Richmond axes Point Molate casino resort
By Katherine Tam
Contra Costa Times
Posted: 04/06/2011 01:57:10 AM PDT
Updated: 04/06/2011 06:03:12 AM PDT
Dreams of a $1.2 billion casino-hotel resort at Richmond's waterfront are dead.
City leaders ended a five-hour meeting Tuesday night by nixing further consideration of the proposal, saying there are too many problems from traffic congestion to federal approvals that have yet to come. Ultimately, they said Richmond voters made their opposition clear when they defeated November's advisory ballot measure on whether a casino should be built at Point Molate.
"This project has failed to obtain federal approval. The Bureau of Indian Affairs has not given a timetable for the decision-making process," City Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles said. "I don't think it's right nor is it fair to keep the residents of Richmond waiting for a decision indefinitely."
The 5-2 vote -- with councilmen Nat Bates and Jim Rogers dissenting -- was no surprise, given the results of November's election. Voters picked council newcomers Beckles and Corky Booze, creating an anti-gaming majority at the dais. They then rejected advisory Measure U, with 58 percent voting no on the casino question.
Bates, a longtime supporter of the project, said he was saddened to see the project die, in part because it would have provided jobs to locals who lack a college education and have trouble getting employment.
"I still think it's a good idea what we tried to do," Bates said. "I think it would have been a positive."
The council directed the city staff to begin negotiating for 120 days with Upstream, the project developer, for a nongaming development alternative, as outlined in the 2004 deal in which the city agreed to sell Point Molate for $50 million.
Tuesday's meeting drew more than 150 people on both sides of the issue, with opponents outnumbering supporters by a considerable margin. A large banner dangling from the balcony seats read in bold lettering: "Richmond Voted No Casino."
Upstream and the Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians have spent $17 million to date on their proposal, including partial payments for the land, said Michael Derry, tribe spokesman. He and developer Jim Levine urged the city not to shut the door on the gaming project and to instead keep all options open.
The resort was to include two hotels, a 122,000-square-foot conference center, restaurants, shops, tribal facilities, open space, a shoreline trail and ferry access. But it was the 124,000-square-foot gaming floor that divided the community.
With Richmond's unemployment rate hovering stubbornly at 18 percent, supporters say the project would bring thousands of much-needed jobs and millions in revenue. But opponents argued the plan is a pipe dream that would fall short of its promise and instead bring traffic congestion, crime and addictions.
Check back later for updates to this story.
Richmond City Council Rejects Casino Proposal
Posted: 6:30 am PDT April 6, 2011
RICHMOND, Calif. -- The city council voted Tuesday night not to continue with plans to develop an Indian casino at Point Molate after more than six years of back-and-forth about development of the former Navy base.
The council members voted 5 to 2 to in favor of a motion by Mayor Gayle McLaughlin to discontinue discussion of the casino, with Councilmen Jim Rogers and Nathaniel Bates dissenting.
Developer Upstream Point Molate LLC, which has been working on the project with the Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians since 2004, now has 120 days to propose a non-gaming development at the site.
Original plans called for the 412-acre piece of shoreline property to be cleaned up and turned into a complex featuring a casino, hotel, convention center, performing arts center, entertainment venues, retail space, tribal government center, and housing.
McLaughlin laid out 12 reasons why she moved to oppose further discussion of the casino, including a nonbinding advisory vote that was passed in November in which 58 percent of the city's residents said they would oppose the gaming proposal.
McLaughlin also said studies have linked casinos to increased crime, increased problem gambling, and overall economic loss.
She said that locally marketed casinos don't lead to net financial gains because local residents spend money on gambling that would have been used for other services.
Other council members questioned whether jobs would really go toward improving Richmond's 17 percent unemployment rate and putting its parolees to work.
"If you had this beautiful new hotel, would you put a guy who just got out of prison in the rooms cleaning?" Councilman Courtland Booze said. "Think about it."
He and several other council members also said they respected the democratic process and wanted to honor the wishes of residents who support development without a casino.
The developers, however, have argued the $1.7 billion resort would not be profitable without a casino acting as a central draw. They also said the casino was needed to fulfill the city's mandate that the project be a job-creating economic engine for the city.
"Building homes does not create jobs after the homes are finished," Upstream LLC spokesman Jim Levine said.
The casino project would create an estimated 17,000 permanent jobs and 1,600 to 1,700 temporary jobs, according to its proponents.
Members of the City Council and of the public have questioned those figures.
Tuesday's decision could lead to a protracted legal battle, the dissenting council members pointed out, because millions of dollars have already been spent developing the project. Michael Derry, CEO of the Guidiville Pomo Indians, said the tribe
originally entered into negotiations with the city with the understanding that officials wanted to work with developers to build a casino.
Their agreement required the city to negotiate in good faith, and if the tribe can prove the city did not intend to follow through on the project, it could be entitled to compensation for million of dollars already invested in the casino plan, Derry said.
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