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
- Part 1: Neighborhood on the brink
- Part 2: Inauspicious beginnings
- Part 3: Blues
- Part 4: Moribund housing projects
- Part 5: North Richmond man
- Part 6: Everyday struggle
- Part 7: Troubled environment
- Supervisor Gioia Memo on Annexation. In it, Supervisor Gioia notes that the three major issues supporting annexation for residents of North Richmond and the City of Richmond are Public Safety Contiguity, Enhanced Political Representation/Engagement, and Improved Coordination with City Services and Planning.
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 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