North Richmond was once the home to WII’s finest shipyards, greenhouses, and vibrant black-owned businesses. The 1.5 square-mile neighborhood has been an unincorporated region for over 100 years, excluding the isolated island from receiving vital services that include public safety.
The North Richmond neighborhood is under the county’s jurisdiction, giving the Contra Costa Sheriff’s Department sole responsibly of public safety in the community.
According to allgov.com, “Funding cutbacks have forced the sheriff’s department to cut about 100 deputies since 2008. Some community members have called for North Richmond to merge with the city of Richmond to improve public safety. But such a move is unlikely to happen anytime soon.
One former North Richmond resident gave a gruesome account of how North Richmond is as a known dumping ground for dead bodies. “There’s just too much that goes on here; county sheriff officials aren’t surveilling these parts of the city,” said the source who wanted to remain anonymous.
Many say that North Richmond’s current condition is a reoccurring tradition of insufficient resources and lack of political support.
“Annexing North Richmond with the City would make the streets look a lot better. These families have been unincorporated for so long from generations down to the millennial generation. It would make a huge impact if City officials would come out here and talk to the residents in the resource centers or small churches,” said former North Richmond resident Raymond Smith.
The City of Richmond has considered annexing North Richmond several times since the 1960’s.
In March 1961, The City of Richmond established an annexation hearing for unincorporated area called ‘Resolution No. 755’ and it states “It is important to point out that the North Richmond residential will be a financial liability to the City for many years to come. This area would pay more of its share of taxes relative to services received if conditions were improved.”
Doug Harris who directed “The Exploration of Our History: Story of North Richmond” a documentary which sheds light on long-time resident concerns annexing their neighborhood to the City of Richmond, said “I see longtime property owning residents of North Richmond feel that this annexation to the city will increase their taxes. If their taxes increase will their service taxes increase along with the taxes? Or will they be neglected.”
Annexations have economic effects for both the city and for those residing within the annexed area. Through annexation, a city expands its potential tax base and, thereby, increases revenue for costs associated with the city’s infrastructure.
There are many mixed opinions and ideologies toward merging North Richmond with the City, but what will ignite North Richmond annexation plans among city officials?
Pastor Dana Keith Williams of North Richmond Missionary Baptist Church is an advocate for North Richmond merging with the City, and he also states that “it seems logical that this should be done. To have one group of people with certain services and another group without those services doesn’t make any sense.”
Pastor Williams also suggests that “a divided community is never a good thing”, the Richmond community on both sides of fence must stand up and hold the local politicians accountable for putting the annexation to action.
District 1 supervisor John Giola and Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus have both publicly stated that North Richmond residents will become better served and receive vital services if the island was annexed to the City of Richmond.
In Robert E. Kapsis’s 1978 article “Black Ghetto Diversity and Anomie: A Sociopolitical View,” the scholar describes North Richmond’s condition as a reflection of the community’s stepchild status in relation to city and local government.
While driving across the railroad tracks that lead to Chelsey Street, you can feel the sense of neglect and isolation. The residents’ demeanors reveal that the whole community is on edge.
Former North Richmond homeowner Raymond Smith describes how the poverty stricken community is so detached from policies, procedures, and real life. “Some people that live in this area don’t even bother to travel to the other side of the tracks because they assume something devastating is going to happen. If no one does anything about this, then the future for North Richmond is death.”
North Richmond has the highest per-capita homicide rate since 2010. It’s sociological separation, once you cross the train track that divides North Richmond from Richmond. It’s like a tale of two cities.
There’s a sociological dichotomy between North Richmond and Richmond. Young Black and Hispanic males feel obligated to defend the region because North Richmond has been disenfranchised sociologically.
Most unincorporated areas that have been divided from all revenue-producing land usually have little hope for remaining economically stable.
Will the City of Richmond become America’s model city for unincorporated areas or will the legacy of economic disadvantage forever remain in North Richmond?
By: Maiya Newsome-Edgerly, Richmond resident