Last week in East Contra Costa County, we came together with residents from across the region — from Pittsburg to Pleasant Hill — to talk about the issues of the day in the county, and their respective cities and neighborhoods.
We think it’s important to share more broadly what we are hearing in the VOICE sessions throughout the region. I want to outline core themes that resonated for our team in what was shared.
Throughout the day, participants lifted up the tremendous assets in the eastern part of Contra Costa County —the civic activity, the sense of community, the strong connections to political infrastructure and the rich system of nonprofits. There was a strong theme that there is a lot to be proud of, and build upon, in the County.
There were also consistent themes identifying where there are opportunities to work together to come up with equitable solutions. Themes that included how there is a significant jobs and housing imbalance, leading to a heavy reliance on commuting that creates a whole set of challenges and opportunities.
There is also a complex housing situation occurring in East Contra Costa County, and competing realities. On the one hand, it is one of the more affordable areas in the Bay Area. At the same time, there’s an affordability issue for families and people who grew up and want to stay in the County. Lastly, there’s concern of further displacement of residents who moved to the area during the recession because of affordable rental opportunities, finding themselves once again under the stresses of a shifting housing market.
In areas ranging from transit and housing to education, there was a strong focus on families, children, and creating the right strategies and systems of support for young people to succeed.
Participants also shared many bold opportunities to strengthen the region, including moving to a healthier energy grid, focusing on collaborative efforts, reinvesting in redevelopment money, and establishing a major four-year collegiate institution in the County with a strong workforce component.
Collectively, these listening sessions are an important part of setting the course for our work at The San Francisco Foundation in the short and long term. For our work to be effective, it must be grounded in community, in the voices and lived experiences of the residents.
Each of the VOICE: Bay Area sessions are a critical part of setting our course as we define strategies and tactics to reach our north star: expanding opportunity in the region.
In addition to asking people to share stories in person, we’re also doing so virtually at bayareavoices.org where you can read and submit a story about your experiences of living, working, and playing in the Bay Area.
VOICE: Bay Area is a listening series taking place across the five Bay Area Counties, hosted by The San Francisco Foundation’s new CEO, Fred Blackwell, and his team to hear firsthand about the daily struggles, challenges, inspirations, and successes of residents as TSFF moves into the next decade of its work.
The topics of the day were discussed using the World Café method. This format brings participants together in groups of four to five for meaningful conversations around a specific set of questions, and participants' deep understanding of the issues facing the community, as well as creative thinking about how to address them. Participants had the opportunity to engage with many other attendees as part of the Café, both in small group conversations and as a whole. Below are the themes and deeper questions experienced in the small group conversations that participants shared with the larger group and a graphic recorder. A Café conversation is a creative process for leading collaborative dialogue, ensuring that everyone's voice is part of the conversation.
We asked participants, "If a friend was moving to this county, what would you tell them about its strengths and treasures and the hard stuff?"
Participants shared the following:
- One strength we mentioned was the sense of community. I enjoy that when I go to the grocery store, me and my kids know everyone.
- We talked about how there's a great amount of energy and resources to do things better for our communities – those are in place to make a difference.
- Our potential for positive growth.
- Our sense of culturally diverse community.
- We live in a beautiful area with a lot of trails and amenities that people don’t know about.
- Strengths are communities, organizations, and government.
- Our local government is accessible. We’re not too big that local officials can’t reach out and touch to make a different.
- Beauty of the water and hills and rural areas for our food.
- This is probably the most affordable place in the bay area. Housing is a plus here.
- We talked about the potential positive growth for this part of the county, and family friendly environments for this area.
- We need to be excited about East Contra Costa County – we should all be together and excited about it.
- It’s too easy to be negative.
- It’s challenging in East Contra Costa County for people to find a job to support themselves and live in the community, to live and work in the same community.
- In order to raise education rates, we need to go where the people are.
- There’s a lack of resources that Latinos can tap into. They are closing the kids club and preschool, and we Latinos don’t get communication back to us as Latinos about what's happening.
- Criminal rates are unfortunately high. We need our young people to feel wanted and needed. We need arts. We need careers for adults to jump to the next level.
- 20% of residents don’t have a high school diploma
- We need to quit living in a silo – we need to work together collaboratively.
- Traffic is always going to be a problem until we get it taken care of.
- We need public housing that’s affordable.
- We need transitional housing. There is a lot of homelessness and we need resources for our community.
- We need resources for employment and job training for youth.
- We need cultural centers for recent migrants to the area, and free recreational space for children and families.
- We need cohesiveness within ourselves and the community.
We asked participants, "What have been the biggest changes (patterns, trends) you have seen in the last five years? Which changes are the most concerning to you? Which are most encouraging?"
Participants shared the following:
- Growing income inequality, which leads to resource inequality.
- East Contra Costa County is the Bay Area’s best kept secret. Lots of transition happening with people coming and people then getting pushed out. Need to make sure people can stay.
- Lot of speculators coming in and buying homes with cash, making it hard to buy as a resident. People are having to move further and further away.
- Nonprofits are duplicating efforts; need to combine resources and efforts.
- Nonprofits haven’t kept up, we’re relying on them and there are not enough and city doesn't have budget to support services.
- People are moving here for affordable housing, but services and jobs have not followed suit.
- Rise in homelessness – we need rent subsidies for a period of time with wrap around services.
- Residents commute out for work/play/handle business. We need to reverse that commute so people can stay live and work here.
- Not enough support for local business; lack of movement on utilizing buildings which continue to remain empty.
- Need more spaces, community centers and programs for youth.
- Cities like Antioch, Pittsburg, and Brentwood have begun to fund semi-private to public agencies – the arts for our children and all citizens, the California Theater, the arts foundation of Antioch, parks, and historical societies.
- New collaboration in Brentwood with school district and nonprofits to address kindergarten readiness.
- Healthy Livable Pittsburgh is improving bike lanes, programs to help youth, etc, creating a more holistic approach that involves everyone.
- Citizens came together and developed a suburban poverty task force to address the issues of children, safety and crime.
- Transportation is shifting as Highway 4 is completed, and eBart makes its way to Hillcrest. Next year, Highway 4 will be done. Three years after that, ebart will come all the way to Hillcrest. Over the last 4 years, economic development has also been pushed, the Northern Waterfront Initiative that has the federal government looking at the area to create jobs. We need more jobs for the residents here.
- County transportation plan shows that the population is about to grow by 130,000 residents, which is a 41% increase, and job growth is expected to grow 100%, but still more than half of the residents will have to commute out for work, and traffic will grow 70-80% by 2040.
- What’s encouraging is this – TSFF bring us together to bridge the gap between the cities. At my table, not everyone knew there was an Oakley program; it’s great that we were brought together to communicate.
We asked residents, "From what you've heard today, what bold steps or new opportunities do you feel might make a difference in your community?"
Participants shared that:
- There has been a shift in demographics, but not a shift in money. The resources are in West Contra Costa County, but the need is in East Contra Costa County. To be more specific, the City of Richmond's budget is $140 million, while Antioch is larger in population and its budget is only $40 million. We need to shift resources.
- Create a center for job creation in farming, sustainable agriculture and biotech.
- If you build it, they will come! Bring the nonprofits together to collaborate and address health, food, obesity, and issues of poverty.
- Nonprofits aren't expected to make money, and they never have enough money to do all that they want to do. Invite business in, have a business summit, and help them to understand the needs of workers.
- Cities should get together to pass a law that will provide oversight for management companies that are buying up houses and charging $2,000 in rent.
- Need longer-term care shelters in East Contra Costa County. Right now the shelters are in Central Contra Costa County, but most clients are from the eastern part. Utilize cities, empty buildings, or another space to operate a permanent shelter for homeless families so people can live, work, and go to school in the same area.
- Come together and get something on the ballot to get our development money back.
- Create a seamless pathway between high school and college – each high school student should have six credits that are transferable to college to help get them started.
- We need to work more closely with schools to help build community. When I was growing up, I used the fields – now it’s closed down with a fence. There has to be a place for kids while their parents are commuting home.
- We need a four-year university here. Instead of driving all the way out to Sacramento or San Francisco, students could stay and do work here with local businesses and do a job development. We should take the Concord campus and turn it into a major state university.
- We could use a foundation to recruit local wealth and have it all stay right here.
- I’m excited about being a part of the suburban task force that is spearheading ideas of collaborative networking to build up Antioch – that could be mirrored in other communities. We can be doing more for communities by sharing resources more effectively.
- I’m thinking big and long term – we have four refineries and multiple pollution points, and because of that we have many health disparities. We need to encourage County Supervisors to decrease the carbon business, and increase in solar and renewable energy – get us off of this carbon addiction we’re in.
Throughout the day, there were a number of ways for participants to share with each other and TSFF. One of those included an opportunity at the end to share one message that they wanted The San Francisco Foundation to hear that they hadn't yet had the opportunity to share.
On a big board with post-it notes, participants shared a number of reflections and messages with The San Francisco Foundation.
Below are some of the notes that were shared with us:
- Young people in East Contra Costa County often haven't been outside of the East Bay.
- East Contra Costa County is underfunded.
- Let's have a YMCA in Antioch.
- Better relationship with police in Antioch.
- Expand Welcoming Oakley to other cities.
- Need quality parent education and support.
- Lack resources; hard for people to get around and not enough healthy hangouts.
- Higher paying jobs.
- Ballot initiative that overturns the commercial tax relief provision of Prop 13 to fund recreation, schools and local services.
- Know the people, know the struggle of the working and middle class.
- More services for Spanish speakers and Latinos and low-income families.
- Utilize leaders in the community to participate in outreach, initiatives, on boards, etc.
- Research successful models of community parks to utilize empty lots.
- Nonprofits are duplicating services. We need to incentivize efficiency and collaboration.
- Money needs to follow resources for underserved populations.
- Lack of resources equals creativity.
- I want to feel safe in my community.
- Have these kinds of community events to educate and to see positive possibilities for change.
- We could decrease the health disparities in the whole county by decreasing the number of refineries and move to a renewal power grid. Then we can decrease asthma and illnesses. We can go from four to one and encourage the oil companies to become clean energy corporations.
- Let's have a business and nonprofit organization summit to educate businesses about the limited budgets for nonprofits to provide services.
- Better recruitment and use of retired senior and local volunteers to assist with reading deficiencies in the schools.
- East Contra Costa needs to go on a road diet. We need complete streets – streets that are accessible, safe and inviting to all users including cyclists, pedestrians, public transit users, and all abilities and ages. This will improve air quality, physical activity levels, health, and social cohesion.
- Create a nonprofit association.
- Support a suburban poverty task force in Antioch as a focal point in providing resources to our communities.
- Support what is working in East Contra Costa, especially within our schools, i.e. linked learning in our high schools.