Issues

Social Equity in the Marijuana Economy

Do a google search for “equity” and “marijuana” and you are likely come up with numerous hits for private equity investing opportunities, and other ways Wall Street can cash into this newly legalized market.

But progressives have another type of equity in mind: social equity. How can we ensure that what will likely be a booming business benefits local people and economies, particularly communities who have been disproportionately hurt by the “war on drugs”?

Many cities in California are looking to Oakland for its innovative cannabis Equity Permit Program. Informed by recommendations from the Department of Race and Equity, during the first phase of cannabis permitting, half of Oakland’s permits will be reserved for residents who were convicted on marijuana-related charges before 1997. Residents with mean incomes under 80 percent who have lived for 10 years in select parts of East Oakland, West Oakland, and Fruitvale – areas with high concentrations of marijuana arrests – also qualify under the program. Finally, entrepreneurs who incubate equity applicants through providing free rent (for example), can also get priority. After the city collects $3.4 million in business taxes from the cannabis sector, the City will start a second permitting phase in which it will offer assistance such as no-interest loans to equity applicants.

In Richmond, city staff will be seeking Council direction on drafting regulations for recreational cannabis businesses. Richmond currently allows unlimited medical cannabis cultivation and manufacturing, but only a limited number of dispensaries. The regulations are quite extensive, with all cannabis businesses taxed at 5 percent, and will continue next year for both medical and other uses.

In the past two months, the Richmond Planning Commission approved medical cannabis cultivation conditional use permits at two locations. One, on the site of the old Tradeway Carpet building and complex on Carlson Blvd, will house five separate grow operations. The Pullman Neighborhood Council (under Naomi William's leadership) asked for additional conditions for the safety and beautification of the neighborhood, and the Planning Commission included them all in the Conditional Use Permit. The main addition is a requirement of each operator to pay $5,000 per year ($25,000 total) into a fund that they will administer and disburse based on recommendations of the neighborhood council.

Jovanka Burns It Up at AD15 Candidate Forum

The California Democratic Party African-American Caucus hosted a candidates forum last Saturday on the Contra Costa College campus. WCCUSD board member Mister Phillips organized the event, and the keen interest in the Assembly District 15 primary race, still seven months away, showed in the large turnout.

Jovanka’s answers to the series of thoughtful questions posed by moderator Paul Cobb revealed her deeply held progressive beliefs, and more importantly, the high passion for social justice that motivated her to first run for office 11 years ago. Her responses were very often singular: she was the only panelist to back a moratorium on charter school proliferation, measures to incentivize housing cooperatives and build low-cost housing, and a moratorium on new fracking infrastructure.

Her deep understanding of racial injustice also emerged in her reply to the question, “What are your top three criminal justice reforms?” She proposed not only abolishing private prisons and ending cash bail — responses echoed by other candidates — but probation reform, a statewide ban-the-box for jobs and housing, and true expungement of criminal records.

One ingredient that elevates Jovanka above the pack is her Category 5 personality, and when it shone through, she lit up the room. When asked, “What would you do to prevent sexual harassment in the state legislature?” her answer brought the most vigorous applause of the day: “Put more women in powerful positions—like me!”

You can be part of the campaign to make Richmond a formidable presence in Sacramento! Jovanka is the only candidate with a strong, proven record for social, racial, economic and environmental justice. Learn how you can get involved at www.jovanka.org.

CCC Racial Justice Task Force Forum

One of the most significant achievements of the Contra Costa Racial Justice Coalition is the creation of an official CCC Racial Justice Taskforce to address racial disparities in our criminal justice system.  The 17-member Taskforce, which was approved by the Board of Supervisors in April 2016, has been formed and is conducting a series of fora to meet and hear from residents.

The Taskforce is focused on:

1. Researching and identifying consensus measures within the County to reduce racial disparities in the criminal justice system;

2. Planning and overseeing implementation of the measures once identified; and

3. Reporting back to the Board of Supervisors on progress made toward reducing racial disparities within the criminal justice system.

700 Say NO to Rocketship Charter!

It was an amazing turnout at the WCCUSD Board meeting this past Wednesday as 700 people showed up to oppose Rocketship’s charter application for San Pablo. Rocketship is a charter management company founded by tech multi-millionaire John Danner, which employs uncredentialed teachers who run computer labs where young children spend up to 80 to 100 minutes daily.

Parents, students and educators from all schools in San Pablo showed up to oppose the charter, while “Rocketship San Pablo” did not have a single parent from the San Pablo community present. (Rocketship bused in bus families from Antioch to advocate for them.) And according to families from San Pablo schools, Rocketship obtained signatures by standing in front of the Montanas Supermarket misleadingly urging families to sign a petition to “support our schools.”

According to the United Teachers of Richmond, Rocketship has a pattern of promising that they will not take over existing school facilities, claiming they seek private investment instead – a promise they repeated during their presentation. However, Rocketship has ended up asking the district to give them a facility for their last five charters. With this track record, parents are worried about which San Pablo school may have to close if the Rocketship charter is approved.

It seems like Rocketship may be trying to purposely move the deadline of the vote to December so that they can apply in the County. Teachers, parents, and community members have vowed to stop this application, even if it means taking the fight to the state.

Thank you to Board members Cuevas, Kronenberg, and Phillips for challenging Rocketship during their discussion and for standing up for our students!

Activists Protect Community from Toxic Coal Dust

Trains heaped with coal pass through Richmond every week on their way to the city’s port.
In Parchester Village, a largely black and Latino neighborhood in northwestern Richmond, residents say coal dust blows off the open mounds, covering the grass and coating their screen doors.
“This little neighborhood, nobody seems to care about,” says Paul Marquis, who moved to Parchester Village three years ago.
Marquis says in the last year, he’s seen more trains go by, and more black dust on his property.
“It’s everywhere,” he says. “If your truck sits here for two, three days without moving you can write your name on the front.”
To demonstrate, Marquis pours a bucket of water down his screen door.
It runs off dark.

--“Coal dust worries Richmond Residents,” KQED Science, June 22, 2015

coa_l.pngAt the Levin-Richmond Terminal, which at its peak moved more than a million tons of coal per year, the wind blows over massive uncovered piles of dirty coal, carrying toxic dust into nearby neighborhoods and into the Bay. Coal dust is laced with toxins such as arsenic, lead, and mercury; and prolonged inhalation is linked to chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and cancer. According to the Sierra Club, “each open-top rail car can lose up to 600 pounds of coal dust on the journey from the mine to the port; this translates to 60,000 pounds of toxic fine particulate matter entering our air and water for every trip made by a coal train.”

Activists have worked for years to curb exports of coal and petroleum coke (petcoke), which not only create local health impacts but also spell climate disaster. A Clean Water Act lawsuit filed by Baykeeper introduced some improvements: in 2014 the company agreed to enclose the conveyor system it used to load the ships and to pause operations on very windy days. This helped prevent coal from dropping and blowing into the Bay, but unfortunately did nothing to address the coal dust problem.

Shortly thereafter, the Richmond City Council passed two resolutions: one calls on the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to ensure that all piles of coal and petcoke to be stored in enclosed facilities. The other opposes the transport of coal and petcoke along waterways and through densely populated areas, and prohibits exports from city land. Those were important signals, but much more needs to be done to protect our community’s health.

Environmental activists vowed to redouble their efforts on the Levinson-Richmond terminal at a campaign meeting at the Bobby Bowens Progressive Center.

Council Invites Richmond to join Richmond

North_Richmond.jpgOn Tuesday the Richmond City Council voted to invite North Richmond to join Richmond. The official process is called “annexation” but the Council made it clear that Richmond would only proceed with the annexation process if there was first an information campaign and then some clear indication that North Richmond residents want it -- a victory for self-determination!

Most everyone agrees that the existence of North Richmond, an unincorporated area governed by the County but entirely surrounded by Richmond, is the result of racist practices backed up by the power of a few property owners some years ago.

Joining Richmond presumably would have a number of benefits for residents, including policing by the Richmond Police Department instead of the County Sheriff, better public services, rent control and a voice in the Richmond government. But not all North Richmond residents agree, and property owners will pay higher taxes. It was important to RPA members that the decision on whether or not to annex be made those living in North Richmond.

The Mayor had proposed that the City Council vote to initiate the state mandated process for annexation (often called the LAFCO process) and then see if there was sufficient objection from residents to stop it. The RPA Steering Committee and others argued that self-determination for the North Richmond residents was primary, and that the first step had to be finding some way of gauging what North Richmond residents want.

On Tuesday, the Council passed a resolution directing staff to draw up plans for an initial information distribution and a survey/vote that will attempt to reach all residents of North Richmond, not just voters, and in appropriate languages. Going to North Richmond residents first was the important point of contention-- a process vigorously opposed by the Mayor and his close supporters in social media in the days prior to the Council meeting.

Two RPA Council members wanted to initiate the survey now, but not start the first steps LAFCO until after we had results from the survey. Supervisor John Gioia then assured them that even if those two things happened concurrently, the annexation process would not proceed past those initial steps. The Council would still wait to for the results to come in before moving further along with the process. Since there was no important difference between those positions, the Council agreed to do the survey/vote while beginning LAFCO.

The RPA commends the City Council and Supervisor GIoia for putting their heads together and coming up with a great plan.

McLaughlin: "Slave labor" used to fight CA wildfires

Our hearts go out to those who have been affected by the wildfires in Sonoma, Napa and elsewhere in California. We have been moved by stories of the generosity and courage shown by first responders, neighbors and strangers alike.

Among some of the more surprising stories to come out of this emergency is the widespread use of prison labor in fire fighting. In the last few weeks, former Richmond mayor and current Lt. Governor candidate Gayle McLaughlin has sought to raise critical awareness about prison fire-fighting, which she compares to slave labor. While praising all those who have risked their lives to fight the fires, she has also pointed out that California inmates work for wages as low as pennies a day. Firefighting prisoners earn $2 a day or $1 per hour during active fires.

“They’re volunteering to work, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be getting a fair wage,” McLaughlin said in an interview with Sacramento News & Review. “This is abuse of incarcerated individuals. A dollar an hour to stand at the frontlines of a wildfire is slave labor.”

Gayle favors ending private prisons, and a real minimum wage for all inmate labor, including inmate firefighters. To get involved in Gayle’s campaign, click here.

And to read more, check out the following articles:

Finally, for a list of grassroots organizations providing wildfire and hurricane relief, take a look at this resource from the Sunflower Alliance.

Learn About Co-ops!

Worker cooperatives are businesses that are owned and controlled by the people who work in them. Co-ops provide a promising way for communities to create good, dignified jobs; and in the Bay Area, coops such as Arizmendi are long-standing community institutions.

Under the mayorship of Gayle McLaughlin, Richmond promoted co-ops in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis by creating a position to support the development of coops. Today, a relatively new organization, Cooperation Richmond, is continuing that mission by providing a range of services, including education, “matchmaking” for prospective cooperative starters and co-owners, coaching and a loan fund.

Want to learn more about how coops strengthen Richmond's economy, or interested in joining/starting a coop yourself?  Join Cooperation Richmond on Wednesday, October 25 from 5pm - 8pm at Rich City Rides Bike Skate Cooperative Shop (1500 MacDonald Avenue). Happy hour libations and snacks will be provided!

RPA Position on North Richmond Annexation - LET RESIDENTS DECIDE!

MOTION, that the RPA Steering Committee recommends that the Richmond City Council pass a resolution expressing that:

  • Recognizing that North Richmond was excluded from Richmond due to racist housing policies of the past, the City of Richmond is willing to annex unincorporated North Richmond, if that's what North Richmond residents want to do.
  • The City will initiate a process whereby North Richmond residents are asked if they want to be annexed.
  • Under all circumstances, the will of North Richmond residents must be determined by a vote.  The City of Richmond should not initiate the annexation process with LAFCO unless and until North Richmond votes in favor of it.
  • Prior to the vote, mailings and town hall meetings must be used to inform North Richmond residents, including non-voters, on all aspects of annexation and get their feedback.

To Annex or Not to Annex? That is the Question for North Richmond to Decide

The RPA is currently discussing the question about annexation of North Richmond, which was brought to the City Council on 9/26/17.  As an RPA member who has participated in many community activities in North Richmond over the past 15 years, I offer here some thoughts on this issue.

The Richmond city council should express its willingness in principle to annex unincorporated North Richmond, but only IF that's what the residents want.

The LAFCO (Local Agency Formation Commission) annexation process can be initiated either by a petition of the unincorporated North Richmond voters, or by the City of Richmond.  If the residents themselves initiation the process, the City should cooperate with them and not stand in the way. 

Since a City initiated process with LAFCO would not guarantee a vote of the residents, the City should not initiate this process at this time.  It should first work with the County (which currently governs unincorporated North Richmond) to place an advisory measure on the June Ballot, to better ascertain the will of the residents, especially since annexation would result in tax increases.  This vote should include a ballot pamphlet listing all pertinent information and consequences of annexation (i.e. increases in property, sales, utility users taxes and business license fees, addition of rent control and just cause for eviction, addition of regulations allowing for cannabis businesses, potentially streamlined municipal services) and be preceded by an extensive community outreach and engagement campaign.  

North_Richmond.jpg 

Historical/geographical context:

The history of North Richmond is based on overtly racist housing policies and practices of the past.  Both North Richmond and Parchester Village were designated in the '40's and '50's as acceptable locations for African Americans, who were barred from living in most other parts of Richmond.  Both areas are isolated by train tracks, far from services and business districts, and downwind from industrial pollution.

Since then, Parchester Village has become part of the City of Richmond and over a third of North Richmond's residential areas are also in the City of Richmond (Shields Reid Neighborhood).  Both areas are home to many very low income people of color to this day.  The residents in both areas have actively and successfully advocated for improvements, via the North Richmond Municipal Advisory Council, or MAC, (for unincorporated areas), the Shields Reid Neighborhood Council, the North Richmond Mitigation Fund (a City/County run effort at blight removal and community engagement funded by the solid waste transfer station), and the Parchester Village Neighborhood Council.  The North Richmond MAC and West County Toxics Coalition successfully advocated for bringing the County Health Clinic in North Richmond after a toxic release incident at General Chemical in the '90's.

Ongoing issues plaguing the community of North Richmond, both City side and County side are poverty, environmental injustice, and economic racism. Annexation by itself won't necessarily address these big issues, which should be cause for concern and action at all levels, city, county, state and federal.  And North Richmond residents need to be partners in any decisions aimed at improving their conditions. 

Key stakeholders 

According to local and regional ordinances, the primary stakeholder is the body of registered voters in unincorporated North Richmond, who should be primary decision makers in this process.  Additional stakeholders who would be impacted by any change in status and whose input should be sought include: residents of unincorporated North Richmond who are not registered voters (i.e., non-US citizens, parolees and youth), non-residents who work in unincorporated North Richmond (incl. business, non-profit and government employees), non-resident property owners, and non-resident business owners.  It's not clear from the very skimpy report on community meetings to what extent any of these additional stakeholders have been reached out to.

Two more key stakeholders are Contra Costa County via its elected Board of Supervisors, that currently governs this area and provides all municipal services, and the City of Richmond via its elected City Council, that would be proposing to assume the responsibility for governing this area and providing municipal services.  Oddly, the fiscal impact report done for the City by Willdan Financial Services fails to analyze the impacts to the County (positive and negative) of annexing North Richmond to the City of Richmond, which would be helpful to have for comparison purposes.

Resident input:

The residents of unincorporated North Richmond should have a primary say in any decision about annexation to Richmond.  At the 9/26/17 city council meeting, in spite of Mayor Butt's extensive work on promoting this concept, not a single resident of unincorporated North Richmond came to speak in favor of annexation.  And none of the three speakers on this item currently live in unincorporated North Richmond.  

Additional questions to ask:  Of the 10-35 attendees at each of the 5 community meetings held thus far, as indicated in the fiscal impact report, how many current residents of unincorporated North Richmond?  Of the seven MAC members (appointed by Supervisor Gioia), how many are current residents of unincorporated North Richmond?  If the people Gioia has appointed to the MAC are seen as representing the views of residents, the vote of the MAC on annexation--3 against, 2 abstain, 1 in favor and 1 absent (allegedly having expressed views in favor)--is one indication of the community being unwilling to be annexed to Richmond at this time.  An advisory ballot measure preceded by extensive community engagement and information sharing could provide a more broader and deeper picture of the community’s views.  If the community clearly desires annexation, we should move forward with it.  If not, we should hold off.

Fiscal impact:

I have additional questions and concerns about some aspects of the fiscal impact report regarding how the annexation would actually be implemented, but that can wait until after the primary question is resolved of how resident input will be achieved.

Recommendation:

The Richmond City Council should pass a resolution expressing the following: 

  • Recognizing that North Richmond was excluded from Richmond due to racist housing policies of the past, the City of Richmond is willing to annex unincorporated North Richmond, if that's what North Richmond residents want to do.
  • The City will initiate a process whereby North Richmond residents are asked if they want to be annexed.  
  • Under all circumstances, the will of North Richmond residents must be determined by a vote.  The City of Richmond should not initiate the annexation process with LAFCO unless and until North Richmond votes in favor of it.
  • Prior to the vote, mailings and town hall meetings must be used to inform North Richmond residents, including non-voters, on all aspects of annexation and get their feedback.

[Photo: Doug Harris]