The Richmond community is mobilizing as UC Berkeley moves forward with plans to build the Richmond Bay Campus (RBC), a research facility that is slated to be three-fourths the size of the Berkeley campus, and see a volume of 10,000 faculty, students, and workers per day.

“We want to have access and be included in the process. We want our kids to be able to go to the UC and maybe some day they can work there,” says Richmond community member and UC bus driver Luster Howard, describing the position of a coalition of community organizations that has emerged to address issues associated with the new campus.

With 69% of its residents being people of color, Richmond is a community known as much for its diversity, as it is for poverty, pollution, and high crime rates. The current median household income in Richmond is $10,000 below state average. For a city of 100,000, Richmond has some of the highest crime and incarceration rates in the bay area. There are 450-500 people getting paroled back to Richmond each year, with a quarter coming from state prison.

The city of Richmond has also become somewhat of a poster child for a phenomenon known as environmental racism, in which the backyards of poor communities of color are targeted for toxic industries and industrial dumping grounds. The city is surrounded by three chemical companies, eight Superfund
sites, and five major oil refineries, including a Chevron facility that is known for a pattern of negligence leading to explosions and fires. As a result of this toxic environment, the childhood asthma rate in Richmond is twice the national average, at about 17%. The asthma rate among adults living in Richmond at least 15 years is more than double that for children, at 45%, and the community is also plagued by high rates of cancer, heart disease, and other respiratory problems.

A coalition of interfaith and community groups in Richmond is expressing concern that any development that the UC brings to their community help to address, rather than exacerbate, these issues. Residents are asking that UC Berkeley begins to take precautions so that they can bring justice to the community.

Among the coalitions’ demands:

• Investment in Richmond schools to help disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline and offer Richmond’s children the chance at a UC education.
• Environmental protections ensuring that RBC will not be another source of pollution in Richmond.
• Affordable housing policy to fight the effects of increasing property rents stemming from development on vulnerable residents.
• Local hiring policies, with particular consideration given to applicants transitioning out of incarceration.
• No outsourcing, so that all workers at UC-RBC will be UC employees, with the attendant benefits and union representation.

The university is so-far being tight-lipped with details about the Richmond expansion and has refused to make any concrete commitments to the community.

But students are specially positioned to take a stand and build awareness to pressure the university to do the right thing on these issues. By joining with and supporting the Richmond community, we can use our position to hold the university accountable to its mission of serving all California communities.

You can get involved by a couple of ways: (1) come to the first meeting of the UC Student Labor Committee, and (2) register for the 2nd Annual Student Labor Organizing Conference, October 25th at Berkeley. This is a conference organized and attended by student activists from across the UCs, where we can learn organizing skills, learn more about issues and campaigns that UC students are working on, and organize together to bring justice to our communities.