|Another Legal Challenge to
Point Molate Agreement
December 17, 2004
According to articles in both the Berkeley Daily Planet and the West County Times, Citizens for the Eastshore State Park (CESP) have filed a lawsuit seeking to terminate Upstream Point Molate LLC’s option to purchase Point Molate for eventual use as a destination resort that includes a casino. I’m not going to rehash my reasons for supporting that option, which I have already covered in numerous E-Forums, including Point Molate is a Go, November 10, 2004, but I remain disappointed in the apparent involvement of a several environmental organizations that have supported me in the past and of which I am a long-time member, including the Sierra Club.
All of the point persons for these lawsuits are from other cities, and I can’t help working up some resentment for them carpet bagging into Richmond deciding what is best for our city and our citizens. It doesn’t help their credibility that they stood arm in arm with ChevronTexaco not too long ago supporting a Chevron bid for Point Molate that had no commitments whatsoever for open space and shoreline park improvement and public access – allegedly what the current legal initiative is supposed to protect. They now demand an EIR prior to a disposition agreement but didn’t feel one was necessary for Chevron’s murky rejected offer. This is pure hypocrisy.
The real mission of the groups backing the lawsuit seems to be making Point Molate into a regional park. The Upstream plan for Point Molate dedicates 2/3 of the site to open space and a shoreline park. There are, however, hundreds of acres of additional open space on the remainder of the San Pablo peninsula, including the shoreline, that are more pristine than Point Molate. Why aren’t Citizens for the Eastshore State Park pursuing acquisition of this area for a regional park with the same zeal with which they are pursing Point Molate? Perhaps because it is owned by their new environmental friendly green People Do buddy, ChevronTexaco?
Challenge to Point Molate Casino Filed by Open Space Advocates By RICHARD BRENNEMAN
Eastshore State Park supporters Wednesday filed legal papers in an attempt to block the casino and resort complex planned for Point Molate.
Citizens for the Eastshore State Park (CESP) seeks to overturn the City of Richmond’s award of the property to Berkeley developer James D. Levine’s Upstream Point Molate LLC on the grounds that the transaction was made without an environmental review as mandated by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
At least one other environmental organization may enter the suit, said CESP President Robert Cheasty, and the East Bay Regional Parks District is also contemplating its own filing.
“I’ve been in contact with the park district, and it’s my understanding that they are considering filing tomorrow (Friday),” Cheasty said late Thursday.
“A gambling casino is certainly not the highest and best use of the land,” Cheasty said. “It was a desperation move by the city to solve their financial problems.”
CESP contends that the city was obligated to perform a full Environmental Impact Report before the transfer to address the full range of impacts the project could create.
Under CEQA, environmental impact analyses are mandated at the earliest possible stages of the planning process to ensure that the project is designed to minimize impacts on the environment.
The legal action, a petition for a writ of mandate, was filed in Contra Costa County Superior Court by Oakland attorney Stephan C. Volker.
Levine, in partnership with gambling giant Harrah’s and the Guidiville Band of the Pomo tribe, plans to build a massive casino with 2,500 to 3,000 slot machines and 125 to 160 table games, along with four hotels, a major shopping center and a major live entertainment venue on land that was once a U.S. Navy refueling station.
Upstream beat out a rival offer from petro-giant ChevronTexaco, which sought most of the site as a security buffer for its Richmond refinery, just over the ridge from the casino site.
When an oil company official announced the firm’s offer for the site, he shared the platform with Cheasty and other environmental activists, who are calling for the majority of the site to be incorporated into the Eastshore State Park.
“This is and has been public land and it shouldn’t be privatized,” Cheasty said. “It’s shoreline, and it should be preserved for the public, not just the rich and famous. There were lots of alternatives that should’ve been explored by the city, and there was no need to rush into the agreement. It could’ve been done slowly and thoughtfully.”
The San Francisco Bay chapter of the Sierra Club has endorsed the CESP’s legal move, said chapter legal chair Norman LaForce.
Volker said the next legal move is to serve the city and Upstream with formal summonses notifying them of the action and calling on them to respond. A process server was expected to deliver the legal notices today (Friday), he said. Another copy will be delivered to the California Attorney General’s office, which has the authority to intervene.
The central issue, he said, is that the Land Development Agreement signed by the city requires Richmond to support the transfer of the land to the tribe.
“Once the land is transferred, the city and the state lose regulatory control over the land except for their services agreement, which is a far cry from full control,” Volker said. “An Environmental Impact Report prepared after the transfer will not restore the authority the city gave up. It’s locking the door after the horse has left.”
“I’m convinced we’re correct as a matter of law,” he said.
“Our goal is a shoreline park, but we not opposed to some development at the site,” Cheasty said.
“With regard to Indian casinos, we believe the issue of urban gambling needs to be put to a statewide conversation. The rent-a-tribe orientation taken by Harrah’s flies in the face of the original intent of tribal gambling proponents.”
Calls placed to developer Levine were not returned. ›
Parks supporters file suit over casino
Citizens for East Shore Parks sued Richmond and a casino developer Wednesday, claiming the city was remiss in not undertaking a thorough environmental review of Point Molate before agreeing to sell it for a massive casino complex.
The Richmond City Council embraced the proposed casino complex in November after a high-stakes battle by ChevronTexaco, which planned to use the land as a security buffer, and Upstream Point Molate LLC, which plans a hotel/gaming complex with 1,100 hotel rooms, a 150,000-square-foot entertainment venue and 300,000 square feet of retail space.
If the casino option fails to win federal and state approvals, Upstream will pursue building housing, hotel and some retail space on the site.
The federal Base Closure Act required the city to place some sort of revenue-generating development on the former navy fuel depot, which was conveyed to Richmond in September 2003.
The 354-acre land encompasses shoreline marshes, upland meadows and woods -- and paved roads, a network of gas pipeline and two polluted pools.
Stephan Volker, lawyer for the parks group, said even if the land were restored as a regional park, some scaled-back development could be pursued that would enable the city to comply with federal law.
He scoffed at the shoreline park that's part of the Upstream proposal.
"It's a huge commercial enterprise with some landscaping," he said. "It would be a far cry from, say, Point Pinole Regional Park."
Volker said the city should have studied the impacts of development before committing to any plan, but particularly one that may take the property out of state and local control.
Interim City Attorney Everett Jenkins could not be reached for comment.
Upstream principal Jim Levine cast the lawsuit as "an extremist move" by those who are indifferent to Richmond's need for an economic engine.
"What do these guys want?" he said. "If they're suing to force us to do an EIR, they haven't read any of the documents. An environmental impact report is our Step A. We already have scoping sessions scheduled for late January."
According to the terms of its land disposition agreement, if the environmental review doesn't pan out, the casino complex won't happen, he said.
"Let's be honest," said Robert Cheasty, president of the East Shore Parks group. "This isn't Red Cloud or Crazy Horse. It's rent-a-tribe. Harrah's is the driving horse. They get a tribe in, say, 'Sit down and be quiet and we'll make you millionaires.' We need to have a serious, statewide conversation about this."
In recent months, West County has become a center of gaming speculation. Preliminary sketches by architects working for the Scotts Valley Band of Pomo Indians show a sprawling casino caressed by floodlights in the flats of North Richmond.
San Pablo is already home to the hotly debated Lytton band cardroom, soon to morph into a Las Vegas-style casino replete with 2,500 slot machines.
A seven-story Las Vegas-style casino has been pitched by the Lower Lake Rancheria Koi tribe for an overflow airport parking lot in Oakland.
All promise jobs, services, and large amounts of revenue for their host cities.
Just as some contend Harrah's is the muscle behind the Point Molate casino complex, Levine suspects ChevronTexaco is funding the lawsuit -- a hunch company officials have rejected.
"Someone has filed a lawsuit? That's news to me," said Chevron spokesman Dean O'Hair. "We are not party to this."
Volker said his firm is providing a deep "public interest" discount but is not taking on the case pro bono.
The lawsuit is supported by the Sierra Club.
Norman LaForce, legal chair of the organization's San Francisco Bay Chapter, said "the suit is necessary to ensure compliance with California's environmental laws."