Issues

RPA Voter Guide for March 3, 2019 Primary

Vote for: Bernie Sanders

For many folks, voting for Bernie for the Democratic nomination may be the most exciting vote you’ll cast this March.

Months ago, the RPA membership voted to endorse Bernie Sanders (for those voting in the Democratic primary), for all the reasons you know: he is the strongest progressive in the field, and is also the only person running for President who is a real movement candidate.

What does this mean? It means that Bernie knows we need to build a real multiracial, working class movement for the long term. And that change comes from the bottom up, not the top down. His Presidential bids have never been about himself and his ego. They haven’t even been about winning an election. His campaigns have been about winning a political revolution through mass mobilization and long-term organizing.

That’s why many of us still count his 2016 Democratic presidential bid as a victory – because of the spark it lit for progressive politics across this country. This spark gave us inspiring progressive leaders like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, The Squad, and the dozens of electeds endorsed by Our Revolution (of which the RPA is an affiliate).

Vote yes: Proposition 13

Proposition 13 (don’t get confused, it’s not that Prop 13) would authorize the issuance of up to $15 billion in state school bonds for facility repair, construction and modernization.

About $9 billion would go to K-12 schools, with most of that going toward repairing and renovating schools rather than building new ones.

Funds from state school bonds, such as the ones that would be approved by this measure, are used to provide matching funds to individual school districts to construct or upgrade school buildings. In the past, some larger wealthier school districts were able to raise funds faster (via issuing their own local bonds), thus taking a disproportionate share of the state monies.

In contrast, this ballot measure would make it a priority for low-income school districts (such as West Contra Costa) to get access to the funds. It creates a sliding scale for fund-matching, so that disadvantaged schools would receive a higher percentage of state money.

According to an OpEd by California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, funds would also prioritize those school facilities that are in serious disrepair or suffer from unsafe contamination – including lead contamination, mold and asbestos.

Vote yes: Measure R

Measure R is a West Contra Costa Unified School District $575 million bond measure for classroom modernization and safety updates. Past WCCUSD bond measures have benefited schools throughout the district, but unfortunately many of our Richmond schools have been among the last on the list. Richmond voters need to really get behind this measure to receive our share.

The maximum estimated property tax is $.06 per $100 assessed value (which comes out to $240 annually for a house with a $400,000 assessed value).

The following are excerpts from an Op-Ed signed by Consuelo Lara, West Contra Costa Trustee; Leslie Reckler, President Bayside Council PTA’s; Jose De Leon, Principal Richmond High School; and Demetrio Gonzalez, President United Teachers of Richmond.

Over the last 20-plus years, our community has been generous and has made incredible investments in WCCUSD. The District has used previous bonds to rebuild and modernize many of the schools in our neighborhoods – 44 of 53 schools in the District have been rebuilt or had some renovation – but the work is unfinished…

Independent experts have indicated that over $1 billion in improvements are required at District schools. And, many of these schools are located in very underserved areas – especially Richmond. In our diverse district, this is a major equity issue. Now, it is time for schools like Stege, Fairmont, Valley View, Kennedy High and Richmond High (which are on the priority list) to be rebuilt…

The effects of climate change can be seen on a regular basis with more hot days causing the need for air conditioning in places where it wasn’t previously needed. Measure R could provide air conditioning to our hottest schools where the need is serious. Every year, we see a growing number of students, teachers, and staff hurt by the dangerously hot temperatures in their classrooms to the level where this year alone three teachers had to go to the hospital over heat exhaustion. Technology has advanced, so school buildings need robust wireless infrastructure to support the devices students and teachers need for instruction. These things are expensive and cannot be paid for out of the normal school district budget…

This year we are also asked to support a complementary bond (Prop 13) for statewide facilities funds.  The passage of Prop 13 will increase available matching funds from the state for school construction. Over the years, because of voter support of our building program, West Contra Costa taxpayers have received over $166 Million Dollars in matching state funds — the passage of both Prop 13 and Measure R will ensure that our partnership with the state for school building funds will continue.  If Measure R fails, we will be leaving potential matching funds on the table – forfeiting our share.

Vote yes: Measure J

Measure J is a transportation plan that would raise $103 million annually through a ½ cent sales tax for 35 years. It ultimately would provide $1.9 billion dollars of new transit operations funding, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and programs, and investments in sustainable travel modes.

Our friends at TransForm, a local transportation justice organization, calls Measure J “the most equitable and sustainable transportation funding measure the county has ever seen.”

An excerpt from their blog post follows:

Unlike most transportation funding schemes, Measure J is not a grab-bag of pet projects. It lays out the goals and outcomes by which potential projects will be judged in order to receive funding, like emissions reductions, benefits for low-income residents and underserved communities, open space protection, and congestion reduction. 

The measure will help some of the most vulnerable residents of the County by:

  • Ensuring that investments provide a disproportionately greater benefit for low-income residents and Communities of Concern;
  • Requiring cities to adopt anti-displacement and affordable housing policies in order to receive measure money, tying housing production and tenants rights to transportation funding (we hope this can be a model for other measures);
  • Providing more free and reduced fares for students, seniors, and people with disabilities;

There’s even more to like about the substance of Measure J. It will:

  • Prioritize projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) in accordance with state climate mandates;
  • Establish an exciting new program for reducing driving, called a “VMT mitigation bank” — the first of its kind in California. Any measure-funded project that does not decrease VMT will have to offset its impacts by funding VMT-reducing projects such as transit, walking, and biking improvements. If this passes in Contra Costa, we believe it will help spur other similar programs across the state;
  • Prioritize safety and access for people who walk, bike, and use public transportation by requiring all roadway funding to abide by new transit, Complete Streets and road safety policies;
  • Create a strong Public Oversight Committee to ensure more accountability and public involvement in the measure’s implementation, including adding four seats for representatives of people with disabilities, transit riders, low-income communities, and climate advocates;
  • Allow Contra Costa County to participate in a state program that will direct millions of dollars in development impact fees to priority conservation projects.

11-15-2019: Deadline for EBRPD endorsement applications

We want to express our profound appreciation to our comrade Whitney Dotson for his 10+ years of service as our elected representative on the East Bay Regional Park District board, representing Ward 1 (West Contra Costa). Whitney, a Parchester Village resident and co-founder of the North Richmond Shoreline Alliance, was consistently endorsed by the RPA and our members actively campaigned for him each time he ran for this office. He has been an outspoken activist for open space preservation and access, especially to marginalized communities. Whitney has announced that he will be stepping down from the EBRPD board at the end of 2019, and we will miss his unrelenting advocacy for social and environmental justice in Richmond and beyond.
Read more

Safe Humane RV Parks

As the Bay Area struggles with a crisis in affordable housing, there has been a spike in people living in vehicles, including recreational vehicles (RVs). As RVs crop up, East Bay cities are looking at various ways to accommodate – or discourage – them.

For example, in June, Mountain View voted to enact several restrictions on motor homes and RVs, including effectively banning overnight parking (from 2-6am) on large motor homes and trailers. Similarly, Palo Alto is requiring people move vehicles on public roads every three days.

Then a few months ago, Berkeley sent shockwaves through the East Bay when it voted to pass an ordinance banning the overnight street parking of RVs, a move that would affect the 200 or so RVs in the city. Facing public outcry, and concern from neighboring Oakland, the city agreed to delay implementation of the ordinance. Now Berkeley is considering allowing a limited number of RVs to stay under a new permitting process, which would prioritize those with special needs, among others. The city has also approached the school district to inquire whether school lots can accommodate RVs for those with children attending schools in Berkeley.

Oakland, in contrast, opened the Bay Area’s first safe parking location for RVs last month as part of a new pilot program. The lot, near the Coliseum, includes security, a site manager, and portable toilets and wash stations. There is plan to bring in mobile shower trucks every week. The site, which will cost $600,000 per year to maintain, is the first of several that the city is considering. The program will allow RVs to park for six months, with the goal of getting people into permanent housing. Not everyone will qualify for the program, however; its is invitation-only for Oakland residents, and people who live in inoperable RVs and those with children under 18 will not qualify.

A similar plan may come to Richmond as well. In October 2018, Richmond Councilmember Melvin Willis introduced an item to instruct the City to study the feasibility of establishing an RV park to accommodate the increasing number of unhoused people living in vehicles. The study has been completed and should be released shortly. The establishment of such a safe and humane RV park in Richmond is one of the priorities of the Richmond Progressive Alliance’s Housing Action Team. According to Daniel Barth (see interview below) such as park "would provide a place to safely park and establish a stable community for the most secure of the city's unsheltered population, which means people living in RVs with their amenities."  

Preventing Evictions = Preventing Homelessness

Many experts believe that one of the most cost-effective ways to prevent homelessness is by preventing evictions.

One tactic for preventing evictions is through emergency grants. East Bay cities, counties and non-profits (such as Catholic Charities of the East Bay) offer eviction prevention funds, some of which are supported by federal Housing and Urban Development grants. Eviction prevention funds may be dedicated to particular populations, such as veterans, single moms with children or disabled people facing the loss of housing. Others are more general and can assist families who are falling behind on their rent. For example, a family may experience a health crisis or the death of a family breadwinner, and face a landlord who does not hesitate to begin eviction proceedings. A grant of a few thousand dollars – perhaps in combination with legal assistance from groups like Bay Area Legal Aid -- can serve as a critical safety net and make difference between housing stability and being out on the street.

Other ways to prevent evictions is through strengthening tenant rights and public policy. In Richmond, Measure L – the rent control and Just Cause for evictions ordinance – has helped keep people in their homes. (It has never been a solution to the lack of affordable housing, as opponents have falsely argued.) But on the state level, these anti-displacement measures have struggled to take hold. A state-wide rent control and just eviction ballot measure failed in 2016 after an intense $80 million lobbying campaign by landlords.

But recently, AB 1482, sponsored by Assemblyman David Chiu (San Francisco) has gained momentum and is advancing to the Senate. “We have millions of Californians that are one rent increase away from being forced out of their homes for decades,” Chiu said in a Los Angeles Times article. “They are our neighbors. They are our co-workers. They are our brothers and sisters. They are our grandmothers.”

Chiu’s bill would limit rent increases to a maximum of the consumer price index plus 7% per year. The bill had originally included a lower rate, but it was raised after push-back from real estate and landlord lobby. It would also only apply to units constructed more than ten year ago, and would phase out after three years. Finally, the legislation has some anti-eviction measures but they are weak compared to those in a companion bill, AB 1481, which stalled this session. Although some housing advocates are not happy with Chiu’s (now watered-down) bill, they are encouraged that some progress is being made.

 

Resources for People Facing Homelessness

Know of someone facing homelessness? Contra Costa County’s Coordinated Outreach Referral, Engagement (C.O.R.E.) program works to engage and stabilize homeless individuals living outside through consistent outreach to facilitate and/or deliver health and basic need services and secure permanent housing.

C.O.R.E. teams serve as an entry point into Contra Costa’s coordinated entry system for unsheltered persons and work to locate, engage, stabilize and house chronically homeless individuals and families. The outreach teams identify individuals living on the streets, assess their housing and service needs, and facilitate connection to shelter and services.

To notify a C.O.R.E. team about an unsheltered homeless individual or family, please call 211. Please note that C.O.R.E. teams are not designed for crisis response. For medical or other emergencies involving homeless individuals, please call 911.

People facing eviction can contact Bay Area Legal Aid, which provides legal help to low-income individuals.

Responding to the Homelessness Crisis

[Graphic: 2019 CCC homeless point in time count.]

The numbers are in, and it's not pretty: homelessness in CCC increased by a shocking 43 percent in the last two years – one of the tragic byproducts of recent skyrocketing rents.

Emergency shelters are one response of course, but there are not nearly enough beds in Contra Costa to fill the need, especially for single adults. A lack of beds means that more people are sleeping on the streets, in cars and in tent encampments. Neil Donovan of the National Coalition for the Homeless calls encampments “America’s de facto waiting room for affordable housing” and notes that “Living in a tent says little about the decisions made by those who dwell within and more about our inability to adequately respond to fellow residents in need.

[Photo: Oakland Housing and Dignity Village, 2018]

Encampments can range from the unorganized and informal to the very intentional. They can be organized by charities, government or residents. Safe, humane RV parks as a transitional solution (article below) describes how Oakland is creating an RV encampment to get people into transitional housing. This is an example of a sanctioned encampment, but many are unsanctioned and therefore potentially illegal. An OpEd by Anita De Asis Miralle, Criminalizing the homeless should not be the solution (below) describes the clashes that can occur when a self-organized, family-oriented – but unsanctioned -- encampment forms.

Daniel Barth of SOS! Richmond argues in favor of government-sanctioned encampments, but ones that are organized, managed and governed by residents in partnership with charities and faith groups. By permitting these encampments, it can increase safety, stability, social cohesion and correct public negative perceptions. Barth stresses that this last element is critical, because “The #1 need for change is our own willingness to see homeless interventions happen in our own neighborhoods – not across town.”

Homelessness in CCC Up 43 Percent in 2 Years

Homelessness in Contra Costa increased by 43 percent in the last few years, according to the county’s latest homeless point in time count conducted in January.  Several nearby counties also reported significant increases in homelessness, a dire sign of the Bay Area's crisis of affordable housing and displacement. The data show that approximately 60 percent of unsheltered people in Contra Costa sleep on the streets, while about 30 percent sleep in cars. Only three percent sleep in warming centers, which are short-term, temporary shelters that operate during winter months.

About 2,000 people lack housing on any given night in the county (the point in time count, conducted in late January, estimated the homeless population to be 2295 people), and waiting lists for shelters are often long. The study showed that while around 68 percent of homeless families can be served by available shelters, only 28 percent of homeless single adults can access shelter beds.

In a KQED interview, Jaime Jenett, a planning manager with Contra Costa Health Services, directly spoke to the problem of skyrocketing rents and stagnant wages for lower income people. "They need affordable housing that is really targeted to low- and very low-income folks," she said. "A lot of the quote-unquote affordable housing is just completely out of reach for the people that we're working with."

While the majority of homeless people are between 25-54 years old, Jenett noted that there is a disturbing increase in the number of older adults without homes.

 

City Council Endorsement Applications

If you're thinking about running for Richmond City Council and would like an endorsement from the RPA, the time to act is now! 

Read about the process and download the questionniare.  Your answers must be submitted by September 1, 2019.  Interviews will take place in September.  The final decision about endorsements rests with a vote of RPA members.

Conversation with Homelessness Advocate Daniel Barth

The Activist sat down with Daniel Barth of SOS! Richmond (Safe Open Spaces) to talk about how to tackle homelessness in Richmond. Daniel has been a longtime advocate to reduce and end homelessness both in Alameda and Contra Costa. SOS! Richmond works as an important partner with the Richmond Progressive Alliance’s Housing Action Team.

TA: Homelessness has been a problem for decades. What in your view are some of the drivers?

DB: Our communities have for decades seen a lack of community-based support for treatment of mental illness. In the 80’s, crack and AIDS ravaged families. No surprise that intergenerational homelessness exploded during the 90’s. Yet our safety net shrunk as shelters, treatment centers, and transitional housing were shuttered. The federal agenda has been a major driver for increasing homelessness, with decreased spending and losses of public housing. We all know how rental prices continue to rise, resulting in more rent-burdened renters, while homeownership has declined for lower income earners, since higher wages for some households, results in further pressure on rental markets for lower wages earners and those on fixed incomes. What happens? There’s simply not enough access to housing, supportive services, opportunities for making personal change, and emergency interventions to address homelessness.

TA: What are some of the most significant new developments you are seeing these days?

DB: One of the biggest new trends is the aging of the existing homeless population, in parallel with the aging of the general population. More seniors are also falling into homelessness due to the increasing cost of living in the Bay Area – more than half are 50 years of age or older, and yet the average life span for a homeless person living on the streets is 64 years. When we talk with people who are sleeping along freeways, train tracks, and at any edge of our neighborhoods they can stay at, we know that more than 1/3 have been homeless for 5 years or longer, and yet more than 1/3 have been Richmond residents for 20 years plus.

TA: What ultimately needs to change?

DB: The #1 need for change is our own willingness to see homeless interventions happen in our own neighborhoods – not across town. Only then can we enable new opportunities for folks to participate in that are low-cost (to scale-up), encourage self-determination (people “owning” their own changing), and are community-integrated (building partnerships between housed and unhoused neighbors).

The struggle to create Safe, Organized Spaces starts with us. Only through community-integrated approaches can we see improved health & safety in people’s living arrangements; the stability required to address unemployment and other issues; a secure place to store belongings and medications while looking for work; improved quality of life and ability to increase income; a sense of dignity and hope; the focus of having a purpose in a community living environment and the ability to serve others in the benefit of community goals. We all need the same things in life.

TA: What should be done in the immediate, short term?

DB: We can’t wait for housing and services to materialize for unsheltered homeless people in Richmond. We need interim sheltering interventions. What does this look like? These are temporary, transitional "villages". Many successful transitional villages have been sustained in other cities around the country, which have enabled people to stabilize their lives and ultimately find work and housing. A village consists of a number of small sleeping structures on a single lot – either tiny houses similar to the ones used in Seattle, WA, or Conestoga huts like those used in Eugene, OR. These “emergency sleeping cabins” will meet all of the codes required for emergency shelters.

Responsible individuals who truly want to change their lives are selected to live in these intentional communities, in which residents cooperate and share duties. These are safe and visually attractive, and a primary goal will be to have a positive impact on the neighborhood. A clearly defined set of rules are enforced and staff and “Safety Guardians” are present at all times.

TA: SOS! Richmond is working with the RPA’s Housing Action Team on homelessness. What are other things we can do here?

DB: In a Richmond where we stabilize our growing crisis of homelessness, we can then take responsibility for access to housing. One model is to provide affordable, integrated, and well-maintained Municipal Housing. Local governments like ours, supported by the federal government, must build a very large amount of affordable, mixed income, publicly-owned housing, initially by developing existing publicly-owned land. We must stand up for having resources come to West County. We start by developing safety nets of "pocket villages" in our own neighborhoods.

Pt. Molate Subsequent Environmental Impact Report scoping session 7/29/19

Please attend the Pt Molate “Subsequent Environmental Impact Report” (SEIR) scoping session on July 29, at 6 PM in the Council chambers, 450 Civic Center Plaza. Mayor Butt and City staff are trying to “amend” the Environmental Impact Report from the failed Pt Molate casino plan and adapt it to the SunCal housing tract proposal.
The research for the casino project EIR was done over ten years ago. Things have changed since then, including increased traffic and threat of fire in a high fire area, such as Point Molate. We also know more about climate change and sea-level rise impacts, the importance to SF Bay health of Pt Molate’s 50-acres of eelgrass meadows and their upland native grassland habitats, where most the SunCal housing is proposed to be built. 
The Pt. Molate Alliance is meeting outside City Hall at 5:30 PM. Please join, or arrive at least 15 minutes before the meeting begins at 6 PM to fill out a speaker's card. If you do not want to speak, bring a sign or come to show your support. This is a very important meeting to attend to make sure the City does a full Environmental Impact Report for Pt Molate. 
Here are a few talking points:

The proposed project is now 2200 residential units.  This was never voted on by the council and thus is not a legal alternative.

Moreover, this is a significantly different project from the Casino alternative and all other alternatives in the old EIS/EIR. A full new EIR needs to be prepared for evaluation and comment.

EIS/EIR was approved over a decade ago. Circumstances have changed significantly, especially traffic conditions and climate change impacts.  Even if the information in the old EIS/EIR was valid at the time of that document, with the length of time and major changes in conditions, the city must start from scratch and do a full new analysis since the old EIS/EIR is no longer relevant

It also inconsistent with the General Plan that designates the Pt Molate area as open space to protect environmental values.

The proposed project is contrary to the Plan Bay Area policies for regional development. Adopted in 2013, Plan Bay Area is our first regional plan to incorporate a state-mandated Sustainable Communities Strategy. It identified Preferred Development Areas or PDAs close to public transit, existing commercial and retail uses so as to reduce auto traffic and emissions. Pt Molate is not one of Richmond’s five PDAs. The City will need to evaluate how it can comply with Plan Bay Area policies and the impacts for failing to do so.

The City needs to evaluate the recently released Hatch fiscal impact report and explain how the City can approve any project that could result in the city losing $3.00+ million in revenue from the proposed development.

The City’s Notice of Preparation of the Pt Molate SEIR is here. Please submit written comments to Lina Valesco, Richmond Planning Director, Lina_Valesco@ci.richmond.ca.us, by August 12th, at 4 PM. 
If you have questions, please email or call Pam Stello, Pt Molate Alliance Co-Chair, at pamstello@gmail.com.