Should 16-Year-Olds Be Allowed to Vote?



Commentary, Anna Tingley

Should 16 year olds be allowed to vote? That’s the question being debated right now in San Francisco, where San Francisco Youth Commission members Oliver York and Jillian Wu are spearheading the fight to lower the voting age in local elections from 18 to 16. And now they are bringing the idea to Richmond.

Inspired by the Scottish Independence Referendum last year in which 16 and 17 year olds were allowed to vote, Wu, York and other youth activists are convinced that extended suffrage will increase civic engagement.

But when they brought their arguments to the San Francisco City Hall, not everyone was buying it. Some said teenagers didn’t know enough about politics, while others thought they would simply follow in their parents’ footsteps. (The San Francisco teens pointed out that 44 percent of Scottish teens voted differently than their parents in the Scottish Referendum.)

In October, the San Francisco Youth Commission met with the Richmond Youth Council to present the idea of lowering the voting age to 16 here in Richmond.

Chair of Richmond Youth Council Joseph Jackson, 17, says the counci is now exploring ways to bring the idea to Richmond voters in next year’s election.

“Richmond is improving, we’re trying to improve, and this is a step in the right direction”, said Jackson.

Voting at 16 or 17, he said, “gives them more of a reason to pay attention to government and politics, to be involved in civic engagement, more of an opportunity to take part in their community. This isn’t just about voting,” he said. “It’s about educating people and empowering them at the same time.”

For a long time, young people did not participate in the political process in the same numbers as older generations. However, the turnout rate among young adults spiked with Obama’s 2008 campaign, and the voter turnout gap between generations has narrowed significantly since 1972, when 18 year olds were first granted the right to vote.

Experiments with local elections have shown that extending suffrage to 16 year olds would increase voter turnout. When the city of Tacoma Park, Maryland, allowed 16 and 17 year olds to vote in the municipal election, they voted at twice the rate of their older counterparts.

This change is not as foreign as it may seem. In addition to two Maryland cities, several nations have successfully extended the vote – such as Argentina, Brazil, Germany, and the United Kingdom – to allow younger voters to participate in national elections.

As for the argument that teenagers are lacking in political knowledge, interest in local legislation seems to be increasing among high school students. As they become members of high school programs such as Youth and Government, Model United Nations, and Amnesty International, they become aware of the issues we face on a local, national, and even international level.

But there is another reason supporters want to allow young people to vote. It’s the phenomenon that York has coined the “trickle-up effect”: As youth show interest in local issues, formerly indifferent parents will also become more involved. This can especially be seen within immigrant families, whose households make up a majority of non-voters.

When you turn 16, you can’t drink, buy a lottery ticket, or rent a hotel room. But driving a car inevitably leads to independence. The high price of parking in the city impacts you. You don’t only start to know what sales and income tax mean, but its fluctuation starts to directly affect you. You are driving, working, paying taxes. Eighteen may mark the beginning of adulthood, but it’s when you turn 16 that local legislation really starts to matter.

“Seventeen isn’t young when you’re having have kids, paying taxes, or enlisting in the military,” said Jackson. “This is an opportunity to have a say in city government that they never had before, allowing them to represented.”

With Prop 47, A Release from the Stigma of a Past Felony









News Report, Nancy DeVille

For Kerry Walls, carrying the weight of a decade-old drug related felony was exhausting.

He got sober in the late 2000s after years of battling a crack cocaine addition and alcoholism, and tried to put his troubled past in the rearview mirror. He applied for jobs. Some called him in for interviews, while others skipped over him when they noticed his felony record. And even finding quality housing was a struggle.

For Walls, it felt like his past was winning. The stigma of being labeled a felon seemed to follow him everywhere and he eventually was diagnosed with depression.

“But even though I accumulated these felonies, I still always had the desire to do better,” Walls, 54, told dozens of people gathered at Richmond’s Living Hope Neighborhood Church at a Prop 47 forum last month. “But these felonies held my self-esteem and confidence to a low.”

A recent call to the Contra Costa Public Defender’s office offered a ray of hope. Walls was told he was eligible to have his two drug-related felonies cleared through California’s Prop 47, a measure passed last year that reduces some nonviolent felonies to misdemeanors.

“It takes the stigma away and boosts your confidence. To have that removed is just overwhelming,” he said as tears welled up in his eyes. “I’ve struggled so long with this. I now feel like I’m not being labeled. It’s like a new-born freedom.”

In Contra Costa County, hundreds of people like Walls have taken advantage of the initiative. More than 500 people have been released from custody and over 1,000 people have had felonies, many stretching back decades, reduced in the county since California voters adopted the initiative last November.

Ellen McDonnell, a Contra Costa public defender, says her office’s goal is to reach the nearly 10,000 people who are eligible to get their felonies reduced before the November 2017 deadline.

“Prop 47’s reclassifications of felonies can often be a critical catalyst to putting people back to work, helping them qualify for certain government benefits, for housing and student aid,” McDonnell said.

Known as the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act, Prop 47 allows those convicted of certain nonviolent crimes, like drug possession and petty theft when less than $950 is involved, to have the charges reduced. Those with a history of violence or sex offenses are ineligible.

With the record of his felonies behind him, Walls now works as a post office custodian, is married and regularly attends drug and alcohol support groups to make sure he stays clean.

“I went to jail and did the time, but I still had these felonies,” he said. “This is just the beginning for the betterment of my life.”

Walls hopes to help other law-abiding citizens remove their felony records and show them they don’t have to be defined by their past. He also hopes to start a housing program to help recovering drug and alcohol addicts get back on their feet. It’s something he might not have even considered a few months ago because of his criminal record.

“There are a lot of people out there suffering who don’t have a clue on how to get help,” he said. “I’ve been passing out flyers at shelters and other places in the community to help get the word out [about Prop 47]. I know it takes determination and many people can’t do it alone.”

Residents of Contra Costa County with questions about Prop 47 can contact Ellen McDonnell, Contra Costa County Deputy Public Defender, at 925-335-8075 or

Richmond Youth Get an Audience With AG Loretta Lynch


by Marco Villalobos

Attorney General Loretta Lynch visited Richmond on Sept. 25 as part of a six-city tour. While she was here, she heard directly from young people about how to make improvements in the way police interact with the community.

The visit was part of a six-city national tour including visits to Cincinnati, Birmingham, Pittsburgh, East Haven, Conn. and Seattle, where she participated in roundtable discussions on how residents and police could work together.

The first African American woman ever appointed to the position, Lynch commended the Richmond Police Department for its early adoption of body cameras, alternatives to deadly force, and the combat of unconscious bias. She also observed that the important steps forward in Richmond were due to partnership with organizations and individuals outside of the police department.

At the RYSE Youth Center, she sat down with a group of nine young people, ages 18 to 25, to dissect the impact of community policing on this select cross section of the community: youth of color.

Eighteen-year-old Nyabingha McDowell was among the youth in the conversation. “Ms. Lynch came to the RYSE to discuss how she could make relationships, interactions, trainings with the police better in our community,” said McDowell. “How do we address the trauma and the pain that’s been there for all these years? The people who are supposed to serve and protect you put fear in your heart when you see them. You shouldn’t have to feel that.”

Though hopeful, participants also voiced a concern over the limitation of their hour-long conversation. “People started to get cut off because of time and I guess they had specific questions that they wanted answers to,” said Gemikia Henderson, 22, a video assistant who began as an intern at the center.

“We mostly talked about police in schools,” said Henderson. “When I was in the school, I didn’t have positive relationships with the police officer that was on campus, except for one,” she told the attorney general. “And some of these police officers around the neighborhood that I grew up in, they come through there and try to intimidate.”

In giving her answer, says Henderson, she was cut off by an assistant and was asked what suggestion she would give to the captain to make relationships better. “And I’m like, I don’t know. I would suggest him to listen, but we’ve been saying that for years,” she answered. “It’s not like that’s new. But just because it’s going through you, or may go through the attorney general, doesn’t mean they are actually gonna do it. Why listen to y’all when we’ve been saying it for years?”

Despite the format, participants agreed that the attorney general’s focus seemed genuine. “There wasn’t a point where I felt like she was being dismissive. I feel like she was very intentional about how she showed up in the space with us,” said Maaika Marshall, RYSE Center’s 24 year-old youth justice coordinator.

“I think it’s easier to be dismissive of what a young person is saying for most adults,” said Marshall, “because it’s either they’ve felt like they’ve heard it before, or it doesn’t hold weight. And I think it’s easier especially when young folks are saying things that are challenging and really challenging systems that adults uphold.”

Another attendee, Richmond Poet Laureate, 25-year-old Donte Clark, said he saw a lot of contradictions.

“At the same time you all are building prisons, these schools are failing,” said Clark. “They’re trying to expand the jail in Richmond right now. Who the f— you think is gonna go up in there? So you gotta spend just as much time trying to figure out solutions that you are with constructing.”

Not wanting to be disrespectful, and aware that there was a lack of time to dive deeply, Clark says he let it go.

“I don’t know, man. I’m the type of person, if we ain’t gonna talk about it, I ain’t really got much to say.”

Marshall was more hopeful.

“I think what Madame Attorney General really pulled out of some of the things that we were talking about,” she said, “is that there is a fear between both sides, between young people and police officers, and the only way to navigate around that fear or try to eliminate it is to build relationships with one another that are solely on a people to people basis.”

After her visit to RYSE, Lynch told a forum of city representatives, “Of course, I recognize that the progress we envision won’t happen overnight. It will take time and commitment, collaboration and hard work. But from what I have seen in Richmond today, and from all that I have observed in the cities I have visited on this tour, I am more confident than ever that positive change is possible when we join together to build new foundations of trust, respect and mutual understanding.”




The ‘Torment of Isolation’ – Ending Solitary Confinement for Juveniles

Commentary, Claudia Gonzalez | We’Ced

Illustration: ‘After the Isolation’ by Claudia J. Gonzalez 

After years of litigation and protests, earlier this month California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation agreed to drastically reduce the use of solitary confinement in state prisons. But as prison and human rights advocates celebrated the victory, the legislature put on hold a bill that would have curbed the practice in the state’s juvenile detention facilities.

As a former detained youth, I’ve spent time in “the box,” and I know firsthand the damage isolation caused me and other youth subjected to this inhumane and unjust treatment.

I was 16 when I was first sent to solitary confinement. Frustrated and angry at my situation and the treatment I received from staff, I took my anger out on a fellow prisoner and then verbally assaulted a counselor.

I was disciplined for fighting. But while I was used to getting in trouble I was not prepared to face the demons I would encounter in isolation.

A small, freezing concrete room with a toilet and sink became my new home. I could not go to school or church. I did not have proper clothing or even the most basic hygienic supplies.

The first couple of days were easy, but eventually the isolation began to take a toll. I developed insomnia and became increasingly agitated. Without anything to do, talking to myself became my only refuge. I often wondered whether I was better off dead.

I spent much of my time daydreaming, hoping this was all just a nightmare. Those hopes were shattered every time I was let out of my cell for just enough time to shower and stretch. I was lucky if I got an hour outside per day, and felt extremely fortunate if I caught a glimpse of someone other than a correctional officer.

I eventually lost count of my time spent in solitude after 100 days.

Solitary confinement did not rehabilitate me or stop me from returning to jail. What it did do was leave me with a lasting scar in the form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that I continue to carry with me today.

Senate Bill 124 – co-sponsored by state Senator Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, and the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland – would have banned the use of solitary confinement in juvenile facilities, allowing it only when someone presents an immediate threat to themselves or others, and only then if the threat is not the result of a mental disorder.

But citing the costs of implementation, the Assembly appropriations committee earlier this month decided to put the bill on hold until next session. While not dead, the decision means another year before the legislature revisits the bill and another year that the more than 8,000 youth currently detained in the state face the cruel prospect of solitary.

To this day, I carry painful reminders from my time in isolation, including an unhealthy comfort with solitude. My story is by no means unique.

Numerous studies have found that juvenile detention facilities often resort to solitary as a form of discipline. A 2011 audit of the CDCR’s Department of Juvenile Justice prisons found that youth were often isolated for 23 hours a day. A 2014 report by the American Civil Liberties Union showed that 50 percent of youth who commit suicide while in detention have done so while in isolation.

Then there is the story of Kalief Browder. In June, news of Browder’s death in New York made national headlines. At the age of 16, Browder was arrested and sent to Riker’s Island where he spent three years awaiting trial. Two of those years were spent in solitary confinement, during which Browder attempted suicide multiple times.

Jennifer Gonnerman of The New Yorker, who first publicized Browder’s story, reported that even after being released Browder continued to suffer from paranoia and depression. Earlier in 2015, two years after gaining his freedom, Browder was dead. Solitary confinement had finally taken his life.

How does inflicting this kind of trauma on young people lead to justice?

People always tell me I am strong and resilient, and I do my part to keep up the façade. But inside I still hurt. There are days when I can’t get out of bed and nights when I cannot sleep. Sometimes my PTSD takes control and the flashbacks begin.

California’s youth should no longer have to endure this torturous and inhumane treatment and its aftermath.

No child should grow up reliving memories of “the box,” and most importantly, no person should ever end their life believing there is no escaping the torment of isolation.

Richmond Rent Control Stalls — and Could Go Up for a Vote



News Report, Nancy DeVille

Editor’s Note: Richmond was the first city in the state to pass a rent control law in more than 30 years. Now it could end up going up for a vote.

Richmond’s controversial rent control ordinance has hit a snag after the California Apartment Association submitted more than 7,000 signatures opposing the plan, a move that blocked it from becoming law.

The ordinance, which was approved by the City Council on Aug. 5, was scheduled to go into effect on Sept. 4. It was drafted to stabilize rents for about 10,000 residences in Richmond, limiting annual rent increases to 100 percent of the Consumer Price Index. Condominiums, single-family homes, Section 8 housing and properties built after Feb. 1, 1995 are exempt.

Once the Contra Costa County Elections Office certifies the signatures, the Richmond City Council can opt to repeal the ordinance, place it on the ballot next November or call a special election for voters to decide.

Tom Bannon, chief executive officer of CAA, argued that since the City Council “fast-tracked” the ordinance approval, the referendum would give residents more time to think more about what rent control means for Richmond’s future.

“Rent control has long-lasting, negative impacts on communities,” he said in a news release. “That’s one reason no other city in California has approved rent control in decades.”

But supporters of the ordinance worry that the plan’s delay will leave residents with rising rents or simply priced out of Richmond. According to a report by UC Berkeley’s Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society, the median rent in Richmond rose 13 percent between January 2014 and January 2015.

It’s an issue Joanus Youngblood knows too well. She was forced to relocate last year after her landlord raised the rent by $250. She has since settled in Oakland.

“I grew up in Richmond and I really loved living there and being close to work. But I didn’t have any other options and couldn’t find anything that was affordable,” she said.

Youngblood works as a case manager, helping Richmond families find affordable housing.

“Housing is the number one need for the families that I serve,” she said. “A lot of my families were depending on this rent control bill. Their kids are in school in Richmond but they can’t really afford to live there. So some end up in homeless shelters or living in their cars.”

Joe Fisher, a local realtor and longtime Richmond resident, says he opposes the rent control ordinance because it could be detrimental to the city’s future.

“Richmond is starting to change but it’s still one of the lowest [priced] places for quality living in the entire Bay Area. In the long range, we will be just like San Francisco and Berkeley, where everyday people will not be able to find a decent place to rent,” he said.

“When I talk to some people in Berkeley and Oakland, they wish they would not have voted for [rent control]. After a few years, some want to move to a larger unit, but they are stuck and can’t afford it,” he added.

Some proponents hope the rent control ordinance will curtail the exodus of African American residents from the city. The city’s black population fell by 12,500 people between 2000 and 2013, according to the UC Berkeley Haas Institute study. African Americans now make up 24 percent of Richmond’s population.

In recent years, black families have relocated to cities like Pittsburg, Vallejo, Fairfield and Antioch in search of cheaper housing. Eli Moore, co-author of the report, said nearly two out of three African American households in Richmond are renters.

“For those residents who do not have disposable income to cover the rising rent prices, rent control could prevent these households from being displaced,” Moore said.

While many have chosen to leave Richmond, Deyong Hollman says he is determined to stay. He’s seen some major improvements in recent years, including a decline in violent crime. And as Bay Area freeways become more congested, the city’s central location is prime for the daily commute.

Hollman, a real estate investor and lifelong resident who supports rent control, hopes to be part of the trend that transforms some of the city’s blighted housing.

“Richmond is prime for redevelopment,” said Hollman, “but the playing field needs to remain fair.”


Small Businesses Discuss What New ‘Global’ Campus Will Mean for Richmond


News Report, Malcolm Marshall

Just as the city of Berkeley developed around the University of California, Berkeley, the planned Berkeley Global Campus at Richmond Bay is expected to be an enormous economic development opportunity for Richmond. But what can be done to ensure that it benefits the city’s small businesses? That was the question at the center of a breakfast meeting in August at the Richmond Civic Center, where about 75 local business leaders filled the room.

The breakfast, sponsored by Healthy Richmond and Richmond Main Street Initiative, in cooperation with UC Berkeley, invited local businesses to discuss how businesses can prepare for opportunities and growth from the new campus. The breakfast also provided a chance to hear from locals on what the Berkeley Global Campus could do to support Richmond businesses.

“There’s going to be a lot of money invested,” said Roxanne Carrillo Garza, Healthy Richmond hub manager. “We’re interested in making sure that business owners themselves had a chance to weigh in on what they need to really be successful and be able to compete for procurement opportunities.”

Biggest economic development since World War II

The Berkeley Global Campus at Richmond Bay is slated to be the largest economic development to come to Richmond since the shipyards of World War II. It will be built at the Richmond Field Station, a site on the waterfront just off the Regatta Boulevard exit of Interstate 580 that has sweeping views the San Francisco skyline. The development will span 152 acres, about three-quarters the size of UC Berkeley’s main campus.

According to the recent “Anchor Richmond” report by the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society, the campus will likely become the largest employer in Richmond within a decade. By the year 2040, it’s projected to be at full capacity with a daily average of 10,000 workers, faculty, students and visitors.

A report by UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business estimates that construction costs could range between $520 million and $900 million. The “Anchor Richmond” report estimates that 2,700 jobs will be generated in the first phase (2014-2018) of construction.

How local businesses can prepare

“I think there’s a need for education, for workforce development, for helping businesses to build their capacities,” said Roesia Gerstein, UC Berkeley’s supplier diversity program manager.

Some groups are already working to give small businesses the tools they need to compete for campus contracts.

Among the attendees were representatives from small business development programs that offer local businesses training and technical assistance to help them compete for UC Berkeley procurement.

This fall, the city of Richmond is also launching the Richmond Build Contractors Resource Center, a new contractors’ capacity building center to help small, local contractors compete for jobs on large-scale public construction projects. According to the chancellor’s office, UC Berkeley plans to partner with the center.

Gerstein is also part of a committee where she represents UC Berkeley in discussions about how to support local businesses. The committee, which aims to draft procurement strategies and ideas, has recommended that UC Berkeley respond to the barriers that local businesses are facing.

Draft recommendations also include calling on UC Berkeley to set a specific goal for increasing procurement from Richmond businesses, partner with Richmond programs that build the capacity of local businesses to compete, and regularly address policies that may create barriers for small businesses to access these opportunities.

At the breakfast, Gerstein said she was energized by the amount of excitement and interest she heard from attendees.

“Part of the challenge,” said Gerstein, “is for us to work through the policies and the regulations and requirements that we have with the State of California and the federal government to able to use local businesses the best way possible.”

But some fear that Richmond’s local residents and businesses could be left out of the prosperity that the global campus will bring.

What happens in Richmond should benefit Richmond

Over a year ago, a coalition of concerned community members formed a group called Raise Up Richmond to make sure the campus is a win‑win for both UC and Richmond. They’ve sought to get UC Berkeley’s commitment to a Community Benefits Agreement that could include guaranteeing local hiring, a housing displacement fund, affordable
housing and the protection of longtime residents from displacement.

Earlier this year, UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks committed to entering into a Community Benefits Agreement but what concessions, if any, that agreement will contain is still being determined.

“The stakes are very high for the people of Richmond,” said Todd Stenhouse, spokesperson for Local 3299 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. “Whether it’s making sure there are good jobs in the community or making sure people aren’t displaced from their homes or making sure that small businesses have a chance to share in any prosperity that is connected to the project. Absent a CBA, there are no such guarantees that the project will realize its promise.”

Small business owners learning about new campus

Catahoula Coffee owner Timothy Manhart, who attended the breakfast, says he’s seen Richmond grow since he first opened his neighborhood coffee shop on San Pablo Avenue. He says he may not see a huge uptick in his business from the campus but is interested in the impact the campus will have on the overall Richmond community.

“When the housing collapsed, that’s when I started my business at Catahoula. Seeing all the turbulence that hit, what I saw as a benefit were young professionals who started seeking out Richmond,” he said. “That’s what I think will really help out the overall status of Richmond, just being the last affordable place that’s commutable distance to San Francisco to live.”

Carrillo Garza of Healthy Richmond said the business breakfast provided attendees with information on opportunities they didn’t know about.

For Salvador Moreno, who works at Pro Sound on 23rd Street doing car stereo and alarm installations, the breakfast was the first time he had heard about the planned UC Berkeley campus coming to Richmond. He said he came to the event in search of information about training to better serve his customers.

“Some trainings and connections with partners would help us most,” he said. “Training on how to use the Internet more. I’m just starting to learn it and now it comes with the new systems in the new cars so I need to learn a bit more to do better.”

Richmond resident Charlene Chabural, who works for local general contractor Overaa Construction, came to the event to network with other local business professionals.

“We’ve been following the story on the Richmond Global Campus and it’s something we’re very excited about,” said Chabural. “We know that it’s going to open up a lot of opportunities for our line of work and also for our subcontractors.”

“It really comes down to two things,” added Carrillo Garza. “It’s to make sure our local businesses thrive here and scale up so they can actually compete for these opportunities; and to make sure there are more jobs for our local residents. At the end of the day, we want to make sure that 1,000 people are getting hired for these business opportunities.”

Richmond Is First California City in Decades to Pass Rent Control



News Report, Malcolm Marshall

Beginning  Sep. 4, Richmond will become the first California city in decades — and the first in Contra Costa County ever — to enact a rent control ordinance, after a 4-1 approval by the Richmond City Council.

The new law will use the consumer price index for the San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose region to limit annual rent increases — essentially meaning that rents can’t increase more than the overall expense of living in the area. Exempt properties include condominiums, single-family homes, Section 8 housing and units built after Feb. 1, 1995.

“What it does is help those people who are currently renters in about half the rental housing, stabilizing their rents and only allowing them to increase a reasonable amount as long as they are renting,” according to Mike Parker of the Richmond Progressive Alliance. “This helps keep neighborhoods stable, and keep kids in the same schools. This helps everyone concerned about our neighborhoods.”

Council members Jael Myrick, Jovanka Beckles, Gayle McLaughlin and Eduardo Martinez voted in favor, while Nat Bates dissented. Councilman Vinay Pimple and Mayor Tom Butt abstained.

Many property owners opposed to the measure spoke passionately during the heated public comments section of the meeting, calling the new rules unfair to landlords and arguing that rent control statutes create unintended consequence for the city.

“This rent control is just a punitive law,” said 80-year-old Mon Lee, who told the council that he’s lived in Richmond for 25 years and owns property here. “It requires the owner to subsidize the renter, [but] you already have Section 8 for that.”

“I’ve worked all my life since I bought the property; it has been in a negative cash flow and nobody helped me,” Lee added. “Now that I’m retired and can’t work, you change the law.”

But supporters said that rent control will defend low-income renters from rising Bay Area rents forcing them out of their homes.

“It’s a moral issue. We need to protect the least protected, the most vulnerable in our community,” said Tim Laidman. “I have had great landlords, and I appreciate them and think they’re an asset to this community. I also think that this law won’t hurt them, it will help them. It will make the other people that aren’t good compete with their goodness.”

After the vote, Butt took to his e-forum to lament the decision.

“Although I am disappointed that rent control passed, I was prepared to live with it, even though it is a colossal mistake for Richmond,” the mayor wrote. “It is kind of like a lottery; every ticket purchaser (in this case, renter) sees themselves as a winner, although most renters will see no benefit. As time goes on, the number of beneficiaries will dwindle, as will the supply of low-rent units, while all other renters will be faced with rent increases that will exceed what they would have been without rent control. This is what has happened in San Francisco and other rent-controlled cities.”

Laidman, however, noted that the new law will assist nearly 10,000 residents, most of them low-income.

“It’s not a criticism that it doesn’t affect everyone and can’t help everyone,” he said. “It shouldn’t stop us from doing what we can.”

Parker, meanwhile, argued that the ordinance addresses broader issues, such as slowing gentrification in Richmond.

“This measure does not stop gentrification and it does not provide more affordable housing,” Parker said. “[But it] gives us more time to try to deal with fundamental problems, like encouraging the building of more affordable housing, requiring mixed-income housing in developments that are coming, [and] programs to refurbish abandoned housing.”

UPDATE: A previous version of this article stated that the effective date of the rent control ordinance was December 1, 2015. The December 1 effective date was removed per City Council direction during the first reading of the ordinance on July 31, 2015.


Family Justice Center Opens at New Location


News Report, Keisa Reynolds | Photo,  Ann Bassette

After breaking ground in 2013, the West Contra Costa Family Justice Center held its grand opening this month at 256 24th Street. In the first year at its new location, the center is expected to help an estimated 2,000 survivors of domestic violence, family violence, elder abuse and human trafficking.

The center moved from its temporary location at Richmond Police Department’s substation at Hilltop Mall, where it had operated since 2011.

Mayor Tom Butt, who spoke at the opening reception, said the center was the first community construction project to impact the lives of victims and survivors of domestic violence. Other speakers included Police Chief Chris Magnus, Andrea Bailey from Chevron Richmond, and Jodi Ravel and Karen Kruger from Kaiser Permanente. Fourteen-year-old spoken word artist Sukari Wright from RYSE opened the ceremony with an inspirational poem.

County Supervisor John Gioia told the audience that the center “demonstrates what could happen when community and government do well working together.”

In 2001, Contra Costa County became the first Zero Tolerance for Domestic Violence County in California. As a part of the initiative, two centers have opened here in West County and Central County (Concord) with a third in East County underway.

Survivors of violence often have to speak with multiple agencies in order to get assistance. The center aims to eliminate this by offering dozens of on-site and off-site providers. Its partnerships give clients access to local organizations including Monument Crisis Center, Children and Family Services, Bay Area Community Resource, Bay Area Legal Aid, Community Violence Solutions, County Mental Health, Familias Unidas, Native American Health Center, and many more.

“We see that at about 50 percent of our clients identify as Hispanic or Latino. Our next biggest demographic is African American: About 30 percent of our clients identify as African American. We also see a significant number of Asian Americans,” said Elizabeth Wilmerding, director of Project Connect at West Contra Costa Family Justice Center.

Between its staff and partners, the center is able to offer services in 10 languages including Spanish, Korean, Lao, and Thai. The center also offers services for victims of many other demographics including children and youth, elders, veterans, and Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer or Questioning (LGBTQ) individuals and families.

Clients work with navigators who help them create goals and connect them with services for long-term solutions. Clients can receive assistance from myriad services such as civil legal services, health care, mental health, housing, job training, tutoring, and prosecution.

Menbere Aklilu, owner of Salute e Vita Ristorante in the Marina, shared a personal story of her experience as a survivor of domestic violence. “Today, I fully love Richmond more, especially when I see this type of thing coming together,” she said.

Aklilu encouraged the community to invest in the center and, leading by example, she said she donated $15,000. “I am doing this for my mother, for me, my sister, brother, for all domestic violence survivors,” she said.

Chevron Richmond followed suit and donated $80,000 to the center.

Family Justice Center Alliance (FJCA) President Casey Gwinn praised the center for “creating a beacon of hope that will impact survivors for generations to come.”

“This is where you break the cycle,” he said, noting that many incarcerated people come from homes where child abuse and other forms of violence are present. “We end up locking people up instead of saving them.”

FJCA donated $65,000 at the beginning of stages of the project. Gwinn acknowledged project director Jennifer Anderson, who had recommended opening a family justice center in Richmond six years ago, and Gloria Sandoval, director of STAND! For Families Free of Violence, one of the center’s on-site partners.

“There isn’t a person listening to my voice who can’t involved in the family justice center going forward. Everybody here can do something to invest in this. This is how we can change the world.” Gwinn urged. “Twenty years from now it will matter that you were standing in this parking lot. It will matter Zero Tolerance was created. It will matter John Gioia said we’re going to make this countywide. It will matter that we invested ourselves here in changing the endings for survivors and their children.”

Residents can get involved with the work of the center by donating, volunteering, or participating in workshops offered by the Family Justice Institute.

Grand Opening of the West Contra Costa Family Justice Center from Alive & Free/ Street Soldiers on Vimeo.

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.”

Three Year Window For Nonviolent Felons To Change Records – and Lives







News Report,  Nancy DeVille

In the months since California voters approved an initiative that reduces penalties for some crimes, the Contra Costa County Public Defender’s office has been busy trying to reach tens of thousands of local residents who are eligible to have their felonies downgraded to a misdemeanor. And, with only a three-year window for convicted felons to apply under the proposition, time is paramount.

“We are concerned that people in the community who have prior convictions might miss out if they don’t realize it and don’t file a petition within the three years,” said Ellen McDonnell, a Contra Costa County public defender. “Unfortunately we’re probably not going to be able to reach all of them.

Since last November, when the law was passed and went into effect, over 500 petitions in Contra Costa County have been granted for relief under Proposition 47. That number includes people who were released early from prison or county jail, those who were on felony probation but not in custody and those who had a prior conviction reduced to a misdemeanor.

It’s a start, but McDonnell estimates there are probably 50,000 formerly incarcerated people throughout the county with prior felony convictions who also qualify to have them reduced or overturned. She says getting the word out to that population isn’t easy.

“We’ve worked through the bulk of people that are in custody and now we are working on resentencing for individuals that are on probation,” McDonnell said. “We’ve had a pretty steady stream of phone calls, but I know there are tens of thousands of people that should be calling us.”

Proposition 47, also known as the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act, changes crimes like drug possession and petty theft charges from felonies to misdemeanors. Including the following offenses when less than $950 is involved: shoplifting, check and credit fraud, forgery, theft and possession of stolen goods. Those with histories of violence or sex offenses are ineligible for the lighter sentences. People eligible for resentencing or reclassification must file applications by Nov. 5, 2017.

McDonnell says the public defender’s office is doing regular outreach throughout the county by speaking to various community groups, attending the monthly community homeless court and reaching out to case managers at local agencies that offer support to newly released inmates.

“For a lot of people going to court in the past has been a negative experience, so they have a lot of anxiety,” McDonnell said. “But the nice thing about Prop 47 is people just need to call us and don’t have to come to court or pay anything. And doing this can really have a positive impact on their future.”

Barry Krisberg, a criminologist at U.C. Berkeley, says he’d like to see more resources allocated to make people aware of the program.

“The problem with getting the word out to people with prior felony convictions is significant,” he said.

“If we were being true to the spirit of the law, there would be public education campaigns sponsored by the state and many additional resources given to public defenders to help in these petitions,” he added.

In addition to offering opportunities for lessened sentences, millions of dollars—saved from the associated expenses of imprisoning people for longer sentences—will be sent to local communities to support mental health and substance abuse, truancy and crime victims assistance and rehabilitation programs. A process, Krisberg says, that requires just as much oversight.

“We’re going to have to watch very closely that the state board of corrections delivers the funds in a timely fashion and then it’s going to be up to each county to make sure the money gets spent consistent with the voters’ wishes,” he said.

Residents in Contra Costa County with questions about Prop 47, can contact Ellen McDonnell, Contra Costa County Deputy Public Defender, at 925-335-8075 or