Tom Butt
  E-Mail Forum – 2017  
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  Rebranding Richmond, But For Whom? Local Youth Weigh In
January 26, 2017

I have heard from hundreds of people on the Mayor’s Office Marketing and Branding initiative, and I have shared this feedback through E-FORUMs. I was, however, a little taken aback by this article in the Richmond Pulse, the “community news and media outlet, committed to amplifying the voices of the city's under-served residents” with “reporting led by young people, with the intent of serving the entire community.”

The Richmond Pulse seeks to “create dialogue, and find solutions to, the health issues that plague the Richmond, California community.” So here goes my end of the dialogue,

The young people quoted ranged from 16 to 22, and they all want to retain Richmond’s current strapline, “City of Pride and Purpose,” and none of them likes any of the hundreds of logos that have been submitted. As suggested, I certainly invite RYSE to propose one or more logos. This remains a work in progress.

Two of the young people were concerned that a marketing effort might bring wealthier people to Richmond. Maryalexis said, “Rebranding Richmond would not change us as a community, but [it would] increase the population of people who are wealthy.” Isabella noted, “this is an opportunity for gentrifiers to sweep [in] here like they did to Oakland and San Francisco. Marisol complained that while I [Tom Butt] see “water and all green,” she sees only “concrete and all gray.”

I get it that everyone has different graphic preferences and different perceptions of how to characterize Richmond. We have already seen that from the hundreds of responses I have gotten and shared. All of them professed to be proud to live in Richmond. I find it promising that these young people love their city and do not want it to change.

However, I submit that Richmond has to change. Its current trajectory is simply unsustainable. Balancing Richmond’s annual general fund budget continues to be a major challenge and is only getting worse. Roughly a third of Richmond budget comes from one property owner – Chevron. And RYSE, mentioned by one of the writers, wants to add another $4 million to Richmond’s budget to fund Kids First with no idea where the money will come from.

Richmond’s financial woes are closely connected to its economic demographics. Richmond has the lowest median family income of any of the Bay Area’s 101 cities except one – San Pablo. And San Pablo funds its budget largely from one source – gambling. Low income translates into low sales taxes and low property values, the source of most of the City’s tax revenue. We need to not only boost the wealth of and opportunities for people who already live in Richmond; we need to attract more businesses, more jobs, and yes, more residents to help provide the services we both need and want. Poverty is not something I want Richmond to be proud of.

Ronvel downplayed the City’s crime rate by writing, “I remember when it was ranked #6 on the most dangerous cities in the U.S. Now, it doesn’t even fall close.” In 2016, Richmond had 25 homicides, surpassing even the homicide rate of Oakland and making it once again the Bay Area’s murder capital. We just had our first homicide of the new year yesterday. This is unsustainable and needs to change. Whether you are the RPA and believe in addressing the root causes of crime with programs for young people, or you believe in an adequate police force, both take a lot of money that we don’t have.

The purpose of marketing and branding is to help attract the people, businesses, capital and jobs to Richmond that we so desperately need. It’s all about opportunity, not about taking something away from those already here. I have never been convinced that “City of Pride and Purpose” has a compelling message that will actually motivate people to explore a future in Richmond. And while I appreciate the expressions of love and pride I am hearing from these young people, including at least some affiliated with RYSE, I find it curious that it is not the same message I get from them in other venues. What I typically hear from RYSE affiliates is that Richmond is a dangerous and inhospitable place that doesn’t support the needs of its young people and leaves them permanently damaged due to the traumatic stress of living with violence and poverty. I can’t sell Richmond using that message. That is the message that has been offered as the basis for Kids First. Even the Pulse defines itself as “serving the underserved [read “youth”] community and recognizes “health issues that plague the Richmond, California community.” These are things we want to change.

I wonder if any of the young people quoted in this article actually read the Richmond Research Report? Everyone interested in this subject should read it. What it told us is that while people both in and out of Richmond feel we are moving in the right direction, they have strong negative perceptions of our city, mostly associated with crime, blight and poverty. Chevron is seen as both a negative and a positive. But they also have positive perceptions, including history, parks, shoreline and waterfront, the Bay Trail, transportation and location. Reinforcing positive perceptions is an effective marketing strategy.

Marisol may see “concrete and all gray,” but with Richmond’s 3,000 acres of shoreline public parks, she has remarkable access to the public waterfront, which provides the best opportunity to attract outsiders. The attendance at Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical park is now over 70,000 a year. If each visitor bought just a sandwich at Assemble or a t-shirt at the Rosie the Riveter Trust store, that’s a million dollars a year for the Richmond economy!

I appreciate the Pulse article, and I’m not trying to pick on young people. I have always seen Richmond as a work in progress, more of a challenge than a source of pride. If there is anything I take pride in, it is the people who work for the City, the people who volunteer in hundreds of non-profits, boards and commissions and yes – even the City Council – who work every day to make Richmond a better place. A place we can truly take pride in some day. Part of changing Richmond is doing a better job selling Richmond, both to its residents and to those who are elsewhere.

Tom Butt

Rebranding Richmond, But For Whom? Local Youth Weigh In

January 25, 2017
First Person, Various Authors | Image via Mayor Tom Butt

EDITOR’S NOTE: In 2015 Mayor Tom Butt initiated a full-scale branding and marketing study for the City of Richmond.

According to Mayor Butt, the goal of the study was “to make sure that the way we represent ourselves as a City is reflective of our community and that we establish an image and improved reputation with our residents, neighbors, businesses and visitors.”

After raising over $100,000 in donations, the Mayor’s Office contracted
Nashville based, North Star Destination Strategies, to lead the rebranding effort.

Last year, the mayor’s office, North Star and a focus group of locals developed a new tagline to represent the city: Richmond, California. Bay Front. Home Front. Out Front.

The city’s current motto is The City of Pride and Purpose.

After being directed to focus on Richmond’s image as a waterfront city,

Northstar this month, presented a collection of new proposed logos for the City of Richmond. Mayor Butt has asked
for feedback from the public on the logos.

Richmond Pulse youth reporters gave their critique of the proposed logos and tagline as well their own suggestions for rebranding Richmond.

 ‘This new motto will leave us working-class families unseen’

We grew up with the slogan, “Richmond is the city of pride and purpose.” We work hard in school to find our purpose in life and we take pride in what we do. Underneath the violence in Richmond, there are hard working people that struggle daily to provide for their families.

Richmond is also home of Rosie the Riveter and we show pride in that. We had the Black Panther party here and we showed our purpose through them fighting for equal rights. Richmond is full of dreamers and hard workers. This is why I am proud to say that I come from Richmond, the city of pride and purpose.

Rebranding Richmond would not change us as a community, but [it would] increase the population of people who are wealthy. This will leave us, who are working class families or families in poverty, unseen.

-Maryalexis Gutierrez, 16

‘We do not need a rebranding’

I honestly think we do not need a rebranding of our motto. The city should stay “The city of pride and purpose” for our youngsters to have something to live up to. As a child, I didn’t quite understand the motto … but I grew to love it because after graduating from UC Berkeley, I found that statement to be very true. I am very proud to be from Richmond and I find that our community and all the people within the community have so much potential. I absolutely love my city and would not prefer to be in any other place. 

-Mitzi Perez, 22

‘The new slogan is for outsiders’

Ehhh, personally I think our current slogan is better. “The city of pride and purpose”… it has a really encouraging vibe to it in my opinion, and well, as a city, Richmond is constantly growing. I remember when it was ranked #6 on the most dangerous cities in the U.S. Now, it doesn’t even fall close. As a result, people around the area are starting to feel better about being raised here, we really are starting to develop pride in our city, we’re starting to find a purpose in life and not resort to violence. I, for one, think that the city’s slogan is for the people living in the city. The new one just sounds like it’s for outsiders.

-Ronvel Sharper, 17

‘An AstroTurf label’

I understand Richmond has a stigma as well as a persona placed on us. Rebranding is an amazing idea. Change is good but I don’t agree with the way people are going about rebranding Richmond. I feel “Bay front, home front, out front” does not describe my community. [The logo] looks like an AstroTurf type of label that has no powerful message or raw meaning behind it. Richmond residents have so much more fire and edge to them. I am forever a resident of a city where pride and purpose is prioritized because it’s the truth… and not because it sells.

-Anure McGee, 19

‘A whitewashed view from Point Richmond’

Out of all of the logos, I like 11 and 12 but it doesn’t completely represent Richmond. I’ve lived in Richmond my entire life and we have more to offer than just beautiful scenery. My city represents more than just a ship, birds, water and a bridge. We represent unity, diversity, creativity and community. We live up to its phrase, “ The city of pride and purpose.”

I honestly feel that the logos are whitewashed and are views from the mayor, not the people of Richmond. Mayor Tom Butt lives in Point Richmond, [which is] majority white and wealthy. Butt is able to view the San Rafael Bridge from his home. But the people of Richmond, like myself, don’t have the same views and experiences like he does. Butt sees water and all green. I see concrete and all gray.

Butt should have had contacted RYSE Center, a nonprofit organization located in the heart of Richmond, on help with creating a logo instead of first contacting NorthStar Destination Strategies, since there’s a lot of brilliant and creative artists that go there almost every day. It’s time for the prideful youth of color and the people of real Richmond to be heard from because we all have a purpose.

-Marisol Lara, 17

‘An opportunity for gentrifiers to sweep in’

The word “rebranding” gives me an uneasy feeling right off the bat. I understand the ideal thought of uplifting Richmond and shining the light on our city, but I feel this is an opportunity for gentrifiers to sweep [in] here like they did to Oakland and San Francisco. I personally love our original brand and think we should stick with it. “The City of Pride and Purpose” represents who we are as a community and the growth we have achieved over time. Our pride is Richmond and our purpose is to keep the original beauty of the people and the history alive and well.

-Isabella Zizi, 22