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Mercury News

Posted on April 30, 2010

North Richmond residents hope to win funding for eco-academy to boost community

Posted: 04/30/2010 01:14:03 PM PDT
Updated: 04/30/2010 05:52:15 PM PDT

Little League is making a comeback in North Richmond. The Third Street ballpark is freshly renovated. A plan to turn vacant lots into community gardens is taking root. Recent activities in North Richmond are buoying hopes of pulling the community out of a debilitating cycle of blight, crime and poverty. And residents are eager to keep the momentum alive.

More than 250 have signed petitions or submitted letters backing a proposed eco-academy that would target young adults ages 18 to 27 and train them for jobs. They would reinvest their earnings in their community, sparking economic development.

"We want to break the cycle so kids will be positive contributors to the community instead of negative detractors," proponent Saleem Bey said. "In 10 years, our community will be a different kind of community."

The eco-academy is one of nine projects vying for funding from the North Richmond Waste and Recovery Mitigation Fund, where the West Contra Costa Sanitary Landfill transfer station deposits about $600,000 a year to offset the impact of its operations.

A county report indicates $950,000 was carried over from the 2006 and 2007 budgets, and an estimated $1 million remains from the 2008 and 2009 budgets.

According to the application groups complete for funding, $400,000 is available for local projects this year.

A seven-member committee of county and city officials and local residents meets Monday to adopt a two-year budget. The county board of supervisors and Richmond

City Council have final say, though both have historically approved what the committee recommends. "We want to make sure the money is spent wisely, that there's oversight and reporting back," said Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, who sits on the committee. "Is it something that can stretch dollars far."

The programs seeking funding are:

Urban Tilth's Lots of Crops gardens, which grow food on otherwise vacant lots: $307,023

The Neighborhood House of North Richmond's eco-academy: $237,050

Social Progress Inc.'s campaign to remove trash, mow lawns and remove blight: $143,100

Verde Elementary School garden and other blight removal: $14,000

Center for Human Development's tree planting, trash abatement and youth education on environmental stewardship: $133,400

Harold Beaulieu's art and murals project at Verde Elementary and questionnaire on local safety: $38,947

The Watershed Project's campaign to reduce illegal dumping, which includes picking up trash and teaching children in the schools about litter prevention and taking care of creeks: $42,124

Athletes United for Peace's digital technology academy to teach broadcast media production: $47,175

Golden Gate Audubon Society's environmental stewardship program: $40,000 The eco-academy is one of the proposals winning community support.

County-owned public housing units that are vacant would be refurbished into the academy's headquarters and classrooms. The academy would feature a learning lab with computers, high school equivalency classes and tutoring; an ecology division for restoration, agriculture, landscaping, green roofs and water treatment training; a green construction program; and a technology component focusing on energy efficiency.

Students who finish the training would be awarded industry-recognized certifications that would help them get jobs and a steady income.

The Neighborhood House of North Richmond would head the project in collaboration with other agencies. The county Housing Authority and Office of Neighborhood Safety would identify the first set of students, and officials hope word-of-mouth would draw subsequent students.

Cynthia Barron, who founded the Verde Elementary School Coffee Club to engage parents, supports the plan.

"We want our own people to have more employment, job opportunities," Barron said. "There are a lot of changes going on in North Richmond. People who live there for years are still here and they're trying their best."

Katherine Tam covers Richmond. Follow her at

IF YOU GO What: North Richmond Waste and Recovery Mitigation Fee Joint Expenditure Planning Committee will meet to approve a budget. When: 2 p.m. Monday Where: City Council chambers, 440 Civic Center Plaza, Richmond more information:The agenda, staff reports and proposals submitted by groups seeking funding are at


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