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Media Coverage
Split Richmond Council Oks Point Molate Plan
March 7, 1997


Friday, March 7, 1997
Section: News
Page: A01

RICHMOND Plans to develop Point Molate will sail to Navy brass for approval, but rough political seas in Richmond could still sink proposals that would put hundreds of new homes on the 300-acre stretch of beachfront property. 

A deeply divided City Council voted Tuesday to forward a reuse plan for the former Navy fueling depot to defense and federal housing officials for final approval. The plan is the first step in a proposed city takeover of the property when the Navy abandons Point Molate in 1998. 

Consultants and a 45-resident advisory committee say the property could be transformed into a residential, commercial and light industrial district after the military completes environmental cleanup. They have suggested putting 544 homes, a winery, outdoor classrooms, a retreat center and a shoreline park on the property. 

The new homes would be located over a ridge from Chevron's Richmond refinery, and the oil company is fiercely opposed to the idea. Chevron officials say they can't guarantee the safety of Point Molate residents should an accident occur at the refinery. 

"We don't believe it's sound public policy to put homes so close to the refinery," said Hal Holt, a Chevron spokesman. "It's like building right next door to an airport." 

Five of nine council members also objected to the housing idea, citing proximity to the refinery, fire dangers and environmental hazards on the land, and the area's possible seismic instability. Four of them voted against the plan or abstained during Tuesday's vote. 

But Councilwoman Lesa McIntosh said the concerns weren't worth risking the city's chance to obtain the property. Richmond has until March 28 to submit a reuse plan, and city officials weren't sure if they could get an extension. Without a reuse plan, the federal government will not turn over the property to the city. 

McIntosh joined council members Donna Powers, Tom Butt, John Marquez and Mayor Rosemary Corbin in approving the plan. 

Still, McIntosh isn't thrilled with the housing idea. She said Wednesday she doesn't want to see the land end up as an exclusive enclave filled with high-priced homes. Instead, she envisions the land being left open for public access. 

"Everyone should benefit from this," she said. 

Councilman Alex Evans said the council should have waited to vote on the plan until the housing issue had been resolved. Evans said he objects to housing because of possible fire and earthquake dangers, as well as Point Molate's proximity to Chevron. 

"Chevron's one very good reason to oppose homes out there, but it's not the only one," Evans said. "There are fire and earthquake risks there that would stop any other development." 

Before anything is built on the property, developers face a raft of environmental and planning approvals from the city. Evans and other opponents say they'll have plenty of opportunities to kill the housing idea. 

"I haven't given up on eliminating housing," Councilman Nat Bates said. "I think we have a very strong position." 

Opponents also contend that including housing in the plan would force the Navy to adhere to more expensive and rigorous environmental standards when it cleans up chemicals in the soil at Point Molate. Federal law allows the military to leave some of those chemicals if the land is to be used by the city for industrial or commercial purposes. 

"It's a waste of money to ask for that," said Councilwoman Irma Anderson, who along with Councilman Richard Griffin abstained on the plan. "And I don't know that the Navy even has that kind of money." 

But Corbin said the city should make sure the site is as environmentally clean as possible, even if Richmond decides at some point to reject housing. She contends that if the Navy is allowed to clean the property to a level suitable only for industry, the city will never be able to put the land to another use. 

"The market studies and developers who have been shown this site say housing is very possible here," Corbin said. "We jolly well better clean it to that point." 

Corbin and other proponents also reject arguments that homes on Point Molate face a great danger from the refinery. They say Chevron is just hoping for a housing-free buffer zone around its refinery, eliminating more neighbors who might complain about their operations. The company is already facing a lawsuit from Richmond residents over the refinery's effect on the environment. 

"I can see why Chevron would not want these people near the refinery," Powers said. "But I don't think that the city should downsize projects based on the alleged risks posed by the refinery."