Point Molate Casino Plan Draws Concerns, Praise
By Richard Brenneman
Thursday July 30, 2009
The massive draft environmental impact report on what could become California’s first Las Vegas–style metropolitan casino reveals sharp divisions among Richmond residents.
But those opinions were gathered four years ago, during an economic boom that has since crested and collapsed.
Berkeley developer James D. Levine, partnered with a Napa developer, a former Clinton cabinet member and two Native American tribes—one impoverished and the other flush with gambling wealth—plans a billion–and–a–half–dollar casino resort and upscale housing complex at Point Molate.
Located on one of the last relatively pristine chunks of prime San Francisco Bay shoreline, the “five–star resort” would target wealthy Asian gamblers, Levine told Richmond residents last year.
This is the third and concluding article in a series on the project environmental review, which is being conducted under both state and federal laws.
For Richmond, an impoverished city struggling with poverty and crime and dominated by a massive oil refinery, Levine promises his project will bring jobs, stimulus for local businesses and a wide range of civic benefits, not least in the form of a river of ongoing revenues.
The 5,284–page environmental impact report (EIR) was finally released earlier this month, three years after the initially planned release date.
Comments from individuals, organizations and public agencies included in the document date from four years ago, when the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs supervised a scoping sessions to gather community comments.
That hearing, conducted on March 31, 2005, was held to gather questions to be addressed in the draft EIR, which was scheduled at that time for release six months later.
Speakers from Richmond’s African–American community were solidly behind the proposal, which had gained the backing of 17 local churches—a group that has traditionally opposed gambling.
African–American speakers praised the project, though the majority of people who spoke were in opposition by a ratio of 27 to 16, including representatives of a variety of environmental groups.
One of those who spoke was Gayle McLaughlin of the Richmond Progressive Alliance who had been elected to the city council after that body had voted in favor of Levine’s project.
Now Richmond’s mayor, McLaughlin said she remains opposed to a casino at the site.
She has since been joined on the council by another casino opponent, Jeff Ritterman, whose presence would have represented a decisive vote in the council’s 4–3 decision to approve the project.
The council must certify the final EIR, which will include a finding of overriding considerations declaring that the project’s benefits outweigh its negative environmental impacts. The negative impacts which include adverse effects on traffic at the Richmond/San Rafael toll plaza and on a Marin County intersection.
The BIA received 26 letters opposing the project, including several from organizations, and three negative written comment cards submitted at the scoping session.
Nine supporters sent letters, and five comment cards offered support. Other letters for cities, Contra Costa County and local and state regulatory agencies raised concerns they wanted to see addressed in the EIR.
• Citizens for Eastshore State Park, which called the project “ill conceived and detrimental to the shoreline and the interests of the community.”
• The Sierra Club, which declared that the casino EIR process was “improper and illegal.”
• Save the Bay, which stated that the “project is inconsistent with both local and regional plans for the area of Point Molate.”
• The California Native Plant Society, which said the site, on a priceless piece of the bay’s original landscape, “is unsuitable for such a large–scale development.”
Of the opposition letters, 11 were identical preprinted form letters with spaces for signatures from a “concerned member of the community.” Several came from individuals who had spoken at the scoping session. No form letters were sent by proponents.
One strong endorsement came from Don Gosney, who has served as co–chair of the Point Molate Restoration Advisory Board, which was created by the Navy to advise on reuse of the site, a former refueling station for navy ships.
Gosney described Levine’s proposal as “one of the most innovative proposals imagined that can be an economic engine for revitalization of the community. I see thousands of good paying career jobs with benefits; I see training for many of our residents both young and old. I see tax dollars streaming into our city coffers; I see business opportunities that this community has not seen in a lifetime; and I see a renewed pride in our community that was lost a long time ago.”
Critics such as George Blair, former owner of Bay Excavators, Inc., worried about the dangers of gambling addiction on an already impoverished community. “Upstream will have all the money, and everyone else will be down the river,” he declared.
City reference librarian Tarnel Abbott, granddaughter of author Jack London, wrote that she, too, was worried about the impacts of gambling. “My grandfather suffered the effects of a gambler’s dream of hitting the big time; not only did he suffer a personal bankruptcy, but the entire family suffered as a result of his losses.”
Many of the arguments, pro and con, were the same as those raised during the original scoping session four years ago and reported in this paper on April 4, 2005. (Seehttp://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2005-04-05/article/21086.)
The draft EIR document is available for public review at the Richmond Public Library, 725 Civic Center Plaza, and on the second floor of City Hall, 450 Civic Center Plaza.
The draft EIR is also online for viewing or downloading at http://www.pointmolateeis-eir.com.
Anyone with questions about the project may attend either or both of two workshops with technical experts, to be held at 6 p.m. Aug. 10 and 27 at Richmond Municipal Auditorium, 725 Civic Center Plaza.
Two public hearings soliciting comments to be addressed in the final draft of the EIR will be held on Aug. 12 and Sept. 17 at the municipal auditorium.
The project also faces a legal challenge from a coalition of environmental groups, though the legal proceedings have been stayed while negotiations are underway.