Activists Urge UC Berkeley to Protect Low-Income People from Gentrification

Friday, March 18, 2016
Tom Lochner
Contra Costa Times

Activists rallied at Richmond City Hall on Thursday, vowing to spare this city from the gentrification that has swept low-income people out of San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley and other Bay Area cities.

"We're not going anywhere," said emcee Melvin Willis of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE).

The Richmond Community Working Group, made up of representatives of community, business and faith groups as well as public agencies, has compiled a list of community benefits it wants UC Berkeley and its Chancellor Nicholas Dirks to commit to in connection with the Global Campus that the university envisions along the South Richmond shoreline.

With more than 5 million square feet of space planned, the global campus would constitute the biggest wave of development in the city since World War II, several speakers noted at Thursday's "Raise Up Richmond" rally.

Sponsors included ACCE; the Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization (CCISCO); American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299; and the Safe Return Project. Speakers included the Revs. Alvin Bernstein and Donnell Jones, and Richmond City Council members Gayle McLaughlin and Eduardo Martinez.

They urged Dirks and UC Berkeley to hire workers outright instead of indirectly through contractors; pay a "linkage fee" in connection with development, to preserve affordable housing -- Bernstein called it an "anti-displacement fund"; provide $3 million a year for youth programs and education; and do business with local companies.

Another speaker, Richmond resident Sasha Graham, told how she and her son Armon, 8, were displaced from their longtime home on Cutting Boulevard and 41st Street -- a consequence, she believes, of gentrification spillover from Berkeley and Oakland.

In fall 2014, "they raised my rent, from $550 to $1,300 (a month)," she remembered. "I had 60 days to pay that rent. I wasn't able to pay, so I was asked to move."

She and her son since have been living with friends, she said.

"I grew up here," Graham said. "I don't want to leave. I want to fight to stay."

"We want progress," she added, "but progress doesn't mean throwing out everybody."

Richmond resident Rafael Reyes said he works as a custodian at UC Berkeley, albeit through a contractor, making $14.04 an hour after 17 years. A direct university employee doing similar work gets $22 an hour, he said. He called on the university to employ its workers directly and pay them good wages and benefits.

University spokespeople on Thursday said no officials were immediately available for comment.

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