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All the Good News That's Fit to Print

Lot’s of good news in the local media this weekend. Crime is down in Richmond; the Plunge rehabilitation is starting and a new Bay access point for kayakers was opened on Friday. Preservation awards will be presented Monday afternoon.

I spent a warm and sunny Saturday at East Brother Island with a dozen skillful volunteers installing desalinization equipment, repairing 70-year old diesel engines and scoping out major electrical system repairs. Life is good.

Crime down in Richmond

By Karl Fischer
West County Times

Article Launched: 05/10/2008 06:21:07 PM PDT

Parolee Lorenzo Hutson scurried off the corner of Seventh Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, unnerved by abrupt recognition of the patrol car gliding up beside him.

"I think he might run," Richmond police Officer Tom Hauschild said quietly.

Hutson might have thought so, too, but that idea lasted just a few steps up a nearby driveway. The lanky parolee saw who sat behind the wheel. A pensive expression washed across his face, the look of a man who suspects he's jail-bound.

"That you, Hauschild?" the 25-year-old asked tentatively. "Guess I'm going, aren't I?"

Answer: Yes.

Hutson went to jail Thursday afternoon, suspected of violating conditions of his parole.

Specifically, he went because his girlfriend keeps calling his parole officer, complaining about his behavior. And he went because Hauschild spent most every work day the past two years patrolling this section of central Richmond, learning all about Hutson, his neighbors, his family, his neighborhood.

He knows their names, and he knows their mamas. And, more often than not, he knows their baby-mama drama — far more than enough familiarity to pick them out of the scenery from blocks away.

"You just can't keep messing with that girl," Hauschild said as they drove to City Jail, a note of sympathy filtering through his voice.

Department officials credit the coziness of Richmond's community-oriented patrol-beat scheme, in part, with a 20-percent plunge in serious crime during the first four months of 2008 compared with the same period last year. That includes a 16.8-percent drop in violent crime.

"I think the numbers show the real benefit to the police-community partnership," police Chief Chris Magnus said. "And it seems like in every neighborhood of the city ... we're seeing people become more attentive to crime, and working more with each other and the police on it."

Endemic street violence continues to trouble flatland neighborhoods. Department data show that emergency calls to report gunfire climbed 3 percent, and homicide detectives have investigated 11 killings this year, compared with eight at the same time in 2007.

But crime in Richmond decreased in every other statistical category the department tracks, from aggravated assault (down 10.4 percent) to robbery (down 23.3 percent) to auto theft (down 21.8 percent).

"There are a number of variables that have all kind of come together. Some of them are obviously attributable to entering a second solid year of Chief Magnus' neighborhood beat-policing philosophy," said Capt. Allwyn Brown, who supervises the patrol in central Richmond. "In 2008, we were able to keep the vast majority of beat officers on the same beats. That makes a difference."

The central policing district, which includes the Iron Triangle, Belding Woods and Shields-Reid neighborhoods, perennially bears the brunt of much of Richmond's crime, particularly violent crime. But through April 22, data show no homicides in those neighborhoods and a 45-percent year-over-year drop in assault, along with a 44-percent plunge in reported robberies.

Not all neighborhoods improved. Richmond's south side suffered through early-year retaliatory shooting patterns and, on April 22, accounted for eight of the city's killings, twice as many as the previous year. Aggravated assault also increased by 37 percent in those neighborhoods.

As a consequence, community perception of crime in Richmond remains gloomy as ever.

"People think it's getting worse," said Jackie Thompson, chairwoman of the Tent City Peace Movement and a resident of the south side. "But there are a lot of good things going on in Richmond. People pick up on all the negative, but there's a lot of good stuff going on out there, too."

Tent City, a grass-roots anti-violence group, will pitch tents in city parks and organize a program of community-building activities during the week of May 18, partly in response to recent troubles.

Organized community efforts such as Tent City have grown in prominence in recent years, as has participation in neighborhood watch programs and other forms of neighborhood governance, Magnus said.

An increased emphasis from the department on engaging the community — such as a leafleting project this week in the Fairmede/Hilltop neighborhood to draw attention to local unsolved killings — has dovetailed with community-led efforts to counter another entrenched truism in Richmond: that nobody talks to police.

Feedback from neighborhoods about individual beat officers remains overwhelmingly positive, Magnus said. Residents appear to appreciate the customized service.

Even on their way to jail.

"I really can't make no excuse for my situation," Hutson said from a holding cell, as Officer Hauschild filled out his booking paperwork. "But this is too much. I been in too many times already."

Reach Karl Fischer at 510-262-2728 or kfischer@bayareanewsgroup.com.

Historic pool in Richmond finally gets makeover

By Katherine Ta
West County Times

Article Launched: 05/10/2008 04:03:50 PM PDT

The long-awaited rehabilitation of Richmond's 82-year-old indoor swimming pool — the largest and oldest such facility in the Bay Area — is about to begin, seven years after officials declared it unsafe and shut the doors.

Crews are expected to start reconstruction in early June and finish their work in a year, city engineer Rich Davidson said. The $5 million project, funded through a mix of city money, state grants and donations, includes: rebuilding the exterior walls; reconstructing the roof to bring back the original windowed belvedere; restoring the historic viewing decks; fixing the pool tank; making mechanical, electrical and plumbing upgrades; and painting the interior and exterior.

Those who have pushed to save the municipal natatorium welcomed the news as the light at the end of a decade-long tunnel.

"We're thrilled we got this far, and we know it will open eventually," said Ellie Strauss, director of the Save the Richmond Plunge Trust. "There's nothing as sad in a community as an empty building."

The work that begins next month is just the first phase. Showers and bathrooms need to be renovated, and funding for that hasn't been entirely secured, Davidson said. Save the Richmond Plunge Trust landed a $500,000 grant from the Valley Foundation, but must come up with $500,000 in donations to match it.

Today, the Plunge sits closed to the public on East Richmond Avenue at the gateway to Point Richmond. A banner pleading "Save the Plunge" dangles from the top.

In its heyday, the natatorium and its warm waters drew Bay Area residents and even big names in the national swimming world. Children learned to swim. Families splashed in the pool for play. Seniors exercised to stay mobile and limber.

Strauss visited the Plunge every morning for aqua aerobics for about 30 years.

"It was almost mystical," she said. "It would be cold in the morning, and you'd walk into that great, big building. The water was warm, and you could get in and feel good."

The warm water was what drew the crowds, but something quite different brought the Plunge to this site: oil.

In the early 1900s, the land belonged to resident John Nicholl, who thought there was oil underground, according to a city document. He drilled more than 1,000 feet in the hopes of finding it, but discovered no crude, only fresh water.

Nicholl donated the land to the city. Voters passed a bond measure to build a pool on the site, considered an ideal spot because the fresh water combined with salt water piped in from San Francisco Bay was believed to be therapeutic.

The Plunge opened in 1926, a stunning, two-story building with an indoor pool, fountain-like feature, second-floor observation balconies, meeting space and an open truss ceiling.

But time, earthquakes and humidity gradually took their toll on the building. The city had trouble keeping up with repairs. Crews patched here and there, at one point altering the roof and removing the original windowed belvedere that reduced air circulation. Officials deferred expensive improvements, including seismic retrofits.

By 2001, with the building unstable, cracks in the walls, and mechanical and plumbing systems failing, officials shut the doors. Swim classes moved to the Richmond Swim Center at Kennedy High School.

Debate ensued over whether the natatorium ought to be torn down. But supporters hoped to save it and planned garden tours and Plunge jams with free swimming, music and food, to raise money and awareness. A documentary about the Plunge on KQED caught the attention of an architect, who is now working on the project.

Supporters raised more than $210,000 to get rehabilitation efforts to this point, and now will focus on raising $500,000 for the second phase of renovation, Strauss said.

"It won't be easy, but we'll raise it," she said.

Reach Katherine Tam at 510-262-2787 or ktam@bayareanewsgroup.com.

To learn more about efforts to save The Richmond Plunge, go online to www.richmondplunge.org or e-mail info@richmondplunge.org.


Richmond reclaims boat ramp access from years of debris

By Katherine Tam
West County Times

Article Launched: 05/09/2008 07:39:53 PM PDT

Richmond residents John Burton and Ken Chainey grabbed their kayak Friday afternoon and walked the short distance from Cutting Boulevard to a public boat launch, dipped their vessel into the water and headed out for a ride.

All it took was a couple minutes, but that wasn't always the case.

For years, this public strip of land that led to the Santa Fe Channel and connects to San Francisco Bay was partially blocked by containers and cluttered with debris. It was hard to see the Bay from the street, so few knew access to the water was even there.

A group of residents decided to change that in 2000. They lobbied the city and donors to help transform the land into a public viewpoint or a kayak launch site.

The eight-year effort culminated Friday in the reopening of Boat Ramp Street, at 700 Cutting Blvd., with eager kayakers and boaters coming to inaugurate the site.

"It's picturesque, and it has great access to a lot of placid water," Burton said.

San Rafael resident Penny Wells added: "You could put in here, paddle two miles down the channel to Brooks Island and back and get some exercise."

Wells is a member of Bay Access, a group that supports securing access points where people can hop into the water and make their way from place to place around the Bay. She counts about 100 sites around the Bay where people can launch vessels, but this one is different because it is developed for nonmotorized boats, she said. That means windsurfers and people with kayaks, canoes and dragon boats don't need to share the ramp with motorized boats, which can make it more convenient, she said. It's also in a neighborhood spot.

Richmond has long been home to an avid boating community where small boat-building and repair shops flourished. For many years before the Bay Trail and Miller-Knox Regional Shoreline came to pass, Richmond's public access to the shoreline was Boat Ramp Street, but the property was so cluttered that it was hard to access.

The push to reopen the street began in 2000 when members of Trails for Richmond Action Committee learned that a local boat yard had applied to the city to expand its use into that street, said Nancy Strauch, a member of TRAC. The committee asked officials to develop the land instead into a public viewpoint or kayak launch ramp.

The group gathered a work party to clear the site of debris. They secured about $100,000 in grants and donations to develop the ramp.

Boat Ramp Street is much easier to access today than it was before. Still, the uninitiated might have trouble finding it, tucked among the strip of shops on Cutting Boulevard (look for the gap in the road marked by a yellow, an orange and a blue flag).

Supporters hope to remedy that by putting up additional labeled banners, said Bruce Brubaker, a member of TRAC.

"It's kind of a hidden gem," he said. "But we want to let more people know about it."

Reach Katherine Tam at 510-262-2787 or ktam@bayareanewsgroup.com.

Richmond to honor custodians of history

By Chris Treadway
West County Time

Article Launched: 05/09/2008 11:08:40 PM PDT

Several individuals and organizations that have worked to document and preserve aspects of Richmond's history will be honored at a public reception Monday by the city's revived Historic Preservation Awards program.

While this is the second time awards have been presented, the program has been dormant for eight years.

"We have plenty of catching up to do," said Rosemary Corbin, former Richmond mayor and a member of the city's Historic Preservation Committee. The reception is being held in recognition of Historic Preservation Month.

This year's honorees are:

·  Donna Roselius, founder of the Point Richmond History Association.

·  The Point Richmond Gateway Foundation Inc. for the rehabilitation of the Santa Fe reading room.

·  The Richmond Convention and Visitors Bureau for its Point Richmond Walking Tour brochure.

·  The Home Front Festival by the Bay for six historic ads for the 2007 festival.

·  The Richmond City Council for its support of historic preservation.

Roselius, a nominee for the award in 2000, has moved to Oregon but is coming back for the ceremony.

"She worked tirelessly to document and preserve Richmond history," Corbin said. "She's one of those people who never sleeps."

Her contributions include writing, "This Point in Time," a book on the history of Point Richmond, and starting a like-named newsletter that is still being published.

The Gateway Foundation led the effort to save and return the 105-year-old Santa Fe reading room to active use. The restored Point Richmond building, designated as historic by the city, is now a Mechanics Bank branch.

The walking-tour brochure was one of the first major undertakings by the then-new convention and visitors bureau in 2005.

The award to the City Council "is really for the last 10 years of councils," said historic preservation committee member Sandi Genser-Maack, which is why former mayors Corbin and Irma Anderson have been invited to the reception along with current Mayor Gayle McLaughlin.

In addition, the local National Park Service uni t will present its own honor, the Home Front Award, to historian and cultural planner Donna Graves, who helped initiate the Rosie the Riveter Memorial and has been involved with the Rosie the Riveter World War II/Home Front National Historical Park since its inception.

"These are wonderful projects," Corbin said. "We want to thank everybody working to conserve our history, and we hope it gets more people involved."

The first and only awards presented to date were in 2000, when four recipients were honored. The inaugural award winners were the Richmond Chamber of Commerce for its "Honor the Past, Imagine the Future" map listing historical sites as well as parks and places where public art is displayed; Rosemere House, a 1903 Queen Anne-style cottage in south Richmond; Shirley Ann Wilson Moore, author of "To Place Our Deeds: The African American Community in Richmond, California, 1910-1963"; and Lucretia Edwards, a longtime activist for environmental, civil rights and preservation-related causes.

Organizers intend to make the revived awards an annual event.

"Richmond has a long, rich history," Corbin said. "There are a lot of citizens who helped preserve what they have managed to preserve, and they deserve to be thanked. There's a lot of pride if you talk to people who have been here a long time, and that's what we want to build on. This is the kind of thing that drums up spirit from the community."

Reach Chris Treadway at 510-262-2784 or ctreadway@bayareanewsgroup.com.


·  What: Historic Preservation Awards reception

·  When: 4 p.m. Monday

·  Where: Richmond Museum of History, 400 Nevin Ave.