RICHMOND -- The 23rd Street corridor is a bustling commercial hub, with restaurants, clothing stores, markets, auto shops and other businesses.
It's also a district that has been plagued with persistent crime.
Now, the Richmond Police Department has new eyes on one of the city's prized districts.
Business leaders and police have partnered to expand the city's camera surveillance program on 23rd Street, hoping that new cameras will drive down crime and help the corridor flourish.
"There was a need for cameras on 23rd Street," said Rafael Madrigal, president of the district's merchants association. "We need to foster continued commercial growth."
New closed-circuit security cameras will be installed on the corridor by the end of the year, the 23rd Street Merchants Association, the Richmond Police Department and the 4Richmond Coalition announced last week. Three cameras were donated by the Chevron Richmond Refinery, and the city chipped in another three cameras as part of the project.
Two are already in place, and the 4Richmond Coalition will help install the four additional cameras by working with the Richmond police, said 4Richmond spokesman Karl Fischer.
The cameras join a network of 40 others operated by the police department and monitored 24 hours a day by retired Richmond police officers working as civilian employees.
The Chevron donation amounts to about $25,000.
The 4Richmond Coalition is a nonprofit organization formed this year that includes representatives from labor unions, businesses and residents. In its mission statement, the coalition says it is "dedicated to creating a healthier, safer and more prosperous Richmond" by focusing on jobs, public health and safety and education.
Although the steering committee and leadership team include officials from the West Contra Costa School District, Richmond Chamber of Commerce and police union, 4Richmond's funding is primarily provided by Chevron.
In early November, 4Richmond funded a trip for 500 Richmond students to visit "Discovery Days at AT&T Park," an exhibition and science festival in San Francisco. Over the summer, the coalition hosted several days of symposium-type conferences involving business and public sector leaders to discuss issues important to the city.
4Richmond Chairman Don Lau, vice president of the West Contra Costa County YMCA, said the group is apolitical and dedicated to improving the city.
"We're all about improving the quality of life in Richmond," Lau said. "We are not choosing (political) sides, we are choosing issues that are important to the city."
Richmond Councilman Tom Butt, a frequent Chevron critic, said he was pleased that 4Richmond helped the city get new cameras on 23rd Street but scoffed at the notion that the organization was anything other than a "Chevron operation."
"My goal is to get as much Chevron money into this community as possible for good causes, so I am not complaining," he said.
Councilman Nat Bates, recently re-elected with the help of more than $1.2 million Chevron funneled into the November election to support some candidates and oppose others, said he welcomed 4Richmond's rise.
Bates said the coalition could be not just a philanthropic force, but a "watchdog" that could "counter" the direction of City Hall, which has been led in recent years by progressives who take a hard-line against the oil giant.
"I expect this new group to be active," Bates said. "It's a welcome change because the Richmond Progressive Alliance has been riding roughshod on businesses and the community."
Meanwhile, the new cameras will be an asset to public safety, said Richmond Police Capt. Mark Gagan. He said that while violent crime continues to trend down in the city, it's important to maintain that momentum.
"We can't have a cop on every street corner," Gagan said. "Technology is not the sole solution, but it allows us to be more efficient, and we are able to do this thanks to the value of partnering with businesses."