Recent news stories (broken by San Francisco Chronicle reporter Otis Taylor) about appalling conditions for female ICE detainees have prompted strong calls for investigations of the West County Detention Center in Richmond. The jail receives $6 million per year from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to run a federal detention center to house people suspected of immigration violations.
Taylor detailed accounts of women being locked up and made to wait up to 23 hours for bathroom access, and forced to defecate in plastic bags. The report also described other problems, such as lack of health services, and being punished for speaking Spanish. Several elected officials have called for investigations, including Nancy Skinner who requested that California Attorney General Xavier Becerra look into the allegations.
On November 4, members of the public rallied in front of the jail to protest the conditions. Former Richmond Mayor and current Lt. Governor candidate Gayle McLaughlin, went further, noting that “Citizens and elected officials of Richmond, myself included, have demanded repeatedly that you [Sheriff Livingston] cease and desist participating in ICE abuses and that you terminate your contract with ICE. You have ignored these requests and by doing so, have violated the dignity and principles of our City and County.”
On Monday, a group of organizations, including Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, filed paperwork to get the ball rolling on a 2018 statewide ballot initiative to repeal the Costa-Hawkins Act, a 1995 law that limits California’s cities and counties from implementing rent control on newer properties.
In the words of Richmond City Councilmember and Assembly Candidate Jovanka Beckles, “This leaves millions of California tenants at the mercy of real estate speculators. By repealing Costa Hawkins, we can make sure low income families, students, educators and seniors with fixed incomes have the renter protections they deserve."
The next step is for the Attorney General to give the proposed initiative a title, summary and financial analysis. From there, organizers will have to collect enough valid signatures to place it on the November 2018 ballot.
There have also been attempts to introduce legislation repealing Costa-Hawkins, including a bill introduced this past February by Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), but he pulled it in the face of strong opposition from the real estate industry, and landlord/apartment lobby.
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.
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.
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.
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!
“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
At 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.
On 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.
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.
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!