Richmond rally Thursday demands community benefits agreement for Berkeley Global Campus

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RICHMOND — About 70 protesters rallied Thursday, calling for a legally binding community benefits agreement to ensure that the Berkeley Global Campus lifts the community rather than displaces residents upon its construction.

Rally members gathered outside of Richmond City Hall, demanding that the campus provide high-quality union jobs, affordable housing and rental stability, youth and education support and opportunities for local businesses.

Organized by the Raise Up Richmond coalition and attended by community activists, the rally was the most recent event in a series that began about two years ago, when residents first began fighting for future opportunities to be offered by the new campus.

At 5.4 million square feet, the new campus will be the largest development in Richmond since World War II, with more than 10,000 estimated daily visitors after construction concludes. The project is set to be built over a 40-year period and to cost about $1 billion, according to a Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society report preface by director john powell.

Among the poorest communities in California with high crime rates, Richmond has undergone a “slow transforming metamorphosis,” said Melvin Willis, community organizer with the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, which helped organize the rally. Willis noted that the new campus is critical for potential poverty and crime alleviation in the city.

“(The new campus is) something that can literally make Richmond or break Richmond,” Willis said.

According to Willis, the only way to ensure that Richmond residents benefit from the campus is if the campus commits to community improvements that the Richmond Bay Community Working Group has approved. He said that UC Berkeley has responded only when community members unite and put pressure on decision makers.

Gayle McLaughlin, a Richmond City Council member and former Richmond mayor, said at the rally that Richmond is prepared to stand up for “what we believe in” and will not allow residents to suffer from the campus’s arrival.

“We welcome them, but we welcome them to do the right thing for our community,” McLaughlin said.

Richmond renter Sasha Graham said she and other organizers are doing their best “to put a cap on this situation” so residents aren’t displaced when the campus’s presence and the influx of faculty and students increases housing prices.

Another concern is that the campus will outsource jobs away from local residents or offer locals contract jobs with marginal living wages or benefits. Rafael Reyes, who is subcontracted by the university as a janitor, said that the jobs created by the campus in Richmond need to be union jobs, as subcontracted workers can be exploited with lower pay and meager benefits.

The prospects of unionized jobs seem favorable, though, as 69 previously subcontracted workers were insourced as official UC employees Friday.

Richmond organizers are also calling on the campus to provide $3 million per year in funds for educational resources and support for youth. Willis said he hopes this will give youth a “new way to look at their own education.”

With cheers of “raise up Richmond” mounting, rally attendees said they were hopeful that demands would be met.

“We are now calling on Chancellor (Dirks) to move forward on recommendations,” Willis said.

The Richmond Bay Community Working Group will present recommendations for legally binding community benefits to campus officials next month.

Contact Hannah Lewis at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @hlewis_dc.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that john powell authored a report about the Berkeley Global Campus project in Richmond. In fact, john powell wrote the preface to the report.