In a session that highlighted the contentiousness of a proposed hotel and casino plan for Point Molate in Richmond, the City Council voted 4-2 Tuesday night to grant the casino’s developers a fourth extension on a deadline for a proposal for the controversial entertainment complex.
Upstream Point Molate, LLC., the property developers working alongside the Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians to erect a vast casino on a former U.S. Navy depot, will now have until July 20 to submit a revised plan. In the meantime, the developers will continue to pay the city $90,000 a month to guard and maintain the land.
Over 80 speakers came forward during the meeting, underscoring just how highly divided the city remains on whether or not to back the casino plan. Proponents, many of whom came wearing matching green Point Molate T-shirts, pointed to the opportunity for job creation in a city struggling with 19 percent unemployment.
“The casino’s not going to be the only thing out there,” said Carrie Steele, an ironworker from Vallejo who spoke in favor of extending the developers’ plan deadline. “There’s going to be jobs for Richmond city folks to go to. And right now there are none.”
Opponents, however, brought up the social and environmental perils of backing the 2,000-slot, 50-table casino that could increase traffic congestion and, some say, contribute to drug use, problem gaming and prostitution in the city.
The public comment period Tuesday ran the spectrum from colorful to downright rowdy, with members of the audience alternately cheering and booing. Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, the council’s staunchest opponent of the plan, also got in a bit of a verbal tussle with Councilman Nat Bates, one of the plan’s supporters, over how much time to allow developer Jim Levine to speak at the podium – indicative to a certain extent of a level of testiness that hovered above the entire evening. Ultimately Levine himself tried to quell the moment.
During his address to the council, Levine noted that he’d vowed to develop the Point Molate site through “thick and thin,” regardless of whether a casino is ultimately approved. “I guess this is the thick part,” he said.
McLaughlin and Councilman Tom Butt opposed extending Upstream’s deadline. “Even in the most optimistic scenario,” Butt said, “these construction jobs wouldn’t start for another two years. And if it gets held up in litigation, that could be four years or six years. How many people here can afford to go without a job for two years?”
Vice Mayor Jeff Ritterman was absent, while Bates, Ludmyrna Lopez, Jim Rogers and Maria Viramontes all voted in favor of the proposal extension. Bates hailed the 16,000 jobs that could come with the casino as vitally important to getting city residents back on their feet.
“My response to the so-called ‘sins of gaming’ is that life itself is a gamble,” Bates told the crowd. “I’m not in a position to dictate what anyone does with their own funds.”
Tony Sustak, a member of the Richmond Progressive Alliance, a local citizen group allied with McLaughlin, said after the meeting that informal polls of city residents found a nearly 50-50 split on the casino debate. “The jobs issues here is very real,” he said. “But this is not the way to build a sustainable economy.”