Richmond council takes first steps to make North Richmond part of the city after 60 years of independence

Mayor Tom Butt and Councilmember Jovanka Beckles listen to a statement by Supervisor John Gioia on incorporating North Richmond at last Tuesday's city council meeting.

Mayor Tom Butt and Councilmember Jovanka Beckles listen to a statement by Supervisor John Gioia on incorporating North Richmond at last Tuesday's city council meeting.

Tensions were high on Tuesday as Richmond City Council voted to bring North Richmond into
the fold after 60 years of political isolation. Residents addressed officials with loud voices.
Electeds shook heads and raised their eyebrows. At the end of the discussion, council voted to
begin the process of annexing unincorporated North Richmond.

Each councilmember expressed interest in incorporation, but the evening’s wedge
issue was how to go about it.

In a 5-2 vote, it was decided that the city will formally begin the application process with the
county, the first step in correcting what many say was a historic injustice. In addition,
informational material and a non-binding city ballot will be sent to North Richmond residents in
order to gauge public opinion.

There were impassioned voices on both sides of the debate. Several North Richmond residents
spoke out against annexation during the meeting, citing an increase in taxes and the area’s own
history of self-determination as the main reasons why they did not want to be incorporated.
Others were for it, however, and spoke of the need for increased services and public safety.
But fewer than 30 North Richmond residents chimed in — out of roughly 3,700.

This lackluster engagement reinforced the driving question of the night: What do the residents of
North Richmond truly want?

Aaron Morgan, a 31-year- old North Richmond resident and member of its municipal advisory
committee, said he was excited by the council’s decision. He said that, beyond the new city
services and increased political representation, incorporation of the area would strengthen
Richmond as a whole.

“I believe in unity,” he said. “Now, we’ve got one purpose and one goal for progress.”

Richmond’s approach to annexation will mirror what happened in the city of Antioch in 2014. It
will begin the process by creating and submitting an application to Contra Costa county’s Local
Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO). At the same time, it will do public outreach and mail a
nonbinding, advisory ballot to as many North Richmond residents as possible.

If the response to incorporation is overwhelmingly negative, Richmond will have the
opportunity to retract its application.

Supervisor John Gioia suggested this approach during his comments to the council on Tuesday.
“Last night’s vote was about Richmond extending an offer to North Richmond residents to allow
them to become part of Richmond,” Gioia said. “I think it was a positive step forward.”

Gioia, who has represented North Richmond at the county’s board of supervisors for nearly two
decades, said that residents’ lack of awareness about the issue was apparent.

Lou Ann Texeira, an executive officer with LAFCO, commended the city’s outreach plan. “That’s
a very key component when you’ve got controversy,” she said.

The application itself will cost Richmond roughly $8,000. Once the paperwork is received, it will
take an additional six months for the first public hearing. Texeira said there is plenty of work to
be done, but “from a LAFCO perspective, it [annexation] makes sense.”

Councilmembers Jovanka Beckles and Eduardo Martinez both voted against the motion. They
argued that starting the official LAFCO application before having a more thorough sense of
public opinion was pre-emptive.

“I think depending on what the survey says, we may be throwing $8,000 out the window,” said
Martinez, adding that “North Richmond residents need to have time to learn what the process
is about, and have time to state their preferences.”

Martinez supports annexation and sees benefits in incorporating the area. But he is also
concerned that prematurely starting the LAFCO process is reflective of “paternalistic decision-
making,” and said North Richmond residents should be allowed to exercise self-determination.

The council member’s position reflected a statement by the Richmond Progressive Alliance’s
steering committee, which was released last week. It said the city “should not initiate the
annexation process with LAFCO unless and until North Richmond votes in favor of it.”

Oscar Garcia, a 37-year- old life-long resident of Richmond, said he was concerned by the
progressive group’s letter. “I was a little afraid that the whole thing was going to be derailed
because they [the RPA] didn’t agree with the LAFCO process,” he said.

But Garcia was pleased with the city’s decision to inform and reach out to North Richmond
residents, the majority of whom are Latino. He said he has family and friends living in the area
who weren’t aware annexation was being discussed. He also said has seen a lot of deaths due
to the ongoing violence between gangs in Richmond and North Richmond, and hopes
annexation will begin to address the issue.

Mayor Tom Butt shared his sentiment. But, like Beckles and Martinez, he expressed
dissatisfaction with the outcome of Tuesday’s vote.

Butt would have preferred to leave out the ballot and proceed only with the official LAFCO
process, which he said includes plenty of opportunities for North Richmond residents to voice
their opinion.

The LAFCO process would reach out to registered voters and landowners, but the Richmond
ballot will be sent out to a much broader category of residents. The logistical details of the
ballot were not discussed during the council meeting, but Gioia suggested that the city could
work with utility providers to gain a more accurate sense of who was living in the area.

“I think it’s superfluous and redundant, and it’s got a lot of problems,” Butt said. “But that’s
what we’re going to do, so we’ll figure it out.”

6 Comments

  1. Don Gosney

    We’ve read a lot of letters, reports and emails over the past couple of weeks about this attempted annexation.

    Still, there are a lot of questions that need to be asked. It’s bad enough that we can’t get answers but there’s no indication that the Councilmembers are even asking the questions. Because of the restrictions on our time when we speak at the dais, let me just ask a few of the questions with the hope that before any action is taken we can get the kinds of answers we need:

    • I asked this before but no one has responded—what exactly do the people of Richmond get out of this? How will we benefit from an endeavor that will cost us an estimated $2.4 million per year? [Nearly $540 of our taxes for each and every resident of North Richmond above and beyond what we get from them.]
    • Why isn’t anyone asking the people of Richmond if this is something they want?
    • Where was the groundswell of support from the people of North Richmond and even from Richmond that prompted this discussion? Exactly what brought this to the attention of the elected representatives who took an oath to represent THE PEOPLE OF RICHMOND?
    • Who are the developers looking to cash in on what would be the availability of very lucrative weed cultivation businesses once this takes place?
    • How much more will the people in North Richmond have to pay for their sewage collection, the Richmond Police Retirement tax and any more Richmond taxes that the people of North Richmond might find on their plate that they were unaware of?
    • Are the people of North Richmond okay with the 11% increase in their sales tax?
    • When LAFCO starts their process and notifies the people of North Richmond of what is being done to them—using the 1/8 page newspaper notifications—do they think that North Richmonders subscribe to the East Bay Times? Does anyone ever really look where public announcements are posted? And in what languages should we expect these announcements to be drafted?
    • After the comments made by members of the Council prior to the summer hiatus, how much of this revolves around the concept of turning the whole world into a rent control community? [This has been brought up several times my various members of the Council.]

    And for those that are claiming that this annexation was quashed after the war years because of racism and the fact that it was a poor community, I say that it may very well may have been the case seventy years ago. What bothers me is that the people that are shouting this the loudest weren’t here to know for sure. With the exception of two members of the Council, they’re all newborn babes. Even the two old guys are relatively recent implants. So exactly how do they know what was going through the minds to the people back then?

    At least I can say that I was here during that time period. I may have been crawling around in diapers watching Howdy Doody but you won’t find me trying to tell people what was in the minds of the people around me when I really don’t have a clue what they were thinking.

  2. Commenter

    Don Gosney,
    Good points all around. You have no argument from me. For the sake of some historical background I will add this information which is taken from a 1970 Brandeis University study on the riots of June 1968 in downtown Richmond:

    “In February of 1953 the North Richmond Citizens Council requested annexation of the unincorporated county area of North Richmond by the city, while another local citizens group requested its annexation by the city of San Pablo. In the controversy that followed, four industrial concerns lying between North Richmond and San Pablo applied to the city of Richmond for annexation. In May of 1953, following a verdict in the courts, Richmond annexed a strip of land 10,000 feet long and 400 to 1300 feet wide, lying directly between the unincorporated section of North Richmond and the city of San Pablo, making annexation to San Pablo impossible. During this same period the City Council of Richmond postponed indefinitely any plans to annex North Richmond.
    Richmond has maintained that only through incorporation of both the residential areas and the potentially tax-rich surrounding land can North Richmond pay its own way. However, the greenhouse operators and land speculators who own most of the surrounding parcels of land have consistently resisted plans to incorporate North Richmond. They contend that annexation would raise their property taxes without appreciably benefiting them. The most recent move to annex the county area-in 1965-failed when owners of over half the areas assessed property vetoed the measure.
    Another faction opposing annexation is the marginal element in North Richmond-which has benefitted from lack of law enforcement in the area. Gambling, prostitution, drug dealing, and traffic in stolen property are among the activities which some individuals wish to maintain in the community. “

  3. Commenter

    (Continued)
    From a January 2012 article in Richmond Confidential on the life of former Mayor George Livingston:

    Livingston fought several times in the 1970s and 1980s to annex North Richmond, but he and his allies were stymied.

    “We were up against a lot of money and a lot of lobbying, and ultimately we couldn’t get the support to annex,” Livingston said. “It’s a shame because the people out there have never got the services they deserve.”

  4. Linda

    Why do North Richmond has to be annexed to get any services? Who’s to say the services will be better if we annexed. The homeowners in north Richmond that’s renting there properties out will not care about annexation because they will pay the difference and raise the rent on the tenants.

    • Commenter

      “Why do North Richmond has to be annexed to get any services?”

      You have to be a part of a city and pay its taxes if you want their services, which is paid for by taxpayer money.

      “Who’s to say the services will be better if we annexed?”

      Good question. Your County Supervisor John Gioia believes you will get better services and be better off annexing into Richmond. He is not alone. Why don’t you contact him and talk about it? That way you can make an informed decision.

      “The homeowners in North Richmond. ..”

      If you are annexed renters and landlords will have to abide by Richmonds rent control law. But you are correct prices and rents may rise. This is also something you could discuss with Mr. Gioia as well.

      I hope that is some help.
      Best wishes

  5. Ethel

    How come no lunch is being provided to the seniors in north Richmond at the senior center. It has been 1 month and no lunch , what are we suppose to do I miss the lunch program.

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