Charles Smith: Open letter to the Richmond Planning Department

blogimage.jpgDear Ms. Velasco,
My wife and I attended and spoke before the Richmond Planning Commission on Thursday March 19, 2015. Along with most of the audience we were there to express our concerns about agenda item 4, the form based code proposed as part of the Richmond Livable Corridors project. Specifically, we are concerned and outraged at inclusion in the TN4 Transect zone of areas beyond the main commercial arteries, extended into our quiet residential neighborhood. It was for these reasons and others that over twenty speakers spoke their disapproval of these proposals. Not one person spoke in favor of the newly introduced rezoning and it is unlikely they will in the future.

After the conclusion of the community charrettes process parts of the neighborhood in which we live were added to the TN4 Zone without notice. People who actively participated in this process were shocked to find that such changes had been made without any discussion with the impacted communities. The only notice we were given was a small, barely legible post card (containing an incorrect internet address) sent out a couple of weeks in advance of Thursday’s meeting. Not every resident received or could understand it. During the Planning Commission hearing Thursday night no explanation was given as to as why our neighborhood’s treasure, the triangle at Dimm Street and Barrett Avenue, was included in the area to be rezoned to TN4.  An additional change which greatly concerned our neighbors was the proposed setback requirements in TN4 zones of only five feet from the rear property lines of the residents on McLaughlin Street.  When this concern was raised the consultant suggested that it was basically an oversight and could be taken out of the proposal.  This was done in the Planning Commission action Thursday night. We were informed that the rationale for including our neighborhood in the TN4 zone is to provide increased residential density within walking distance of the hoped for commercial development planned for San Pablo Avenue.
In addition to our concern about the substance of what the Planning Department is proposing, we were offended by how the public was treated by some members of the Planning Commission. The meeting began by Commissioner Ben Choi stating that he received an email using the word “riffraff” and chastising the audience as though we were children, informing us that he would not pay any attention to anyone with such an attitude, strongly implying that the writer of the email must be some kind of bigot. My wife and I both felt that we were being blamed and patronized for something we had nothing to do with and in a very offensive manner.  We expect better from our public servants.  Commissioner Marilyn Langlois also seemed to infer that the opposition to zoning to allow more duplexes in our neighborhood came from class or ethnic bias.  Chairperson Sheryl E. Lane’s remarks also subtly chastised and patronized the audience. In fact, there were concerned residents present at the meeting from all different ethnic and economic backgrounds.  This arrogant attitude on the part of these commissioners was uncalled for and offensive. Nor is this the first time this Commission has behaved in this manner.  When members of our community spoke against a proposed mobile food vendor setting up shop on Barrett and San Pablo it was suggest by at least one member of the Commission at that time that we were against it because the owner was Hispanic.  Yet, when the question of whether to permit a Subway Sandwich shop in Point Richmond came before the Planning Commission, at about the same time as the food vendor issue mentioned above, the Commission unfairly stalled and delayed the petitioner in order to allow the City Council time to designate that upscale neighborhood a protected historic district.  It is worth noting that this Point Richmond area is a neighborhood in which four members of the City Council at that time lived: Tom Butt, Jeff Ritterman, Nat Bates and Jim Rogers. Some might characterize such behavior on the part of the Planning Commission as elitism and cronyism.
One block above San Pablo on the north and south sides of Barrett are three apartment buildings and one duplex; they have been there for at least 35 years. These apartments have always been occupied by Hispanics, African Americans, Palestinians, Anglos, disabled people, families and single tenants.  On Clinton there are several apartment buildings a block above San Pablo with residents from various walks of life and ethnic groups.  Above San Pablo between Nevin and Clinton there are duplexes and rentals on McLaughlin, Key Blvd. and Dimm St. In the 28 years I’ve lived on Dimm St. there has never been a serious problem with any tenants. To suggest that we are against this rezoning for racial or elitist reasons is bullying and implicitly coercive.

I’m attaching to the end of this letter a statement periodically distributed by our Dimm/Key Neighborhood Watch group to the homes within our group’s area. It explains the origin of our Neighborhood Watch and says something about our neighborhood.  I’m sure the description would also apply to the other neighborhoods in our area.
We do not want our neighborhood rezoned to TN4.  We love and care for our neighbors and our neighborhood.  We are comfortable with the current population density and believe that any change should originate within the neighborhood, not be imposed from without.  There have been many occasions when we have asked the City for assistance with issues such as controlling dangerous speeding on Barrett and Clinton, putting speed bumps on Dimm, installing a left turn light on Barrett at the I-80 West entrance but our requests have been consistently ignored.  Other problems, such as paving the streets or repairing our sewer collection piping, have taken years to be addressed.  We are not happy to have two massage parlors within two blocks of San Pablo and Barrett but are told there is nothing that can be done about them. We have already had to endure two gangster-run used car lots on Barrett and San Pablo. One owner even threatened residents who complained about a car alarm persisting throughout an entire weekend. What we expect from our public servants is responsiveness to our needs, not secretly changing plans and patronizing us when we complain. 
Please forward this letter to all of the members of the Planning Commission.
Charles T. Smith
561 Dimm St.
Richmond, CA 94805
40+ year resident

What is the Dimm St. & Key Blvd. Neighborhood Watch?
On Saturday night June 12, 1999 a house on the 500 block of Dimm St. was sprayed with bullets. This unprecedented incident moved the residents of Dimm St., Key Blvd. and Mount St. to have a community meeting which resulted in the establishment of two neighborhood watch groups. Since that time the Dimm St. & Key Blvd. Neighborhood Watch has held bi-monthly watch meetings, advocated for better street lighting on Dimm St., stopped a proposed gas station on the northwest corner of Barrett and San Pablo. (The gas station would have included a 24 hr. convenience store selling liquor.) We silenced the loud speakers at what was then the Smith Chrysler auto dealership on the northeast corner of San Pablo and Barrett. We stopped a proposed mobile food vendor from operating at the SW corner of Barrett and San Pablo and helped facilitate a new supermarket in the old Albertson building. We have been responsible for the seasonal illumination of the tree in the triangle of Dimm and Barrett. We hold a block party every September and an annual garage sale. We created a phone tree map which includes all the participating residents who want to be included on the directory. We advocated for pothole repairs and remove graffiti.
We have also created a yahoo group that furthers our mission to unite our community through action, interaction and communication. This is yet another tool that has strengthened our ties as well as our safety.
Since the drive-by incident our neighbors have experienced several burglaries and some auto thefts but these are minor compared to what other areas in Richmond experience. Most of the burglaries have been through open or unlocked back windows. Car thefts are usually early model Hondas and Toyotas which are easy to steal. Many times these criminal actions are crimes of opportunity. For that reason we need to stay vigilant.
The Dimm St., Key Blvd. residents represent a cross section of all ethnic groups and include traditional and non-traditional family units. Residents include musicians, writers, artists, therapists, police officers, blue collar and white collar workers, business owners etc. We are: dog and cat lovers, home owners and renters, retirees, married and single, young and old folks. We are now celebrating our sixteenth year and we still haven’t met all of our neighbors. Our participation ensures that all of us are a little safer with more peace of mind.
Our first line of defense is a watchful neighbor. Please join us.

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