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Richmond Sun

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ISSUES | Neighborhoods

Tues. 3/3, Richmond City Council

Hilltop Needs a New Sign

by Cesar Zepeda, President, Hilltop District Neighborhood Association

On March 3rd, 2015 the City Council will take up the Sign Ordinance Zoning Text Amendment (PLN14-023): A zoning text amendment to allow and regulate digital signs and digital advertising billboard signs.

This Ordinance was brought forward because the Hilltop District needs a new sign to replace the old, oxidized, broken, light-polluting, and outdated pylon sign currently in place. The sign is the only way that the 300+ thousand daily motorists on Highway I-80 know that Hilltop is a shopping/business district. Our district contributes a large amount of revenue to the City; we have car dealerships, restaurants, hotels, a movie theater, a mall, and in excess of 100 additional businesses elsewhere in the District.

Brief history: In approximately 2008, the Hilltop District was set to get a new sign to replace their outdated pylon sign. The City of Richmond planned to pay for another pylon sign out of redevelopment funds. When the time came to move forward with the sign, the line-item was removed from the budget, as the redevelopment funds were no longer available to pay for it. The City told the District to find other ways to fund the sign if they wanted a sign.

The District found a sign company that would come in and pay for a modern sign! The cost for the sign would be about $1.4 million dollars. The sign company applied for a permit to put up the sign, received the permit, and later was told it was issued in error because the current ordinance does not allow for digital signs.

The District has been working with the City and communities to amend the sign ordinance, to make sure it provides the best benefit to everyone in our City. The Hilltop District only wants one sign; however, the ordinance needs to be written in such a way that it covers all of the City future plans.

Why the District wants the sign ordinance: Allowing for the Sign Ordinance to move forward would bring great benefits to the City and the communities all around the City. We have gathered more than 100 signatures from residents and businesses from all over the City. Several Neighborhood Councils have either written letters in favor or the ordinance or have remained neutral on the item; not one letter from a Neighborhood Council has been against the ordinance (to our current knowledge).

The single greatest benefit to Richmond communities is that it could be the only way to remove currently erected, static billboards; the billboards we see on highway 580, near MacDonald Ave, etc. Those billboards are there to stay unless this ordinance is passed. The Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) given to the sign company that applies for an application would say that they would need to remove 10 static billboards per face on a digital sign, Each digital sign has two faces, therefore they would be required to remove 20 static billboards! If they don’t own any signs that could be removed, they could provide something in exchange, such as enhancements to a park, art, community programs, etc.

Other benefits of the ordinance: It would bring approximately $200,000 in revenue to the City annually, per sign. This is in addition to the tax revenue coming in from the sign or because of the sign. Our City is facing a $7.4 million budget deficit; this money can greatly help offset that.

Who maintains the sign now? The City does; tax payers pay for it. Who would pay the maintenance of the new sign? The sign company; cost to the taxpayers: $0.

We would have less light-pollution. Save on electricity. Bring more tax revenue to the City. And most importantly, it would drive business into the district. If we can get 1% of the drivers on I-80 to stop and shop in the district every day, it would help all the businesses in our district. There is a great amount of time to look at a sign such as the one being proposed. Think of the morning and evening crawling traffic on I-80. It would also help the homeowners with their property values to have a thriving business district. 

A few things to note:

  • The Mall was in foreclosure and now it is in receivership.
  • It’s supposed to be sold sometime in 2015/2016.
  • The previous owner walked out on it about 3 years ago.
  • Several businesses have moved to Pinole, that were once in Hilltop.
  • The sign is not owned by the mall, it is owned by the City/Community.
  • The few people that come to our district now, are because they already know of the mall. Once the mall is under construction, what will happen to all the small businesses around the area that count on the traffic that comes to/from the mall?

The sign is not meant to save the mall. That is a big misconception going around. The sign is meant to help all the businesses in and around the mall. The sign will provide an opportunity for the businesses to save themselves.

Our District has been told, “Let’s wait and see what happens” when we asked for help before. The first thing that happened was that the largest retail owner in the world left our mall in foreclosure, and in turn, left all the small businesses around the area to suffer because they stopped putting time and energy into the mall. It was our District that let the City know that the mall owner left, so they could focus needed attention in the District.

The ordinance will be City-wide. The sign will be for our District. Our District needs help. If we do the “let’s wait and see what happens” approach again, who knows what will happen.

Thank you for your time. For more information you can visit our website at

Also see Marilyn Langlois' response, below.

A Response to Cesar's Letter

Clearing the Air on Digital Billboards

by Marilyn Langlois, Richmond Planning Commissioner

As a Planning Commissioner and member of a special ad hoc committee of Planning Commissioners and Design Review Board members, I have been studying this issue for over a year. In addition to multiple discussions at Planning Commission meetings, I’ve had numerous in-depth conversations with Richmond residents, business owners and City staff, hearing arguments both in favor and opposed to allowing digital billboards in Richmond. Those in favor generally believe they will help revitalize the Hilltop Mall, and those opposed generally find them unsafe and unsightly.

I appreciate that there are differing points of view within the RPA on this issue, and would like to correct some misinformation contained in the opinion piece submitted by Cesar Zepeda on the RPA website, with regard to the following two claims of potential benefits to the City.

  • Big loophole in requirement for removal of existing stationary billboards
    The ordinance would require a sign company that currently has stationary billboards in Richmond to remove 10 times the square footage of those stationary signs for every digital billboard erected. There are currently two sign companies with stationary billboards, Clear Channel and CBS Outdoor. If any other sign company applies for a permit to erect a digital billboard, no existing stationary billboards will be removed. Alternative amenities would need to be negotiated with the City Council, but we’d still have all those billboards. Mr. Zepeda refers to an offer by an unnamed sign company to pay the cost of erecting a digital billboard in the Hilltop area. There’s no evidence that this company is either Clear Channel or CBS Outdoor, and even if one of them wanted to build a digital billboard in Richmond, they could use another company as a front to apply for the permit.
  • No anticipated additional revenue to the city
    At both the Planning Commission and in the staff report for the City Council, Planning staff made it clear that “revenue sharing opportunities for the City are limited”. If a digital billboard is located on private property, such as Hilltop Mall, there is no way for the City to receive any revenue beyond the nominal initial permit fees. Mr. Zepeda claims that the City would receive about $200,000 in revenue annually for each digital sign, but does not provide evidence for this. The staff report states: “Generally, cities may only collect rent and/or a share of the advertising revenue if the sign is located on city-owned property.” Currently there are no City owned properties in C-3 districts that would be suitable for digital billboards.

With regard to claims of widespread support for digital billboards among Richmond residents, some of this support may be based on having incorrect information on the two issues discussed above.

The Planning Commission received much input in favor of digital billboards from several residents and businesses, including one of the Homeowners Associations in the Hilltop area. We did not receive a formal position one way or the other from the Fairmeade-Hilltop Neighborhood Council. The Richmond Annex Neighborhood Council and the Marina Bay Neighborhood Council both opposed allowing any digital billboards along the I-580 scenic corridor. In addition, many residents, including some from the Richmond Annex Neighborhood Council, expressed concerns about allowing digital billboards even in C-3 areas, due to potential hazards and blight. Mary Selva of Richmond Annex did extensive research, contacting planning departments in many other cities in the Bay Area and found that very few of them currently allow digital billboards.

I met extensively with representatives of one of the Hilltop Mall businesses, Courtyard/Marriott, who told me that the proposed sign would include both a digital billboard for offsite advertising of various products as well as a stationary component with the names of several Mall businesses. They believe that having this sign would bring more customers to their businesses. This would be desirable if it were actually the case, but the reality with these kinds of signs is that in the second or two when drivers pass them on the freeway, their eyes will be drawn first to the digital portion, with various car, beer, soda, etc. ads. I question whether drivers will notice the stationary names of businesses any better than they do now with the existing Hilltop Mall sign.

At the Planning Commission, I asked staff to include findings with evidence supporting the notion that placement of digital billboards would bring measurable benefits to local businesses, and they were unable to provide any.

Whether this ordinance passes or not, it’s clear that much more will need to be done to truly revitalize Hilltop Mall, as Mayor Butt discussed extensively in his State of the City address in January.

Finally, beyond lack of evidence for any real benefit to the Richmond residents or businesses, the issues that swayed me the most at the Planning Commission to vote against allowing digital billboards are safety and aesthetics.

The proposed signs would be huge: 14 x 48 feet, and two-sided each, with illuminated advertisements changing every few seconds. Stationary billboards, which are no longer allowed to be built in Richmond, are already a blight on our community, and this addition would further damage the look of our city.

When it comes to safety, studies can be found making a wide variety of claims from no impact on accidents to significant increase of risk for accidents. The sign company representatives, who have an obvious profit motive, push the former, but residents provided the Planning Commission with the latter as well. We need to follow the precautionary principle, and opt for the safest way to go, when in doubt. Next time you drive by a digital billboard on I-80 or I-880, notice how your eyes are drawn to that illuminated, changing image, which is exactly what the advertisers want. Then think what the consequences could be of not having your eyes on the road, even for a split second.

Allowing digital billboards in Richmond would set us on a course that could not be reversed if they end up not bringing the benefits many hope for. It’s a slippery slope that we should not go down.

Celebrating the Richmond Greenway

United for Unity Park

Here's a video that celebrates the work and achievements of the Signers of Friends of the Richmond Greenway, including the RPA, in the creation of Unity Park.

A Better Richmond is Happening

From Point Molate to the Youth Summit

by Nicole Valentino

Saturday, April 19th, while many adults and families of the Richmond community were celebrating the grand reopening of Point Molate Beach, young people of the city gathered for the 2014 Richmond Youth Summit at the Richmond Memorial Auditorium. Mayor Gayle McLaughlin hosted the event to bring young people of diverse backgrounds together to provide direction and make clear their priorities for the City of Richmond from a youth perspective. Building on the efforts of youth and youth advocacy groups in Richmond, the event focused on identifying and supporting youth leadership, creating a youth council, and introducing a form of democratic budgeting called participatory budgeting. In addition to dynamic workshops, the Summit also included inspiring speakers, live entertainment, delicious food, a raffle, and lots of fun. Learn more here.

Community and Council Pressure on
"Maximum" vs "Average"

Mitchell Rescinds
Controversial Memo

Planning director Richard Mitchell has withdrawn his ruling that maximum building height really means the average height of all the buildings in the project. Since every building counts the same, the ruling would mean that "maximum" height of 35 ft in medium density residential areas would actually allow four small 15 ft buildings and a 115 ft building with a massive footprint.

Although apparently Mitchell made this ruling to benefit a specific development, community members argued that this would affect all of Richmond. Community members tried to appeal Mitchell's ruling but were told there could not be an appeal except for the Council to overturn the memo. The community members led by Kathryn Dienst, a retired urban planner, circulated well reasoned documents about how Mitchell's interpretation would destroy or muddle many critical areas of the general plan.

Vice-Mayor Jovanka Beckles put an item calling for overruling the memo on the Council agenda. Shortly after that Richard Mitchell issued a letter saying that the memo was withdrawn and that the issue would be dealt with in another fashion more specific to the area of the initial project although this might involve an amendment to the General Plan.

Planning Commission to Consider

LED Advertising Signs in Richmond?

Proposed LED Sign, 132 ft tall

By Marilyn Langlois, Richmond Planning Commissioner

Richmond's Planning Department staff are currently working on a proposed modification in the sign ordinance to allow for LED advertising signs with changing images under certain circumstances. The proposal will first be presented to the Planning Commission to make a recommendation to the City Council, possibly at the May 1 Planning Commission meeting. We'll keep you informed if this date changes.

After participating on an ad hoc committee of Planning Commissioners and Design Review Board members, I continue to have serious concerns about the advisability of allowing LED signs in Richmond. It would set us down a slippery slope of ever-increasing and constantly changing garish visual images advertising mostly products for big corporations.

These types of LED signs are extremely distracting to drivers. They are designed to try and keep drivers' eyes looking at them and their contents for a longer period of time than stationary signs, and that's what the advertisers want too. I want drivers focusing their attention on the road.

The proposed ordinance changes would allow for large, billboard sized LED signs at major shopping areas such as Hilltop and Macdonald/I-80, after going through the DRB and getting a conditional use permit from the Planning Commission. Depending on design requirements these could be either horizontal (what the advertising companies prefer) or vertical (as recommended by DRB member Mike Woldemar). Another provision would allow for sign companies like Clear Channel and CBE Outdoors to get a permit for LED billboards at major shopping areas if they agree to permanently remove some of their other stationary billboards in other parts of Richmond.

There is currently a somewhat smaller LED sign with changing images at Pacific East Mall, which was installed during a time when such signs were allowed only after following a specific approval process (including noticing the neighbors and vetting through DRB), In that case, the required process was not followed, however, and the legality of that sign has been questioned. Since then, the ordinance was modified to prohibit LED signs.

The big sign companies are garnering support from businesses at Hilltop with the promise of erecting a big sign to advertise the Mall free of charge, but at what price? I doubt people will be any more likely to go to Hilltop Mall if LED signs are introduced there. A big billboard with changing images will draw attention to the various products advertised on those LED images, and not to the stationary listing of businesses affixed to part of the sign. Besides, there are other reasons why Hilltop businesses are struggling. Could it be that the presence of Walmart has caused many of them to fold, as has happened in other cities? Why doesn't Walmart (one of the world's wealthiest corporations) pay to erect a visible, attractive stationary sign that lists all of its Hilltop neighbors?

If the proposed ordinance is adopted, what if Hilltop businesses still don't do any better after the LED sign is in place? We'd be stuck with the constantly changing advertising slide show there and most elsewhere in the city.

Mitchell Throws Out General Plan?

When "Maximum" is not Maximum

The Richmond General Plan 2030, adopted after years of intensive discussion and review, provides among many other things, that the height of buildings in "Medium-Density Residential" areas shall be "Up to 35 ft."

But Shea Homes wants to build a development that includes buildings up to 46 feet in height. In order to accommodate Shea Homes, Planning Director Richard Mitchell has interpreted the General Plan to say that the 35 ft. height limit in Medium-Density Residential areas is really the "average" height of all the buildings in the project. Thus even though over half the buildings in the planned project are at least 46' in height, when averaged with other buildings, the entire project meets the 35' height limit.    

If this interpretation stands there is really no effective height limit on buildings in these areas, potentially making every limit in the General Plan meaningless.

On the good side.  If Richmond lets this interpretation go through then the next time the police stop you from exceeding the speed limit of  35 miles an hour, you can point out that your average speed since you left home (maybe including stops at red lights) was really much less.

This issue will undoubtedly make its way to the Planning Commission and City Council.

See story in Richmond Confidential.

Dedication of Bobby Bowens Progressive Center   

Ribbon Cutting

Larisa Sanders, Bobby's daughter, leads the ribbon cutting marking the formal opening of the Bobby Bowens Progressive Center, August 11, 2013

Speakers at the ceremony included:

  • Jovanka Beckles, Richmond Councilmember
  • Trevaj Siller, Bobby's Youth Groups
  • Dr Edwina Perez-Santiago,North Richmond activist Bobby Bowens
  • Dr. Jeff Ritterman, Activist Health Professional
  • Bill Jennings, Friend, neighbor, fellow BPP alumnus
  • Elaine Brown Black Panther Party
  • Eduardo Martinez, RPA
  • Millie Cleveland, SEIU 1021
  • Andrés Soto, Communities for a Better Environment
  • Najari Smith, Spoken Word Contest
  • Leann Bowen, Bobby's daughter
  • Gayle McLaughlin Mayor of Richmond
  • Damion King, M.C., BMOER  

Sponsored by 

  • Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA)
  • Black Mobilization, Organization, Education Richmond (BMOER)
  • Communities for a Better Environment (CBE)
  • SEIU 1021-Richmond

Honoring Bobby Lee Bowens, brave Black American soldier, committed Black Panther, dedicated health care worker, Richmond activist and community educator

1021 Macdonald Ave

In Memoriam:  Fred Davis Jackson

In Memoriam: Fred Davis Jackson

In this clip, Fred speaks at a 2008 demonstration in response to an anti-Latino racist hit-piece put out just prior to the election.  Afterwards, Fred sings  "If the Ozone is Gone" at the kick-off party for Jovanka Beckles' 2010 campaign for Richmond City Council..  Thanks to djoVida who posted this clip on YouTube.  See his website at  


Fred Jackson Book Cover
Fred's recent book

Fred Jackson

February 6, 1938 - September 8, 2011

Fred Jackson's life was celebrated at two public ceremonies last week -one at the North Richmond Missionary Baptist Church on recently named Fred Jackson Way in Fred's North Richmond Community and the second at the Richmond Auditorium. Both featured Fred's music and poetry along with very moving testimonials from people who worked with him and whose lives he so greatly affected as well as political leaders. His extended family well represented Fred in their love, vision, music, and humor.

Here are the remarks of Mayor Gayle McLaughlin at the celebration.

Fred Jackson was one of the most unique people I have ever met. I'll never forget the first time I really came to know Fred. This was at a RPA forum, where Dennis Kucinich who was a 2004 candidate for president, came to speak. Fred was one of the artists that performed at this forum. He sang one of his incredible songs that so many of us know. He sang Too Early Too Young. He referred to the lives of young people being lost to street violence. He sang his heart out that night, as was always his practice.


But Fred know all too well that street violence is rooted in the inequities and injustices of our society and worked his whole life to reverse those injustices and inequities.

Fred was the kind of person that we aspire to be - a person of deep conscience who understood that unity is the only way forward. Fred was an educator and a social activist. I remember how he marched all the way to Sacramento in 2004 in the March 4 education to speak out for equitable school funding. Following that, I remember how he participated in the Fast for Education for 19 days.

Fred with Gayle

Fred was a peacemaker and community builder. He stood strong both against the death penalty and against violence in our streets. He stood for young people and for seniors, giving of himself, his resources, his voice and his commitment on countless causes, projects and activities.

Whenever there was an injustice to turn around, Fred was there. He marched, he talked, he sang, he wrote, and he stood up for those whose experience left them marginalized. He spoke with love; he spoke with kindness; he spoke with passion and sometimes with frustration. But he never lost his belief in the human experience. Fred understood that being a human being was something very special and it had to do with cultivating and shaping the human race, and that being a human being did not mean simply being one of the competing members of our society. As a result of this deep understanding, I believe Fred came so very much closer than most to exemplifying what a real human being looks like.

Fred at Climate Justice Rally
Fred at Climate Justice Rally

And Fred was also an artist - he so loved the experience and joy of creating. You could see his face light up when he spoke about his creations - his songs, his books, his plays. I was deeply moved by his art because it was so rich, so thoughtful, so vibrant, and so uplifting. He had the ability to make others enjoy what he enjoyed... and it was so clear to me that he enjoyed creating art that was socially meaningful. He was able to reach out and touch that universal thread of humanity that exists in us all, no matter how deeply it may be hidden. And when he captured our attention, he smiled that all-knowing smile that yes he had succeeded in reaching another human being. I thank you Fred for reaching me.   

--Gayle McLaughlin  

A Short History of How the Neighborhood Councils Started in the City of Richmond, California

by Lucretia Edwards

Lucretia Edwards is the model of the citizen-activist.  For some 50 years she led the way in Richmond in the fight against racism in the city, for opening the Bay shoreline to all of its citizens, against the polluters, and for empowering neighborhoods.

Following is an article Lucretia wrote describing the beginnings of a system of functioning neighborhood councils in Richmond.  We have come to accept these councils as normal, and do not realize that most cities in this country do not have them and therefor are missing a very vital democratic institution. The article is still used by the Pt. Richmond Neighborhood Council to help orient newcomers but it deserves a far wider circulation. -- Margaret Jordan



Lucretia EdwardsDear Neighborhood Councils,

A long time ago, in 1956 to be exact, I (then a newcomer to Richmond) had the job and excitement of being involved in the formation of the first Neighborhood Council in our city. This made quite an impression upon me, and I have followed the waxing, and waning, and waxing again of this concept in Richmond ever since. It seems to me that this manifestation of democracy has great merit, in that it is a simple and pleasant method of bringing people together and getting things done, in which everyone can join according to his or her inclination and ability.  

Appreciation of this form of participatory democracy has grown in my mind during the recent cynicism and deterioration of the political process, and I am grateful to have had in my life a mechanism which provides both hope and inspiration. Though not all the people in our city believe in or avail themselves of Neighborhood Councils, it occurs to me that we are fortunate in our city to have this process in place. Which brought me to the realization that many people take Neighborhood Councils for granted, since they do not know much about the origin of the idea. This exceedingly brief digest of the Neighborhood Councils initiation and progress is an effort to correct this lack of knowledge (or absence of memory), in the hope that it will provide recognition and appreciation of a positive asset which is happily available to us.

The Story Begins

The development of Neighborhood Councils in the City of Richmond came about, because of the upheaval of the city, occasioned by the Kaiser Shipyards that were located in Richmond during World War II.
In 1940, just prior to World War II, Richmond was a tidy industrial town of 23,OOO, centered around the western terminus of operations of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad, the deep-water port, and the Standard Oil Company (later Chevron).

The African American population of the city at this time was 270 persons, almost all of whom lived in a 4 block area in the northern part of the city. Then World War II brought the Kaiser Shipyards to Richmond, and in 1942, the population jumped to 50,000, in 1943 to 93,776, and by 1946 it hit its peak of 110,000. To house these workers 17,000 units of Lenham Act War Housing units were built on the empty lots on the south side of town. The shipyard workers were recruited throughout the United States, and a great number came from the southeastern part of the country. A high proportion was African ­American, primarily from the rural agricultural areas of Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Mississippi. From the same states and at the same time, Caucasian workers were recruited, and southern blacks and southern whites carried their historical and cultural frustrations and hostilities with them.

When world War II ended, it was assumed by the pre-war, original "core community", that the shipyard workers would return to the far-flung states and towns from which they had come. But this, of course, did not happen, since Richmond, California was preferable in many ways to the circumstances from which many of the shipyard workers had come. While some of the immigrants did leave, and some of the housing units were cleared, many people remained. The chaos of the life in a town with a quadrupled population was compounded, post-war, by unemployment of the shipyard workers, to the extent that the city was given the doubtful distinction of an article in Look Magazine entitled "Richmond, California, a City Earns a Purple Heart".

One of the factors that perpetuated the confusion of life in Richmond at this period was the fact that most of the people who came during the war years did not have any feelings of belonging to the City. It was not possible when they came pouring in to give them this feeling, since the City was hard put to simply house them. Also, there was the opinion that the newcomers were only in Richmond as temporary workers. Subsequently, many of the residents who came as shipyard workers had no feeling of participation in the life of the City, and no sense of responsibility for the welfare and future of the City. They might experience strong emotional feelings of pride and commitment to the neighborhood in which they lived, but for the city of Richmond, their feelings ranged from indifference to annoyance.

In 1954, because it was recognized that this was an atmosphere with a potential for unrest and trouble, the United Community Defense Services was requested to make a survey of social services in the City. This organization served the same function for cities that during World War II the United Service Organization (or USO) served for individual servicemen, in evaluating problem situations and providing wise counsel to alleviate them.

The survey recommendation was that a Community Welfare Counsel be formed and that a director be found to work with budgeting and to coordinate planning on community problems. And so it was that in 1955, the West Contra Costa Community Welfare Council was reactivated and Dr. Ralph Kramer (later with the University of California at Berkeley) was hired as director.

In 1956, the Group Work and Recreation Section of the Contra Costa Community Welfare Council inaugurated a pilot demonstration project in the North Richmond area, to determine how best to provide for the needs of the  neighborhood through more effective health, welfare, and recreation services.

The neighborhood people originally felt that what they most needed to bring them together, and provide a centering of the community was a building, a community center. But after a year of hard work in small groups and large groups, in surveys and discussions and study, the people came to feel that what they really needed was a more effective means of communi­cation with the world outside their somewhat isolated and segregated boundaries.

Neighborhood Councils, a new concept brought from the east coast (where it had been borrowed from early colonial history and Town Hall meetings) were described and the neighborhoods decided that they liked the idea. So, in 1956, the North Richmond Neighborhood Council was formed, the first neighborhood council in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Funds ($19,566) were secured from a small family foundation in San Francisco, the '
Columbia Foundation, to finance this program for three years. There was an assumption that the city would accept financial responsibility for the project if the validity of the concept was demonstrated and proved to be successful. Funding was primarily needed for the' cost of staffing. Also for materials needed for Councils, such as research, minutes, agendas, and reports .

            1958   Four Neighborhoods were active. They program was financed by the Columbia
Foundation, the City of Richmond (under contract), and the Redevelopment Agency.

            1959   Six Neighborhood Councils were active. The Program was financed by the Columbia Foundation and the contract with the City of Richmond. The Columbia Foundation funds were running out. An exploration of other funding sources, including a request to the United Crusade, for financial support was unavailing. The Columbia Foundation gave an additional $1,500 as a "rescue" grant.

            1960   Eight Councils. Program financed by the Columbia Foundation and the contract with the City of Richmond. (The Redevelopment contract was not renewed). There was a request in the 1960-61 Budget for the two staff jobs for this program, which was turned down due to an austerity budget.  

            1961   Fourteen Neighborhood groups were clamoring for staff services. Financial support under contract with the City of Richmond now provided twenty hours per week to the program, or ha1f of one job. The Columbia Foundation funds were exhausted (staff member, Gertrude Hall. replaced by Arnie Leonard).

            1962  The Neighborhood Council program is to continue on a half-time basis until July 1st, at which time the City will once again consider its contract with the West Contra Costa Community Welfare Council (staff member Arnie Leonard replaced by Ed Grosselfinger).  

The problem faced by the Neighborhood Council movement was not failure, but success. The idea, once launched, was instantly popular, and with good staff work and training, the Neigh­borhood Councils were speedily organized. They made many requests of the administration and City Council of the city of Richmond through the Coordinating Committee of Neighborhood Councils, requests that were reasonable and usually granted.

But the City Council was increasingly alarmed at the growing power of the citizen groups, and refused to budget funds for staff that would accelerate the progress already made. Gradually funds were squeezed down, and when the proposal was made to have a Human Relations Commission in the City of Richmond, it seemed a natural development and a comfortable solution that funding for staff should be diverted to the new Commission.

So for a time, the Neighborhood Councils, as a viable element in the life of the City, went into a decline through lack of the nourishment of robust funding. But an interesting thing happened. During the few stimulating, triumphant years of the Neighborhood Councils early development (1956-1963) a network had been established throughout the City. Black and white people worked together on projects for their neighborhoods, and then for larger projects that affected all the neighborhoods. Friendships were made, trust was created, and success was experienced. People realized that what they did, working together, made a difference—that they could be responsible for change. Citizens had experienced democracy in action, and it was exhilarating!

During President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty, Richmond, because .of its history .of problems, was eligible, and the recipient of, federal funds for many different projects. One of them was the Model Cities Program, and it was because of it that the Neighborhood Councils experienced a renaissance. One of the stipulations for acceptance of a Model Cities program was a Citizen Participation element. Remembering the success of the Neighborhood Councils, the City reactivated the Councils in order to meet the criterion.

The original Councils had been a grass-roots movement, and had drawn their strength and vitality from the needs of the chaotically disorganized neighborhoods after World War II. The second wave of Neighborhood Councils was opportunistically superimposed from above, to serve a bureaucratic requirement, and to some extent backed by the spontaneity and enthusiasm that had marked the first, very successful program. However, under capable staff guidance, the concept flourished, and the 30 Neighborhood Councils (and their attendant Coordinating Committee of Neighborhood Councils) today are a significant and positive element in the framework of the city's life.

The Neighborhood Council provides the machinery far citizens to function directly in shaping their awn community life. When people help to plan programs and shape policies, as they do in a Council and in the Coordinating Committee of Councils, they understand and believe in what they are doing far better than when this work is done far them and presented as an accomplished fact. For along with the long hours, hard work, and responsibility needed, goes a sense .of pride and involvement. The Neighborhood Council ideas can restore the old-fashioned meaningfulness and friendliness of cooperative community living, and can enrich the lives of those willing to undertake the creative hard work necessitated by this form of group dynamics.


--Lucretia Edwards


See Tom Butt's article on Lucretia