Richmond mayor: North Richmond annexation costly, but just

Richmond council proceeds tentatively on North Richmond annexation

By Richmond Mayor Tom Butt

Tonight, the Richmond City Council will discuss and possibly vote on whether or not to proceed with annexation procedures for North Richmond. If the vote is to annex, it will set in motion a complicated voting procedure that will give North Richmond residents and landowners an opportunity to reject the proposal.

The decision on annexation largely turns on intangibles rather than the detailed fiscal analysis. The fiscal impact study shows that annexation will result in Richmond having to fund around $2 million more in services than we would receive in tax and fee revenue from North Richmond and possibly require an even larger investment in capital equipment. Several years in the future, this deficit could move to a break-even position or better, but that’s very speculative.

From a fiscal standpoint, annexation is simply bad business for Richmond.

But that’s not what the decision will turn on. Councilmembers will see annexation as righting a wrong that dates back to and before WWII. There is a reason North Richmond was never incorporated, and that’s because it was largely poor and black.

In her 2001 book on the history of Richmond, “To Place Our Deeds,” Sacramento State history professor Shirley Moore describes prewar North Richmond this way: “By 1940, therefore, most of Richmond’s African American population was concentrated in and around North Richmond, one third of which lay inside city limits, with the rest located in the unincorporated area. It was in close proximity to a garbage dump, it had few street lights, and its unpaved streets became muddy quagmires in the rain. North Richmond lacked adequate fire and police protection, depending on a single sheriff’s car to patrol the entire county section. Before the war North Richmond had been a rural, ethnically diverse area where blacks lived alongside Portuguese, Italian, and Mexican Americans. However, by 1943 North Richmond had become virtually all black. By 1947 nearly 14,000 African Americans lived in the city, one fifth residing in North Richmond.”

Many see annexation as the right thing to do, reversing over 70 years of discrimination.

Equally divisive is the discussion of quality of services, particularly related to law enforcement and crime. Current residents of Richmond are concerned that services related to their street maintenance, code enforcement and police, already perceived as inadequate, will deteriorate further. North Richmond residents, while no more satisfied than Richmond residents with these services, are dubious that Richmond will make any improvements.

Impossible to predict or quantify, the effect of annexation on crime, particularly violent crime, could be a boon for both Richmond and North Richmond. Before leaving Richmond, former Police Chief Chris Magnus was a strong supporter of annexation, believing that crime prevention and police services for “One Richmond” would eventually diminish the effects of geographically-based gang rivalries and result in less crime, a higher conviction rate and better service. Crime remains the number one concern of Richmond residents, and if North Richmond annexation can cut crime, many see that as a good investment.

Finally, the projected $2 million deficit may not be inevitable. Before making the final decision on annexation, the City of Richmond could bargain with Contra Costa County for a higher than normal share of tax revenue, a win-win for both agencies. North Richmond is also a fiscal loser for the County, and annexation would improve the County’s cash flow as much as it would negatively impact Richmond’s. Maybe a 50-50 split of the projected $2 million deficit would be fair.

Finally, some portion of North Richmond could come under Richmond’s zoning for marijuana cultivation, with the potential for collecting a 5 percent sales tax. One large pot farm could generate as much as $1 million annually in taxes.   

For those of you who want to delve deeper into the history of North Richmond, I recommend the following series from 2011 when the Robert Rogers, now working on the staff of Supervisor John Gioia, was a student reported for Richmond Confidential:

Journey into North Richmond

Also see:

Robert Rogers also provided the following information and sources:

From this Mercury News article, “Richmond police Chief Chris Magnus favors having officers in his 189-member force routinely patrol North Richmond, but he is limited by the current mutual aid agreement with the Sheriff’s Office, which mostly centers on emergency response. “I’d like to see North Richmond annexed into the city,” Magnus said, “I think over the long run it would allow for more cohesive policing services and better public safety outcomes, but that’s a political decision at the end of the day.”

The historical and racist origins of the City’s and County’s decisions decades ago to exclude North Richmond are documented here and here here.

The public safety challenges of the current system, with County Sheriffs patrolling this tiny pocket inside the city, a pocket whose public safety challenges are inextricably linked to the city, are documented here and here

The literature documenting the harm to low-income communities of color that are unincorporated county areas within a city’s sphere of influence is clear, as is the harm that it done to the surrounding city that has to face the impact of public safety and planning challenges within its borders — over which it has no jurisdiction. At the same time, residents of North Richmond have their political voices inherently muffled due to the size of the county and the distance of county government from their community. Stanford Law Review here.

An excerpt from the article:

“Yet annexation of low-income islands and fringes presents some advantages (or at the very least, silver linings) for cities that are not captured by cost-revenue calculations: guarding the health, safety, and welfare of neighborhoods already within municipal lines and removing irregular jurisdictional gaps in city territory. Cities stand to improve conditions and property values in incorporated neighborhoods that border unincorporated urban areas by creating uninterrupted city policing territories, improving the conditions of shared roads, providing sidewalks to protect area children and improving safety around schools located in unincorporated urban areas. By alleviating inadequate law enforcement, street lighting, and waste disposal conditions, cities can impede the use of unincorporated urban areas as a harbor for criminal activity and illegal dumping within the larger metropolitan fabric. While such benefits on their own have proven an insufficient inducement to annex low-income areas, they should be identified and, where possible, quantified in order to marshal city tolerance of reforms.”

This post first appeared in Mayor Butt’s e-forum newsletter


  1. This is bad for Richmond. The crime rate will jump the city services are already spread thin. Adding this crime zone will only spread it thinner. I say no

  2. I disagree. I agree with former Chief Magnus that if RPD could get in there they could make a big dent in the crime in the area. This concurs with what some retired law enforcement folks who worked in the area in the late 60’s early 70’s told me as well. Like the mayor said, it is bad business but perhaps a good thing to do nonetheless.
    Ultimately it will be up to the residents of North Richmond. As already noted, for many years the residents wanted annexation but the business and landowners did not. Today many residents fear gentrification, and may see things differently than in the past. It will be an interesting night.

    • Bull. Our police dept. claimed short staffing when we complained about the usual racket surrounding July 4; the streets within the current city limits are a mess; and if it makes no fiscal sense, why do it? Maybe because in a few years the area beyond the Parkway will become clean enough to become prime real estate?

  3. The annexation of any community into another is a serious consideration and demands careful scrutiny before action is taken. Let it be known that I, unlike many members of this Council, haven’t made up my mind yet because I don’t have enough facts. Comments made at previous Council meetings, online blogs and newsletters suggest that some of you were ready to vote before you arrived.

    We have a long history here in Richmond of rushing to take half baked action embracing the policy that we can always fix it later—yet we never seem to come back for those repairs. As I’ve mentioned previously, I like the motto of my own union which says that ‘WE GET IT RIGHT THE FIRST TIME’.

    There is still so much information that we haven’t heard and we won’t be allowed to discuss. This process has flaws in that we had several hundred pages of information thrown at us over the past four days that can be difficult to sift through and digest. How can we be expected to let you—our elected representatives know our thoughts when it can be so difficult to get a hold of you?

    Between work schedules, weekend events and public meetings, finding time for you to hear from us can be a tough one. Then we have some Councilmembers who seem to have their minds already made up, at least one of you has publicly stated that you refuse to listen to anyone that disagrees with you and one of you still has not made her contact information public. So how are the Councilmembers supposed to know the viewpoints of their constituents if we aren’t provided an opportunity to speak with them?

    I know that there have been numerous public meetings held in North Richmond but I can’t see where a single meeting was held here in Richmond to ask this all important question: Do the people of Richmond want this to happen? Exactly how will WE benefit from this?

    Some of the questions that have not been addressed include:
    • Which City services will we have to curtail to cover the more than $500 per person cost of the new residents above and beyond what they will pay?
    • Have any deals actually been negotiated between the County and the City about revenue sharing?
    • What developers have stepped forward with legitimate plans for new businesses, residential units or even weed farms?
    • How many pie-in-the-sky projects have we seen come and go? For instance, when can we expect the Berkeley Global Village to open their doors?
    • The report says that this proposal will break even only with significant residential development. Wouldn’t this require the gentrification of North Richmond?

    What concerns me is how this Council is spending so much effort to fix the so called problems of North Richmond—at no small expense—but seem to have lost sight of the very real problems they were elected to solve right here in Richmond.

    Have your discussion but hold off on making a decision until more info can be reviewed and discussed. Since we will essentially be silenced in a few minutes, give us a chance to weigh in AFTER we’ve heard everything.

  4. North Richmonds problems ARE Richmonds problems, very much more so than they are Contra Costa County’s problems. The crime that emanates from there affects our whole city. Historically as well as today, the lives of the two areas are completely intertwined. North Richmond is de facto Richmond. We will never pull Richmond up out of the dysfunction as long as North Richmond is there like a lead anchor tied around our necks. I would love to see some gentrification in North Richmond. It needs it.
    Let the voters of both cities decide it then. It’s long past time that this issue was put to rest one way or another.


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