Planned Richmond casino at Point Molate in danger
Carolyn Jones, Chronicle Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
The chips are way down for Richmond's planned mega-casino.
After voters last week made clear their resounding opposition, a tribe's plan to build a luxury casino and resort at Point Molate appears in jeopardy of collapsing. Voters elected an anti-casino majority on the City Council and rejected a measure to support the $1 billion project.
"I wouldn't be optimistic it's going to happen at this point," said City Councilman Tom Butt, who's been among the more neutral council members on the issue. "Public opinion is probably not on their side."
Voters said no to Measure U, 58 to 42 percent, an advisory measure regarding the Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians' plan to build a Las Vegas-style casino, hotel, shopping center and housing for the tribe's 112 members at the former Navy Fuel Depot at Point Molate, just north of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge.
They also elected two new City Council members, Jovanka Beckles and Corky Boozé, who ran on anti-casino platforms, and rejected two incumbents, Myrna Lopez and Maria Viramontes, who supported the casino.
This was in spite of an Oct. 20 deal with environmental groups to set aside two-thirds of the property as open space, and the tribe's promise to provide 17,000 jobs and millions in tax revenue for the working-class city.
"People want to see a project out there that would be wonderful for the entire family, not a casino that would primarily benefit out-of-town owners," said Beckles. "This community deserves better."
Beckles said the promise of 17,000 jobs is grossly overestimated, and nothing in the contract guarantees those jobs would pay living wages or be reserved for residents. She also doubted whether the noncasino amenities - the conference center, shopping area and parks - would ever get built.
The council's next vote on the casino will be in early 2011 when it looks at the environmental impact report. If the council votes no, the project is pretty much dead, Butt said.
The tribe doesn't quite see it that way. The Mendocino tribe has been in contract with the city since 2004 and has already paid a nonrefundable $16.6 million to Richmond, down payment on the $50 million purchase price for the property.
The city does not have the legal authority to kill the project based on the environmental impact report, said Michael Derry, chief executive of the tribe, which has already spent more than $30 million on the project.
"I think it's easy for candidates to say whether they're for or against something when they're running, but then the legal reality sets in," he said. "The city does have a contract with the tribe, and we are still moving ahead with this project."
The tribe does not plan any major changes to the project based on Tuesday's election results, Derry said.
Richmond would suffer greatly if the project collapses, said Judy Morgan, head of the Richmond Chamber of Commerce.
Not only would the city miss out on the much-needed new jobs and tax revenue, but the historic buildings at the site would continue to crumble and the underground toxic materials - leftover from the Navy era - would continue to languish, she said.
Security alone at Point Molate would cost the city $5 million a year, Morgan said.
"It's such a tragedy," she said. "This project is much more than just a casino. It meant so many jobs and would bring so many other benefits to Richmond. How is the city going to support that area now?"
The city isn't the only entity that must OK the project for it to move ahead. The federal government must also approve it, a potentially tough hurdle because of Sen. Dianne Feinstein's opposition to the plan.
"The public opinion in Richmond will probably influence what happens on the federal level," Butt said. "And right now there's very little evidence the federal government is very excited about coming forward with the needed approvals."
E-mail Carolyn Jones at email@example.com.
This article appeared on page C - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle