That is the motto for my city, Richmond, California. On good days, I choose to think of it as the city's aspiration. On cynical days I admit that the motto is an oxymoron.
Richmond has strong roots. Its industry rose to meet the needs of World War II and is home of many Rosie the Riveter stories. We have a lot of history, parks, and more miles of waterfront than any other city in the Bay Area. There are many good things about Richmond.
Unfortunately, there are many bad things about Richmond. We are still a city built on big industry. Chevron and General Chemical both have large facilities here. As Chevron says: "The Chevron Richmond Refinery processes more crude oil than any other refinery in the Bay Area and ranks among the major refineries in the United States." Both businesses are directly upwind of the high crime neighborhoods of Richmond. Not surprisingly, these neighborhoods are populated by poor and mostly minority people. Let's not begin the debate on why Chevron has been severely underpaying their taxes for years. Maybe, it has to do with the soft money they contribute to local elections or the money they spend settling lawsuits with the people downwind of them.
We are a city of about 105,000, roughly a third White, a third Latino, and a third Black. We have many poor people and recent immigrants. These are not bad things, just challenges. Richmond lost control of its schools years ago and we have had all but the main branch of our libraries closed for 3 or 4 years. Job training and other community programs have been pared down to the bare minimum despite the fact that our taxes are not minimal. Couple that with being the 11th most dangerous city in the US (3rd most dangerous in California behind Compton and Oakland), the city's inability to draw and keep police officers, and a city council that spends more time and money talking about problems than resolving them and you get a bad brew. For more than you ever wanted to know about the machinations of Richmond government read the Tom Butt E-Forum. Tom is our resident muckraking city council member.
This week, on Martin Luther King Jr. day, brought us our most recent incident. A fire at Chevron shot flames 100 feet into the air. Warning sirens did go off to tell people to shelter in place, even though the response time was unacceptable. The sirens went off within the "impacted area". My home is 5 miles away and I could smell the fire. The warning sirens did not go off in my neighborhood. If I had been at work, in the historic Point Richmond neighborhood, I would have been about a half mile from the refinery.
Why am I telling you this? I don't know. Disgust? I live in a progressive and thriving megalopolis. Yet I live within the sphere of marginally controlled businesses that contribute mightily to the quality of my environment in many ways. Maybe that is why I choose to drive on a nearly carbon neutral fuel. I don't want to contribute to the demise of my city or the health problems of its residents.
We do have a bright spot. In November we elected Gayle McLaughlin mayor. On January 9, 2007 she became the first green mayor of a minority city and Richmond became the largest city in the US with a green mayor. Best of all, she did it on $14,000 as compared to the $110,00 the incumbent spent and the tens of thousands Chevron spent to defeat her. Clearly, we have a moment where the people are ready for a change. Let's hope we can earn the pride and purpose to live up to our motto.