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  A "Green" Christmas for Richmond
December 3, 2010

As the holiday season approaches, Richmond is in the spirit of the season, ripping the wrappings off nearly $5 million of dollars in grants under its 2010 Christmas tree to improve the quality of life with new parks, cutting edge zoning codes and environmental justice initiatives.

  • A $1.9 million state grant will help rebuild Elm Playlot, recipient of one of 62 parks statewide to land a portion of Proposition 84 funding for creating new parks or fixing existing ones. The state received 478 applications, rewarding those that involved residents in the planning. See Contra Costa Times story at the end of this email.


  • The Strategic Growth Council will be meeting December 3, 2010, to consider awarding Urban Greening Grants. The City of Richmond has been recommended for $1,664,319 for the “Miraflores Sustainable Community Greenbelt Project.” The Richmond Community Redevelopment Agency was awarded the funds to assist with the Greening Baxter Creek. The State of California recognized the financial and programmatic commitment of the Agency to the Miraflores Housing Development. This grant award was extremely competitive; only 23 applicants were selected statewide out of 140 applicants. $16.6 million was awarded out of 115 million requested. The Miraflores Housing Development received the highest statewide grant award.
  • Richmond also received $895,210 from the Strategic Growth Council for a “FormBased Code for Richmond's Commercial Corridors.” The proposal will assist the City with developing a form-based code for three of Richmond's commercial corridors to accommodate compact, mixed-use, infill development near transit, enhance existing neighborhoods, and provide increased housing and mixed-use choices.  The three corridors, San Pablo Avenue, Macdonald Avenue, and 23rd Street, are also identified as Priority Development Areas (PDAs) by ABAG and MTC.  The FBC will be formally adopted as an amendment to the City's Zoning Code.  44 applications of 153 submitted were recommended for funding.
  • Richmond's application was among the top 10 ranked applications (#7). 


  • The Watershed Project received $74,940.00  for the Richmond Greenway Native Plant Garden Bioswale in the iron Triangle to Create vegetated bio-swale along a rails to trails project to treat and improve infiltration of storm water pollutants from adjacent streets. In addition, plant native shade trees on the other half of the trail section. The Watershed Project, a non-profit organization with a 13-year history of working in the Richmond community, will lead the Richmond Greenway Bioswale and Native Plant Garden (Greenway Garden) project, a community based effort to transform a section of abandoned railroad into a transportation, education, and recreation resource for the community. The project will set an example for the City by using low impact biological and cost effective ways of removing storm water pollutants, as well as encourage green approaches to cleaning local storm waters. The Greenway Garden will restore a wildlife habitat in the heart of urban Richmond, educate the surrounding community about local gardening and demonstrate how the native habitat can reduce the need for pesticides in adjacent vegetable and fruit gardens. The project is designed to improve water quality in the Bay by reducing storm water and urban runoff pollution, increasing awareness of Low Impact Design best management practices, and increasing environmental literacy in the Richmond community.
  • The Rose Foundation's New Voices Are Rising Program is a youth-focused, community-driven environmental justice and civic engagement project that works with students from low-income communities and communities of color in Oakland and Richmond, California.  With a $25,000 EJ Grant, the Rose Foundation will help students explore the concepts of environmental justice, and allow youth to learn by actively engaging in legislative and regulatory processes. Participating students attended an intensive summer program focusing on strategies for addressing climate change, as well as a series of classroom presentations on environmental health, environmental civics, and the connections between air pollution environmental health disparities in low-income communities and communities of color the East Bay. They will learn about the federal, state, and local roles in developing laws and regulations that impact climate change, air pollution, and community health, and they will also learn key analytical tools and public speaking skills that will encourage them to participate effectively in public efforts to improve air quality.   The Rose Foundation works with EXCEL High School Law & Government Academy, 2607 Myrtle Street in West Oakland, among other institutions in Oakland and Richmond.


  • Urban Habitat will use an Environmental Justice Small Grant to support the Community Climate Action Engagement Project in Richmond, California. The purpose of the project is to 1) increase the Richmond community's ability to engage in the development of an Energy and Climate Action Plan (ECAP); and 2) to engage Richmond's decision makers in addressing the impacts that climate change has on the city's low-income communities and communities of color. The organization will accomplish this by creating and implementing a "Climate Justice Curriculum" that connects climate change to local and regional efforts around transportation justice, affordable housing, equitable development and quality green jobs. It will build public awareness regarding the threats of climate change and the benefits of developing a local ECAP through public alerts and briefing sessions, and work to increase the capacity of Richmond residents and stakeholders to help them participate effectively in planning efforts related to climate change.
  • November 29, 2010, EPA Grant to Help Several Bay Area Cities Identify Source of PCB Contamination. The Environmental Protection Agency has dished out a $5 million grant that will be shared by several cities around the bay to address PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, a potent carcinogen that has caused contamination in the area’s waters. San Carlos, San Jose, Oakland and Richmond in particular are the cities that are slated to split the funds so that the sources of PCBs can be identified. According to health officials, if people eat fish caught in waters with PCB, it can cause cancer and the public overall has not been greatly informed about the risk certain waters pose. The study funded by the EPA grant will be the first of its kind to examine stormwater. Mercury News points out the following: “But the grant highlights just how ubiquitous the problem is, and how little water quality experts know about where the legacy pollutant still resides. Thirty-one years after they were banned from manufacture for electrical transformers, circuit breakers and hydraulic systems, toxic PCBs persist in urban stormwater runoff into the bay. ‘I always think, there goes the creek,’ said Jan O'Hara, a water quality engineer and program manager with the San Francisco Regional Water Quality Control Board. Every year, the rainy season forces PCB-laden sediment into storm drains and out to the bay.” Also a problem is sorting out how to address the PCB-laden sediment that fishes feed on, as well as the birds affected from eating the PCB-laden fish. Over the next 20 years, the Water Quality Control Board hopes to reduce annual PCB discharge by 95 percent, which is no easy task based on the lack of confirmation about where the toxins are coming from. Mercury notes that “The EPA grant tacitly acknowledges what scientists have known for decades: that PCBs are still ubiquitous, despite a manufacturing ban in 1979.” However, due to a loophole, the issue has remained a problem and the EPA is now reportedly re-examining its rules. For more, see here.


Park plans come to life in troubled Richmond neighborhood

By Katherine Tam
Contra Costa Times

Posted: 11/24/2010 02:38:10 PM PST
Updated: 11/24/2010 02:38:11 PM PST

This is the story of how a neighborhood park can be reborn.
Few children frequent Elm Playlot in Richmond's troubled Iron Triangle. They're kept at bay by the crime and graffiti. But residents want more for their neighborhood: a safe place where children can play and feed their imaginations.
They will soon have it.
Residents are redesigning the play lot at Eighth Street and Elm Avenue with a zip line, rock cave, village of child-size buildings and a $1 snack bar, features found in no other Richmond park.
"This new park will be an oasis for our kids and our community," said Carmen Lee, who lives near the park and sits on the Elm Playlot Action Committee. "Finally our voice has been heard and our prayers have been answered."
A $1.9 million state grant will help make it happen. Elm Playlot was one of 62 parks statewide to land a portion of Proposition 84 funding for creating new parks or fixing existing ones. The state received 478 applications, rewarding those that involved residents in the planning.
"There's no better process than to get residents in a half-mile radius and ask, 'What do you want?'" said Patti Keating, grants chief for state parks.
Other funding includes $127,000 from the city, $45,000 from The California Endowment and $10,000 from First 5 Contra Costa.
This isn't your average park renovation. Too often, locals say cities pick out-of-town contractors to install playground toys plucked from a catalog.
The evolution of Elm Playlot is different. About two years ago, residents -- the ones who know best what their neighborhood needs -- brainstormed at meetings.
Locals formed a committee that researched other parks outside Richmond for ideas, then spent five months at the Scientific Art Studio on B Street creating an architectural model of what they envision.
They received ample help from the Richmond nonprofit Pogo Park, the city and others who worked pro-bono to assemble the 75-page grant application or teach them how to construct a model.
There will be no out-of-town contractors, they say. Instead, the city will administer the state grant with Pogo Park. Neighborhood businesses and residents will be hired to rebuild the park.
"We want the money to stay in the city. It should go into the people in this neighborhood," said Richmond resident Toody Maher, head of Pogo Park. "We want to make the people who live around the park feel it."
The task of transforming one of the city's poorest neighborhoods is considerable, given the Iron Triangle's generational struggle with poverty and crime. Organizers say rebuilding the park can create a ripple effect that changes the neighborhood for the better.
"A lot of it is delivering on commitments," City Manager Bill Lindsay said. "There have been a lot of hopes realized and we'll be able to deliver on that. We need to see more of that happening and that can help generate change."
If it works here, they say it can work elsewhere in Richmond and beyond.
Organizers expect to break ground next year.
Maher and her friends bought the 2,500-square-foot property next door and will raze the house to expand the play lot to 23,500 square feet.
A fence will encircle the perimeter. A park host will open the gate every morning, sounding a bell to alert the neighborhood children.
Children will use the zip line and play in a global village featuring child-size houses from around the world such as an igloo, yurt and mud hut. There will be a tot lot with water and sand, and areas for picnics and board games. A snack bar and farm stand will offer locally grown food for $1.
Organizers plan to work with local groups to offer programs such as arts and crafts and parent education. A peace tent with trained workers will help resolve conflicts.
"Elm Playlot has amazing bones; it could be a jewel," Maher said. "You have to put life in it, give them a reason to come."