Richmond’s collaborative effort to monitor its air

Community members from a wide variety of age groups packed the Bermuda Room at Richmond Memorial Auditorium for the Path to Clean Air Summit on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019.

What’s really in the air in Richmond and San Pablo?

With help from over 100 new air monitors strategically being installed across Richmond – along with a mobile unit that tests for emissions while on the go – a wide range of community members have banded together to find out.

A committee comprising of local residents, elected officials, environmentalists and representatives from local industry, businesses and nonprofits, have been meeting regularly over the past year to deploy a system that aims to both identify hotspots for emissions throughout Richmond and San Pablo, and to gain community input and consensus on what to do about them.

At the Path to Clean Air Summit on Saturday, Nov. 2, community members packed into the Bermuda Room at Richmond Memorial Auditorium to learn more about the 1-year-old California Community Air Protection Program, and how they can take part.

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” Richmond Mayor Tom Butt said at the summit. “What this is about right now is measuring it.”

Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia speaks at the Path to Clean Air Summit at Richmond Memorial Auditorium on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019.

The Community Air Protection Program, authorized under Assembly Bill 617 in 2017, uses Cap and Trade revenues to launch community-based approaches to air pollution reductions in impacted regions statewide.

The Richmond San Pablo area was one of 10 communities in the state selected to serve as models for implementation of AB 617 in its first year. The legislation initially allocated $45 million to the Bay Area to replace some of the most polluting trucks and boats, another $10 million for communities to craft and implement air monitoring technology and pollution reduction strategies, and $4.5 million statewide for community organizations such as Groundwork Richmond and PSE Healthy Energy, to deliver air monitoring programs, according to Greg Nudd, deputy executive officer at BAAQMD.

The program will also use existing data from the Chevron Richmond funded local air monitoring program that can detect even the slightest hint of chemicals in the air. Established in 2013 with guidance from the City of Richmond and the surrounding community, the Chevron program, which is managed by an independent contractor, reports constituent levels in near-real-time on a public website, As part of the Chevron-funded program, three air monitoring systems were installed along the refinery fenceline and three air monitoring stations were installed in the neighborhoods of Atchison Village, North Richmond and Point Richmond.

As part of AB617, the community has made a big investment in terms of human capital, according to Steering Committee member Linda Whitmore. At its first community meeting on Nov. 7, 2018, about 85 residents showed up to lend their support to the program, Whitmore said.

A mobile unit that has been assisting in air monitoring efforts in Richmond and San Pablo was on display at the Path to Clean Air Summit at Richmond Memorial Auditorium on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019.

A 35-member steering committee was subsequently formed that meets regularly to discuss the plans and goals. The committee is diverse, featuring representation not just from the cities and neighborhood councils, but also from community organizations, environmental groups, local industry and small businesses. The eclectic list of representation includes the West County Toxics Coalition, No Coal in Richmond, Sims Metal, Groundwork Richmond, Chevron, the Bay Area Rescue Mission, West Contra Costa Unified School District, the Richmond Chapter of the NAACP, Anaviv Catering, Sunflower Alliance, Council of Industries and more. All voting actions made by the committee require that at least 51 percent of those present at the meeting are community members.

“There are folks from business, industry and community and public agencies, and not often does that happen, getting together to understand the issue and coming up with solutions that work,” said Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia, a member of the BAAMQD Board of Directors who is directing the local program for AB617.

San Pablo Mayor Rich Kinney called it promising to see “so many of the community here representing this concern.”

Matt Holmes of Groundwork Richmond discusses the air monitors strategically placed in the community to detect pollution at the Path to Clean Air Summit at Richmond Memorial Auditorium on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019.

The next phase is for the community to gather data and form an action plan to mitigate pollution hotspots, according to Gioia.

Matt Holmes, executive director of Groundwork Richmond, notes that some of the solutions could be as simple as planting a row of trees blocking homes from the freeway.

“Some of the areas that have the worst health outcomes in terms of air quality are located in the area where Interstate 580 and 80 meet,” Holmes said. “The tailpipe emissions that occur every day come over the freeway walls and into the community, it’s not floating into a neighborhood with a well-developed tree canopy. It’s just floating over a hot concrete pancake. And so that particulate matter is traveling thousands of feet further than it does in other parts of the Bay Area. And as a result, pollution is impacting those neighborhoods disproportionately.”

More members of the community are encouraged to attend meetings and take part in the program.

“We hope you will continue to have input and be involved,” Gioia told summit attendees.

For more information on how to take part, visit the Richmond Area Community Health Protection Program website here, where you can find out about meetings, and join an email list to receive updates.

North Richmond environmental activist Dr. Henry Clark, in green, attends the Path to Clean Air Summit at the Richmond Memorial Auditorium on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019.