In May, KQED reporter Mina Kim and I traveled over the Bay Bridge to talk with residents of Richmond in an attempt to learn more about their community and local issues. The event was part of a series of “open newsroom” meetups between Bay Area residents and reporters organized by KQED and The Bay Citizen, and a good time was had by all. Well, from our side of it, anyway.
At this point, I should probably acknowledge that despite living in San Francisco for over 20 years, I’d only set foot in Richmond (population approximately 104,000) maybe three times (including once by accident after daydreaming myself on I-80 right past where I was headed — Berkeley.)
So perhaps it’s natural that like many people who have no real knowledge of the city, I tended to dump it into two mental buckets: “crime” (Richmond is sometimes cited as one of America’s more dangerous cities) and “Chevron” (whose oil refinery is not necessarily the business you want operating in your own backyard.)
(Though here’s something interesting regarding Chevron: The Richmond folks from non-profit organizations all praised the company’s donations to various local projects. Some other residents, however, described their city as sort of a “company town” — historically, at least — that has suffered under the yoke of the oil giant, still the largest employer in the city.)
Anyway, guess what? Richmond residents know that the rest of us see the city through the prism of negative news reports and crime stats, and they’re not crazy about it. That’s the one consistent theme that came up in our conversations: Richmondites (I’m going with that over “Richmondonians”) think their city has gotten a bum rap and is only noticed when something negative or even awful occurs, like the gang rape at Richmond High that has made headlines around the Bay Area and nationally.
So to address that concern, I asked the people I talked with to describe some of the good stuff going on around town. They then forwarded that request to some other Richmond residents, and what came back loud and clear was an abundance of civic pride about the city’s progressive values, new businesses and development, and resilient community spirit. The Richmondites we heard from seem to think the trajectory their city is on is quite hopeful.
So…what’s good about Richmond? Plenty, say residents. Read the responses, edited for length, below…
Richmond is the Little City that Could. Its neighborhood councils, community involvement, and progressive city council have been reclaiming our city from the wealthy corporations and developers who used to treat it like a garbage dump. We are making our shorelines, hills, and community services open to everyone. It is a city that prides itself in diversity and fighting racism in all of its forms.
Richmond does everything it can to fight the impacts of the disastrous national economy and reaches out to help those hardest hit. A program of community policing has reduced crime. The city succeeded in attracting a new Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory facility and has pioneered training programs to help residents get what jobs are available.
Richmond is leading the way in challenging childhood obesity and diabetes that disproportionately hit our black and Latino communities. It is a city that takes pride in its history and its future.
One of the biggest problems we have is overcoming the negative image and perception.
Downtown Richmond has undergone significant positive change over the past several years with the help of our organization. Our ongoing outreach and engagement with area stakeholders has helped them continue to be active participants in the renewal process and increased synergy between the city and community.
We offer a range of programs and events to address the complex needs of the community. For example, our Neighborhood Ambassadors walk the commercial corridor picking up litter, abating graffiti and other blight, and helping visitors find their way around the neighborhood.
More community events here.
–Amanda Elliot, Richmond Main Street Initiative
Look to Councilman Tom Butt for leadership in urban farming his own land, and helping provide visibility to related sustainability organizations in Richmond like Solar Richmond.org, Richmond Rivets.org, and Urban Tilth.org. All are organized around delivering solutions for energy use, urban local farming, and envisioning a new way of life beyond fossil fuels.
Recently, Richmond joined the Marin Energy Authority, which is a joint powers authority to provide Richmond citizens an alternative to PG&E. This is astoundingly good news for those of us who do not doubt that climate change is real.
I resided in Berkeley for 30 years before moving to Richmond and am glad to say that Richmond is becoming a progressive hub for ideas with a bright future. By the way, don’t forget that Richmond won the competitive bid for the second campus of the prestigious Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory!
We have accumulated many problems over decades of corruption and corporate abuse; we are a poor city and we are victims of national policies that ship jobs overseas, defund our schools and ignore the environmental degradation we suffer daily.
We have enough reasons to give up and move out, but we don’t.
We the Richmond 99% are sticking it out, resisting at every level, and transforming everything we can in our city, persisting stubbornly in building a better Richmond, the beginning of a better California and a better country.
Loads of positive things happen in Richmond all the time around three particular themes that come easily to mind: its beauty, its history, and its diversity. Residents work diligently to preserve and expand Richmond’s beauty, particularly our 32-mile bayfront coastline. We saved Point Molate from being obliterated into a Las Vegas-style casino.
As for our history, to quote the Contra Costa Times in April: “Richmond is embracing and celebrating its history as never before as excitement builds toward the opening next month of the new visitors center at the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park.” Residents also have similar enthusiasm for the Richmond Museum, the Red Oak Victory Ship, restoration of the historic Natatorium, and on and on.
The diversity of our people means we bounce around off and into each other with our passion for solving problems. Homelessness, the reintegration of incarcerated people back into the community, insufficient job creation, unattractive public spaces, and limited access to fresh foods — the people of Richmond form organizations to solve such problems.
Richmond is a great place to live.
I’ve lived here for 23 years. I have a nice garden, pleasant neighbors, a view of the hills. Nobody complains about my pet chickens that give me eggs. My neighbors come from all parts of the globe. We have good street parking, and a great Art Center.
I personally know many of the local politicians, business owners, teachers, staff at the local Kaiser medical center, and the lifeguards where I swim. I taught in this district for almost 30 years, run into my old students, their families, kids, grannies, and we are happy to see each other.
Fruit trees thrive, the train stops here, many artists live and work here. Houses are affordable, we have an elected Green mayor, and many folks challenge the status quo in an attempt to achieve a safer, healthier, more inclusive city where our diversity is respected, expected and appreciated.
Many of us choose to live here, even came from somewhere else, and experience a certain amount of small town friendliness that one does not find in many other places.
My husband and I bought a home in Richmond 14 years ago, and our 10-year-old daughter attends a local public school.
We have seen a major transformation in the city in the past decade — a wave of progressive changes with which we are very proud to be involved.
A city that was once infamous for its crime, poverty and domination by the Chevron oil refinery is now seen on the forefront of exciting, positive initiatives — insisting that Chevron pay its fair share to the community and operate in more truthful, transparent ways; saying “no” to a mega-casino on the beautiful Pt. Molate shore; supporting the development of worker-owned cooperative businesses; promoting solar energy and training youth to install solar equipment; protecting public health and preventing child obesity with a soda tax; promoting community policing; respecting the dignity of undocumented residents with a municipal ID card.
Among the outside observers who have taken notice and applauded Richmond’s wonderful progress are Michael Moore, Robert Reich, Van Jones, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the Los Angeles Times, Scientific American, and the New York Times.
The endemic problems that plague Richmond (poverty, pollution, violent crime) endure, but residents truly sense that after decades of corrupt business as usual, Richmond has turned a corner. I’m proud to live here. I am hopeful about our city’s future.
Richmond is becoming the city of firsts. We are first in solar installations per capita.We can become the first city in the nation to pass a sugar- sweetened beverage tax to reverse the obesity epidemic. We were the first city to endorse the Millionaires Tax. We are a leading city in historical preservation. We were awarded the LBNL second campus because our community actively supporter this project more than any other of the communities vying for it. We have a transit company, CyberTran, which has the potential to change transit globally.
–City Councilmember Jeff Ritterman
A few paragraphs aren’t sufficient for me to share the good things that are happening in Richmond, but I’ll give it a go in the space I have.
As a 25 year Richmond homeowner, I think one major reason Richmond’s on a roll is its triumvirate of leaders: City Manager Bill Lindsey, Finance Manager James Goines, & Chief of Police Chris Magnus. Lacking for many years, Richmond finally has the professionals it deserves.
The Richmond Progressive Alliance is another major factor. For years Richmond had been under the thumb of the Chamber of Commerce, Council of Industries, and Chevron, and the emergence of the progressives has made Richmond more of a people-friendly rather than industry-oriented city.
One aspect of this change is that Chevron is paying more of its fair share of expenses and Richmond’s finances are looking good (partially helped by a professional finance department).
We have a rebuilt Civic Center; a unique National Park right in town (how many other cities can say that?). We’ve got more Bay Trail for me to ride my recumbent trike on than any other Bay Area city; within minutes from my house I can drop my kayak into the Bay from numerous Richmond spots (check out Boat Ramp St., a stop on the Bay water trail); potholes/roads/etc. are slowly but regularly being repaired/improved; there’s a new parking garage and retail stores coming in at the confluence of BART/Amtrak; more bike lanes are being developed; within minutes I can be hiking at the ever-improving Wildcat Regional Park; we have a ‘tree team’ working to bring more trees to Richmond; Fix Our Ferals just moved into the neighborhood.
What a difference 25 years makes.’ On Richmond!
I live in the Marina Bay neighborhood of Richmond and find it to be an ideal place for families and commuters in the Bay Area. Where else will you find a three-bedroom home adjacent to a National Park, the Bay Trail, the San Francisco Bay waterfront and marina, and just minutes away from BART and Amtrak – for under $400,000!?!
I live in Richmond and work in Sacramento and find it to be a wonderful arrangement.
Additionally, with the Lawrence Berkeley Lab and San Francisco ferry service coming to Marina Bay, the neighborhood will only get better over the next few years. Although there are pockets of the city that contain all of the problems associated with urban poverty, Richmond also boasts some of the finest neighborhoods in the Bay Area.
There is a story not being told about the City of Richmond, home to 103,000 residents striving to put this place on the map.
Also: The nationally recognized RichmondBUILD program is ensuring citizens are prepared for green jobs. Tinsley Laboratories is producing mirrors that will be sent into space as part of the James Webb Space Telescope. The Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front, a National Historic Park, features oral histories documenting how World War II transformed the American home front.
Richmond also has a magnificent shoreline with 31 miles of the Bay Trail, far more than any other city in the East Bay.
This summer and fall, families can enjoy the Music on the Main series, the Richmond Shoreline Festival at Point Pinole Park and various diversity celebrations including a Juneteenth festival and a Native American Pow Wow, honoring Latino, African American and Native American cultures.
Simply said, Richmond is the East Bay’s hidden gem ready to be discovered.
–Office of Assemblymember Nancy Skinner