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Partnering to Create a New Richmond

Case Story

The City of Richmond was once known as one of the unhealthiest, crime-ridden cities in the Bay Area. But after establishing key partnerships and adopting an innovative general plan, the city has landed an important economic development opportunity that could signal its shift to becoming one of the most desirable business locations in the region.

Summary

The City of Richmond, like many other cities in the state, is working hard to address critical issues related to public health and the built environment.  Key concerns in Richmond, as elsewhere, include air pollution, water and soil contamination, pedestrian and bicyclist injuries, chronic disease, crime and violence.  In order to address these concerns, city leaders launched Healthy Richmond – a community-driven vision intended to put in practice a simple concept:  that Richmond will become a place where all children are safe, healthy and ready to learn.  

The vision informed an updated general plan that includes an innovative health element which is helping guide new projects as well as community revitalization efforts.  The health element and other aspects of the Healthy Richmond initiative provide the framework for long-term, sustainable changes in health, safety and economic prosperity throughout the community. Collaborative partnerships have helped Richmond leverage substantial grant funding that is being used to engage the public, create plans and implement sustainability projects. These efforts have resulted one of the most important economic opportunities the city has seen in decades.   

Program Highlights

  • With assistance from a $255,000 grant from the California Endowment, the City of Richmond conducted an extensive, two-year public participation effort to engage residents and other essential stakeholders about their concerns and ideas to help make Richmond a better place to live. The information obtained during these meetings was the foundation for an innovative general plan update which includes a unique public health element.
  • The collaboration is strong and continuous.  Nonprofit organizations routinely meet with government leaders, businesses and residents to engage in dialogue about how to make Richmond healthier and safer. This was not a one-time effort, but ongoing and meaningful.
  • The city is making strides in brownfield remediation, reducing blight by removing vacant buildings and abandoned cars and enhancing green spaces through city and volunteer planting efforts. In addition, the planning department is working to expand farmers markets, and the city is cooperating with the county to ensure that every resident who is eligible for food stamps gets them.
  • Richmond now has over 35 active neighborhood associations as well as many other citizen groups and civic organizations partnering up with the police department to reduce violence and fight crime. Since 2009, the city of Richmond has seen a dramatic reduction in homicide rates.

Lessons  Learned

  • Think big. Richmond uses a Health in All Policies framework, which is the practice of taking an integrated and comprehensive approach to bring health, well-being, and equity considerations into the development and implementation of all policies, even those not typically in the health care/medical setting. It is based on the understanding that good health enhances quality of life, improves workforce productivity, increases the capacity for learning, strengthens families and communities, supports environmental sustainability and helps reduce overall economic and social prosperity for the city and all of its residents.
  • Build community consensus and good will. You must have buy-in from a broad cross-section of stakeholders groups. Building public will is a two-way process; political leadership is important as a means of sparking community action, while community action can stimulate even more political leadership. 
  • Create lasting partnerships. Coordinated partnerships around health care in schools, parks, urban gardens and the arts have created important opportunities for nonprofit organizations, private companies and residents to participate in the transformation of Richmond.
  • Leverage local assets through partnerships. The City of Richmond has effectively partnered with philanthropic organizations, academic institutions, local non-profits and others to position public health at the center of public planning and dialogue. 
  • Set expectations and show perseverance. The process of achieving sustainable change can be slow and sometimes frustrating. You must anticipate the need for continual education and motivation.

The Rest of the Story

Since its founding in 1905, Richmond has been known for its industrial and port uses. Housing, parks, schools and street infrastructure were developed to accommodate the growing numbers of workers attracted to employment opportunities generated by the sudden growth of the shipbuilding industry during World War II. As industrial activity subsided, large parcels of underutilized and often contaminated sites were left behind. These sites now pose significant health concerns for residents. Pollutants, noise, industrial blight and decades of disinvestment have significantly impacted the quality of the urban environment.

A Chevron oil refinery still calls Richmond its home. For the past 100 years, the city has grown around the refinery, which remains the city’s largest employer and taxpayer. Richmond sits across the bay from San Francisco and adjacent to Berkeley, but has not enjoyed the prosperity of the other cities. Now, the City of Richmond is hoping to change that.

With the adoption of its General Plan 2030, that includes a unique Community Health and Wellness Element, the city is focusing on healthy development to address priorities related to the design of the built environment and public health.

Goals of Richmond’s Updated General Plan Health Element

  • Improved access to parks, recreation and open space
  • Expanded access to healthy food and nutrition choices
  • Improved access to medical services
  • Safe and convenient public transit and active circulation options
  • A range of quality and affordable housing
  • Expanded economic opportunity
  • Complete neighborhoods
  • Improved safety in neighborhoods and public spaces
  • Improved environmental quality
  • Green and sustainable development and practices
  • Leadership in building healthy communities

Local non-profits and state organizations have teamed up with city officials and residents to help implement this vision.  The California Endowment served as the catalyst for helping Richmond integrate health into its planning and government operations. In 2009, the Endowment adopted Richmond as one if its “healthy communities” and pledged to invest ten million dollars over ten years to create partnerships to reduce health disparities by specifically focusing on safety, land use and economic opportunity. Richmond staff and local officials say that partnering and collaboration is the key.

In recent years, Richmond has engaged neighborhood associations, citizen groups and civic organizations to partner with the police department to reduce violence and fight crime. The City of Richmond is also working to expand after school programs for young students and has partnered with community organizations and educational institutions to create the RichmondBUILD Academy. The initiative focuses on educating and empowering students to make better choices about their health, nutrition and lifestyles.

The Strategic Growth Council (SGC) has been a prominent partner in helping transform land use patterns in the city by providing nearly three million dollars in grant funding to support a variety of projects, such as the city’s efforts to create and implement a form-based code that seeks to transform and revitalize three major commercial arterials and develop brownfield acreage into central transit-oriented mixed-use development. As part of the project, the city hopes to redevelop a 14-acre housing complex with up to 336 dwelling units, 110 of which are affordable rental units for seniors.

The plan also includes revitalization of the city’s civic center, which will soon be home to city offices and will bring daytime uses back to the area and surrounding BART station. Other projects made possible by funding from the Strategic Growth Council include the remediation of existing soil and groundwater contamination, the restoration of Baxter Creek to 1.7 acres of open space with a connecting bike trail and an urban greening plan aimed to expand and enhance green spaces in the city. 

The City of Richmond is dedicated to becoming an environmentally and economically sustainable city. Through ongoing efforts to save energy and money, reduce its environmental impact, and improve economic vitality the city is hoping to create new opportunities and a better quality of life for its residents.

Richmond’s efforts are paying off. In 2011, the city was chosen as the preferred site for the second campus of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which has the potential to bring millions of dollars to the city and new possibilities for economic growth. As part of its effort to be selected, the city put up a billboard along Interstate 580 that flashed “Richmond ♥ LBNL” and had more than 500 residents write personal notes to lab employees inviting them to the city.  Lab officials, who hope to move into the new location by 2016, say the enthusiasm of the city and its residents played an important role in selecting Richmond as the location for the new campus.

The City is now working with the Haas Business School at UC Berkeley to capitalize on the economic opportunities so that the laboratory campus investment benefits Richmond residents and businesses located within the city limits.

Resources

The Caifornia Endowment-www.calendow.org/
East Bay Bike Coalition -www.ebbc.org/?q=node/9654
Lawrence Lab Second Campus: http://richmondbaycampus.lbl.gov/
Interviews: Bill Lindsay, Richmond City Manager

Lena Valesco, Richmond City Planner

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