Richmond residents, unions, and community groups are keeping a close eye on the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and its plans for a Richmond Bay Campus: a development that is projected to take shape over the next four decades.
Miracle Temple Church on Cutting Blvd. was packed Thursday night with residents who showed up to hear about the possibilities this project will bring to the city. But they also voiced concerns about housing costs, environmental impact and displacement.
The proposed campus, which is estimated to be about three-fourths the size of the current U.C. Berkeley campus and cost over $1 billion in construction, has the potential to bring hundreds of jobs and millions of investment dollars into the city, according to the presentations by Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) and Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization (CCISCO) —the community groups who hosted last night’s meeting.
“We have to make sure all of us as a community build along with this development,” said Edith Pastrano of ACCE.
Richmond was selected as the new site for the lab last year, and these groups have been meeting with representatives from the lab and the university to demand that the local impacts be fully considered.
Despite federal sequestration cuts, which called the proposed 2015 groundbreaking into question last October, Richmond community leaders have pushed forward to create a community partnership working group with the lab and the university. The group aims to create a legally binding agreement, which would include local hiring and investment requirements.
In April, U.C. Berkley and Lawrence Berkeley National Lab crafted a joint statement of commitment pledging support for Richmond education, employment and workforce training.
They also resolved to set up a community partnership fund, which Julie Sinai, director of local government and community relations for U.C. Berkeley, said would be seeded with $50,000 from the university and $50,000 from the lab.
“This partnership agreement will continue to evolve,” said Sinai.
However, speakers at the meeting stressed the importance of continued community involvement and input. Tia Josia from CCISCO laid out the worst-case scenario for residents “if we don’t act, and if we don’t take part.” Her concerns included displacement and rising housing costs.
“Look at the problem in San Francisco,” she said, referring to sky-high rents and gentrification. “We want them [the lab and the university] to care about the people here in Richmond.”
Josia also said that CCISCO is pushing for a percentage of construction jobs to be targeted locally to disadvantaged workers including veterans, formerly incarcerated people, youth and the elderly.
Speaking about the educational challenges young people face, ninth-grader Anita Mora from Richmond High, said, “This campus might give me more opportunities in life…. One day I might work in this beautiful lab.”
Berkeley student Caitlin Quinn offered support from students at the university, saying it should be part of the university’s mission to lift up the communities around it.
Tamisha Walker of the Safe Return Project—a community organization that supports individuals returning from incarceration—led the call to action for the community, encouraging residents to get involved, attend meetings and let their voices be heard.
“We need to start showing up, showing out for opportunities for our community,” she said.
Walker led the crowed in a chant. “Access and inclusion!” they said, followed by cheers and clapping.
In the final moments of the town hall meeting, Rev. Craig Scott voiced a prayer for the lab and the community proposals. More than two hundred residents held hands and bowed their heads.
“This has the potential to be truly, truly transformative for this community…. May it be so. Blessed be, and amen,” he said.