Historically, the North Richmond Shoreline was a mix of baylands and mudflats where three creeks met, defined as the coastal region from Point San Pablo to Point Pinole. The Rheem, San Pablo, and Wildcat Creeks drained the region’s watershed from the hills of El Sobrante, Richmond and San Pablo to the mouth of the Bay at what is known today as the North Richmond Landfill, the East Bay Regional Park Staging Area and the Dotson Family Marsh. Before the creeks were tamed behind levees, the creeks shared the flood plain and entered the Bay as one creek.
This shared history is relevant to today’s story in the way we have kept creeks and shorelines separated from housing and commercial development, while ignoring were water used to go before we build our communities. For this reason today, this North Richmond Shoreline region is threatened by sea level rise, and relies on a pump to keep the streets dry and flood insurance low. Residents do not see the shoreline as a destination, and the neighborhood is separated from the Bay by a 4 line highway and the railway tracks.
In February 2017, The Watershed Project and the San Francisco Estuary Partnership began to collaborate on a community visioning exercise to more deeply understand how the residents of North Richmond envision the future of the shoreline. Surveys of residents collected information on current shoreline use, concerns surrounding the shoreline and what changes they would like to see in the future along the shoreline. This information, along with compilation of plans and projects identified by stakeholders, community leaders and local NGOs, lead us to the development of a collective vision for the North Richmond Shoreline and to the identification of shoreline projects that could be implemented in the near future.
The results of the survey also highlighted great community needs and the disconnect people in this severely disadvantaged community have with the watersheds where they live.
The community surveys reveal that the largest barrier for residents visiting the shoreline is a lack of knowledge regarding shoreline activities, lack of walking and public transit access and lack of amenities for recreation and places to gather. They also express concerns about air and water quality as the Chevron Refinery anchors the south portion of this shoreline, and wanted to ensure that any improvements to the local landscape could results in better living conditions and jobs for the current North Richmond Residents, and will not lead to gentrification.
With these results in mind, The Watershed Project is moving this community process upstream. We were fortunate that this region was selected by the Resilient by Design Competition, identifying North Richmond as an example of how we can redesign communities to build resilient landscapes that foster resilient communities.
In this new definition of resiliency, we will need to make sure that, as we create buffers for sea level rise or restore the functions of the natural watersheds, we place community development at the center of our efforts. We need to start thinking about ways to ensure that local jobs will be generated from the shoreline transformation. Green Collar Jobs should be accommodated as part of area’s redesign. This could include a long list of options such as marsh restoration technician, creek restoration technician, urban farmer, interpreter ranger, gardener, park ranger, land manager, nursery technician, plant biologist, marine biologist, wetlands biologist, environmental educator, community organizer, among others.
For the last 20 years the community has voiced their concern about displacement and environmental justice. A long-term plan for dealing with sea level rise adaptation in communities at risk, like North Richmond, should include a management plan for pollutants from Chevron and other industries placed along the shoreline as well as a long term affordable housing plan near the transition zone to accommodate residents from areas that are likely to be affected by sea level rise in the next 20 years.
As we embark on this new planning exercise for the future of the communities along the Bay, we welcome the opportunity to create community based solutions to the rising tide, so that a new wave of resilient communities can flourish.