Where a hot dog stand now is the main lunchtime option for city workers in this distressed Bay Area town, soon they’ll be able to choose from steel-cut oatmeal, goat cheese empanadas and white bean and kale stew, prepared in a mobile cafe. Its owners will share in the decision-making — and any profits. Richmond Solar has trained needy residents to work as green-energy installers and now aims to transform some into bosses by forming a worker-owned cooperative The city’s first bicycle shop has opened with similar dreams: Young men who have volunteered to learn the repair trade soon may be elevated to co-owners. “I’m just gonna ride it out with everyone to get where we need to go,” Mercedes Burnell, 19, said as he prepared to replace a crankshaft and pedals at Richmond SPOKES.
The flurry of democratic enterprise has been guided by Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, a former schoolteacher who visited Mondragon, Spain, and recognized a possible path out of the poverty and unemployment that plague her city. The Basque hill town is dominated by Mondragon Corp., a web of cooperatives that employ 83,000 workers and together represent Spain’s seventh-largest business. Co-op clusters based on Mondragon’s model have emerged in Cleveland and the Bronx, N.Y., among other cities. Richmond, with a 16% unemployment rate, hopes to follow suit.