|Point Molate in this Morning's
September 21, 2004
A Contra Costa County Superior Court judge quashed on Monday Chevron's attempt to block Richmond's sale of Point Molate to a developer who wants to build a Las Vegas-style casino on the former naval depot.
With that hurdle to the $50 million deal cleared, the Richmond City Council is expected to approve finalizing the deal as early next week and enter into escrow with Upstream Development, the Emeryville firm that is backed by casino giant Harrah's.
"We're going to move forward," Assistant City Manager Rich McCoy said with a smile after the ruling.
Judge David Flinn rejected Chevron's argument that Richmond violated the state's Surplus Land Act by offering to sell Point Molate to a private developer before offering it to a public agency for use as a park.
Instead, Flinn said federal law supercedes the state land act and that the Navy, which donated the land to Richmond last year, intended it as economic development opportunity for the financially strapped city.
If Chevron does not want a casino built on the land, which neighbors its refinery, "the other solution is to take out the checkbook and buy it," Flinn told lawyers for the company.
Chevron spokesman Dean O'Hair said the company would "have to go back and consider what our options are." He would not say whether that included filing an appeal or pursuing other legal remedies.
"Obviously we're disappointed," O'Hair said of the ruling. "We continue to believe the best use for this land is open space."
But few expect Chevron to quit.
"It's only temporary," McCoy said of the victory. "Chevron's coming back. They're not going away that easy."
Chevron is a vocal opponent to the casino proposal, because it believes building a casino next to a sprawling refinery poses a threat to security. Chevron brokered an agreement with the East Bay Regional Park District to buy Point Molate for $34 million and convert it to a nature reserve with the possibility of some industrial use. The city has not acknowledged the offer.
The city's courtroom victory comes at the beginning of a long and complex federal process of turning the land into an Indian reservation for the Guidiville Band of Pomos, a landless tribe that wants to build a casino. The secretary of the Interior must approve the deal, and the whole thing could be made moot if the Legislature approves a pending compact with the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians that would bar slot machines within a 35-mile radius of the tribe's Casino San Pablo.
Even city officials conceded Monday the Point Molate deal still has a long way to go.
Still, if the City Council approves the agreement with Upstream and enters into escrow, the city would collect its first $1 million payment next month.
Plans for the property, which offers views of the San Pablo Bay and the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, include a 3,000-slot machine casino, 1,100-room hotel, a convention center, restaurants and a shopping complex.
During Monday's court proceeding, Flinn acknowledged the controversy and public outcry surrounding the proposed casino, saying that to some it was the equivalent of "selling your soul to the devil."
"But," he said, "that's a sociological sort of thing that was never given to the court" to decide.
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Judge OKs land sale for casino
A Contra Costa County Superior Court judge Monday refused to stop Richmond from selling 354 waterfront acres at Point Molate to a casino developer.
Lawyers for ChevronTexaco argued the proposed sale flouted the state Surplus Lands Act, which requires a city to make lands no longer in municipal use available to other public agencies before taking bids from private parties.
They also said the hotel/gaming complex developer Upstream Point Molate has in mind violates the vision embraced by a re-use committee convened when the U.S. Navy first opted to close its fuel depot at Point Molate.
But Judge David Flinn said one of the military's primary considerations in closing bases around the nation was to encourage economic development to help replace eliminated government jobs.
It is unrealistic to expect that in every one of those cases bases would be given over for parkland, he said.
"If the first thing that happens is land gets offered entirely for parkland, then didn't the Navy get cheated? Shouldn't the Navy say, 'Whoa, Charlie, what the heck are you talking about?'"
Richmond's lawyers argued that when the Navy suspended its operations at Point Molate in 1995, gaming casinos were not legal in California. "There was no way to contemplate Indian gaming as a use," attorney David Harris said. "But (the re-use plan) provides for mixed use."
Flinn said the Surplus Lands Act's intention was made clear in the phrase "no longer necessary." He asked lawyers whether that phrase didn't imply a piece of land must have been acquired for a specific public use, such as a school or fire station.
Point Molate simply passed through Richmond's hands, much like property taken into title by a redevelopment agency, he said.
"If I say I'm no longer overweight, doesn't that suggest I once was?" Flinn asked Chevron attorney James Andrew.
"No, your honor, we don't agree with that," Andrew answered.
Flinn said he sympathized that Chevron may prefer another neighbor, but said that is a matter for the ballot box and not the courts.
"Nobody's fooled here that this is about money, but that is a sociological question, and that authority is never given to the courts," Flinn said.
ChevronTexaco, which owns the land surrounding Point Molate, has consistently opposed development there other than manufacturing or heavy industry, saying it would threaten the oil giant's security.
In recent weeks, the company offered the city $34 million and said it would work with the East Bay Regional Park District on a shoreline park and trails, which would serve as a security buffer.
Upstream, partnering with the Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians and Harrah's Operating Co., plans an upscale complex replete with hotel, entertainment venue and shopping mall on the site for which it will pay $50 million.
Millions more will be pumped into the local economy by the complex, proponents say.
"I'm very excited we prevailed," Mayor Irma Anderson said. "Our next step is to (finalize) the exclusive right to negotiate -- unless something else comes up."
The council recently voted its intention to proceed with the Upstream agreement when and if the judge cleared the way.
Although its attorney recently amended the agreement to include a 60-day period for other agencies to bid on the land, the council has no intention of taking that step, Anderson said.
"The judge said it wasn't necessary," she said.
Dean O'Hair, external affairs manager for ChevronTexaco, said the company will mull its options in the coming days.
"We were disappointed with the decision," he said. "We still believe the best use for that property is a park."
Upstream's Jim Levine said his firm must prepare for a lengthy environmental review. The site also must be taken into federal trust as a reservation and a state gaming compact reached before a casino can open.