Casino project dead, Richmond weighs options for Pt. Molate
By Hannah Dreier
Contra Costa Times
Posted: 09/13/2011 03:09:55 PM PDT
Updated: 09/14/2011 06:55:33 AM PDT
RICHMOND -- With the Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians barred from building a casino on a scenic shoreline property, a fight is brewing over whether or how the city should develop Point Molate.
Even the city's ability to pursue new visions for Point Molate is in dispute. The developer of the casino plan insists that it still has an exclusive right to develop the 412-acre property.
The Guidiville Band had sought to build a sprawling, Las Vegas-style casino and resort at the former Point Molate Naval Fuel Depot just north of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge.
In 2004, the city selected Upstream Investments as the developer for the site. The company has paid Richmond $15 million toward the $50 million cost for the land.
Last month, in a decision Upstream says came as a shock, the federal government decided that the Guidiville Band lacked the historical connection to the land that would enable it to build a casino there.
Five months before, the City Council had voted 5-2 to reject further consideration of the project, citing crime and environmental concerns and public opposition.
At the time, supporters grumbled that the project would have turned Point Molate into an economic force generating thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in revenue.
Now these same critics fear that city leaders will forgo other development opportunities to preserve the property as open space.
Councilman Nat Bates, who supported the casino, would like to see housing or an educational facility built on the shoreline, but he believes the environmentalists will prevail.
"My voice is smaller and smaller on that council," he said. "Open space doesn't provide any jobs, it doesn't produce any revenue. It doesn't provide anything but a bunch of weeds."
Mayor Gayle McLaughlin appears to speak for the majority of the council when she says she would like to see a mix of small-scale development and open space at Point Molate.
"We do want to have some revenue generation but we also want to protect the treasured environment that exists there," she said.
A good first step might be to open the Point Molate beach to the public.
McLaughlin said she would welcome an open food market, a performing arts center, a community garden or a research and development business on the property. She also wants to add recreational infrastructure that will allow residents to hike and kayak.
This is the kind of thinking that upsets Don Gosney, a former member of the Point Molate Restoration Advisory Board who believes it would be a waste to discourage major development there.
"They talk about the beach," he said. "This isn't a beach like Santa Monica, this is just where the bay happens to meet the land."
The city's right to develop the land at all also remains in dispute.
The city's attorneys and a majority of the City Council believe the council's vote against the casino triggered a 120-day period of exclusive negotiation between the city and its developer, which ended this month.
Upstream Investments argues that because the project was tied up in an environmental lawsuit for two years, the period of its exclusive rights to the property should be extended through 2013.
In July, Upstream sent a letter to the city proposing to build homes and a renewable energy office park on two-thirds of the Point Molate property and return the rest to Richmond.
The city has asked a Contra Costa County Superior Court judge to determine its rights and responsibilities.
Upstream managing partner Jim Levine said he hopes the city decides to negotiate with him instead of forcing him to litigate.
"Telling us, 'We're done, it's time for you to walk away,' just seems so ridiculous to me," he said. "There is obviously a way to team up and move the ball forward so everyone can get some value out of it. I just don't know if that's what the city wants."
Contact Hannah Dreier at 510-262-2787. Follow her at Twitter.com/hannahdreier.