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Richmond: Parks group seeks protection for Field Station shoreline

Richmond’s City Council agenda on Tuesday includes discussion of the electronic billboard at Pacific East Mall next to Interstate 80, which could provide interesting discussion over its legality, which has been questioned by Councilman Tom Butt.
The group Citizens for East Shore Parks, meanwhile, is more interested in the item after the billboard, which is titled “Resolution to Protect the Coastal Prairie at the Richmond Field Station,” submitted by Vice Mayor Jovanka Beckles.
CESP issued the following email call to it members:

Please come to the City Council and support a resolution directing staff to remove any consideration in the South Richmond Plan for vehicle traffic through the coastal prairie at the Richmond Field Station- and to prepare alternatives for the Plan that only show vehicle being routed around the coastal prairie.

Why is it important to protect the coastal prairie?
Today, less than one percent of California’s original native grassland ecosystems remain intact! The Richmond Field Station is recognized by the California Native Plant Society for priority protection because it contains the last undisturbed native coastal prairie grassland adjacent to the San Francisco Bay Shoreline. This native grassland is an intact remnant stand that functions as a reference assemblage – invaluable for the study of how this threatened ecosystem functions and as an example of its community type for restoration ecologists. A great goal for the scientists at UC Berkeley.

Click here to view the resolution.

The City of Richmond will post the Council agenda online. Check the website here: http://ci.richmond.ca.us/index.aspx?nid=151.

It is item # I-2– which won’t be until 7:15 pm or later. But, you must sign in to speak prior to the item being called.

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El Cerrito/Richmond then and now: A former drug store building enters the natural food age

Amerio Drugs in its neon sign glory days had an ice cream fountain counter and parking in the back, shared with neighbor El Nido Market.

The neon sign and soda fountain of Amerio Drugs on San Pablo Avenue are long gone, but the building (actually located on the Richmond side of the city limits) is still there.
Amerio succumbed to the fate of most independent pharmacies, eventually being replaced by a paint store and then sitting vacant for a number of years.
After an extensive remodeling it reopened earlier this year as The Annex, the prepared store of the El Cerrito Natural Grocery Company, which established a thriving location next door at the former El Nido Market.
The neon sign on the front of the former drug store has been replaced by a wood facade, with solar panels installed on the roof.

The El Cerrito Natural Grocery Company Annex has opened in the Amerio Drugs building, offering a salad bar instead of ice cream sodas.

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Arlington Avenue in Kensington through the years

Arlington and Amherst avenues circa 1914.

The former Arlington Drugs in Kensington has been a familiar sight since it was opened by Louis Stein Jr. (Cal class of 1924) in the 1920s. The store changed hands a couple of times after Stein retired and finally closed its pharmacy window last year, converting to a general store that closed earlier this year.
The location has recently reopened as the second location of longtime Berkeley business Country Cheese Company. Store co-owner Shirley Ng remodeled the interior to accommodate the change to a food business, but also worked with the U.S. Postal Service to retain the postal window established during the drug store days and beloved by Kensingtonians.
She also said this week that the Rexall Drugs sign on the outside of the store is also something of a local landmark and will be retained.
Here are some views of the area over the years.

Arlington at Amherst circa 1950.

Arlington at Amherst today.

The Rexall Drugs sign will be retained at the Country Cheese Company store.


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El Cerrito shop’s Little Free Library is recovered

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The Little Free Library that was stolen from in front of The Glenn Custom Framing shop on Stockton Avenue on Monday night or Tuesday morning has been recovered.
Shop owner Kathleen Glenn, who received the take-a-book, leave-a-book library last year as a birthday gift from her daughter, plans to have it back on the sidewalk as soon as weather permits and possibly with some modifications to make it harder to take.
The library had been secured to its post with long screws, but the perpetrator was able to pry it off.

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Bringing on tenants at the new El Cerrito shopping center, 1957-58

Here are the original Oakland Tribune stories as Woolworth comes aboard as a tenant and Capwell’s celebrates opening the largest department store in Contra Costa County in 1957-58.

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October 1957.

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Announcement of the opening of Capwell’s new $6 million, 232,000-square-foot store in July 1958.

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More than 5,000 people attended the ribbon-cutting and opening of the Capwell’s store, the Tribune reported.

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Views of the original El Cerrito Plaza, part II: The economy strikes back

This go-round has photos of the classic El Cerrito Plaza in its declining years, which, sadly, seems to be when the most pictures were taken as people debated the center’s future. You can learn about the original center at the El Cerrito Historical Society program on Thursday.
The Plaza added attractions such as Chevy’s and Chuck E. Cheese (which also attracted the highest number of police calls to the center) during this period, but many smaller merchants closed and a toy store literally packed up and disappeared overnight. The biggest blows came when the Emporium and Woolworth’s closed when their parent companies liquadated, leaving just Longs Drugs and the Lucky/Albertsons grocery as the two major anchors.

(You can click the photos to see larger versions)

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The old Plaza sign.

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The later Plaza sign, reflecting old and new businesses.

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Decorating for Christmas in the late 1980s.

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The Gaucho Marching Band leads the El Cerrito High homecoming parade through the Plaza parking lot about 1997. Emporium (Capwell) has already closed and there are portable outhouses next to the building.

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An empty storefront next to Betty’s Hallmark.

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The south side of the Plaza around 1989. What was still open at that time? See the next photo.

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Enlarging the photo we can see Woolworth’s, Mechanics Bank, the Mel-O-Dee, The Junket and a toy store.

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The space between Longs and Capwell’s, um, Emporium, looks lonely in this midday shot.

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Plaza security makes the rounds about 1989. Behind Kids Mart are Betty’s Hallmark and Beadazzled.

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David’s Hof Brau anchored a corner for a time.

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A view of the southside looking to the hills.

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A view of the south side looking toward Albany Hill and the site of the original Castro adobe that stood on the property for more than a century.

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Another lonely looking view of the interior corridor, though in fairness, the photographer waited until nobody was visible. Note the sign for McPhee’s Junior Bootery.

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Fair housing groups ask courts to squelch investor lawsuit against Richmond

For Immediate Release                                                                                             Contact: See Below      

Monday, Sept 9, 2013                                                                                             

 

Fair Housing Groups Ask Court to Deny Banks’ Effort to

Stop Richmond’s Mortgage Rescue Plan

Industry threats constitute illegal, discriminatory lending practice, and would lead to redlining in Richmond

 

A coalition of fair housing and civil right groups filed an amicus brief in federal court today, supporting the City of Richmond’s opposition to a motion for preliminary injunction filed by trustees Wells Fargo Bank and Deutsche Bank. The trustees (Wells and Deutsche Bank) seek to block the City’s plan to help homeowners by restructuring underwater mortgages.

 

The brief, filed by the law firm Relman, Dane, & Colfax PLLC, on behalf of the National Housing Law Project, Housing and Economic Rights Advocates, Bay Area Legal Aid, the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley, and the California Reinvestment Coalition, argues that the actions the securitization industry has threatened to take to block the program, known as Richmond CARES, would amount to illegal redlining and would violate federal and state fair housing and fair lending laws, including the federal Fair Housing Act.

 

Richmond is 40% Hispanic and 25% African-American, and the fair housing and civil rights groups argue that the Securities Industries and Financial Markets Association’s (SIFMA) plan would therefore have a disparate impact on minority borrowers.

 

Kevin Stein, Associate Director at the California Reinvestment Coalition, explained: “Banks continue to fail at keeping Richmond families in their homes, without any real consequences from their regulators.  Instead of fighting the city and threatening to redline Richmond, the banks should refocus their efforts on helping homeowners, especially since more than half (51%) of them are underwater in Richmond.” 

 

Last summer, the Securities Industries and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA) announced that in response to Richmond’s plan to help homeowners, SIFMA would block any future mortgages made in Richmond from being accepted in the most desirable part of the secondary market for mortgage-backed securities (MBS).  By restricting access, the cost of credit would likely rise dramatically for Richmond borrowers.

 

Marcia Rosen, Executive Director of the National Housing Law Project, explained: “The Banks’ attempt to prevent Richmond from responding to its foreclosure crisis is especially egregious given their role in the predatory lending underlying the crisis.   And the assertion that the injunction is necessary to protect the public interest from their own threatened redlining of the city must be seen for what it is — discrimination in violation of the Fair Housing Act that would further harm this beleaguered city and its residents.”

 

“What the securitization industry says it will do to the people of Richmond if it loses in the city council and the federal courthouse is racially discriminatory redlining, and it is illegal under federal and state law.  We fully expect that if the industry ever tries to go forward with its redlining plan, a court will step in and stop it,” said Glenn Schlactus of Relman, Dane & Colfax, a civil rights law firm based in Washington, D.C.

 

Maeve Elise Brown, Executive Director at Housing and Economic Rights Advocates, explained, “The mortgage servicing industry has lost money for investors for years by failing to work with homeowners on foreclosure avoidance options, particularly principal reduction.  The industry knows that principal reduction is the wise financial choice for investors and homeowners alike.  But now, disingenuously, the industry claims that a plan with principal reduction will hurt investors.  The fact is, the eminent domain proposal is likely to save investors money over the years to come, as well as maintaining communities and saving the city from tremendous losses.”

 

Hearing: A hearing on the trustees’ motion for a preliminary injunction and the City of Richmond’s motion to dismiss the case will be held on September 12, 2013, at 10:00 a.m. at the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, the Honorable Charles R. Breyer, presiding.

 

San Francisco Resolution supporting Richmond introduced: A resolution supporting the City of Richmond’s program was introduced today by San Francisco County Supervisor David Campos, recognizing the damage done to local communities by the foreclosure crisis, and supporting Richmond’s efforts to confront the problem head on.

 

Additional background:

The City of Richmond’s local principal reduction program Richmond CARES, launched with a vote by City Council in April, will acquire certain underwater mortgages, through regular purchase or eminent domain if necessary, in order to restructure the troubled mortgages and help the homeowners modify or refinance, getting them mortgages with reduced principal in-line with current home values.  Community, labor and faith groupssupporting the program say it will allow the City to preserve wealth in local hands, especially in communities of color and low-income communities that have been decimated by the foreclosure crisis and see no end in sight. In Richmond, 51% of all residential mortgage holders are still underwater.

 

In August, more than 50 fair housing, labor and community groups sent a letter to Congress, declaring that federal agencies should respect the right of cities like to pursue local principal reduction programs without facing redlining or illegal discrimination by the big banks or federal agencies.     

 

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San Francisco supervisor proposes support for Richmond eminent domain plan

PRESS RELEASE:

Media Alert:  EVENT Monday, September 9, 2013

For More Information: 

John Eller, ACCE   415-725-9869(cell) jeller@calorganize.org

Hillary Ronen Legislative Aide to Supervisor David Campos   415-425-9785 Hillary.ronen@sfgov.org

Nick Sifuentes, 310-866-1692nick@berlinrosen.com

San Francisco Supervisor Campos Announces Support for Program to Buy Mortgages, Fix Underwater Crisis
Will introduce resolution supporting Richmond’s Local Principal Reduction plan and have San Francisco investigate use of eminent domain to save underwater borrowers

 

San Francisco:  On Monday, September 9, 2013, at 10:00 a.m. (Pacific) San Francisco Supervisor David Campos will announce his intention to introduce a resolution before the County Board of Supervisors expressing support for the City of Richmond’s innovative effort to save hundreds of underwater borrowers (Richmond CARES), and instructing staff to explore opportunities in San Francisco to adopt a similar program.

 

“For the last few years, we have seen Wall Street Banks challenge every effort to rebuild our hardest hit communities from the foreclosure and economic crisis,” stated Supervisor Campos “today we need to show solidarity with bold leaders of Richmond in their effort to break the status quo as defined by Wall Street and rebuild their communities.”

 

WHAT:                        Press Conference to announce a City Resolution that would:

1.     Have San Francisco stand with the Mayor and City Councilmembers of Richmond to use similar lawful methods at their disposal as they work to save homes and save neighborhoods; 

2.     Calls on Wells Fargo – whose home is in San Francisco, SIFMA, and FHFA to stop threatening communities with reprisals and litigation and instead work with them to negotiate principal reduction for underwater mortgages as a way to strengthen local economies and help keep families in their homes; and

3.     Explore how a Local Principal Reduction program similar to the one being implemented by the City of Richmond could work here in San Francisco.

 

WHERE:            East Steps of San Francisco City Hall (Polk Street)

 

WHEN:                        Monday, September 9, 2013 10:00 a.m.

 

WHO:                         City supervisors and leaders from labor, faith, and community; underwater San

Francisco borrowers that received principle reduction and San Francisco borrowers who want the same opportunity.

 

On July 30, 2013, the City of Richmond became the first municipality in the nation to step boldly in where the federal government and the banks have failed, offering to purchase more than  600 city mortgages from major Wall Street banks and other servicers to achieve local principle reduction for distressed homeowners. Richmond has been hard-hit by the ongoing foreclosure crisis; as of 2013, 46% of all residential mortgage holders in the city are still underwater.

 

Wrongful foreclosures have caused a catastrophic loss of wealth.  Often targeted by predatory lending, communities of color have been particularly hard-hit with African Americans losing 53% of their median wealth from 2005 to 2009 and Latinos 66%. 

 

The Richmond program is an innovative program that enables cities to preserve wealth in local hands, especially in communities of color and low-income communities, which have been decimated by the foreclosure crisis and see no end in sight.

 

After an unprecedented push by local residents in Richmond to find ways to help struggling homeowners, the Richmond City Council approved the plan in April and sent letters to the banks in late July to offer to purchase underwater mortgages and, if needed, use the city’s eminent domain authority if necessary help struggling homeowners restructure their loans to be in line with the current value of their homes.  The City of Richmond  is working in partnership with Mortgage Resolution Partners, an advisory firm that has lined up the funding and technical support needed to carry out this program.

 

“Residents here in Richmond have been suffering for years thanks to the housing crisis Wall Street created and which Wall Street refuses to fix,” said Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin. “We’ve seen too many houses go dark, too many lawns dry up and die, too many families left with nothing after years of hard work. When my constituents started showing up, calling on us to help them save our homes, I knew that this was the right thing for the Mayor and City Council to do.”

 

Though the City of Richmond is leading the way nationwide on local principle reduction, other California cities such as El Monte and La Puente are advancing this as well. 

 

Supervisor Campos is District 9 Supervisor for the Mission and Bernal Heights Neighborhoods of San Francisco, two neighborhoods impacted by the Foreclosure Crisis.  Occupy Bernal was formed last year and has already saved dozens of homeowners from foreclosure through principal reduction by banks and servicers.  Occupy Bernal has proven that servicers and borrowers can work together to achieve what Richmond is proposing and Banks like Wells Fargo is opposing.

 

The Home Defenders League is a national organization fighting against foreclosures, and for a just resolution to the mortgage crisis including the mass principal reduction for underwater homeowners. The League includes 26 community-based affiliates such as the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), national organizing networks the Alliance for a Just Society and Right to the City Alliance, Occupy Homes groups, and thousands of member families across the country. In a few short months, a coalition of more than 50 groups, including some of the nation’s largest labor unions and leading fair housing groups, issued an open letter asking members of Congress to rebuff repeated efforts to unfairly bar local municipalities that enact local principle reduction from receiving federally backed home mortgage loans. For more information, please visit:  www.saverichmondhomes.org

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Richmond councilman denounces eminent domain plan, urges special meeting

From Councilman Nat Bates in an email sent to supporters:

April 2, 2013 City Council minutes of action taken.

The matter to approve an Advisory Services Agreement with Mortgage Resolution Partners, LLC to assist the City of Richmond in reducing the impact of the mortgage crisis, by advising on the acquisition of mortgage loans through the use of eminent domain, in order to restructure or refinance the loans and thereby preserving home ownership, restoring homeowner equity and stabilizing the communities’ housing market and economy by allowing many homeowners to remain in their homes was presented by City Manager Bill Lindsay. (At 11:00 p.m. on motion of Councilmember Myrick, seconded by Mayor McLaughlin extended the meeting to finish the current item with Councilmember Butt voting Noe). Councilmember Butt left the meeting at ll:15 p.m. Leland Chan and Melvin Willis gave comments.

A motion was made by Councilmember Beckles, seconded by Councilmember Myrick to approve an Advisory Services Agreement with Mortgage Resolution Partners, LLC. Councilmember Myrick requested a report back from staff regarding loan criteria and specifics. A substitute motion was made by Vice Mayor Booze, seconded by Councilmember Bates to hold the item over for 30 days to gather more information. Following discussion, Councilmember Bates withdrew his second. The original motion to approve an Advisory Services Agreement with Mortgage Resolution Partners, LLC passed by the following vote: Ayes: Councilmembers Bates, Beckles, Myrick, Rogers, Vice Mayor Booze, and Mayor McLaughlin. Noes: None. Abstentions: None. Absent: Councilmember Butt.

 

As noted above, this action was to approve an Advisory Service Agreement with a follow-up of the criteria and specifics. How the mayor interpreted this as a mandate to go after the lending institutions is beyond me. The mayor has been misrepresenting the city council action by parading around  San Francisco and threatening Wells Fargo without the city council approval. In addition, this council has no idea the capacity of Mortgage Resolutions Partners LLC financial ability to pay damages should the court order such against the city. Also, there has not been any staff report regarding loan criteria and specifics as directed in the motion of April 2, 2013,some 4 months ago which suggest not one councilmember including the mayor understand the criteria and specifics.

 

In addition, this action has caused serious financial risk to the city, and each and every homeowner or potential home owners who wish to refinance, purchase or sell a home in this city. My recent communication with the Finance Director, Mr. Jim Goins indicate the city was circulating some 30 millions of dollars in revenue bonds. Although the city has a strong A bond rating, not one financial institution was willing to come forward to purchase these bonds because of the Eminent Domain issue and Wall Street’s reaction to the City of Richmond. Kindly take a look at the reactions from several news articles, etc listed below.

 

While most of us are sympathetic to the many citizen who are undergoing financial risk of losing their homes through the mortgage crisis and etc, as responsible elected officials, we must not comprise the integrity and financial ability of this city to operate efficiently.

 

It is important this council take leadership and do our job in representing our citizenry. Therefore, I am requesting my council members join me in calling for a special city council meeting within the next seven days to clarify and make the necessary corrections to offset this potential financial liability and embarrassment to this city. Should my fellow colleagues concur, kindly email your support to the city clerk as soon as possible.

 

Respectfully,

 

Councilmember Nat Bates

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El Cerrito Orchard Supply Hardware store will close

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Orchard Supply Hardware sent an email announcement to local customers today announcing that its El Cerrito location will be closing, a casualty of the company’s bankruptcy in June and subsequent sale to home improvement giant Lowe’s.
Lowe’s in June agreed to buy 60 of Orchard’s 91 locations and Orchard said at the time that the remaining locations would likely close. Orchard was founded in the Bay Area and has 20 stores here.
This week’s anncouncement, above, directs customers to the Orchard locations in Berkeley, Pinole and Moraga.
The location of the El Cerrito store on Eastshore Highway is one of the few sites fully in the city that has freeway frontage, but retailers have come and gone over the years, including Pay ‘n’ Pak discount hardware and home goods, and a discount furniture store.
The closure shouldn’t leave shoppers searching for a source of hardware and home improvement supplies. The south end of town has the large Pastime ACE Hardware store and the north end has The Home Depot, located partly in El Cerrito and partly in Richmond.