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City Council Drools Over Prospect Of Gigantic Container Port

Perhaps confused by the lateness of the hour and giddy with anticipation of a six-week recess, a Richmond City Council that has been trending upward lately in overall performance fell into the abyss last night

The finance director, the port director, and a gaggle of suits from J.P Morgan in San Francisco came before the City Council to promote a feasibility study for construction of a giant container port on Richmond’s north shoreline, generally in the area north of the Chevron Refinery and south of the West Contra Costa landfill. This area is commonly known as Wildcat Marsh or Chevron Marsh, an estuary where Wildcat Creek spills into the Bay. See City of Richmond Staff Dreams of Giant Container Port On North Shoreline, July 8, 2006.

All the advocates, except Finance Director James Goins, were from places other than Richmond. They are the latest of a long line of industrial movers and real estate shakers from other places who routinely come slumming in Richmond to advise us what our city really needs. Typically, the projects they are selling would never be allowed near their homes in Orinda, Lafayette and southern Marin County. But hey, these things got to go somewhere, and Richmond, have we got a deal for you!

The group was strong on promotion but short on details. The purpose of the next phase, so we were told, is to “partner” with the City to:

  • Define the project and appropriate process to assess feasibility
  • Create a framework for and advise on value to the City of Richmond
  • Analyze alternatives for extracting value
  • Assist in evaluation of potential investment partners and execute transactions, as required.

The City Council voted 9-2 to authorize staff to move forward and report back in September.

Among those speaking in support of the proposal was Jim Brumfield (“follow the money”) of Chevron. Note that Chevron owns the major portion of the land (and water) on which the project would be located. Chevron’s zeal to pave over the largest shoreline wetlands north of Fremont seemed strangely at odds with Chevron’s environmental chest thumping on its own website where Wildcat marsh is the poster child for Chevron’s environmental heartstrings:

Preserving and Restoring Natural Ecosystems

The Chevron Richmond Refinery has made great strides in re-establishing natural ecosystems in the region.

We created the Richmond Water Enhancement Wetland, converting 90 acres of former effluent treatment ponds into a vital wetland environment for many plant and animal species. The wetland now serves as a resting spot for migratory waterfowl whose habitat has been decreased by commercial development along the West Coast. Deep channels and dense areas of reeds and duck mounds create an attractive environment for waterfowl. During the spring and fall, an increasing variety of shorebirds seek refuge in the marsh. Presently there are 103 different species of birds that use this new habitat.

We have also completed the Wildcat Creek Marsh Restoration Project on more than 250 acres of natural wetlands northeast of the refinery. Over the years, sediments had been deposited that cut off tidal access to these wetlands. Restoration included forming slough channels to the saltwater marsh. The tides flow through these wetlands and into two restored ponds. The wetlands now provide a critical habitat for two endangered species – the Salt Harvest Mouse and the California Clapper Rail.

The Chevron Richmond Refinery supports many Bay Area organizations dedicated to preserving wildlife. For example, we contribute to the East Bay-based International Bird Rescue and Research Center, which sends experts worldwide to train and lead volunteers in response to oil spills.

Do these people really think that BCDC, EPA, CEQA and NEPA will let them pave over this critical ecosystem?

How about the North Richmond Specific Plan, a subset of the existing General Plan? Isn’t it good public policy for a City Council to follow the General Plan until it is changed? Not this City Council. (Huh, what General Plan?) Here is what the North Richmond Specific Plan says about the area your elected officials want to study for a port:

Protect and Enhance Areas with High Natural Resource Value

The combination of extensive, relatively undeveloped shoreline, low-lying topography and two creeks which cross the plan area provide the opportunity to preserve and enhance the natural hydrologic systems and associated wetland habitats in conjunction with development. While some existing development has impacted the baylands and marshlands, significant portions of the plan area are relatively undisturbed. These areas are generally located where little or no development has occurred, west and north of the planned Parkway and adjacent to the shoreline. They include portions of Giant Marsh adjacent to Point Pinole Regional Park, San Pablo Creek Marsh, and Wildcat Marsh south of the landfill; delineated wetlands; upland habitat; Rheem Creek; and a riparian corridor adjacent to the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks. These areas would be protected from development, and only uses compatible with natural  resource protection, such as limited, carefully designed public access, would be allowed within the areas. The areas will be designated as Natural Conservation and Public Access Corridor.

Generally, in a partnership, each partner brings something to the table. At this potluck, Chevron brings the land and J.P Morgan offered to sell the bonds to be floated by an undesignated investor occupying an empty chair. Richmond appears to be hanging around under the table like the family dog scratching for fleas and looking for scraps. Asked what Richmond has to offer, Port Director Jim Matzorkis said, “Richmond has a port authority.” Not quite correct, but we get the drift. There may be a good example of how this new port might work by looking at Chevron’s existing port operation. Perhaps one of the busiest operations on the West Coast (in tonnage), the Richmond long wharf doesn’t bring a dime to the City of Richmond.

I already said it in public. This is the stupidest and dumbest idea I have seen yet! It reminds me of the 1970’s when another generation of big dreamers on the City Council decided to partner up with Matson and build a container port at what is now Terminal 3. It was to be pure gold for the City, but it has turned to lead while we are still paying off the bonds.

I do not want a new world class container port in the City of Richmond. I don’t want the increased rail traffic, the noise, the trucks, the lights or the diesel fumes. I don’t want to sell off our natural heritage and one of the bay’s largest intact marshes for a bunch of money. I don’t want our staff to spend any more time on this when they can’t even get the work done they have on their plate now. If this is what the people of Richmond want, please let me know so I can put my home up for sale and move back to the Ozarks.

The entire City Council, except for Gayle McLaughlin and me, enthusiastically supported moving forward. These are the same people who are running for re-election in November. This is a good opportunity to evaluate their sanity and decide if they are really the folks you want running this beleaguered city for the next four years.

Only one opponent in the audience, Debbi Landshoff, saw this coming and rose to question it. She was drowned out by a chorus of supporters and enthusiastic City Council members. Unfortunately, while the environmentalists are still fighting the last war out at Breuner Marsh, the first skirmish of the next one just took place, and the bad guys are celebrating a victory.