Richmond residents to vote on Point Molate casino in November
By Katherine Tam
Contra Costa Times
Posted: 07/21/2010 09:52:18 AM PDT
Updated: 07/21/2010 05:37:16 PM PDT
By Katherine Tam
A casino vote is headed for the November ballot.
The Richmond City Council voted 5-1 early Wednesday morning to place a measure on the ballot asking voters whether a casino should be part of Point Molate's redevelopment. The measure is advisory only and not legally binding.
"People should have the opportunity to express themselves," said Councilman Nat Bates.
Councilman Jim Rogers voted no, saying the city should put it up for a definitive vote once it has a specific contract with the developer. Councilwoman Ludmyrna Lopez abstained.
Dozens of residents waited until 2 a.m. -- the tail end of a busy council meeting that began 7 hours earlier -- for the item, underscoring the intense feelings on both sides of the issue. Casino critics applauded a public vote, saying residents should have the right to formally weigh in, even if the vote is advisory. Project supporters fear the city is asking people to vote prematurely, before the environmental impact report is done and other information is available.
The measure will share the ballot with the City Council race, in which the mayoral seat and three council seats are open.
Upstream Investments and the Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians want to build a $1.2 billion casino-hotel resort with as many as 4,000 slot machines, 1,100 hotel rooms, a conference center, restaurants, shops, tribal headquarters, open space and a shoreline trail at an old naval fuel depot near the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge.
The city extended its land development agreement with Upstream to April 2011 to allow continued negotiations.
The environmental report must be certified by the City Council. In addition, Guidiville seeks approval from the Secretary of the Interior to place the land into trust for the tribe and needs a state gaming compact to open a Las Vegas-style casino.
The public has two options to weigh in via an election, officials said: an advisory ballot measure or a referendum after the EIR is certified.
John Salmon, a partner in Upstream, said: "Placing an advisory measure on the ballot is intended to politicize a land use question."
In a letter to the council Monday, Salmon's partner Jim Levine said that the city is contractually obligated to complete the EIR and that seeking a public vote first violates the spirit of a 2006 legal settlement that required completing the environmental review before final decisions.
"Asking the public's opinion of which way to proceed without the benefit of this analysis or even a final definition of the project itself ... would be prejudicial and a waste of time and expense for everyone involved," Levine wrote.
But critics said residents should have a voice in whether their waterfront holds a casino.
"It might give you a wake-up call about what people in this community want," said resident Tarnell Abbott. "We don't want a casino. We have more than what we can handle of violent crime already."
Meanwhile, neighboring San Pablo, which has a casino featuring electronic bingo machines, fears a casino at Point Molate would devastate it and the surrounding community. Leaders there urge Richmond to nix the casino proposal and weigh alternatives that would still bring jobs and revenue.
"Of all those projects, only the Guidiville casino will have the direct and unavoidable effect of essentially bankrupting the city o"f San Pablo, since two-thirds of the city's general fund operating revenue comes from Casino San Pablo, which because it is legally confined to its present modest operation, has no chance of competing against or coexisting with a Las-Vegas style mega casino at Point Molate," San Pablo Mayor Genoveva Garcia Calloway wrote in a letter to the council Tuesday.
Katherine Tam covers Richmond. Follow her at Twitter.com/katherinetam.