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Planning Commission Rejects Point Richmond Shores EIR
September 08, 2006

On a 4-3 vote last night, with no debate, the Richmond Planning Commission found the Point Richmond Shores EIR insufficient as a basis for further evaluation of the Design Review recommendations, the vesting tentative map and the General Plan and zoning changes necessary to approve the project. Presumably, Toll Brothers will appeal that decision to the City Council.


Some of the best and worst of Richmond was on display during the 3 ½ hour hearing. As if a PowerPoint could bestow legitimacy, City staff took about half the hearing time, bullet point by bullet point, trying to paper over and justify a defective EIR that was dead on arrival. Staff, like lockstep automatons, defended with form devoid of substance, huge holes in the EIR, including the issues of sewer capacity, the Bay Trail, economic evaluation of alternatives and the waterfront loop road. Ethical issues, including LSA’s apparent multiple allegiances to the public, the City and the developer, were dismissed on technical legal grounds that failed to address concerns about incestuous subversion of the public trust. The saga of staff manipulating the CEQA review of historic resources was glossed over without even hinting at the serious ethical and legal issues I have previously raised in exquisite detail. What’s worse, I’m not sure that either staff or the Planning Commission even understands what went on with the historic resources evaluation and why it is so insidious. All in all, it was a miserable performance by Richmond staff, and even more disappointing because the individuals involved are some of the best and brightest people we have.


The Planning Commission, on the other hand, distinguished itself by its crisp actions and thorough understanding of the issues, particularly Vicki Winston who made the motion for rejection and followed it with a detailed itemization of appropriate findings. Although I disagreed with Virginia Finlay’s vote to support the EIR, I admire the businesslike way she runs a meeting. I was puzzled, however, at the complete lack of debate, particularly from those who voted against rejection to explain or defend their position.


Ultimately, Commissioners Zachary Harris, Jeff Lee, Stephen Williams and Vicki Winston voted to reject the EIR, while Commission Chair Virginia Finlay and City Council candidate Ludmyrma Lopez, joined Commissioner Nagaraja Rao, in supporting the EIR.


Point Richmond Shores has been a classic case of a City staff trying so hard to support a developer that it lost sight of its real job to serve the community. By doing so, it appears they have also done a disservice to the developer by causing unnecessary delays and setting the project up for legal challenges. Will they ever learn? This project is not a NIMBY. Not one member of the public has opposed the project in concept, but a significant part of the community has worked diligently, with little success, to persuade both the developer and City staff to make minor changes to improve its design and make it work better for Richmond. What galls me most is that City staff has essentially functioned as an extension of the developer’s own staff, becoming unabashed advocates of the project and dealing false, misleading and incomplete information to the public to justify it and cover up their own mistakes.


In this election season, it will be interesting to see what the City Council does with this on appeal. Unfortunately, I believe staff and some City Council members will conspire to keep this off the City Council agenda until the November election is over so that candidates will not have to commit. The appeal has to be filed by September 18, but that leaves only about six weeks for the City Council to schedule and hold a hearing, plenty of time to delay it until after the election.