Nat Bates


Few people remember how the Hilltop Shopping Center was considered and eventually constructed in Richmond.

Hilltop___RFR.jpgFor the record, it started with a proposal from a Southern California developer named Newman who proposed a shopping center in what was then the main business district in downtown Richmond.  Their plan called for developing from the northern side of 10th to 14th  Streets and from Macdonald Avenue to Nevin Avenue.

Soon thereafter, another proposal was made by Taubman and Company from Chicago—a second developer. Whereas the Newman Company selected the downtown site, the Taubman Company chose the current site at Hilltop that was coincidentally owned by a subsidiary of Standard Oil Company called Chevron Lands Trust.  Most people at the time knew this site as Tank Farm Hill where Chevron has a multitude of fuels storage tanks.

Needless to say, these competing sites created a racial division within the community where many Afro-American community leaders desired the shopping center to be constructed in downtown Richmond while others preferred the site at Hilltop.

The Richmond City Council consisted of nine males, 6 white, (Vargas, Grydyk, Wagerman, Fernandez, Nelson & Silva) and three African American, (Livingston, Anderson & myself) and were tasked with determining which site was to be granted a permit to proceed.

Councilmembers were heavily lobbied by both developers and the community at large.

Unbeknownst to me at the time that my vote would be the key vote in pursuing the Hilltop site. With the overwhelming percentage of the African American community desiring the downtown site, the Taubman Development made it very clear to me that unless they received at least one of the three African American Councilmember’s votes, they would not pursue the Hilltop site. Their position was that they did not wish to be perceived as racial divider within the City of Richmond.

After their comments, I suggested the Taubman staff provide me with reasonable and clear justification for me to support their project. Arrangements were made for their development team and myself to tour various shopping sites in the immediate area. The first two sites visited were Sun Valley in Concord and Southland in Hayward, which incidentally was owned and operated by the Taubman Development, and a third shopping center under construction was in the San Jose area. The fourth site was Eastmont Mall in Oakland.

While touring these shopping center sites, the Taubman company pointed out the common and perhaps most important requirements as to why and where shopping centers are being constructed throughout the nation and it is referred to as “LOCATION, LOCATION & LOCATION”.

It became obvious to me that most successful shopping centers are located adjacent to interstate highways and freeways where quick accessibility in and out of a center is available. Their best example was that few if any patrons driving on an interchange would drive into a downtown area some four or five miles for shopping unless they perhaps resided in the area. In their opinions, shoppers want to be in and out of shopping centers ASAP. 

Finally, it was made astonishing clear, should not one of the African American Councilmembers Anderson, Livingston or myself not vote in support of the Hilltop site, they would pursue locations in Pinole, Hercules or Rodeo. By not locating in the City of Richmond, I personally could not bear the burden of losing millions of dollars in sales and property tax revenues as well as a prestigious shopping center that would provide jobs to a larger number of Richmond residents.

As in many decisions made by the City Council where valuable information is not available to the general public, the site tour made my decision easier. It provided me insights into how big businesses make difficult financial decisions.

In conclusion, I am proud to have personally made the motion and voted for what I perceived to have been in the best interest of the City of Richmond of which the voters entrusted in me to do.

Needless to say my popularity within the African American community for a short period of time dwindled but that is the price one frequently pays as a politician.

As the late Paul Harvey would say “And now you know the rest of the story”.

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  • Winnie Switalski
    commented 2021-02-27 23:34:50 -0800
    Please sign the petition below. It’s time to revitalize Hilltop.
  • Winnie Switalski
    commented 2021-02-27 23:33:34 -0800
  • David Wood
    commented 2021-02-17 15:28:26 -0800
    Thank you Mr. Bates.
  • Nat Bates
    published this page in News 2021-02-16 20:28:53 -0800
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