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  Daily Planet and Point Molate
November 24, 2004

I have appreciated a running dialogue with Becky O’Malley of the Berkeley Daily Planet about Point Molate. It seems that we have one continuing agreement to disagree. She believes that Point Molate belongs to ALL OF US, not just those of us who live in Richmond, and that we have a duty to preserve it in some fashion for the use and enjoyment of THE PEOPLE. Well, I would hope that all of those folks in other cities and other counties would put their money where their mouths are and offer to help finance whatever their vision is for Point Molate, but I don’t see a dime coming our way. The name of the game, unfortunately, is “pay to play.”

I have no apologies that I take a more focused view of Point Molate. Just like all other base closures, such as the Oakland Army Base, Mare Island and Alameda Naval Air Station, I believe that the voters of the jurisdiction in which they lie have the ultimate responsibility for its stewardship. I am puzzled that I don’t see the Berkeley Daily Planet editorializing about these other base closures the way they have relentlessly pursued Point Molate, although they all involve unique Bay front properties. Somehow little ‘ol’ Point Molate has gotten under the skin of not only the Berkeley Daily Planet but of environmental organizations and activists of all sorts. It’s hard to tell whether it’s the casino issue or something else.

In any event, I am told the contract (Land Disposition Agreement) with Upstream has been inked and that the first $1 million deposit will be in Richmond’s hands on or before December 9. I appreciate the coverage the Berkeley Daily Planet is giving to Richmond issues and I appreciate being given an opportunity to respond.

Following are a “commentary” from yesterday’s Planet, an editorial from a previous edition, and my letter to the editor” in response.

Point Molate Casino Defies Bay Area Regional Planning—Or is There Any?: By KEN NORWOOD

COMMENTARY (11-23-04)

As a senior in the Planning Profession and an avid watchdog for deviations in socially and environmentally responsible urban and regional planning in the Bay Area, I am alarmed by the unilateral actions by the City of Richmond giving developer J.D. Levine “approval” to build a “world class” casino resort at Point Molate (“Developer Wins Pact to Build Point Molate Casino,” Daily Planet, Nov. 12-15).

I have questioned State Senator Perata, Assembly Member Hancock, and Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates with why the City of Richmond should be able to launch a major multi-use casino project that can have tremendous serious future social, cultural, moral, economic, environmental, transportation, land use, and public safety consequences? Why should not the City of Richmond and/or the developer be required to first file for an environmental review before one or another of the multitude of regional agencies that supposedly are established to over see the efficacy of regional planning in the Bay Area? Perhaps the answer is, as has been long presumed, there is no state law or a regional authority to require such a preliminary review process. Perhaps we are actually bereft of responsible governance to protect us from urban casino resorts in the San Francisco Bay region.

Will a region-wide environmental impact report be required, and by whom? It seems unfair to cash-strapped Richmond for it to be allowed to naively (what else?) stumble into a costly process that should be preempted by a regional body that looks at all factors simultaneously: open space, bay preservation, traffic, public and environmental safety, etc. The MTC, ABAG, and the other single purpose so-called “regional” agencies do not appear to have such capabilities.

The attempt by ChevronTexaco to buy the Point Molate land indicates that they are fully aware of the security and public liability dangers that a large casino resort presents, sandwiched as it would be between the bay and the Chevron-Texaco refinery. Is there not a State of California statute or agency that oversees public safety issues regarding refineries and adjacent land use and population densities? If there is no such safeguard, then there is extreme nonfeasance by all jurisdictions involved relating to protection of the public.

An inquiry to the supervisor in Alameda County whose district abuts Richmond has so far only registered the response that since Richmond is politically in Contra Costa County that Alameda County has no jurisdiction, nor does he have time to look into it (supervisor’s name withheld). The conclusion here seems to be that the Bay Area is actually devoid of professional, cohesive, competent, and comprehensive urban regional planning.

The urban casino invasion may well be the litmus test of the caliber of officials within the region who ostensibly were elected to protect the public safety and general welfare.

Ken Norwood was a paratrooper in World War II.›

Richmond Takes A Piece of Pie: By BECKY O'MALLEY

EDITORIAL (11-16-04)

Richmond City Councilmember Tom Butt is an avid e-mailer. Every day, often twice a day, he fires off bulletins to his long list of correspondents with his opinions on topics of the day, links to stories in the press about Richmond, and sometimes even major documents like Chevron’s contract proposal for Point Molate. Last week he wondered in print why the Berkeley Daily Planet has taken such an interest in Richmond lately. “I would like to think it’s because there is a lot of news here,” he said.

That’s true. There’s been so much going on in Richmond recently that it has from time to time consumed almost the full-time efforts of one seasoned reporter plus the part-time efforts of another one and a good effort from a diligent student at UC’s journalism school. And we could do more, if we had the resources. But for the Planet it’s more than just trying to fill our little news hole.

We see the whole bayside corridor, at least from Richmond all the way down to the southern reaches of Oakland, as part of a web of interlocking issues which concern all of us. It’s not a seamless web: The many jurisdictions which line this stretch of shoreline have differing views of what the proper role of government should be on given controversial topics. But we’re more like each other than we’re like the folks on “the other side of the hill,” who tend to be less ethnically, economically and culturally diverse than us bay-siders. Our open space, what there is of it, boasts gorgeous views of the bay, but has been compromised in great part by irresponsible industrial users, and now needs to be reclaimed for citizens. The citizens themselves, in many areas, have been left behind when employers moved on, so the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of people who came here 60 years ago to support World War II in good factory jobs are now struggling to find any kind of work.

All of us, no matter where we live, whether in Oakland or Berkeley or El Cerrito or Richmond, have a stake in what becomes of the bay shore. It’s our birthright, and all of us need to work together to make sure that some of us don’t just sell it off to meet current financial obligations, like Esau in the Bible, a poor brother who sold his birthright to his clever brother Jacob for “a mess of pottage”—a bowl of stew which fed him for only one day. In this economy, when the state and national governments seem to have abdicated their responsibility to provide for the common good, the pressure on local governments to cash out right now to put some stew on the table is fierce.

But Richmond’s Point Molate deal, while understandable, looks like it could easily amount to even less than a mess of pottage in the long run. What it looks like, to many of us observers who are lucky enough not to have make such decisions, is the “pie in the sky by and by” in Wobbly Joe Hill’s song about the blandishments of capitalism. New Richmond City Councilmember Gayle McLaughlin, a Green, has the shrewdest take on the competing offers from Harrah’s and Chevron: they’re both suspect. The Levine-Upstream-Harrah’s crowd might never find a complicit group of Native Americans to back their casino, and if so Richmond would get a lot of upscale condos which would eventually demand more in services than they paid in property taxes, and provide no good jobs for residents. Chevron—but why would anyone trust an oil company? Chevron’s vague offer to keep Point Molate as open space could end up with parking lots surrounded by chain link fences under pressure from the anti-terrorism hysteria.

The two offers look a lot like two different flavors of pie in the sky, and five years hence, when Richmond again looks to put dinner on the table, the down payments will be eaten up and the cupboard will be bare once again. The magnificent bay front sites which are jurisdictionally in Richmond could be around to sustain our children and our grandchildren and their children if we conserve them prudently. All of us, wherever we live, need to support McLaughlin and her colleagues in the Richmond Progressive Alliance in their goal of cleaning up the finances of the city of Richmond so that short-term sell-offs of precious resources like this aren’t a temptation.

—Becky O’Malley


Editors, Daily Planet:

While I agree that there is uncertainty in the outcome of the contract with Upstream, I take issue with your conclusions that Richmond should simply do nothing or wait for someone’s vision of the perfect offer (“Richmond Takes a Piece of Pie,” Daily Planet, Nov. 16-18). The land was given to the city with a mandate from the U.S. Government to make it productive—not to keep it all as open space or land bank it. (“The magnificent bay front sites which are jurisdictionally in Richmond could be around to sustain our children and our grandchildren and their children if we conserve them prudently.”) Despite the apparently common perception that Point Molate is pristine open space, it is not. It is a former industrial complex that became highly polluted over the last 60 years and is still being cleaned of toxics. Some 50 acres (Winehaven) is also a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places with some 300,000 square feet of invaluable historic structures in danger of irreversible deterioration. It costs at least $500,000 annually, and should cost more than twice that, just to perform minimum maintenance. The City of Richmond does not have the resources to maintain Point Molate indefinitely in a state of genteel decay while naïve dreamers from other places ponder its future.

The only plan for Point Molate that has been through an extensive public review process is the Reuse Plan adopted by the City Council in 1997. It was endorsed by every environmental group and open space advocate, including those that are now suffering from memory loss. The Upstream Plan incorporates all of the park, trail and open space components of the Reuse Plan. People may object to the Upstream Plan based on its incorporation of a casino or the scale of the development, but an objection based on open space is simply misplaced and based on misinformation.

The Reuse Plan includes an alternative for mixed use, including approximately 800 housing units. These may or may not be “upscale condos,” but what if they are? Richmond provides more low cost housing than any other city in the Bay Area, including Berkeley, so why shouldn’t our city be able to attract a few well heeled residents who might also bring their businesses and purchasing power to our city? In any event, Richmond does have a very aggressive inclusionary housing ordinance that will require any new housing at Point Molate to incorporate or pay for low cost housing as well.

Tom Butt