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  Tuesday - Decision Point on Point Molate's Future
May 16, 2010

This coming Tuesday, May 18, 2010, may be the most important date for the future of Point Molate since November 9, 2004 (See Point Molate is a Go, November 10, 2004). The City Council will vote on an agenda item placed by Nat Bates to extend the Upstream Point Molate Land Development Agreement (LDA) another two months from May 20 to July 20.

The 5-year LDA initially expired on January 25, 2010, but was extended the first time until March 20, 2010. I did not vote for the first extension, but I both agendized and voted for two subsequent extensions, first to April 20 and then to May 20, because Upstream Point Molate had responded favorably to a number of issues I had with the LDA.

That response seems to have lost momentum, and I am not inclined to continue to support the LDA. There remain three stalwart supporters, Nat Bates, Jim Rogers and Ludmyrna Lopez. Maria Viramontes supported the first extension but voted against the next two. It appears that she is now the deciding vote on a fourth extension. Her vote will either terminate the LDA or extend it until July.

Even if the LDA is terminated, there remains the issue of a “tolling agreement,” whereby the second amendment to the LDA provides for an extension of the closing date in  case of a legal challenge. A legal challenge in the form of a lawsuit brought by Citizens for East Shore Parks is the catalyst that may automatically extend the LDA whether the Richmond City Council wants to or not. In a counterintuitive irony, it may be a host of high profile environmental organizations, including the Sierra Club, that end up keeping the casino project alive because of their avarice for millions of dollars in settlement dollars to eventually purchase the North Richmond Shoreline. There are legal disagreements among several aparties as to whether the CESP lawsuit triggers the tolling agreement.

There are other subplots that may play out at next Tuesday’s Richmond City Council meeting. Upstream Point Molate, LLC, continues to maintain that the LDA constitutes an exclusive right for the sale of Point Molate, but the California attorney general disagrees. Mayor McLaughlin is testing legally dangerous waters by agendizing a discussion of alternate futures for Point Molate  (DISCUSS the rights of the city to explore various development alternatives (apart from the Upstream proposal) for the Point Molate site and direct staff, in light of continuing controversy and legal complications that could well defeat the Upstream proposal or entangle the city in litigation for years to come, to receive ideas and suggestions for alternative plans so that the city may weigh the relative costs and benefits and responsibly rise from this economic downturn - Mayor's Office (Mayor McLaughlin 620-6503).
In any event, May 18 promises to be an exciting meeting.
Following are two recent stories of interest, the first from Bay Nature, and the second from the Contra Costa Times describing the layoff of nearly 100 workers from Casino San Pablo.

Tuesday: Decision Point on Molate's Future

Tuesday: Decision Point on Molate's FutureThis rendering shows a vision for Point Molate that a group of local activists and architects is advancing as an alternative to a major casino proposal for the property near the foot of the Richmond Bridge. Image by KLMR Environmental Design.

Key Map

by Dan Rademacher
On Tuesday, May 18, the Richmond City Council will vote once again on whether to extend an agreement with developer Upstream for a proposed casino at Point Molate, a former Navy fuel depot (and many other things) near the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge.
The council has held similar votes several times since the main agreement, called a Land Disposition Agreement (LDA) expired in January 2010.
This time, however, casino critics say the vote might fall their way, with swing votes coming against the casino. Or the council might pass a longer-term extension that would keep the proposal alive at least through July 20. Community groups are encouraging the public to attend the meeting, at 6:30 p.m. on May 18 at 440 Civic Center Plaza in Richmond.
But that's just the latest twist in a struggle that's been going on for years over a parcel that's rich in Bay views, freeway access, human history, and rare native grassland and coastal prairie. (There's a rare guided walk out there on May 16. Get the details.)
The city has been negotiating with developer Upstream Investments over various forms of a major casino developed by Upstream and the Ukiah-based Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians, which claims ancestral ties to the land. The plans include Bay Trail easements and other amenities, but some Richmond activists, architects, and native plant advocates are campaigning to stop the casino, which will by any account be a massive development project in a rare piece of Bayshore open space.
The site is also home to a number of dilapidated buildings, some historic, and various kinds of hazardous materials. So it will take money to make the place accessible in whatever form.
Seeking a form of development that they think better fits the remarkable site, local residents and activists with Citizens for a Sustainable Point Molate (CFSPM.org) enlisted the help of a number of architects and planners who are developing an alternative vision for the site.
"This is a complex site and a long-term project," says Carol Teltschick-Fall, a CFSPM member who has devoted herself to fighting the casino for more than five years. "Even if they build a casino out there, it's going to take 10 years. So why not take the time to do it right?"
The chance to "do it right" is what inspired architect Brendon Levitt and three colleagues at KLMR Environmental Design. He thought they'd originally spend a couple of weekends making sketches, but ended up doing much more. "The site is so amazing--in Richmond, near the Bay, near the bridge, and in what really is a stunning landscape," says Levitt. "As I went into it, there was so much there to respond to--the layers of history, both anthropological and ecological, it's a site that keeps giving in terms of richness."
Indeed, as Bay Nature first reported in a feature article in 2005, this area is remarkable for both human and natural history: In addition to its unusual native grasses and military history, Point Molate was the site of Winehaven, once billed as the world's largest winery.
The giant Winehaven building is still a centerpiece of the property, and the hub of KLMR's proposal to divide up the property into distinct areas that would see various phases of development, open space protection, and habitat restoration.
"One thing that was clear to us is that it's really a world-class site, a site that could be one of the top 50 places in the world to visit," says Levitt, who's done work globally. "We're very excited about the potential here and at the same time quite disturbed by the current proposal, not just because it's a casino but also because of the lack of understanding the plan shows for the site."
At the same time, Levitt grants that the site needs to provide jobs and economic benefit to Richmond, one of the key selling points for the casino. "This place definitely should give back to Richmond monetarily as well as recreationally and socially," he says. "The key is to look at it over time."
Teltschick-Fall, who now serves on the Richmond planning commission, is especially excited about the phased nature of KLMR's plan. "Our sustainable plan is designed to be implemented in phases," she says, "which will allow public access sooner than the casino plan would, so sustainable job development can also begin to develop sooner."
Meanwhile, city officials could decide on Tuesday the fate of the Upstream proposal, though ultimately it remains for the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs to make a determination about the Guidiville Band's claim to the land here.
The city council will also consider another measure to clarify whether the city should, or perhaps even must, consider alternative proposals. (The state attorney general's office recently weighed in on this on the side of considering alternatives.) That would likely include the proposal from KLMR and the Citizens for a Sustainable Point Molate, though their proposal will need financial backing to be further developed.
Stay tuned for a follow-up article with information on this and more.
Dan Rademacher is Bay Nature's editorial director.

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San Pablo casino drops poker, lays off dozens of employees

John Simerman
Contra Costa Times

Posted: 05/13/2010 03:06:34 PM PDT
Updated: 05/14/2010 06:49:26 AM PDT

SAN PABLO — The Texas Hold 'em poker craze has run its course at one East Bay gambling joint, and dozens of casino workers are losing their jobs because of it.
Lytton Casino San Pablo laid off 91 workers Wednesday as the casino cleared away 14 poker tables to make way for 100 lucrative new electronic bingo machines, bringing the number of machines at the tribal casino to about 1,200.
Doug Elmets, spokesman for the tribe, said two dozen of the laid-off cardroom and food service workers will have a chance to apply for new positions.
Since politics foiled the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians' plan for real slot machines five years ago, and the tribe turned instead to bingo-related machines that mimic slots, they have steadily taken over the sprawling gaming floor. Now only a distant cluster of pai gow, blackjack and other games remains on felt tables.
The tribe pays a 7.5 percent share of revenue to the city — more than $1 million per month in recent years.
"There is no question that business is good, particularly as it relates to electronic bingo machines and other table games," Elmets said.