richmond city council meeting

Small Businesses and Soccer Fields to Be Among Newest Recipients of Rescue Plan Funds

richmond city council meeting

Richmond City Council discussed Tuesday how it will allot remaining funds from the American Rescue Plan Act. (Screenshot captured by Samantha Kennedy / The CC Pulse)

By Samantha Kennedy

The Richmond City Council on Tuesday allocated $15.6 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds to city projects, infrastructure and programs for residents.

Funding for capital improvement projects and soccer fields, parks and restrooms — totaling $7.2 million — will account for almost half of the funds. Other uses of funds will be used on rental assistance, small business support, YouthWorks, the Booker T. Anderson community center, and Nystrom Village.

Council previously provided additional funding for capital projects that had identified shortfalls and other projects, including the Stenmark Cottages, at its Nov. 7 meeting. That allocation totaled $9.5 million in then-unspent funds.

Many of these projects are partially funded by grants but require additional funding to be completed.

Council member Doria Robinson said the proposed allocation for small businesses, which was not included in some of the funding options, was concerning to her given how COVID-19 affected those businesses in Richmond. An ARPA report focusing on community needs in Richmond, she said, showed that small businesses “needed and wanted capacity building support.”

>>>Read: Small Businesses Are Still Fighting to Survive the Pandemic

“I do not believe that the things the city may want — façade improvements and ‘buy local’ campaign — are speaking to that particular deep need,” Robinson said. “That kind of need that actually builds the resiliency of our businesses.”

Council members Sohelia Bana and Cesar Zepeda also said they would like to see more support for businesses in the city.

Bana and Zepeda said they favored façade improvements for small businesses because it might help attract more customers.

Robinson said these improvements are important for a business but smaller businesses, especially those run by members of disadvantaged communities, are often unable to obtain basic support.

>>>Read: Small Business Owners Need a Lift Up, Not a Handout

“I would like to see a business strong enough that they can afford to invest in their own façades because they’ve strengthened their infrastructure and they’re succeeding as a business,” she said.

Part of Robinson’s suggestion to add certain support, like grants, for small businesses would need to be done through partnerships, according to City Manager Shasa Curl. But the city can provide other support directly through funds, of which $1.2 million was allotted for that purpose.

Council member Melvin Willis also supported more funding to be directed toward supportive services for renters, unhoused people, youth and seniors.

Willis said there is a “tsunami of evictions” happening after the moratorium on evictions ended. Additional rental assistance could help renters stay housed rather than be homeless, which is more likely with shelter beds sometimes being at capacity.

The senior community, he said, is also lacking resources, and that could lead to an increased unhoused population.

Willis said he is not opposed to some of the proposed projects, including an upgrade to the corporation yard fuel station belonging to public works, but would prefer to see the benefit to the public before allocating funds to that.

Bana said the fuel station could provide Richmond first responders with power and fuel in the event of a natural disaster. The corporation yard stores equipment for the city, including fleet vehicles.

Council Gives Feedback on Hilltop Horizon Plan

After receiving a presentation based on community and stakeholder input, the council gave input on what direction the Hilltop Horizon Specific Plan should go.

While council members had ideas of what they wanted to see at Hilltop, Bana asked why the council should be worried about this instead of relying on developers.

Lina Velasco, the city’s director of community development, said the council has the opportunity to speed up development because of their role in making land-use decisions. For example, because the council is in charge of zoning, it can identify community wants and needs and make sure the area is properly zoned for the community.

Zepeda, whose district includes Hilltop, said this may be one of the few areas that could provide a hospital for West County residents. The hospital would fill a need for residents by supporting Kaiser, which can’t treat all residents alone, and providing attractive jobs for residents.

Mayor Eduardo Martinez said Hilltop needs something visible to attract people. He suggested a signature building that drivers might see.

“I really do think that Hilltop can become something that will put Richmond on the map,” Martinez said. “We just have to make sure that we can envision something that will do that.”

A special meeting will be held Dec. 12 at 4 p.m. to address concerns regarding Richmond’s wastewater treatment facility, which is operated and maintained by Veolia.

The next regularly scheduled meeting is Dec. 19.

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