RICHMOND: The Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN) & Communities for a Better Environment (CBE)

Richmond’s story is one of community organizing, vision, and inspiration. In a city that is almost 90 percent people of color, that has faced a legacy of environmental racism, blight, and economic divestment for decades, community groups are building Our Power. This vision centers frontline community power to create innovative solutions for building strong and resilient communities. It also envisions a regenerative and non-extractive economy with energy democracy, food and land security, health and improved air quality, local ownership, and inclusive democratic governance.

For many years, unjust policies have allowed high-emission, low-job industries to concentrate in Richmond, stealing the health and wealth of residents. Contra Costa County, where the city is located, has the second highest concentration of heavy industry in the state, while the city of Richmond lies in the shadows of the 2,900-acre Chevron oil refinery. The refinery processes 245,000 barrels of oil per day and is one of the largest greenhouse gas emitters in California. The burden of pollution has led to severe consequences in air quality, public health, and safety. Children in Richmond are twice as likely to have asthma compared to children in the rest of the state, while the city also maintains higher rates of low birth weight babies, cancer, and respiratory illnesses.

Despite these conditions, community groups in Richmond are advancing innovative solutions to building strong and resilient communities. Richmond was the first majority people of color city in the nation to have Community Choice Energy and a progressive City Council majority. It is at the center of efforts to advance a Just Transition, moving away from an extractive and exploitative economy toward a local and living economy that supports the well-being of families, empowers people, cleans the environment, and creates safe and healthy neighborhoods.

The Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN), Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), Rich City Rides (RCR), and Urban Tilth formally established the Richmond Our Power Coalition in early 2017. Since then, they have added two new member organizations, Cooperation Richmond and Safe Return Project, and two new ally organizations, Idle No More and Marin Clean Energy. Together, the coalition is determined to revitalize the city by investing in community innovation and governance, while fostering local resiliency and connections within the broader community. In April 2017, the group hosted a community forum to educate and inspire Richmond community members around the Just Transition framework. People had opportunities to discuss and generate strategies to achieve their vision for Richmond. Every August, the Our Power Festival brings hundreds of youth and families together to learn about Just Transition strategies. Participants watch musical performances powered by bicycles, eat locally grown food, and experience examples of how a Just Transition can become a reality in Richmond.

In the future, the Our Power Coalition would like to provide leadership development programs, neighborhood councils that ensure community control over public resources, and support for citywide policy campaigns. APEN and CBE are currently working on introducing a citywide energy policy that supports the expansion of equitable renewable energy access to bring sustainable development, transparency, community benefits, and energy democracy to Richmond’s residents.

Asian Pacific Environmental Network is one of the few organizations in the country explicitly developing the leadership and power of low-income Asian immigrant and refugee communities to fight for environmental, social, and economic justice. APEN is building new models of development, land use, and resource allocation in Richmond and Oakland, and across the state, to bring fundamental changes to our economic and social institutions to promote healthy, green, just communities.

Communities for a Better Environment works in working-class Latino and African American communities of Oakland, Richmond, Wilmington, and cities of Southeast Los Angeles County. CBE combines community grassroots organizing, science-based advocacy, and legal intervention into a uniquely effective strategy to successfully impact change and improve the quality of lives for the residents.