Tom Butt
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  Response to Guest Commentary "How Richmond Could Become Baltimore or Not"
May 23, 2015

The Guest Commentary on May 17, 2015, “How Richmond could become Baltimore or not,” (copied at the end of this email) by Alice Huffman is grossly and embarrassingly inaccurate and is a disservice to both the City of Richmond and UC Berkeley. Trying to make a case that Richmond will be the next Baltimore unless a Community Benefits Agreement is executed right now with UC Berkeley for the proposed Berkeley Global Campus is outrageous.
Her attempts to compare Richmond to Baltimore are factually inaccurate. Baltimore unemployment is 8.4% while Richmond’s is 5.4%, lower than both the national average and the California average. In 2014, Richmond had its lowest homicide rate in 33 years while  Baltimore had the fifth-highest murder rate last year among major U.S. cities — 37.4 per 100,000 people, according FBI statistics.

She goes on to characterize the Global Campus as a “Richmond … development project,” when in fact it is a UC Berkeley project. She writes that UC Berkeley has “asked for $100 million in investment from local taxpayers,” which has no basis in fact.

Finally, Huffman criticizes a “handpicked … so called ‘working group’ to pay lip service to the community's demands, without offering any concrete commitments.” The Working Group she inaccurately describes consists of 21 people, seventeen of whom represent Richmond and/or West Contra Costa County. All are recognized and credible community leaders. Only four seats on the Working Group are affiliated with UC Berkeley.
Working Group members representing the community are as follows:

  • City of Richmond (1 seat): Bill Lindsay, City Manager
  • Community-based Non-profit Organizations engaged in Education, Workforce Training, Business Development, Economic Development (4 seats): Amanda Elliott, Executive Director, Richmond Main Street; Joel Mackey, Executive Director, West Contra Costa Education Fund; Jane Fishberg, Executive Director, Rubicon; Tamisha Walker, Community Organizer, Safe Return Project
  • Faith-based Organizations (1 seat): Cristina Hernandez, Executive Director, Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization (CCISCO)
  • Business (2 seats): Joshua Genser, business owner, member of Richmond Chamber of Commerce and Council of Industries; Richmond Chamber of Commerce: Kyra Worthy, CEO of 4 Richmond.
  • West Contra Costa Unified School District (1 seat): Marcus Walton, Director, Communications, WCCUSD
  • Contra Costa College (1 seat): Tammeil Gilkerson, Vice-president of Academic and Student Affairs, CCC
  • Youth (2 seats): Currently being recruited
  • Philanthropy (2 seats): Jim Becker, President and CEO, Richmond Community Foundation; Diane Aranda, Program manager, The California Endowment
  • Richmond Neighborhood Coordinating Council (1 seat): Donald Woodrow, President, Richmond Neighborhood Coordinating Council
  • Labor (2 seats): Margaret Hanlon, Executive Director, Contra Costa Labor Council, AFL-CIO: Greg Feere, CEO and Vice-president, Contra Costa Building and Construction Trades Council (Alternate – Aram Hodess)

Richmond is no Baltimore for many reasons, including the fact that Richmond’s police department has received nationwide recognition for community relations and minimal violent outcomes.

The Working Group has been meeting for only a few months, and any tangible development of the Global Campus is still years off. Currently, there is no funding, and no buildings have been designed --- much less under construction. There are no employees and no scramble to displace Richmond residents.

Huffman’s commentary is part of a series of demonstrations and editorial attempts to hijack a worthy project that will bring much to Richmond by groups with unrelated agendas, including AFCSME, which has labor issues with UC Berkeley, and ACCE, which is pushing rent control in Richmond.

We need to focus on making the Global Campus a reality, not on using it as a political football. A Community benefits Agreement may well be an outcome, but it is premature to force the issue right now.
In fact, the Minutes of the April 23, 2015, Working Group meeting state:

In response the question: “Will UC Berkeley enter into legally binding agreements?” The answer is YES. As indicated throughout the life of the Working Group and stated clearly in the Joint Letter of Commitment to Strengthen Community Partnerships Between UCB, LBNL, and the Richmond Community, signed by Chancellor Dirks and the director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab on April 22, 2014.

Let’s stay focused on getting the Global Campus done.
Tom Butt
Guest commentary: How Richmond could become Baltimore or not
By Alice Huffman, guest commentary
© 2015 Bay Area News Group
Posted:   05/17/2015 09:00:00 AM PDT
The protests that recently engulfed Baltimore have sparked a much needed debate about the systemic problems that plague too many American cities.
As many commentators have rightly noted, the tragic death of Freddie Gray was not the sole cause of this civil unrest. While it was undeniably the spark, it was the conditions of hopelessness and powerlessness that have plagued West Baltimore (and too many other American cities) for decades that provided the fuel.

These conditions were brought about by the loss of a once-thriving manufacturing sector, by failing schools, a lack of economic opportunity, a deeply flawed criminal justice system, unemployment and poverty that far exceed state and national averages and the failure of political leaders to do anything about it.

It's not as if they did not have an opportunity to do so.

Some parts of Baltimore -- particularly on the north and east sides of town -- have been the beneficiaries of billions of dollars in public and private investment: expanding Johns Hopkins University, redeveloping the waterfront area, Camden Yards, and the list goes on.

When this happened, few protections were in place to keep low-income local residents from being displaced from their homes and replaced by more affluent new arrivals willing to pay higher prices. Workers were brought in from out of town to work on the projects. Critical investments in public education and workforce development -- to prepare local for the jobs that new development would present -- were woefully inadequate at best.

And as a result, poverty in West Baltimore became even more concentrated -- increasing by 30 percent since 1970. It was and remains a virtual powder keg just waiting to explode. It ruptured in 1968, and again late last month.

Sadly, many of the same underlying dynamics exist today a little closer to home -- in Richmond.
Though considerably smaller, Richmond is like Baltimore in many ways. It is a majority-minority city. It has an industrial past that has left economic and environmental consequences that persist to this day. And like too many parts of Baltimore, Richmond is plagued by high poverty, high crime, high unemployment and underperforming schools.
But perhaps most important, Richmond is on the precipice of its own multibillion-dollar development project -- an expansion of UC Berkeley -- that could either help address these underlying conditions or perpetuate them.
To their credit, the people of Richmond clearly recognize this. Everyone from the City Council and faith leaders, to community, labor and student groups have come together to demand that UC Berkeley sign a legally binding Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) that would ensure this project addresses the very same community needs that continue to afflict Baltimore.

This kind of agreement would guarantee the new project offers living wage jobs for local residents, procurement policies that support local businesses, protections against mass displacement, and expanded educational and mentoring opportunities for local youth.

In short, it would guarantee a win-win -- both for UC Berkeley, and for Richmond.
But despite more than a year of pleas by community members, UC Berkeley has thus far refused to sit down and negotiate such an agreement. Instead, it has asked for $100 million in investment from local taxpayers, and hand picked a so called "working group" to pay lip service to the community's demands, without offering any concrete commitments.
This is not good enough.

By signing a legally binding CBA with Richmond, UC Berkeley has the power to heed the lessons of Baltimore and to set a new national standard for urban renewal.

This simple step would also be an important demonstration of good faith at a time when UC is asking for more public investment and facing mounting criticism over its commitment to communities of color.
To be clear, I am not questioning this commitment -- I am counting on it.

Alice A. Huffman is president of the California NAACP and an alumna of UC Berkeley.