Intimidated by both Upstream, which has threatened to sue, and its own City Attorney’s Office, the Richmond City Council’s wimped out majority exposed their jellied backbones last night and certified a final EIR (FEIR) for the Point Molate casino project that almost everyone agreed was substantially flawed, including other credible public agencies like the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) Bay Trail Project, the East Bay Regional Parks District and the West Contra Costa Transportation Advisory Committee.
This was stunningly similar to the events that led to the certification of the Chevron EIR in 2008 that was eventually challenged and thrown out in court.
Richmond’s award-winning Trails for Richmond Action Committee (TRAC) made a valiant effort to include the Bay Trail connection across I-580 as a mitigation and provided expert testimony supporting a fair and rational funding formula. The City Council majority blew them off.
Despite the fact that several U.S. Government agencies, including the Center for Disease Control, the Surgeon General and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) have all published reports that find that secondhand smoke in casinos is harmful to health, the City Council backed off a proposed mitigation that would have either banned smoking or required that employees not be exposed to smokers. This was particularly shocking given Richmond’s recognized leadership in the movement to protect people from unwanted secondhand tobacco smoke. I guess if someone is desperate enough to take a casino job, they deserve to die of lung cancer.
The California Native Plant Society was the lone environmental organization to point out serious errors in both the FEIR and the process by which it was fast tracked to approval at the 11th hour. Most other environmental organizations, including the Sierra Club, had long since been bought off by Upstream for a reported $45 million.
Only Mayor McLaughlin and I did not vote for the certification. Nat Bates was out of town. I was so disgusted when I saw the way things were going south, I just went home.
The FEIR was prepared by Analytical Environmental Services (AES) of Sacramento, a consulting firm that is substantially supported by Indian tribes seeking casino approvals, and they were paid directly by the Guidiville Band for their work. Although the City had signed a secret agreement with the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 2005 making the City an equal partner in the EIR process, City staff did little more than rubber stamp the document that had all the appearances of being ghost written by Upstream.
All in all, it was one of the most disappointing performances by both staff and the City Council that I have ever endured. At the end of the day, it was all about money. I thought we were on a roll towards a new era for Richmond, but it was déjà vu all over again in Richmond last night.
Richmond City Council poised to OK casino report
Carolyn Jones, Chronicle Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Richmond's City Council was poised Tuesday to approve the final environmental impact report in the Point Molate casino project, a $1 billion resort slated for the waterfront.
The council was expected to take action following a public hearing on the EIR and issues including traffic, jobs and the Bay Trail.
The federal and state governments will also have to approve the plan before it can move forward, but if the council rejects the EIR, the project will stall. If everyone gives the green light, however, construction would start in about a year, said Michael Derry, head of the Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians, the tribe planning to build a hotel, casino and shopping center just on the bay shore north of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge.
"For us, this is the culmination of almost 60 years of waiting to have a reservation," Derry said. "It means health care, education, employment. It means having a homeland."
The tribe has been without land since the early 1960s. In 2004, the tribe entered into a contract with Richmond to purchase the former Navy Fuel Depot for $50 million.
The resort would include a casino, hotel, convention center, ferry terminal, retail shops, parks and housing for the tribe's 112 members.
But some in Richmond would like to see more included in the project, and guaranteed in the environmental impact report.
"I want jobs," said Richmond City Councilman Corky Boozé. "We're an economically suppressed community. If the jobs are not there, I'm going to have a hard time with this."
Boozé wants to see almost half of the 17,000 jobs the project would bring reserved for Richmond residents, particularly those who have been recently released from prison or otherwise have a difficult time finding work.
The Bay Trail is a top priority for others.
"Without bicycle and pedestrian access to Point Molate, the pollution from traffic will be unacceptable," said Bruce Beyaert, chair of Trails for Richmond Access Committee. "The Bay Trail is the best way to provide that access."
The casino project includes a 1.4-mile stretch of the Bay Trail along the Point Molate shoreline, but no connection across Interstate 580 to the rest of the trail, linking Point Richmond to Albany, Berkeley, Emeryville and beyond.
The 1.2-mile connector would cost $20.7 million, which bicycle activists would like the tribe to pay.
Without the connector, bicyclists ride on I-580 if they want to reach Point Molate. Already, one bicyclist has been killed and one paralyzed while attempting to ride along the busy freeway, Beyaert said.
Traffic is another concern, particularly around the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge.
"That bridge is going to look like the Bay Bridge at 5 p.m. Friday if we don't do something," Boozé said. "And it's not fair to dump all that traffic into Point Richmond."
The tribe is hopeful these issues can be resolved and the project will move forward, Derry said.
The vote comes months after voters downed Measure U on Nov. 2, an advisory measure supporting the casino, and also elected an anti-casino majority to the City Council.
"The city has a contract with us and has already accepted our money," Derry said. "The city has to act responsible. But we think in the end this is a project that can benefit everyone."
E-mail Carolyn Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org.