A Community Transformed: Richmond, California

    Richmond, California, has a population of approximately 80,000 and lies just northeast of San Francisco. Richmond and its vicinity host a variety of industrial, petrochemical, and chemical manufacturing facilities. These facilities generate, transport, and store vast quantities of hazardous materials, and emit or discharge substantial amounts of pollutants regulated by the EPA and the California Air Quality Control Board.1  While Richmond is a racially diverse community, a majority of its residents are members of minority groups.  According to 1980 census information, approximately 48% of Richmond residents were African-American and 40% were white.2  Hispanics, who were not separately counted in the 1980 census, comprised approximately 10% of the population of Richmond.3  Thus, according to the criteria used by most environmental racism scholars, Richmond provides another example of disproportionate impact from the siting of environmentally sensitive land uses.

    Richmond, however, was not a pristine minority community invaded by noxious industrial land uses.  On the contrary, industry grew in Richmond and lured its residents with the promise of jobs.  One of the earliest industrial plants to locate in Richmond Indeed, orks, which located there in 1878 because it was Vulcan Powder West followed was suitably unpopulated.4  Other explosives compamanies followed suit, moving to Richmond to produce dynamite and nitroglycerin for the Bay Area's numerous construction projects.5

    The decision by the Santa Fe Rail ad to make Richmond the terminal point for its transcontinental line in 1900, combined with Richmond's large deep-water port, attracted many other major manufacturing facilities to the area in the early part of the century.6   Standard Oil opened the second largest refinery in the world in Richmond in 1902, and western Pipe and Steel Company arrived soon thereafter.7  Richmond's industrial base continued to grow during the first half of the twentieth century.

    It wasn't until World War II, however, that the population of Richmond boomed. During the war, Kaiser Shipyard became one of the largest wartime production facilities, producing ships at the rate of one per day and employing loo,ooo workers at the peak of its war effort.8  "The migration of workers to the Kaiser Shipyards caused Richmond's population to explode from a pre-war total of 23,642 to more than 100,000. Much of the city's current racial composition can be traced to this boom period when many southern Blacks left their farms seeking wartime employment."9

    While Richmond's industrial base continues to grow, as existing companies expand operations and others arrive to take advantage of its large labor pool and transportation facilities, the fact that most of its residents are minorities appears to be directly attributable to individual choices to seek employment in a highly industrialized area. Nonetheless, some environmental equity advocates rely on communities like Richmond to provide evidence of the injustice of the existing distribution of environmentally sensitive land uses.10 

 

Footnotes
1. See CITIZENS FOR A BETTER ENVIRONMENT, RICHMOND AT RISK: COMMUNITY DEMOGRAPHICS AND Toxic HAZARDS FROM INDUSTRIAL POLLUTERS 45-84 (1989) [hereinafter RICHMOND AT RISK].

2. See Id. at 25-26.

3. See Id.

4. See id. at 20-21.

5. See id.

6. See id.

7. See id.

8. See id.

9. Id. at 22.

10. See Charles Lee, Developing the Vision of Environmental Justice: A Paradigm for Achieving Healthy and Sustainable Communities, 14 VA. ENVT'L. L.J. 571, 575 (1995); see also Jane Kay, California's Endangered Communities of Color, in UNEQUAL PROTECTION: ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE AND COMMUNITIES OF COLOR, supra note 2, at 155, 165-168 (using Richmond as an example of disproportionateexposure.)