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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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]