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Point Molate in the Press

For a December 3 update on the Point Molate Land Disposition Agreement (LDA) click here.

For background information on Point Molate:

         RAB Chair Responds to BDP on Point Molate; Information Update on Point Molate Websites, July 1, 2008

         Even More on Point Molate and the Point San Pablo Peninsula, June 16, 2008

         All You Want To Know About Point Molate, June 14, 2008

Press coverage from the last two days:

Plan for hotel-casino megaplex a gamble for Richmond

By Katherine Tam
Contra Costa Times

Posted: 12/05/2008 11:36:23 PM PST


It is a plan that alternately stirs dreams of a more prosperous Richmond and fears of gambling away the community's future.

It is the bold pitch of a private developer, a small American Indian tribe eager to improve its lot and another tribe with casino experience that wants to parlay its fortunes by the Bay.

The vision is a $1 billion megaplex of hotel-casino action, high-end shops and restaurants, a conference center, waterfront housing and tribal facilities sprawled across 85 acres at the former Point Molate Naval Fuel Depot. They hope to draw 20,000 visitors a day by bus, car and ferry lured by the glitter of as many as 4,000 slot machines more than any casino in Las Vegas and 1,100 hotel rooms. And they promise thousands of jobs and revenue to an area hungry for both.

The fears: That the casino complex will siphon money from locals who can least afford to gamble and bring crime and traffic; and if another tribe, the Scotts Valley Band of Pomo Indians, succeeds in gaining approval for a megacasino along Richmond Parkway nearby, one of the most beleaguered areas in the region could become the Bay Area's casino mecca.

Bringing the plan to reality is itself a gamble.

Developer Upstream Investments LLC and its partner, Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians, are requesting an exemption under federal law that forbids gaming on tribal land acquired after 1988. For that to happen, the federal Department of the Interior must declare Point Molate "restored Indian lands."

Few tribes have succeeded, fewer still on land this far from a tribe's historical home base in this case, Mendocino and Lake counties.

The casino is the economic heart of the project, the developer acknowledges. Without it, dreams for a mega entertainment district generating thousands of new jobs and the promise of $20 million a year for the city of Richmond could die.

"There are only so many things that pencil out at the end of the day," said Jim Levine of Upstream. "The easiest thing to build here is a hotel and conference center with residential, but you don't get a long-term revolution to the Richmond economy."

Locally, an environmental impact report on the hotel-casino project is expected to be released for public review by the end of the year. Public hearings, likely to be contentious, will follow next year.

A polarizing force

The idea of an urban casino in Richmond, which struggles with decades-old poverty and crime, has polarized residents here. Some embrace the jobs and revenue it would bring to a city with an unemployment rate of 11.5 percent, among the highest in the Bay Area.

Eric Johnson, who owns a marina and the Galley Cafe on Western Drive near Point Molate, said Upstream offers concrete hope for revitalization.

"I came here eight years ago, and it was dilapidated property," Johnson said. "Nobody else has had a plan. Everyone keeps throwing rocks at these guys, but (the project is) going to bring jobs, business, infrastructure."

But others fear an urban casino will prey on those who can least afford to gamble and sully Richmond's waterfront without providing the financial benefits it touts.

"The casinos misrepresent the economic spillover," Richmond resident Andres Soto said. "Casino revenue goes into the pockets of financiers. It doesn't really spill over."

And casinos bring crime, Soto said.

Police calls to the nearby Casino San Pablo, run by the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians, numbered about 10 per month before expansion in August 2005, according to police logs. After the expansion, police visited the casino on average more than 100 times a month from Oct. 1, 2007, to Oct 1, 2008, for major complaints to routine security checks. According to police records, officers made 169 misdemeanor and felony arrests at the casino, which has about 1,000 gaming machines.

An ambitious plan

Levine insists that financing for the project is solid despite the economic storm pummeling the country. The $1 billion venture is backed by big money from the Rumsey Band of Wintun Indians, which operates the successful Cache Creek Casino Resort in Yolo County. Levine declined to disclose how much Rumsey is spending to bankroll the project.

"We have all the money for the upfront processes. We have all the equity we need for financing construction," Levine said. "We don't need Wall Street for that."

The resort would boast 150,000 square feet of gaming with as many as 4,000 slot machines, subject to a gaming compact with the state. About a third of that would be nestled in the castlelike Winehaven Building, built in 1907, along with restaurants and wine tasting. The rest of the gaming would be housed in a new building.

Two hotels would supply a combined 1,100 rooms. Historic cottages would be converted into suites. A 122,000-square-foot conference center, an entertainment center with a theater, shops and restaurants would round out the complex. Two parking structures would carry nearly 7,500 spaces.

Under one scenario, a residential neighborhood, with shuttles to and from the casino and central Richmond, would rise with 340 homes. A third of the homes would be for the tribe, the rest leased as market-rate housing.

Point Molate would become home base for Guidiville, with offices, a dance ground and roundhouse in addition to the housing.

"For the tribe, it represents a new place where we can live, work and worship," said Michael Derry, CEO of Guidiville's economic development corporation.

By the shore would be a 35-acre park and 1.5-mile trail. The hillside, totaling 145 acres, would remain open space.

Years in the making

City officials have been working with the developer to hammer out a deal for years. The city of Richmond secured 85 percent of Point Molate's 422 acres, some of it under water, from the Navy for $1 in 2003. City officials selected Upstream as the developer and sold the land to the company for $50 million in 2004. Officials hope to secure the deed to the remaining 41 acres early next year, said Janet Schneider, the city's administrative chief.

Upstream and the Guidiville tribe initially teamed up with Harrah's Operating Co., but the groups parted ways because of differing visions for Point Molate. Upstream and Guidiville then turned to the Rumsey tribe to complete the trifecta.

The Navy in October provided the city with a $28.5 million check to clean up groundwater and soil contamination. Upstream will chip in $4 million for the rest of the cleanup and buy an insurance policy for unexpected problems that surface later, Levine said, though he added he expects no surprises.

The California Regional Water Quality Control Board will oversee cleanup, which worries environmentalists who say the agency botched cleanup of the contaminated Zeneca site in south Richmond.

Levine rattles off numbers for what he says the community would gain: as many as 11,000 temporary construction-related jobs; about 3,800 permanent on-site jobs; 40 percent of on-site jobs earmarked for Richmond residents, under a 2004 agreement with the city; $20 million a year to city coffers over two decades; and millions in ripple-effect spending.

Traffic plans call for widening the road leading to Point Molate and building a new Interstate 580 ramp leading to and from the casino, Levine said. Discussions are under way for increased AC Transit bus service and for shuttles to and from the Richmond BART station. Ferry service, possibly subsidized by the project, would bring as many as 5,000 visitors a day from San Francisco, Marin County and Vallejo.

City leaders are eager to see a new economic engine rise at Point Molate, but exactly what that would look like has proved divisive.

Mayor Gayle McLaughlin opposes a casino: "There's a lot of trying to make it seem green, but if you put solar panels on the roof and you're promoting a casino that doesn't produce a product people leave their money there. I really think we have an opportunity to make Point Molate a positive place for open space and healthy development."

The 2004 land-sale agreement to Upstream acknowledges a casino could fail to gain federal and state approvals, and it provides 120 days to negotiate an alternative development proposal.

Councilman Nat Bates, who supports an entertainment resort with a casino, doesn't see the land sitting vacant.

"There's still opportunity for hotels and shops and so forth. There's housing. There's the tremendous view of the Bay," Bates said. "If the casino is a go, the benefit will be much more tremendous."

Staff writer John Simerman contributed to this story. Reach Katherine Tam at 510-262-2787 or ktam@bayareanewsgroup.com.

PROPOSED HOTEL-CASINO RESORT

  145 acres of hillside open space with trails, picnic areas and restrooms

  35-acre Shoreline Park and construction of a 1.5-mile segment of the San Francisco Bay Trail

  150,000 square feet of gaming with 4,000 slot machines

  122,000-square-foot conference center

  48,000-square-foot entertainment center

  300,000 square feet of restaurants and shops connecting the two hotels

  1,100 rooms in two hotels, of which as many as 50 units would be reserved for tribal housing; historic Winehaven cottages would be converted into luxury hotel guest suites

  Eight-story parking structure for 5,000 cars, plus a 2,500-space underground parking structure incorporated into one of the hotels

  340-unit residential neighborhood for tribal and market-rate housing

  The Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians would have offices, dance grounds, a roundhouse and housing

HISTORY OF POINT MOLATE

  1907-1919: The large winery Winehaven operates successfully until prohibition shuts its doors

  1920s to 1930s: Winehaven sits vacant

  1940s: Land becomes Point Molate Navy Fuel Depot

  1995: U.S. Navy closes Point Molate

  2003: City of Richmond secures deed to 85 percent of the land from the Navy for $1

  2004: City officials select Upstream Investments LLC as developer and sells land to company for $50 million; upstream pitches a resort-style casino with partners Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians and Harrah's, which later separates from the project.

  2008: City officials work to secure the deed to the remaining 41 acres of land at Point Molate and hope to lay claim to it early next year

ONLINE
Visit ContraCostaTimes.com to view an interactive map of the Point Molate hotel-casino resort project.

 

Tribe, investors face uncertain odds with new administration

By John Simerman
Contra Costa Times

Posted: 12/05/2008 11:36:21 PM PST

Updated: 12/05/2008 11:36:22 PM PST

 

Jim Levine stands in the brick-faced emptiness of the historic Winehaven building and waves to where the card tables and slot machines will go, as if cocktail waitresses stand ready to fan across the room.

"We think this will be one of the top tourist destinations in California," he says.

But even if Levine's Upstream Investments and the Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians sell Richmond officials on their dream of a shoreline magnet anchored by a Vegas-style casino at the former Point Molate Naval Fuel Depot, its fate rests squarely in Washington, with an incoming Obama administration that has yet to show its cards.

Only a few tribes have won the kind of approval Guidiville seeks from the Department of Interior a narrow exception to a ban on tribal casinos on land acquired after 1988. Part regulatory, part political, the process of tribes acquiring casino land away from their reservations or recognized homelands stalled under the Bush administration. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, observers say, created a virtual moratorium in the aftermath of the scandal involving tribal lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Now tribes, gaming insiders and their critics eagerly wait to see where the president-elect, reportedly an avid poker player, stands, and who he will pick for Interior secretary and other key posts within the federal agency.

On his Web site, Obama "believes that gaming revenues are important tribal resources for funding `education, health care, law enforcement, and other essential government functions." He has pledged a White House liaison for Native American issues, and polls show he won their vote by a wide margin. But his views on tribes seeking casinos in population centers stands in doubt.

"It's going to depend on his Cabinet selections for Department of Interior. There is a lot of discretion there," said Michael Anderson, former deputy assistant secretary for Indian Affairs in the Clinton administration. "There's a general feeling that a Democratic administration will be much more inclined to reach favorable decisions. Or at least timely decisions, versus trying to avoid the issue."

The Rev. Tom Grey, a leading opponent of gambling expansion, said he doubts the president-elect will "open the floodgates."

"When he was a state senator, he raised questions about the wisdom of a lottery. Then, when he was in the (U.S.) Senate, he raised questions about casino expansion in Illinois," Grey said. "My guess is he's going to be OK on (tribal) sovereignty, and he's going to look for economic justice. But you cross the line when you've got expansion into urban areas, this feeding frenzy."

For Guidiville, whether Point Molate qualifies as "restored lands" under the federal exception depends on the tribe showing both a "significant" historical connection and modern ties to the land. New regulations set clearer standards for what that means, but leave wiggle room. Recent decisions, based in part on court rulings, have emphasized a close proximity to the tribes' recognized homeland.

Relatives of the 112-member Guidiville tribe lived near Ukiah on one of dozens of California rancherias the federal government set up in the 1910s. In the late 1950s, the government parceled out the land to individuals and terminated benefits, promising but often failing to deliver adequate water and sewer service.

Critics charge tribes such as Guidiville with "reservation-shopping," because their former rancheria lands the bases for their formation as recognized tribes lie elsewhere.

Guidiville contends government actions forced its members south for work in the Bay Area under federal programs. Another tribe, the Scotts Valley Band of Pomo Indians, makes the same assertion in its bid for a big casino along nearby Richmond Parkway. Both tribes won federal recognition in 1991 through the same lawsuit, and a decision for Scotts Valley, which is closer to a verdict, would likely also favor Guidiville.

Michael Derry, CEO of the Guidiville tribe's economic development corporation, also cites research showing the tribe includes Pomo, Patwin and Costanoan blood, a historical link that stretches well into the Bay Area. "It's not this particular piece of land," Derry said. "It's more of a regional significance."

Even if the tribe passes that bar, the Interior secretary still can choose to deny it federal trust land drawing politics to the center.

One key selling point, said Derry, is that Guidiville seeks a true reservation, with tribal housing and educational facilities. Also, the tribe and developer have voluntarily submitted to a state environmental review in addition to the lengthy federal review.

The Guidiville project has political muscle to back it up: Former Clinton Defense Secretary William Cohen is an equity partner.

"We're following the process to the letter of the law and doing more than we have to," Derry said. "Let's face it: At the secretary level, politics and public opinion matter."

Reach John Simerman at 925-943-8072 or jsimerman@bayareanewsgroup.com.