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The Three Stooges Make a Richmond Appearance
September 21, 2006

With Mayor Anderson, Councilmember Viramontes and City Attorney John Eastman in a remarkable rendition of the three stooges, supported by the talented City Council players, the public was once again cheated out of an opportunity for open discussion of the pursuit of a container port at Wildcat Marsh.

Council opposes forming port study

Posted on Thu, Sep. 21, 2006
RICHMOND: City does not want to form committee, which likely would cost more than $200,000
By John Geluardi

The Richmond City Council has voted down formation of a committee to explore alternatives to a proposed container port on the city's north shore.

Council members took the vote Tuesday following a short and explosive discussion that resulted in Councilman Tom Butt storming out of the council chamber after accusing Mayor Irma Anderson of stifling information about the proposed port.

In July, the council asked city staff to determine the scope of a feasibility study. The potential site is in the Wildcat Marsh area between the Chevron refinery and the West County Sanitary Landfill.

But the council does not want to pay for a feasibility study, which likely will cost more than $200,000 and take more than a year to complete. A potential port developer would likely absorb the cost, said City Manger Bill Lindsay.

At Tuesday's meeting, Councilman Jim Rogers proposed a blue-ribbon task force composed of business interests, environmentalists and community members to examine possible alternatives to the port proposal.

"It's apparent there is deep division in the community over this issue, and I think it's important to step back and let all the interested parties discuss what should be done in the area, whether it's a port, nature preserve or Bay Trail," Rogers said. "Without the advantage of discussion or some kind of consensus, I am absolutely certain that this project will not go forward."

But the fireworks began shortly after his introductory comments. Councilwoman Maria Viramontes said the council already has requested a proposal for a feasibility study, and it would be against the council's rules to take action on anything related.

Anderson agreed and ruled that the issue should be discussed at another time.

Butt, the council's most vocal port opponent, had prepared a PowerPoint slide presentation titled "Should Richmond Study a Container Port at Wildcat Marsh," and argued that the public had a right to see it whether the council took any action or not.

"Mayor, I resent you and anybody else trying to freeze out discussion," he said. "This is something the public has a huge interest in."

Butt began to prepare the presentation as the council continued to discuss whether it should be shown or not and finally blew up.

"This is a joke, and I'm not going to participate in it any more," Butt said as he gathered up a stack of paper and stormed out of the council chamber.

Shortly afterward, Rogers' task force proposal failed by two votes.

Anderson, who abstained from the vote, said Wednesday that she is not against forming blue-ribbon task forces but thought she would not be able to give such a committee direction without the feasibility study.

"I did not shut down public comment, and I am definitely for blue-ribbon committees, but I could not appoint a committee without knowing what they would be looking at," she said. "I didn't need a PowerPoint presentation to tell me that."

While an expanded port has the potential to create thousands of jobs and new revenue for Richmond, the proposed site seems unlikely.

The San Pablo Bay in that area is extremely shallow and would require an estimated $5 billion dredging operation. Container ships -- some of which are more than 1,000 feet long --first would need a 60-foot-deep, mile-and-a-half-long channel from a shipping lane in the center of San Pablo Bay and then a massive basin right offshore in which to maneuver in and out of docks.

Reach John Geluardi at 510-262-2787 or at jgeluardi@cctimes.com