By Kathy Chouteau
Worker bees from Richmond’s Panhandle Annex neighborhood are showing that, when it comes to beautifying their neighborhood with a Love Your Block Mini Grant from the City, teamwork makes the dream work.
Bernadette Garcia-Roger, a 39-year resident and treasurer of the local Neighborhood Council, applied for and received a FY 2021-2022 $8,400 Love Your Block Mini Grant from the City of Richmond after noticing her neighbors’ yards looked lovely but that South 55th Street “was a mess” and needed to be cleaned up.
Project Leader Garcia–Roger’s “Panhandle Annex Neighborhood Council Love Your Block Mini Grant” is funded via a partnership between the City’s Community Services Department and the City Manager’s Office, Economic Development, with the aim of supporting projects citywide “that improve environmental quality by engaging community volunteers to clean-up and beautify Richmond,” per the City.
The Panhandle Annex’s project—still underway—is primarily situated between Mariposa and Santa Clara Streets off South 55th Street and encompasses five projects within the larger one: Creation of a mural located along the sound wall between Merced St. and Santa Clara St.; a landscaping upgrade of California natives; the installation of three Little Free Libraries—which, when combined with existing ones and another that’s being privately installed, will bring the neighborhood total to six; painting/repairing front yard fences; and printing/installing 20 yard signs to remind neighbors about street sweeping days.
Garcia–Roger said that for the yet-to-be-installed mural, the neighbors considered their neighborhood’s past, present and future, i.e., “what it looked like before the freeway and homes” and will depict the East Bay hills looking East, along with a now-underground local creek. It will also evoke the Ohlone’s caretaking of local lands, birds, animals, insects and “things that are important to the area and to keep it going,” she said.
Muralist Regina Gilligan will lead the mural painting, aided by neighbors. Garcia-Roger said it will be installed April 24, just before the overall project’s completion deadline of April 30.
So far, Garcia-Roger has held two work parties and has two more approaching to accomplish various tasks related to their beautification efforts. In a local area of about 225 homes, about 20 people typically come out to help with the project, with everyone lending their talents to the tasks at hand—carpenters, Garden Club members and California native experts among them.
“It’s taken the whole neighborhood,” said Garcia-Roger. “I’m just the one organizing stuff.”
She added that in her neighborhood “there is a lot interest in helping clean up the area” and people are happy and appreciative someone is coordinating it. The neighbors stay connected via occasional Panhandle Annex Neighborhood Council parties, a hyper-local listserv e-mail list and a neighborhood newsletter, The Handle, that’s issued four times annually and is helpful for the non-techie folks.
As critical as the neighbors have been toward completing the beautification project, Garcia-Roger underscored how important City workers have been as well.
Every time the neighborhood group holds a work party for their project, they require a permit because they have to close the street. Garcia-Roger shared how both Angelica Howay and Maricella Cardenas of the Community Services Department’s Recreation Division have been incredibly “helpful with the paperwork.” She added that Parks Supervisor Mark Maltagliati, Maintenance Leadworker Gabriel Gomez and crew—under the direction of Parks & Landscaping Department Superintendent Greg Hardesty—have been helping with weeding, etc., and along with Love Your Block Program Manager Stephanie Ny, “all have been amazing.”
“Without them it would be a disaster, so I’m appreciative of them doing what they’ve been doing to help us,” said Garcia-Roger.
When asked what she thinks about City offering the Love Your Block Mini-Grants, she said that she “thinks it’s amazing,” adding that “people should really take advantage of them—there’s a lot you can do.”
So what does the future hold for the Panhandle Annex’s Love Your Block project? After the upcoming work parties, they plan to celebrate the end of the project with a summertime party (date TBD) and then hold their own occasional “weeding parties” to help their neighborhood stay beautiful.