Community concerned about gentrification with proposed Richmond Global Campus

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Sierra Brown/Staff

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Despite not yet having broken ground, what could be Richmond’s biggest economic development has for months spurred rallies by residents and activists who view the campus’s promise of a new institution for global scholarship as potentially heralding another wave of unwelcome gentrification.

The Berkeley Global Campus at Richmond Bay — with the potential to be UC Berkeley’s most significant educational and research endeavor in recent history — is a 40-year project that would result in a campus that is both an “academic and industrial collaborative space,” with a daily population of up to 10,000 leading researchers, campus employees and main campus students, according to Associate Chancellor Nils Gilman.

“I see it as an extension of our deep commitment, as a public university, to advancing the greater good on both global and local levels,” said Chancellor Nicholas Dirks in an open letter to the Richmond community.

Richmond residents and activists have also seen the Berkeley Global Campus largely as a potential force for good, with the ability to boost the economy and support the education of youth in the city.

“When we found out the project was going to come, it was an exciting opportunity to grow the community of Richmond,” said Melvin Willis, a Richmond resident and organizer with the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, or ACCE. “(But) a lot of vulnerable low-income people might be pushed out if we don’t have an affordable housing plan in place.”

The city has a legacy of big development projects that make promises to the community that never come to fruition, according to Eli Moore, a project manager with the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society.

Hundreds of students and residents have rallied — most recently in front of Richmond City Hall in June and around Dirks’ office in California Hall, including an occupation — for the administration to sign a community benefits agreement, a legally binding contract intended to protect local interests as the campus moves forward with its vision of a more globalized institution.

Rising concerns

The protests center on concerns of displacement and a lack of community benefits in a neighborhood already showing early signs of gentrification.

Despite those for the daily population of up to 10,000, there are currently no plans in the project to house visiting researchers and students — many of whom may end up staying in Richmond.

The Bay Area already suffers from a lack of housing supply, Moore said. With a new campus potentially drawing thousands of international academics, Richmond will be no different, according to Moore.

“People like to live close to where they work or where they go to school,” Moore said. “That demand can contribute to the increased rental rates charged by landlords once they see that there’s people with more income or wealth moving into the area.”

Rising rents are already a trend Richmond renters are seeing, with overall rent rising 13 percent between January 2014 and January 2015, according to Zillow.

“(The Berkeley Global Campus’) presence alone will drive up the housing market prices so much,” Willis said. “It’s their responsibility to mitigate the risk.”

Of the 49 percent who rent in Richmond, low-income renters — who are disproportionately black and Latino — will be most affected, Moore said. Thirty-seven percent of renters earn less than $35,000 per year and spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing, according to a Haas Institute report published this year.

Concerns about gentrification in Richmond expelling low-income residents and underrepresented minorities are deeply rooted in the past experiences of poor renters in other parts of the Bay Area, according to Tamisha Walker, an organizer with the Safe Return Project who grew up in Richmond.

“You can look around at San Francisco and Oakland and other places across the Bay Area where income inequality and gentrification is happening, and folks of color, low income and medium income are being pushed out,” Walker said.

In San Francisco, the black population decreased by 23 percent, or 13,600 people, between 2000 and 2013. In Oakland, the black population fell by more than 27 percent, or 38,000 people, during the same period, according to the Haas Institute report.

“Raise Up Richmond is bringing up valid issues, but they’re not necessarily issues that are just for the university to address,” said development manager Terezia Nemeth. “It’s really up to the city of Richmond.”

While Richmond Councilmember Eduardo Martinez believes that it is UC Berkeley’s responsibility to ameliorate the housing price increases, he said the City Council is working to pass a rent stabilization ordinance by the end of the month so that low-income renters are not displaced as market rates go up.

Despite the opportunities the new campus may present to the community, concerns about gentrification and resources keep some wary.

“A lot of what I was hearing from folks was, ‘OK, and?’ ” Walker said. “We know this story — this is nothing new. … They’re going to come in and set up shop, get all the resources they want, and we’re not going to get anything.”

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Rallying for an agreement

In September, the campus established a community working group, composed of local leaders and residents, that could propose recommendations for legally binding agreements on community benefits.

When plans for the Berkeley Global Campus were announced, however, it was unclear whether a benefits agreement would be signed, according to Walker, who is in the community working group. But the campus has since agreed to sign such an agreement.

“We are engaged in this collaborative process with the community, not because we have to, but because of who we are as a public, nonprofit university,” said campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof in an email.

The lack of confirmation prompted organizations such as the Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization, or CCISCO, and the ACCE to create a coalition of residents, activists and students in support of a benefits agreement, and it spurred several student protests on campus.

The efforts of Raise Up Richmond, the main coalition to come from the collaboration of community members that formed in April, culminated in the June rally, which called for a benefits agreement including an anti-displacement fund and an education fund for residents and K-12 students, respectively; training programs for Richmond workers; policies supporting small businesses; and a provision for local construction jobs.

According to Nemeth, although the working group is developing a set of community interest proposals, there is no written community benefits agreement for the administration to sign, to the dissatisfaction of some in Richmond.

Ruben Lizardo, director of local government and community relations for the office of the chancellor, said he isn’t surprised it has taken so long for the working group to develop trust in the community.

“We have to be patient and continue to be as diligent as we can to honor and respect those multiple perspectives that are coming our way,” Lizardo said.

While the initial goal for publishing an agreement was November, the opening of four new voting seats on the working group may push it back further, Nemeth said.

“(The benefits agreement) is very important because it touched my house, my family,” said senior UC Berkeley custodian Maricruz Manzanarez, who has family living in Richmond, while at the June rally. “Even though I don’t live here … I’m willing to be here every day for these actions.”

Ripening vision

The idea of an expanded campus began as many as 10 years ago with former dean of the UC Berkeley College of Engineering A. Richard Newton’s proposal of an insourced, formal UC campus consortium — rather than an overseas global campus — Gilman said. After Newton died in 2007, the project never ended up taking off.

“But the idea stayed there as a seed here on campus, and people remember that that was sort of a (missed) opportunity,” Gilman said.

After plans to expand the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory onto the site fell through in 2013 because of federal funding cuts, the land became the prospective site for Dirks’ campaign to create a more globalized campus — one that would bring in partnerships with international universities and companies while remaining in the Bay.

“There were some suggestions of possibly putting satellite campuses overseas, but for financing reasons, that looked like it’d be very difficult,” Gilman said. “(Now that) the opportunity arose … we’re actually realizing dean Newton’s vision of 10 years ago right here at home.”

Announced in October, the Berkeley Global Campus will be a “glocalized” version of the satellite campus that others schools, such as New York University and Yale University, have built around the world, Gilman said.

“Instead of sending away scare California resources overseas, we’re drawing in resources to us — both human resources and potentially financial ones as well,” Gilman said.

Financial resources and industrial and philanthropic partners will prove to be important for the project to progress, as the new campus will most likely be funded privately rather than through state money. Nemeth estimates that at $550 per square foot, the 5.4-million-square-foot campus could cost about $3 billion over the 40-year planning horizon.

Despite delays in signing an agreement on UC Berkeley’s part, some community members remain optimistic that the Berkeley Global Campus can and will bring about positive change to the city — so long as there’s input from those directly affected by the project.

“I commend everyone who’s willing to invest in this,” Walker said. “The intent is a good one from all sides, and I’m staying hopeful.”

Contact Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ayoonhendricks.