo Lopez.

Como cada otro trabajador en el taller, Lopez no recibe un salario por su trabajo.

“Realmente no me importa el dinero”, dice Lopez. “Yo solo quiero ayudar a la comunidad. No vengo aquí por el dinero”.

Sin embargo, durante el descanso de invierno él trabajo tan duro que los otros miembros de la cooperativa decidieron darle un regalo de agradecimiento, una bici BMX negra que le gusto. Ahora Lopez dice que tiene nuevos amigos, tres bicis y la experiencia de participar en la lluvia de ideas que ocurre en la cooperativa.
Los miembros de la cooperativa describen el taller de bicis como un incubador de lo que podrían ser futuros negocios de Richmond mantenidos por jóvenes.

“Yo tuve una idea para un estudio de diseño”, dijo Jari Smith, una voluntaria en el taller. “Llegue aquí y eventualmente creció”. Ahora Smith tiene planes de lanzar su estudio, que seria la primer empresa filial de la cooperativa Spokeshop.

“Si tuviéramos un café dentro del taller, finalmente ese café quedaría chica para el taller y sería tiempo de lanzar su propio negocio”, explicó Smith.“Quien sabe que tipo de negocios pueden crecer de ahí, de gente uniéndose en el café, soñando, creando metas, poniéndole límites a esas metas y creciendo”.
Según Drayton, Spokeshop ya tiene todo lo necesario para empezar un café, pero les falta el dinero inicial para invertir.

Aumentar la Base

Uno de los retos más grandes que enfrenta la cooperativa, dijo Drayton, es atraer nuevos miembros y mantenerlos activos. Si una persona quiere unirse, él o ella tiene que comprometerse a 6 meses de voluntariado en el taller, mientras reciben entrenamiento de los miembros actuales.

“En comunidades desfavorecidas, es difícil desarrollar a la gente”, explicó Drayton, “porque dura 6 meses para entrenar a alguien y no tienen otra fuente de ingresos, perdemos a personas”.

“Cuando la gente se da cuenta de lo que estamos haciendo, se entusiasman con ello”, agrego. “Pero todos tenemos nuestras vidas personales, tenemos la renta y la comida y los gastos y cosas que se acumulan, entonces es un reto de estar encima[ de todo]”.

En el futuro cercano, Drayton espera encontrar financiadores mas grandes que puedan apoyar una estructura de salario para los miembros de la cooperativa, aún cuando están entrenando, para sostener el modelo de Spokeshop y mantenerlo en operación”.

Jóvenes Reaccionan Al Desastre de la Refinería de Chevron

En primera persona, Varios

La noche del lunes, 6 de agosto, a los residentes de Richmond, California, se les aconsejó buscar refugio debido a una serie de explosiones que resultaron en un gran incendio en la refinería de petróleo de Chevron, la refinería más grande del norte de California. El fuego envió columnas de humo negro hacia el cielo, cuales se elevaron lo suficientemente alto como para ser vistas por millas a través del Área de la Bahía.
Inaugurada en 1902, la refinería de petróleo hace mucho tiempo hizo a Chevron el mayor empleador de la ciudad de Richmond. La refinería también ha sido culpada por las tasas históricamente altas de la ciudad de asma y otras cuestiones de salud asociadas con la contaminación, las toxinas y residuos industriales, que es un subproducto de la industria.

Richmond Pulse colecto los siguientes blogs y reacciones en las horas inmediatamente posteriores al desastre de la refinería, el cual según la Agencia para el Manejo de Emergencias de California, soltó dióxido de azufre, química óxido de nitrógeno, óxido de hidrógeno, ácido sulfúrico y dióxido de nitrógeno al aire.

Edgardo Cervano-Soto, 22:

Cuando las sirenas sonaron, me levanté de mi asiento y casualmente cerré las ventanas. Mi mamá, cansadísima mentalmente y físicamente de cuidar a niños todo el día, me preguntó por qué cerré la ventana. Por que no es el miércoles, dije (la refinería de Chevron suena una alarma de prueba todos los miércoles) … y esto es real. Ella me miró, confundida por el tiempo y el sonido, y finalmente escuchó las sirenas.
Llevé a mi mamá y mi papá afuera de nuestra casa y vimos el embudo de los humos negros creciendo. Al haber vivido esto antes, sabíamos que hacer. Cerramos las puertas y ventanas, y colocamos trapos debajo de los huecos que habíamos fallado de asegurar completamente durante las reparaciones de la casa.
Por supuesto, la tele estaba prendida. Y el teléfono no paraba de sonar durante el pico de la quema. Parientes en San Francisco llamaron a preguntar si papá (él trabaja cerca de la refinería) había llegado a casa. Papá les aseguró a los familiares que estaba a salvo, y bromeó con los amigos del trabajo por el teléfono. La quema fue banal como un hecho natural, sin embargo, dejamos la televisión prendida, para presenciar el acto que había provocado un torbellino de atención de los medios.

La casa rápidamente se convirtió muy caliente y sofocada. Me sequé el sudor de mi frente, y sentí la humedad que se acumulaba en el borde de mi camiseta. Antes de las sirenas, mi mamá estaba friendo pescado y olía delicioso. Ahora, el calor se junto en la cocina y lleno la casa con el sonido del chisporroteo del aceite sobre el fuego abierto como su propio sonido de advertencia.
Esta casa fue construida en la década de 1960 y siempre ha tenido mala ventilación. Atrapa el calor y el frío según la estación. En parte por la resignación y el humor negro, mis hermanas y yo bromeamos sobre si la explosión fue una señal definitiva de mudarnos de nuestra casa. En el último año, hemos estado pensando en mudarnos de nuestra casa, ya que su valor ha disminuido dramáticamente, mientras que la hipoteca sigue siendo alta. Y las casas embargadas en nuestra calle sólo han añadido a una mayor devaluación del barrio. Me apoyé en la ventana porque se sentía fresco, e imagine por un momento cómo sería vivir en algún lugar de la naturaleza, alejado de las llanuras y en lo alto de las colinas. Pero incluso esos lugares se prenden en fuego a veces.
La hora mágica, en la producción cinematográfica, es cuando el sol se apaga en la oscuridad y no hay un resplandor en el cielo. Afuera era como una película, y adentro estaba muy caliente y pegajoso. Abrí la puerta principal y salí a la calle para ver los humos. La calle estaba en calma; el interior de las casas encendidas con luz, el aire por encima de mí pintado con tonos de púrpura, azul, anaranjado y negro.
Mis padres salieron de la casa y se pararon en el patio. Caminé hasta el centro de la calle y con mi cámara de 35 mm y tomé una foto de mis padres y el humo que cierne sobre ellos. Sonrieron y me llamó la atención. Vivimos cómodamente en el humo … y eso, es la cosa más innatural.

Adrienne Cheney, 17:
He vivido en Richmond toda mi vida, y estoy muy acostumbrada a escuchar la sirena de prueba de Chevron cada primer miércoles. Como muchos otros, sospecho, ya no hago los pasos de refugiarme en práctica para una emergencia cuando escucho esas sirenas. Sin embargo, esto es algo que es muy problemático, especialmente en situaciones como el incendio de la refinería de Chevron.

Al igual que muchos otros residentes de Richmond, me quede contemplando durante unos segundos pensando, “¿Es esa la sirena de Chevron?” y pensando, “No se son las 11 am en el primer miércoles. ¿Es una [emergencia] real?” Después de un minuto de pura confusión, la lógica entro y fui a investigar. Había oído dos explosiones fuertes sólo unos minutos antes, y cuando miré hacia afuera, podía ver la columna de humo negro elevándose hacia el cielo. Sólo entonces fui a cerrar todas las ventanas.
El siguiente paso para mí era llamar a ciertas personas. Un vecino mío sólo ha vivido en el área de la bahía por un rato, y me pareció que era muy importante llamarle y asegurar que sabía lo que significaba la sirena, y que se dirigiera hacia la casa y cerrara sus ventanas. Después de unas cuantas llamadas más, me senté y empecé a ver las noticias. La cobertura en vivo mostraba el fuego, y me enteré de que efectivamente se trataba de la refinería que se estaba quemando. Y entonces simplemente era sentarse y esperar, ya que cada media hora, las sirenas se repetían, y se oscureció el cielo, y poco a poco empecé a preguntarme cuánto tiempo duraría este fuego, y por cuánto tiempo duraría el peligro del humo tóxico sobre mi casa.

William Hayes, 20:
El asma, el smog, toxinas – estas son sólo algunas de las cosas que afectan a mi ciudad, Richmond, California. Se trata de una “ciudad puerto”, el hogar de una comunidad de diversas personas que han venido de diversos países, con diferentes convicciones y actividades. Pero la mayoría de la gente de mi comunidad sabe poco del peligro en que se colocan, simplemente por respirar el aire de aquí.
Por esa razón, he tenido una campaña personal en contra de Chevron toda mi vida, antes de que yo supiera lo que era una refinería de petróleo.
Gracias a Chevron, yo crecí en una comunidad donde el asma se considera normal y el smog se pensaba ser una parte del clima. Cuando yo era joven, mi hermana y yo vimos el humo blanco saliendo de las chimeneas de Chevron y los apodamos “los que hacen las nubes”. No sabíamos, que estas nubes blancas de humo aparentemente inofensivas eran en realidad la causa de la mayor parte de los riesgos de salud ambientales a los que estábamos siendo expuestos a sin saberlo. Por unas pocas semanas durante mi infancia hasta tuve que usar un inhalador para el asma, que en ese momento pensé que era algo muy bueno, pero en retrospectiva, es una imagen triste. No me gustaría que mi hijo este en una circunstancia donde tenga que usar un dispositivo para respirar.
Como nativo de Richmond, el reciente incendio de Chevron no me sorprende en lo más mínimo. Mi pregunta a los funcionarios de Chevron es, ¿Cómo siguen adelante después de esto? Estoy seguro de que no pueden asegurarles a los residentes de Richmond que algo así no vuelve a suceder, como estoy seguro de que tienen este tipo de accidentes contabilizados como el costo de hacer negocios.

No estoy demasiado preocupado acerca de quién tiene la culpa. Estoy más preocupado por lo que son los siguientes pasos para prevenir que este tipo de cosas se vuelvan a repetir. ¿Van a tomar en cuenta a los residentes de Richmond? ¿Puede alguna cantidad de dinero o donaciones para becas ser suficiente para que Chevron su merecido? Supongo que sólo el tiempo dirá.

Molly Raynor, de 25 años:
Maldita sea. Hoy ha sido una locura. En medio de nuestro taller de Romeo y Julieta, se escucharon las sirenas de Chevron y miramos por la ventana para ver una enorme nube de humo negro levantarse de la refinería y avanzando hacia nosotros. Tuvimos que refugiarnos en el lugar de Making Waves con mis estudiantes y mi primo que esta visitando la ciudad, filmando un documental sobre RAW y nuestro próximo show: una versión moderna de Romeo y Julieta situada en Richmond. “Verona”, sin duda estaba alumbrada hoy. Escapamos de las toxinas de Chevron, sintiéndonos mareados y apretados en el pecho, pero al final vamos a estar bien.

Estoy más preocupado por mis alumnos que regresaron a sus hogares bajo la nube negra y brumosa, quienes respiran Chevron todos los días. 50% de los residentes de Richmond tienen asma. Y eso es sólo una de las injusticias ambientales de tantas. Como Donte dijo ayer: “Ya sea humo de mota, de pólvora, o Chevron”. Estoy esperando que las nubes se aparten, esperando el sol. ¡Manténgase fuerte Ciudad Rich!

Richmond’s Latina Center Supports a Growing Community

News Feature, Edgardo Cervano-Soto

Wearing white caps and gowns, 25 women — ranging from young to middle-aged — pose for photographs in front of a water fountain at San Pablo City Hall. They call their group a sisterhood, born out of a need to speak to others but ultimately enabling them to reach themselves. For most of the women, graduating from the Latina Center’s 2012 Women’s Health and Leadership Program is a milestone, marking two years of involvement with the Richmond-based organization.

“Now, embrace the person next to you!” directs Yenny Velazquez, a program coordinator at the Latina Center. The women joyfully face the classmate beside them and giggle, “Hi, how are you?” and “What’s your name?” as if they were strangers to each other. “Come over here!” they laugh, breaking with formality as they hug like reunited family.

“We have students who received only an elementary education and others that are university graduates and professionals,” says Alejandra Escobedo, who coordinates the Women’s Health and Leadership Program. Yet, she explains, they have two core similarities: “First, these are women that want to progress and will progress. And the other similarity is that upon arriving in this country, they feel anxiety over how to survive in a society completely foreign to them, and (anxiety over) how to contribute and be significant.”

The Latina Center was founded by Miriam Wong in 2002 to serve Richmond’s growing Latina community. Today, the center offers support groups, domestic violence prevention workshops and leadership programs to women in need of healing, empowerment and understanding.

Despite the importance of the work, mental health services like thoseoffered at the center are yet to be fully embraced by the immigrant Latina community. The National Alliance of Mental Health, a policy research non-profit, reports that fewer than 1 in 20 Latino immigrants use mental health services. Breaking through the stigma of treating mental health issues is especially difficult among Latinas, who are 46% more likely than Latino men to experience depression, according to some estimates.

Overcoming the taboo of seeking mental health services, while also trying to build trust and guarantee privacy, is a challenge for mental health providers – but The Latina Center seems to have devised a successful approach. In their model, women can participate in support groups while also being trained as promotoras, or community health leaders. But before they can take part in the leadership trainings, the women must undergo the group process. The Women’s Health and Leadership Program is one of those leadership programs – it is now graduating its 12th class.

The group of 25 line up near the entrance of Maple Hall before entering. They look attentively toward the main room, trying to catch a glimpse of arriving family members. On each table, adorned with deep purple tablecloths, are quotes from the graduates. One reads, “I am a leader who has achieved changes in my neighborhood. I am proud of myself.”  The ceremony’s MC, Martha Cuevas, a graduate of the Latina Center’s programs, welcomes the audience and signals to the 25 women to enter the room. They enter, applauded by their community.


The Women’s Health and Leadership Program is a yearlong program with a new class offered every July. Students are required to devise a community health project, research their topic, conduct a presentation or workshop to peers, and finally execute the project to the proposed audience. This year’s projects included anger management classes, financial literacy workshops and even do-it-yourself cleaning solutions that are ecologically safe. No matter the topic, the program demands research from the students, and the experience has encouraged many graduates to continue community work beyond the program.

Teresa Palafox’s project on co-op business models led to her and some classmates attempting to open a restaurant called Fusíon Latina Restaurant. “More than anything, the program prepared us to initiate the co-op,” says Palafox. “I’ll continue taking classes and attending conferences on how to manage co-op businesses and gain extra income.” Palafox and the other women involved in Fusion Latina Restaurant are now being expertly advised by Arizmendi Bakery co-founder, Terry Baird. “We’ve received a lot of help from different [people],” says Palafox.

The experiences of other graduates have been more internal, but no less life altering. “I am nothing compared to who I was before The Latina Center,” says Maria Gamboa, a middle-aged woman who describes herself as only caring for her family, and always being at home. It was her first time participating in any type of support program.

For her project, Gamboa decided to share her expertise in tailoring by offering free classes to the public. “I discovered many qualities I already had in me,” she says of the process. “I want to continue opening doors to people like me who only care for their children. There is so much more one can do to help their community.”

After receiving their certificates, the class of 2012 welcomed the next class of women, who will begin developing their projects as early as August. The new class includes students not only from Richmond, San Pablo and Contra Costa County, but as far away as Solano and San Joaquin County. There is no other organization like the Latina Center, say the graduates.  No other that transforms, with love and friendship.

The Latina Center is located at 3919 Roosevelt Avenue in Richmond. The center accepts walk-ins, and appointments can also be made by phone, at (510) 233-8595

Richmond Mayor Seeks Full Transparency in Determining Cause of Refinery Fire

Press Release, City Hall

Residents in Richmond and the surrounding area were reminded last night of the ongoing risk of living in close proximity to a major oil refinery. Tens of thousands of people were advised to “shelter-in-place” as a level 3 health warning due to fire and explosions in the crude unit at Chevron’s Richmond refinery. Huge billows of black smoke were spewed for miles into Bay Area air, impacting residents in Richmond, North Richmond, San Pablo, and El Cerrito. As far away as the Oakland hills, people were advised to stay indoors. The shelter-in-place lasted throughout the night while firefighters worked to contain the fire.

This morning the shelter-in-place has been lifted, although a health advisory remains in place. Chevron has announced that the fire is contained and the situation is under control. However, controlled burning continues, which remains a big concern to local residents, especially the most vulnerable with respiratory conditions such as asthma and other breathing difficulties.

Thankfully, Chevron employees experienced only a few minor burns, but hundreds of Richmond residents were seen at local hospital emergency rooms for respiratory problems and difficulty breathing. According to a filing with the California Emergency Management Agency, the fire released sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, hydrogen oxide, sulfuric acid and nitrogen dioxide into the air. A Chevron representative has stated that “diesel grade materials” from the crude unit was the source of the combustion.

Three local BART stations (Richmond, El Cerrito, and Del Norte) were closed for hours, but all are currently operating.

Concerns remain about inadequacies and delays in the communication system which reportedly notified only some residents about the shelter-in-place, and not in a timely manner.

While the situation seems to be under control, the investigation is just beginning.
Chevron will be holding a Town Hall meeting tonight at the Richmond Auditorium, 403 Civic Center Plaza, at 6 pm. All are invited to share concerns and ask questions.

“We live with this risk day in and day out. I will be seeking a full investigation and analysis from both Chevron and independent sources. I am calling on Chevron for full and complete transparency and accountability in determining what caused the health and safety of our residents to be jeopardized,” said Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, who will attend the Town Hall meeting tonight. “Our community is rightfully concerned and we shall continue to seek full cooperation from Chevron regarding all aspects of their day-to-day operations of this inherently dangerous and complex process of oil refining.”

Face Painting Brings Joy to Kids, Extra Income to Family

News Feature, Karina Guadalupe

Joselin Reyes, 20, arrived at the park ready to begin a two-hour volunteer shift of face painting, signaling the start of the summer-long “Funky Fridays” program at Elm Playlot, also known as Pogo Park, in the middle of the Iron Triangle.

A talented artist, Joselin says her interest in art and make-up goes back to when she was young.
“I started with my make-up,” she explains, describing how she would practice on her younger sister. “[Last year] my next door neighbor who sells shoes at the flea market saw my little sister and told me I should go to the flea market and do that.”

It was a much-needed opportunity for Joselin to supplement her family’s income, in a town where jobs for young people are especially hard to come by.

According to Cindy Sugrue, a consultant with the California Development Department, the current unemployment rate for 16-19 year-olds in Richmond is 49.8 percent. Director of the City of Richmond Summer Youth Employment, Jay Leonhardy, says the number could actually be higher, “especially in [Richmond’s] most challenged neighborhoods.”

Joselin’s family, like many others in Richmond, was already going to the flea market every weekend to sell handmade bracelets and rosaries. On Saturdays they went to the Concord Flea Market, and on Sundays to the one in Antioch. Joselin was offered a small space at the family’s stand, and it didn’t take long before she was doing face painting for customers.

She started off doing simple make-up work, but has since moved on to cartoon characters and full-face designs. “I really like to freestyle and do my own designs. The boys love zombies and superheroes, and the girls like butterflies and anything that looks cute.”

Her family was struggling financially before they decided to open their own small business at the flea market. “It was bad,” recalls Joselin. “We would have to borrow money from others. The only one working at the time was my mom and there’s five of us, plus dogs. With the face painting and selling bracelets at the flea market, money is not so tight anymore.”

A true artist, Joselin is happy whenever she gets the opportunity to paint a face. Back at Pogo Park, what was supposed to be a two-hour shift extends to three, without a break, as she happily continues painting kids faces. But of course, it’s even better when she gets paid.

“If we wanted to go out to eat (before we started selling at the flea market) we couldn’t, because money was not enough. But now we can eat out; we can go buy things we couldn’t buy back then,” she says.
In addition to her family’s stand at the flea markets in Concord and Antioch, Joselin has also been hired to paint faces at birthday parties and community events.

Anyone interested in her services can contact Joselin’s Face Painting at (510) 672-8328.

Question of the Month: Small Biz Community Weighs in on Soda Tax

Compiled by Monica Quesada

QUESTION: If the Soda Tax is approved by Richmond voters in November, do you think people will stop buying soda? And if passed, how do you think the tax would affect your business?

Sunny Lee, 53, owner of Tarabini’s Deli

“It’s going to make the drinks too expensive and people are not going to buy it, so I signed for ‘no.’ In my opinion, I will have to cover the tax.”

Ramon Franco, 33, owner of Salsa Taqueria

“People are going to keep buying as usual. If the law passes, I just up the price what I have to. This is like cigarettes — they up the price to death, but the one that smokes keeps on smoking. If somebody wants a coke, they will pay (for it).”

Ivan Tian, owner of Joy Cafe

“I think people will stop buying, because it turns too expensive. It won’t affect us a lot because we sell other drinks, like milkshakes and coffee.”

Joyce Wu, 30, employee at Joy Cafe

“I’m against people drinking too much soda. It will affect my business, but I am for it. I was a nurse before and I think health is more important. Otherwise, the government has to pay for the medical bills.”

Susana Ayala, 27, employee at Lee’s Donuts

“People are going to keep buying because they have that habit, even if the price goes up. They will complain for a little bit and then they will have to pay. Maybe the first few days it will affect the business, but once they see the price went up everywhere, they will get used to it and will start buying again.”

Kevin Lee, 30, employee at Lee’s Donuts

“We are against it, that is why we have a sign outside. It’s not good for the city, because [people] might go buy [sodas] outside of the city.”

Brenda Cornejo, 18, employee at Bart Mart

“I think people will keep on buying, although maybe the store will have a drop in sales, because there are people with low incomes.  But I think they will keep on buying, anyways.”

Madeline Alvarado, 18, employee at Bart Mart

“They will keep on buying, because these are drinks that they consume daily.  They will keep on seeing [soda] in the store, and they might not buy as often but they will keep on buying.”

Amar Nasser, 29, co-owner of Bart Mart

“I think they will stop buying sodas because they are more expensive, especially when they can go to San Pablo and buy it cheaper there. It will affect my business and a lot of businesses in Richmond. I think we have to stop it from happening. It’s gotten kind of expensive.  And we [business owners] are not [the ones] paying that tax — the customers are paying. [Bart Mart] sells mostly sodas and bottles and all that stuff, so it is going to affect me a lot.”

Summer Dance Party Celebrating Healthy Eating and Active Living

Press Release, Youth Enrichment Strategies

Summertime provides the opportunity to get outdoors and be active. However, Richmond’s city streets don’t always conjure up the image of physical activity the same way a tree-filled park or shoreline does. This summer, a diverse group of Iron Triangle residents has been bucking the trend by coming up with ways to get exercise and be healthy in their own neighborhood – and they’re fired up about the way it’s making them feel.

“I enjoy coming together with other people in the community sharing healthy meals and being active together,” stated Helida Solorio. Helida and the other members of her Health and Wellness Committee have been learning all about the benefits of good nutrition and exercise for the past several months thanks to workshops and presentations provided by members of the Healthy Eating, Active Living, or HEAL collaborative.

Demetria Saunders, of Youth Enrichment Strategies (YES), facilitates the group on behalf of HEAL.
“When I asked the committee what they would like to do this summer, they brainstormed several ideas about being active which didn’t require having to drive somewhere. Yoga, swimming at the Plunge, a walk to Richmond’s Miller/Know Regional Park, and a dance are some of the things they came up with” stated Demetria.

Committee members have been organizing the dance for the past month and a half and are excited to get the word out to other residents. “We wanted to have fun, play some tunes, and get our groove on,” long-time resident Doris Mason explained. “This is a way to bring our community out of their homes to build relationships and break a little sweat.”

The dance will be held on August 3rd from 5:00pm – 8:00pm at Lillie Mae Jones Garden located at 257 6th Street in Richmond. In addition to dancing, it will include fun activities for the entire family.

It is free and committee members are encouraging both parents and youth to attend. Healthy snacks and beverages will be sold for a modest fee.

If you are interested in joining the Iron Triangle resident Health and Wellness Committee, or have suggestions about how to promote health and wellness in your neighborhood, please contact YES and Demetria Saunders at 510-232-3032.

Coronado YMCA, MFI, Team Up for Resource Fair

News Feature, Taisa Grant

The Coronado YMCA was at the center of this city’s ongoing community-building efforts when it hosted a resource fair on June 30th to bring tangible and basic resources to community members.

Edward Hamilton, a Richmond resident who lives on the corner of Ohio Street, two blocks away from the YMCA, heard about the event from a co-worker. He said the “diaper-drive” and resource fair are just what the community needs. He believes events such as these create opportunities for the community to come together and talk, which can then prevent fighting and ultimately, end violence. It’s a reminder, said Hamilton, that “without each other we’re not going to make it.” It’s a lesson he said he hopes will be learned by his young son and unborn child — that the community itself can end violence.

Mended Families Incorporated (MFI) set a goal of giving out between 5,000 to10,000 diapers and informing the public of various resources available to them and their children.The event kicked off at 10am, and before the doors even opened there was a line of people patiently waiting.

City Council candidate Marilyn Langlois, a board member of MFI since its inception, observed the interactions among mothers, seeing their appreciation for receiving concrete assistance, information and resources.

Nadiri Jumoke, a substance abuse specialist, said she was there because that’s where mothers would be, and some may benefit from the services she offers.

Jamie White, the secretary of MFI, has a personal investment in the work that her organization does. Like so many, she has lost family to the streets of Richmond, and in her opinion providing basic needs — like diapers, formula, wipes and clothing — is crucial in preventing further loss of life. If one is without these goods, she said, their lives can be negatively impacted. White added that she is hoping the event and the efforts of the organization will create a chain reaction of people sharing resources and supporting each other.

Candy Anderson, from the organization Brighter Beginnings, said scheduling the diaper giveaway for the end of the month was a wonderful idea, because many families must decide between buying food or buying diapers.

Mayor Gayle McLaughlin was present at the event to show her continued support to MFI. As an honorary board member, she said the organizational goals are in line with those of the City of Richmond: to promote and create a healthy Richmond where our families can prosper and rise above violence, poverty and injustice. The Mayor stressed the importance of community-building, which she defined as human beings relating to one another in a fair and equal way, remembering that we are more alike than different.

“Community” is the key word used in many conversations taking place in and around the Coronado YMCA. There appeared to be a nostalgic feeling of joy among residents on that warm sunny Saturday, and MFI was the main purpose for the gathering on that day. Now, however, there is a call for more. Who will answer the call? I humbly guarantee that MFI and Richmond’s Mayor will. How about you?

In Richmond, A Love of Soccer But Nowhere to Play

News Report, Monica Quesada

RICHMOND, Calif. — Angel Leon has learned how to express his feelings through soccer. If he’s angry, for example, he’ll use that emotion in the game, “not to hurt, but to be more aggressive towards the ball, more energetic.”

But Angel, 13, a player for the Richmond Sol Cobras, doesn’t get angry often. In fact, he said anger is exactly the opposite of what he usually feels when he’s out on the soccer field, running around with his friends.

“It is a fast playing game,” said his teammate, Kanai Salvador-Anderson, also 13. “You forget about your troubles and let out all of your emotions.”

But there is one thing that both Angel and Kanai don’t like about soccer: They don’t get to practice it enough, and it’s not for a lack of desire. Limited by a finite number of available soccer fields in the city, the Cobras only meet for practice twice per week.

Richmond Sol was founded in 2003 and is one of only two officially organized soccer clubs that exist in the city. The second is called Richmond United Soccer Club, founded in 1995. Between the two clubs, around 800 Richmond children participate year-round in soccer clinics and competitions, outings and mentoring activities.

The people who make up the staffs of the two soccer clubs are all unpaid volunteers – they do what they do for the love of the game, and out of a sense of community service. And despite the number of youth currently being served, soccer club volunteers agree that it’s only the tip of the iceberg. They could do much more, they say, if it weren’t for one big problem: There are simply not enough places in Richmond to practice soccer.

According to the 2010 Richmond Parks Master Plan, 16 different locations in the city are regularly used to play soccer, but only two of them are “purpose-built soccer fields” – places intended to be used for the sport. Those are located at Country Club Vista Park and at Martin Luther King, Jr. Park. The other 14 places where soccer players practice are either multi use fields or green areas in different parks around the city.

“Currently, overuse of the existing fields is resulting in their deterioration, in some cases to the point where they are virtually un-playable,” reads the plan.

The study, published last December, also says that the city has a deficit of 19 soccer fields, based on a desired standard ratio of one field per 3000 inhabitants. In a city where the Latino population, with a strong soccer tradition, is now 40 percent and growing, the lack of fields is more perceptible.

“Back in the 80’s, softball and baseball were the popular sports here,” said Diego Garcia, vice-chair of the Recreation & Parks Commission and president of Richmond Sol. “The late 90’s was when soccer started to become popular, when the World Cup came to the U.S. Now, it is not the most popular sport, but it is a fast growing sport.”

Garcia estimates that there are between 4,000 and 5,000 children and adults in Richmond that are playing soccer. In addition to the two major soccer clubs, which are affiliated with national and regional soccer leagues, there is an informal club called Richmond Eclipse, and various after school programs that boast soccer teams.

The two organized soccer clubs, along with every other sport club in the city, face another difficulty. The cost of renting one of the city-run fields or one of the fields that belong to the school district, like the ones at Richmond or Kennedy high schools, may cost as much as $500 a day.

“When you are a smaller group and you are starting out without ties to the city, it makes it hard,” said Gelberg Rodriguez, president of the Richmond United Soccer Club. “Sometimes, teams have to pay $50 to $75 to play for a couple of hours.”

The fee that each participant pays to be part of the club covers that cost, and also the cost of uniforms, trophies and other accessories. But the fee could soon go up to $150 a year.

Save the Clubs

Juan Reardon has a 10 year-old daughter that plays with the Richmond United Soccer Club. He said he got tired of watching his daughter “avoiding the holes in the ground” as she plays, so he decided to act.

“There are close to 3,000 children who do one type of organized sport in Richmond, but that is the minority of the children in Richmond,” said Reardon. “The others do not participate because there is not enough capacity to welcome them and to facilitate their participation. They need help with tuition, transportation, and the basic issue is there is no field capacity.”

Reardon, Garcia and Rodriguez joined forces with six representatives from other baseball, football and track clubs in Richmond, and are now the Richmond Safe Athletic Fields for Education (SAFE) Coalition. Together, with Richmond Progressive Alliance as a facilitator, they are asking the city for more, and stronger, support.

“We are fulfilling a shared obligation that we have as parents and community members,” Reardon remembered saying during a meeting with the City Council and school district representatives back in February 2011. “(But) we need free or lower cost access to the fields, for all the sports.”

Negotiations between the clubs and the City Manager have been ongoing since then, and even though it looked like they were close to an agreement, it has been hard to find a way to satisfy both parties.

“We say we want to use the fields for free,” Reardon said. “They say, ‘I understand that you need support, but we believe that if people don’t pay they don’t appreciate (the fields).’”

But Richmond City Manager Bill Lindsay said appreciation is not the main reason for imposing a fee on the clubs, which are using the facilities exclusively — that means that during their practices and games, the rest of the public cannot use the field. Hence the fee.

The latest round of negotiations between the SAFE coalition and the City Manager’s office established that the clubs would pay 8 dollars per year, per player if the player is a Richmond resident, and 14 dollars per year per player if the player comes from outside Richmond.

Members of SAFE agreed to pay the fee, but asked that the money be saved by the city and then redirected to each club, to be used to finance their various club-related costs.

Lindsay, on the other hand, said the fees should be used to “lease field space from the School District, make improvements to city-owned facilities, and fund special projects and events for the collective benefit of participating SAFE members.”

No final resolution has yet been agreed to, but both parties are working to reach an understanding.

The debate may also be influenced by the outcome of city elections in November, when residents will decide whether or not sugary beverages like sodas should taxed by the city. If the proposal is approved, Richmond will have some extra money that could be earmarked to fight obesity. And it’s not a stretch to think that part of that money could be used to build sports fields.

Even if that money materializes, however, the task of building new city-funded sports fields in Richmond looks daunting.

“It is gonna take us maybe 10 years to close the gap on the lack of fields,” said Reardon. “But [the soda tax] will be a good steady income for the city to address this problem.”

More Than Soccer

For Angel and Kanai, being club members brings a lot more than just learning soccer. They also learn discipline, how to communicate with their teammates and how to be leaders, by making decisions as a team and putting the team’s interest before their own.

“I try to be an example for my brother,” said Angel, “so he doesn’t end up in places where he should not be.”

“Sports for me are a metaphor for life,” said Rodriguez. “If you work hard in soccer, you can be successful. If you wanna do well in life you have to work hard. I think a lot of coaches use that metaphor.”

Rodriguez is an engineer who graduated from UC Berkeley, and he said that soccer and the Richmond United Soccer Club are tools that he and the other volunteers use to motivate Richmond kids to go to college.

“Getting our kids to go to college is a big challenge, because our kids have a low high school graduation rate,” said Rodriguez. “How do we make our kids understand that they have to go to college to have a better life? In the Latino community, in general, that is a problem.”