Should city incorporate North Richmond? Residents divided on eve of official decision.

The 3,700 residents of North Richmond (highlighted) could join the city of Richmond at large. Image generated by Google Maps.

The 3,700 residents of North Richmond (highlighted) could join the city of Richmond at large. Image generated by Google Maps.

Divided public opinion and tight-lipped city officials have cast uncertainty on a decision this Tuesday that could bring over 50 years of political isolation to a close for the unincorporated region of North Richmond. This is not the first time annexation has been discussed in the Richmond City Council chambers, but circumstances surrounding the decision prompt the question: will it be the last?

Mayor Tom Butt said annexing North Richmond is not an easy decision. He is inclined to support doing so, and has advocated for incorporation since his election. He thinks Richmond could provide better services than the county, but says “that’s not a criticism of the county; it’s just the way things are set up.”

There are strong voices coming from both sides of the debate. Public safety, gentrification and higher taxes are just a few of the issues that associated with this decision. Yet after four community meetings this summer, there remains very little clarity how the vote will play out tomorrow night.

In fact, Butt was the only Richmond official to respond to requests to discuss the issue; other councilmembers, the Richmond Progressive Alliance and law-enforcement agencies did not respond.

Currently, North Richmond is an unincorporated, 1.5 square-mile area surrounded by the city of Richmond but governed by the Contra Costa board of supervisors. For the roughly 3,700 residents who live within this boundary, basic services such as policing, public works and planning are provided by the county.

If North Richmond were to be annexed, fulfilling those services and more would become the city’s responsibility. A draft of the financial impact report, released in July, indicated that annexation would cost the city between $2 and $2.3 million annually, after factoring in the revenue that it would receive from a slight increase in taxes and fees.

The bump in sales tax, and utility and business-license fees has become a point of contention for some, but others say it is a step in the right direction.

Some say outreach about the nuts and bolts of annexation improved during this latest attempt at incorporation. “For probably the first time in history, we are much more informed about what it will cost and what the challenges may be,” said LaSaunda Tate, vice chairperson of the North Richmond Municipal Advisory Committee (NRMAC). “We are much more informed about what it will take.”

Tate, a North Richmond resident and homeowner since 2013, said the area’s unincorporated status has had negative impacts on both public safety and also health, which are compounded by a lack of political representation at the local level.

“When you are isolated from the larger community—when you don’t have political representation and the same municipalities as your bordering city—it’s easy for things to fall through the cracks,” Tate said.

A memo released in July by county Supervisor John Gioia’s office echoed Tate’s stance. It suggested that annexation has the potential to improve public safety through the “elimination of a longstanding political line that divides police jurisdictions.”

The Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office provides most services for the area, but splits a single police beat between North Richmond and East Richmond Heights, roughly four miles away. This poses a logistical challenge, according to Gioia.

The role of the sheriff’s office in North Richmond came under fire in 2014 when The Mercury News reported that, over the course of four years, charges were only filed in five of the 19 killings that occurred in the area. Department policy, cut backs and geographic separation were cited as driving reasons for the lack of follow-up.

If North Richmond were to be annexed, the Richmond Police Department (RPD) would take over jurisdiction, which would require the presence of additional patrol officers and a new captain. The sheriff’s office declined to discuss the possible annexation, and RPD’s public information officer was unavailable.

“I do believe there are some advantages to their [North Richmond’s] annexation into Richmond, but I also respect that there is a higher tax burden,” Gioia said. “Ultimately, the residents must weigh in about whether that extra tax is worth it.”

For some, it’s not.

Henry Clark, longtime NRMAC member, said he knows many residents against annexation. He cited the increased taxes as a reason.

If annexed, residents would see the sales tax raised by 1 percent, and utility users would see a fee increase between 5 and 10 percent.

There would also be additional fee increases for business licenses and property taxes.

However, the renters of North Richmond—approximately 73 percent of residents—would benefit from the city’s Rent Control Ordinance, which includes eviction protections and an annual 3 percent cap on rent increases.

Clark is not sold on annexation, though. He said Richmond has never shown any interest in providing services to North Richmond, and he argued there is no need for an additional police presence with the joint efforts of the sheriff’s office, RPD and the California Highway Patrol.

“This idea of providing services is just a flat out lie,” Clark said. “It’s gentrification and a land grab. Bottom line, that’s what it comes down to.”

Fellow NRMAC member Tate said she thinks Clark raises valid concerns, but argued the realities of the Bay Area prove that gentrification will occur whether or not North Richmond is annexed.

“I think that these are two isolated issues,” she said. “Helping to improve the livelihoods of those that live here by having annexation does not create gentrification.”

This difference in perspectives among NRMAC members was reflected during a committee vote earlier this month: Three members were against annexation, two abstained, and one, Aaron Morgan, voted in favor. With four votes needed to pass a motion, no recommendation was provided.

Now, the decision rests with Richmond City Council. If officials decide to continue the process, annexation will be initiated with the Local Agency Formation Commission, which can approve, edit or deny.

Approval will result in a hearing, where residents can share their views, and if more than 50 percent of commenters protest, the annexation process will be terminated.

No one seems to know whether Tuesday’s city council decision will be the last word in a long history of attempts to incorporate. Tate urged everyone to study the issue.

“There is a reason why unincorporated areas in our country, that are in low-income communities, are not thriving,” she said.

Clarification: This story originally reported that LaSaunda Tate voted in favor of annexation. That is incorrect. The member who supported annexation was Aaron Morgan. Tate was absent from the vote, but submitted a letter supporting annexation, which was read into public record by the chairperson, Donald Gilmore.

12 Comments

  1. Gary Levy

    Richmond can not handle the duties that would be needed to be done.
    Just look at Richmond Annex. They do not do much for the Annex. No Police patrols, no street cleaning, no street maintenance, etc.
    In twenty-five years, maybe I have seen a Richmond police officer in the area 10 times..

  2. Commenter

    Of course Mayor Butt is the only one ready to comment on this issue. He is the only person on the council with the depth of knowledge and experience to gauge what annexation will mean. Everyone else on the council are relatively recent residents of the area and/or new to city government.
    The annexation of North Richmond is something that has been discussed for some 60 years now. In the 1960’s it was considered that the citizens of North Richmond were for annexation so that they could benefit from services and especially police services to combat the high crime in the area. Those against annexation were the industrial and agriculture businesses and landowners who didn’t want the additional taxes and regulations it would bring. A 1970 study from UC Berkeley noted that the criminal elements in North Richmond were also against annexation for the obvious reasons.
    It will be interesting to see how this turns out.

  3. Why is this a choice between annexation to the City of Richmond or the status quo with the County. Why don’t we incorporate North Richmond as an independent city. The new city would get the county funds presently spent on police and fire services. The new city could get state and federal grants to expand services or levy the same or less taxes that the City of Richmond would be levying. The new city could have preferred hiring from the community.

    The City of Richmond is only interested in expanding its’ tax base in order to pay the outrageous retirement benefits of it’s city workers.

  4. Commenter

    “The City of Richmond is only interested in expanding its’ tax base in order to pay the outrageous retirement benefits of it’s city workers.”

    You did read where the fiscal study determined that Richmond would LOSE money by doing this, right?
    I am no expert on this, but North Richmond is a very poor area. Becoming an independent bankrupt city wouldn’t likely benefit them either. I would assume that someone would have suggested it after some 50-60 years now if it was a better option, but perhaps it is. Why don’t you bring it up at the meeting tonight?

    • Don Gosney

      There is some merit to what you’re suggesting except that this annexation, according to the studies, could cost the City $2.4 million a year MORE than what it collects from the people and businesses of North Richmond.

      • Commenter

        Yes, I understand about the red ink. But I consider red ink a smaller price to pay than the red blood of our our citizens who are victims of violent criminal gangs like North Richmonds “Swerve Team”. It is easier to find solutions for the money than it is to restore life and justice to Swerve Team victim Nico Martinez and all their other victims and their families.
        The crime and dysfunction that spills out of North Richmond will continue to be a drag on Richmonds reputation and our efforts to rejuvenate the downtown. The sooner we deal with it the better. It isn’t going to get less expensive if we wait another 50 years.
        Thanks for all your good work and “Radio Free Richmond”.

    • Ardy Leenders

      Richmond’s fiscal study is only their version of how they see annexation of North Richmond. Yes, North Richmond is a poor area. So What!.. It’s Okay to be poor but independent. It’s Alright to be poor and more control of your own neighborhood and community. To predict that North Richmond will be bankrupt is Fortune Telling. Are you a fortune teller?

      Negativity breeds negativity. Positiveness brings positive solutions, Period

      • Commenter

        The negativity is your own. I am speaking in support of a positive solution to a decades old issue that has the support of former police chief Magnus, Mayor Butt, the RPA’s Mike Parker, and is something that was for decades wanted by the citizens of North Richmond themselves. Perhaps you are new to the area and are unaware of that. Perhaps todays residents of North Richmond no longer wish to incorporate into the city of Richmond. Then that will be the end of it, and at least the issue will be resolved. The point about being a poor area is very relevant. How will the area pay for their own infrastructure costs, street paving, sewer and water maintenance? How will they pay their own city workers and pension plans? How will they pay for police and fire services? One doesn’t need to be a fortune teller to see that it makes more sense for RPD to take over a jurisdiction that they have already been the de facto police force in for decades. Historically North Richmond has always been an intricately woven part of Richmond. Adolph Winters grew flowers in North Richmond. Early Italian families like Banducci and Rampoldi lived and had businesses there as well as downtown Richmond. African Americans who came there in the 1940’s worked in the shipyards in Richmond. It was these workers who began to complain about the living conditions in the area and talk of incorporation began. This isn’t something that has just popped up out of the blue, but has been stirring for many years.

  5. Don Gosney

    Here’s the text of my comments from Tuesday’s meeting. I’m pleased that the Council took a position to wait a few weeks until they can gather more information.
    ——————-
    The annexation of any community into another is a serious consideration and demands careful scrutiny before action is taken. Let it be known that I, unlike many members of this Council, haven’t made up my mind yet because I don’t have enough facts. Comments made at previous Council meetings, online blogs and newsletters suggest that some of you were ready to vote before you arrived.

    We have a long history here in Richmond of rushing to take half baked action embracing the policy that we can always fix it later—yet we never seem to come back for those repairs. As I’ve mentioned previously, I like the motto of my own union which says that ‘WE GET IT RIGHT THE FIRST TIME’.

    There is still so much information that we haven’t heard and we won’t be allowed to discuss. This process has flaws in that we had several hundred pages of information thrown at us over the past four days that can be difficult to sift through and digest. How can we be expected to let you—our elected representatives know our thoughts when it can be so difficult to get a hold of you?

    Between work schedules, weekend events and public meetings, finding time for you to hear from us can be a tough one. Then we have some Councilmembers who seem to have their minds already made up, at least one of you has publicly stated that you refuse to listen to anyone that disagrees with you and one of you still has not made her contact information public. So how are you supposed to know the viewpoints of your constituents if we aren’t provided an opportunity to speak with you?

    I know that there have been numerous public meetings held in North Richmond but I can’t see where a single meeting was held here in Richmond to ask this all important question: Do the people of Richmond want this to happen? Exactly how will WE benefit from this?

    Some of the questions that have not been addressed include:
    • Which City services will we have to curtail to cover the more than $500 per person cost of the new residents above and beyond what they will pay?
    • Have any deals actually been negotiated between the County and the City about revenue sharing?
    • What developers have stepped forward with legitimate plans for new businesses, residential units or even weed farms?
    • How many pie-in-the-sky projects have we seen come and go? For instance, when can we expect the Berkeley Global Village to open their doors?
    • The report says that this proposal will break even only with significant residential development. Wouldn’t this require the gentrification of North Richmond?

    What concerns me is how this Council is spending so much effort to fix the so called problems of North Richmond—at no small expense—but seem to have lost sight of the very real problems they were elected to solve right here in Richmond.

    Have your discussion but hold off on making a decision until more info can be reviewed and discussed. Since we will essentially be silenced in a few minutes, give us a chance to weigh in AFTER we’ve heard everything.

  6. Don Gosney

    I’d love to read about what it might take for the County and the City to negotiate a deal wherein the RPD and RFD handle police and fire duties in North Richmond. The county would pay for this service.

    I was told the other night by Chief Brown that if this were to happen, at least for the policing, the cost would be higher for the RPD to handle it than for the Sheriff’s Department.

    Nonetheless, I’d like to see the numbers. If the numbers pencil out, maybe this would be a solution t the number one issue being brought up here.

    I’ve always had problems with people trying to make decisions based on speculative data. Crunch the numbers and then we can talk.

  7. Don Gosney

    No matter what the reason for why North Richmond was not annexed into Richmond 65 years ago, should we assume that things are the same today?

    Should we right a wrong from 65 years ago even if it doesn’t apply now?

    Should we force ourselves on the people of North Richmond even if they don;t want to be apart of Richmond?

    Should the people of Richmond have a say in whether to annex North Richmond or should it rest in the hands of four members of the Richmond City Council? When I asked the LAFCO lady, she told me that the wishes of the people of Richmond were irrelevant to their actions.

    We need a lot more discussion about this over the next two and a half weeks before it’s brought back before the Council for consideration.

    • Commenter

      Good Point. The North Richmond of today is not the North Richmond of the 1960’s or 70’s. Todays residents may have no desire at all to incorporate. Remember years ago there was actually a downtown full of businesses right there down 6th/7th street. Todays majority Latino population are relatively recent immigrants, and may ask themselves, “Why would I want to increase my taxes? No thanks.”

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