When Princess Robinson takes her son to school at 8 o’clock in the morning, there’s always a line of people waiting to buy their morning tamales and coffee from a lady selling on the corner. Later in the day, she might come across folks barbecuing and selling plates out on the block.
Robinson lives in North Richmond, a 1.5 square-mile unincorporated area of Contra Costa County, California, at the northern end of the Bay Area, nearly surrounded by the city of Richmond proper. Predominantly Black and Hispanic, in normal economic times North Richmond’s unemployment rate stubbornly hovers around 22%, with a median income of about $26,000. Located just west of—and therefore downwind from—a major Chevron oil refinery, North Richmond has long suffered from higher child asthma rates and other chronic health issues related to air pollution than other parts of Contra Costa county.