|Richmond Debates Point
February 23, 1997
WEST COUNTY TIMES
CRITICS CONTEND NEARBY REFINERY IS A HEALTH RISK
Sunday, February 23,
RICHMOND To some, Point Molate is prime real estate, a serene strip of land with beautiful views of the Bay and isolated enough that some call it "a lovely, peaceful place" for homes.
"I would buy a lot out there in a minute and build a big old gorgeous house," said Donna Powers, Richmond's vice mayor.
But others argue that housing on the site, as proposed in a draft of the Point Molate Reuse plan, is foolish because the nearby Chevron refinery poses too great a risk for chemical spills and accidents.
"It may be safe now, but who knows what will happen, and I don't think we need to take that chance," said Councilman Richard Griffin.
The naval base was decommissioned by the Defense Department last year, and the city of Richmond must decide what to do with the land. The city was appointed the Local Reuse Authority, and has been looking at options.
Chevron opposes the draft proposal, as do at least four council members. Still, an advisory committee, which spent two years studying the issue, voted two weeks ago to approve the plan as it is.
As the city approaches its March 28 deadline for submitting a plan to the Defense Department, disagreements are coming to a head.
A public hearing on the draft is scheduled for March 4.
Point Molate encompasses about 290 acres on the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay just north of the Richmond-San Rafael bridge. It is surrounded on the north, east and south by the refinery.
The draft plan calls for two multifamily residential settings totaling 220 homes and another 324 single-family homes on the south side of the parcel.
Homes would be surrounded by parks, restaurants, classrooms, a retreat center and a historical district centered around the old Winehaven winery. A convention center is possible.
In a letter to the city, General Manager William D. Steelman said Chevron strongly objects to the plan because Richmond's master plan designates the area for light industrial use.
"It mischaracterizes the Point Molate setting (and) proposes residential, camping, hotel, hillside trail etc., which are incompatible with uses surrounding the Point Molate site and does not anticipate potential conflicts from possible expansion of existing industries," he wrote.
Several council members agree. Alex Evans has called the site "the world's most dangerous cul-de-sac" and said placing residential housing next to a refinery is a bad idea.
"Don't they remember what happened in Crockett?" he said, referring to several refinery accidents plaguing that community.
Evans agrees that the spot is an otherwise ideal location for housing, but he can't escape the thought of a refinery just over the hill.
"If I had an opportunity to travel back in time 100 years and stop Mr. Rockefeller from building the refinery there, I would do it," he said. "But I don't have that opportunity. It's a physical and economic reality that I'm not prepared to ignore."
Those who live in Point Richmond, which is also near Chevron, reject the argument that living next door to a refinery makes the area unsafe.
"I must say for all of us who live in Point Richmond that is a rather disturbing statement," said Bruce Beyaert, a representative of the Point Richmond Neighborhood Council and member of the advisory committee. "If it is unsafe to live at Point Molate how can it be safe to operate the refinery so close to Point Richmond?"
Councilman Nat Bates countered, "If the homes are already there you have a different situation. But if you are good planner you don't put homes in an industrial area, period."
Bates added that the planning process is in its infancy. In fact, environmental studies to determine whether the land is suitable for housing have not been done.
Councilman Tom Butt characterized the debate as a, "typical Richmond political deal" and accuses those opposed to allowing housing on Point Molate of receiving large political contributions from Chevron. He calls the area prime residential property that could generate $30 million in revenue for the city.
Powers said a combination of light industry and housing would be an ideal solution.
"I've listened to the arguments. ... I don't think it's a problem putting that housing there because of the large land mass," she said. "I can't imagine the refinery blowing up the hill to take the houses."