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  New Nonprofit Has Big Plans to Transform Richmond Greenway
September 7, 2010

New nonprofit has big plans to transform Richmond Greenway

By Katherine Tam
Contra Costa Times

Posted: 09/01/2010 12:00:00 AM PDT

Groundwork Richmond member Will Osuna talks about the group on the Richmond Greenway in...
The Richmond Greenway, once a set of abandoned railroad tracks slicing through the city, has come a long way in its new life as a walking and biking trail. But it still has a ways to go toward becoming a lively, popular destination.
Nancy Baer sees the path as a canvas worth investing in. She envisions flowers concealing the chain-link fence that separates the greenway from the adjacent BART tracks. She sees trees taking root, seating areas and attractive entrances that beckon locals.
"It might begin to become more inviting," the Richmond resident said. "More people on the greenway is what makes it safer."
Baer and others are launching a nonprofit trust to transform the 3-mile greenway into a local draw, and to make better use of other underused or abandoned properties.
Groundwork Richmond is just getting off the ground -- Executive Director Will Osuna starts Wednesday, and the group is planning a website -- but it is already dreaming big. Ideas for the greenway include more urban gardens, kiosks and an amphitheater.
"(We want to) make it prettier, nicer "... add little areas where people can congregate, some amenities for children, so people can enjoy something in their own back yard," Osuna said.
The greenway will be a starting point. Groundwork wants to fix other blighted areas by planting trees, improving parks and restoring creeks. They want to help plan Miraflores, an affordable and market-rate housing development on 14-acre brownfields where prewar Japanese-American flower nurseries once flourished.
Groundwork will collaborate with residents and local groups, and train youth, Baer said. They've already connected with locals such as Iyalode Kinney, who builds community gardens in the Iron Triangle and North Richmond, and the social services nonprofit Opportunity West.
The Richmond trust is one of 19 nationwide under the Groundwork USA umbrella. It is the first in the Bay Area and the second in California; the other is in San Diego. The trusts typically operate in places with environmental problems and poor communities peppered with brownfields.
The National Park Service supplies seed money in the early years until the trusts can stand on their own financially. Groundwork Richmond will have $105,000 to work with this year, including $25,000 from the city. The group has applied for three grants and is waiting to see if they will receive any funds.
Annual goals will be incorporated into an agreement with the city and National Park Service, Baer said.
There will be hurdles. Weeds grow voraciously along the greenway. Trees planted in February have not survived. Thieves steal copper wires from light poles.
Board members see the challenges as significant but not insurmountable.
"We'll begin to see small changes in a year, but the idea is to build incrementally," Baer said. "It'll take a while for Groundwork to reach its full strength, but you'll see more and more each year."
Katherine Tam covers Richmond. Follow her at Twitter.com/katherinetam.