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Point Molate Surprises
January 8, 2006

Five days from the time that the second installment of $2 million is due to renew the option by Upstream Point Molate LLC to purchase the former Point Molate Naval Fuel depot for $50 million, there will be flurry of activity that may change some of the original terms of the deal. For the original agreement, see http://www.ci.richmond.ca.us/announcements/LDA%20Execution%20Version.pdf.


The first piece of news involves litigation, which is Item N-1 on the January 10 Agenda. Following execution of the Land Development Agreement (LDA) with Upstream Point Molate LLC in November of 2004, lawsuits were filed by Citizens for Eastshore Regional Park (CESP) and the East Bay Regional Parks District (EBRPD) challenging the City’s assertion that the LDA was exempt form CEQA (although the City always acknowledged that any project resulting from the LDA would be subject to CEQA).


The two lawsuits were consolidated in February 2005, and in April of 2005, the Attorney General of the State of California filed a Complaint in Intervention in the Action. The proposed settlement that will be considered by the Richmond City Council on January 10 with all three parties essentially confirms that the EIR will evaluate a range of uses and that the City retains discretion over any use or non-use of the Point Molate property.


Parties to the litigation will argue privately that they each achieved something. The City will argue that the settlement changes nothing, and that it always had discretion, subject to the findings of the EIR. Indeed, the LDA states:


The Preliminary Site Plan and the Scope of Development together constitute the preliminary “Design Concept Documents”. The Developer acknowledges that the City has not yet approved the Design Concept Documents or the development of the Project on the Property. The Design Concept Documents will be modified in response to the environmental review process described in Section 2.2(a). Upon completion of that process, the Developer will submit the final Design Concept Documents to the City for its approval.


The plaintiffs in the litigation will argue that they have successfully broken a commitment for the City to convey the property to Upstream at all, and if it is conveyed to Upstream, the City is no longer committed to a project involving gaming.


Ultimately, the decision regarding to whom to convey the property and for what purpose will still reside with the City Council. The question is, will the City Council remain committed to the same project to which it was committed a little over a year ago?


The second action is Item N-8 on the January 10 Agenda, the staff report for which was marked “confidential” and presumably was not provided to the public. The description of the item is “Consider approval of an amendment to the Land Disposition Agreement between the City of Richmond and Upstream point Molate, LLC.” This is the first time I recall a confidential staff report on an item on an agenda for a public meeting, which is both puzzling and troubling.


It turns out that a lot of things have been going on for months behind the scenes involving Point Molate. Some of these have apparently been concealed by Upstream from the City, and clearly, some of them have been concealed by City officials from the City Council. City staff has been negotiating in secrecy with Upstream for some time and has concluded those negotiations to the extent that the City Council has now been presented with a full-blown and fully developed draft amendment to the LDA that includes fundamental changes. Some of the circumstances related to the proposed LDA amendment have been the subject of rumor for months, and every time I have queried either City officials or representatives from Upstream, those rumors have been denied. Now, for the first time, I am finding out that at least certain elements of the rumors are accurate.


Secrecy in government makes me bristle, particularly when the City Council is not even made privy to breaking events in high profile issues or asked to provide public policy guidance to staff on those issues. This reinforces the assertion I have been making for years that Richmond City government is not actually controlled by the City Council. We are just window dressing to an arrogant bureaucracy controlled government.


Having told you what I think of secrecy in Richmond government, I will say that some elements of the proposed amendment are, in fact, attractive. The amendment would provide for a “phased takedown,” whereby certain parts of the property might be conveyed before others for uses such as housing. This would, in my opinion, provide for a suitable use early on, provide early cash flow for the City, provide for installation of infrastructure and provide for early development of the Bay Trail and access of open space by the public.


In 2004, I received more mail, phone calls and email regarding Point Molate than any other issue, by far. This will be the first time this issue has come back on the City Council’s public agenda since then. The conventional media has covered none of this, and the public has been taken by surprise. I think these issues deserve more than 72 hours scrutiny before the City Council acts on them.