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  The Focus is on Point Molate
August 12, 2004

The future of Point Molate has hit center stage with some of the largest corporate interests in American jockeying for critical advantages with the help of unlikely allies.


Let’s back up to 1997 when the City Council adopted a Reuse Plan endorsed by a broadly based Blue Ribbon Advisory Committee that called for 84 acres of mixed use residential, commercial and light industrial development and 191 acres of open space, for a total of 275 acres of land.


In 1997, the California economy was still in the red hot dot com boom, and this extraordinary Bay front property looked like a gold mine. Inexplicably, it took the Navy until 2002 to complete the EIS, and by that time the dot com boom had toileted, but residential development was still soaring. ChevronTexaco managed, however, to douse the prospect of residential development at Point Molate by compiling and filing a Risk Management Plan that very conveniently encompassed the bulk of Point Molate in the Alternate Release Scenario for the refinery’s ammonia storage tanks.


The EIS concluded that residential development would be incompatible with the risks posed by Chevron’s neighborly ammonia storage. With the commercial development market oversaturated and residential prospects suffocated by Chevron, the future of Point Molate began to look grim, indeed. To make matters worse, the Navy was projecting a cleanup schedule that extended years into the future with uncertain funding.


In early 2003, the Navy was ready to begin transferring the property to Richmond, but City staff and some City Council members were balking, believing the once promising gold mine had become a pig in a poke and a potential liability. Chevron made an informal “generous” offer to take it off the City’s hands for a few hundred thousand dollars a year, citing the twin goals of securing its post-9/11 western flank and dropping a few coins into City coffers for what had apparently become a white elephant. City hall was inclined to let Chevron walk away with it for a pittance.


Fortunately, clearer minds prevailed, and the City moved ahead by issuing an RFP for prospective developers and consummating turnover of 85 percent of the property. Ultimately, a group headed by Upstream Development was selected by the City Council and awarded an Exclusive Right to Negotiate for purchase of the property.


Fast forward to mid-2004. Upstream Development is ready to purchase the property. What they have in mind is ambitious by any measure. Based on information published in the media, including the Berkeley Daily Planet, the Contra Costa Times and the Richmond Globe, the project is a destination resort that includes four hotels with 1,100 rooms, a 300,000 square foot retail mall with 85 stores and 15 restaurants, a 3,000 seat auditorium and a five-star casino. The existing historic buildings would be rehabilitated, and a shoreline park, similar to San Francisco’s Marina Green, incorporating the Bay Trail, would be provided.


The anticipated construction cost would be between $500 million and $1 billion, providing 1,000 union construction jobs, 3,000 permanent on-site jobs and 2,500 to 3,500 indirect jobs.


The Upstrean proposal would develop about 70 acres of Point Molate, including the existing historic Winehaven Village, and leave the remaining approximately 205 acres in open space. This ratio is substantially the same as the 1997 Reuse Plan recommended by the Blue Ribbon Advisory Committee and adopted by the City Council.


The proposed sales price for the property is $50 million, paid through a combination of cash and notes, and additional payments to the City would be in the range of $15 to $20 million per year.


So, what’s the problem? Well, mainly ChevronTexaco. America’s second largest oil company, it seems, doesn’t like neighbors. ChevronTexaco owns the land surrounding Point Molate, and in fact, as a part of the 3,000 acre refinery, they own most of the rest of the San Pablo peninsula with the exception of about 50 acres owned by the City and 10 acres owned by Point San Pablo Yacht Harbor.


ChevronTexaco has raised the “homeland security” flag and gone on record as opposing any use for Point Molate except industrial and restricted open space. Chevron’s security based objection is, however, a first class red herring. The real reason is that Chevron does not want even a single additional person in proximity to a refinery that will, inevitably, spawn a release, fire, explosion or odor. Also, ChevronTexaco is planning an expansion of the refinery in the future and does not want to increase the possibility of objections, particularly from well financed interests that contrast with the resource-challenged citizens that normally show up to protest the company’s actions.


The current situation with a lucrative offer from Upstream that will be difficult to refuse has poor Chevron climbing the walls. After over 100 years of investing untold dollars in Richmond City Councils that it could control like puppets, Chevron finds itself bidding for the first time against professionals who offer not peanuts and crackerjacks for a few local non-profits and a few tens of thousands of dollars of campaign contributions but tens of millions for the Richmond General Fund and the citizens of Richmond.


In an 11th hour desperate initiative, Chevron has assembled the most unlikely alliance of all for a 10:00 AM press conference at Point Molate tomorrow, August 13. Teaming with the Sierra Club, Save the Bay, Golden Gate Audubon Society, Citizens for Eastshore State Park and the East Bay Regional Park District, ChevronTexaco will make a “historic offer” to preserve the Point Molate Shoreline and “prevent Indian casino development.” For more information, contact Marcus Young at Singer Associates, 415/227-9700, cell 415/595-4341.


The reality is that the designated open space on the Point San Pablo peninsula consists of over 1,000 acres, about 800 of which is owned by Chevron and the remaining 200 or so is within the Point Molate property. The Upstream proposal would convert none of the existing open space or native habitat into development. The proposed development is limited to that already included by the historic Winehaven Village and to areas that are already developed and/or are “brownfields” that are undergoing extensive cleanup of Navy contamination.


What you are seeing here is a clash of titans, the likes of which has never before been witnessed in Richmond. The City Council vote on the contract with Upstream, originally anticipated for August 14, has been rolled back to perhaps August 17 or 24 due to delays in drafting the final documents.


Meanwhile, using environmental organizations as a front, Chevron (perhaps aided by Nevada gambling interests and card rooms) is blatantly greenwashing its adversarial role. Phone banks have been paid to apprise Richmond residents of the evils of the deal, after which they are offered an opportunity to connect directly to City Hall to express their outrage. After fielding a flurry of phone calls today, City Hall workers were astounded to note that the caller ID showed the calls were all coming from the same phone number. Similarly, City Council members have been recipients of identical mass produced emails.


The City Council should not fall over itself to sign onto this deal, particularly when the contract has not been completed and has not been made public. The devil is in the details, and we should thoroughly understand the agreement and make sure the interests of the citizens are thoroughly covered. There are those who oppose gambling for moral, ethical or religious reasons, many of which are based on real facts, and these should be considered. Casinos are known to have adverse impacts on certain individuals and certain segments of the existing business community, and these must be mitigated.


This is, however, an extraordinary opportunity for the citizens of Richmond, particularly when Richmond controls ownership of the property, has the discretion of selling it and can therefore enter into lucrative contractual arrangements with an Indian tribe that would otherwise have sovereign immunity.


I am neither advocating nor condemning the Upstream proposal, but the games that are being played and the misrepresentations that are being made by those opposed are cynical indeed. Maybe this is the best thing that ever happened to Richmond, or maybe it’s a bad idea. In either case, we should make a decisions based on facts and not on ChevronTexaco’s propaganda machine.