Tribe, developer, environmental groups announce major shoreline deal

By John Simerman
Contra Costa Times
Wednesday October 20, 2010

RICHMOND — An American Indian tribe and the developer of a planned billion-dollar casino resort at Point Molate have reached a deal with local environmental groups that calls for at least $48 million to buy and protect prime shoreline if a gambling emporium rises.

The deal ends years of litigation against a plan to build an Indian casino, along with a hotel, convention center, retail mall and nightclubs, on former Navy land along the Bay near the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. And it comes less than two weeks before Richmond voters will weigh in on the casino plan in a nonbinding vote on Measure U.

Under terms of the deal, which was signed Tuesday night, the Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians would provide $35 million for open-space purchases; another $5 million to design and maintain those lands; $3 million more for preparatory work and easements; and $5 million to complete the Bay Trail and hillside trails.

More money would go to protection of open space along the nearby shoreline, at the port Terminal 4 and Yacht Harbor areas, the groups said. The deal also calls for restoration of rare eelgrass beds and protection of more than 310 acres for open space at Point Molate. All of it is contingent on a casino — the economic engine for the project.

“This is not possible for us to do in a lawsuit,” said Robert Cheasty, president of Citizens for East Shore Parks. He estimated the agreement could be worth more than $70 million, saying the groups would seek matching funds that could escalate that number.

“When you have money, you draw money,” said Cheasty, who called it “a major, major shoreline protection agreement.”

Critics of the project chided the environmental groups, noting that the parks group and others sued over the fact state environmental work was not done before the city and developer Upstream Point Molate entered into an agreement in 2004. The final environmental documents have yet to be approved, although Jim Levine, Upstream’s general partner, said they are finished and awaiting city and federal approval.

After nearly two years of negotiations, the timing of the deal smells of a late bid to sway Richmond voters, said Joan Garrett of Citizens for a Sustainable Point Molate.

“It’s shortsighted,” Garrett said, “because smack in the middle of all those great things goes a massive casino, and that’s where the blind eye is being shut.”

Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a leading opponent in Congress of Bay Area Indian casinos, opposes the Point Molate plan and Measure U. Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, whose district includes Point Molate, has taken no public position on either.

Among three local card clubs and a Sacramento-area casino tribe that oppose the project, and the developer, campaign spending on Measure U is expected to surpass $600,000.

Under the agreement, the shoreline protection money would go into a nonprofit entity, the East Bay Natural Heritage Foundation. Its board would include two members from Citizens for East Shore Parks; one from another group, SPRAWLDEF; and two from the Guidiville tribe and Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation. That tribe owns Cache Creek Casino Resort in Yolo County and is the financial backer of the Point Molate project.

The two sides declined to release the signed deal itself, instead offering a summary. Kate Kelley, director of the Sierra Club’s San Francisco Bay chapter, called it “a model for how economic development and environmental goals can both be attained.”

Cheasty said the focus of land acquisitions would be in Richmond, but he declined to specify any parcels. “Our goal is to get an open shoreline. We’re going to work from San Jose to Crockett to make that happen,” he said.

At a news conference that included leaders of several environmental groups, including the local Sierra Club chapter, Levine also announced a deal this week with the Contra Costa Building Trades Council, ensuring union construction jobs on the project. Michael Derry, CEO of Guidiville’s economic development arm, said critics now have little to complain about, other than opposition to gambling.

“I don’t think they have a leg to stand on,” he said. “I think their opposition is ridiculous.” Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, who is running for re-election, argued that traffic, crime, gambling addiction and other negatives from a casino would far outweigh any benefits from the deal. She said the casino issue marks a pivot point in the city.

“It’s just so counter to everything we’ve been working on to show we’re a healthy community,” she said. “We’re all about creativity and innovation. We’re not about sucking money out of people’s pockets and making casino developers rich.”

The developer and the tribe still await approval by the City Council and federal officials to move forward. Under the plan, the land would be placed in federal trust for Guidiville. The tribe’s 112 members are scattered in various states and Mexico. Donald Duncan, the tribe’s vice chairman, said many tribal members hope to live and work there.

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