Latino laborers show support for Point Molate project

Members of the Union Labor Local 324 attend the City Council meting. Ruben Salazar on the right.

Members of the Union Labor Local 324 attend the City Council meting. Ruben Salazar on the right.

At the Richmond City Council meeting this past Tuesday, most of the Latino residents in attendance were wearing green T-shirts supporting the controversial building of a casino in Point Molate in the hope that it might create new construction jobs. The casino project is supported by  Union Labor Local 324, and the construction workers who belong to the union are almost all Latino and African-American.

“The casino is going to bring jobs to Richmond,” said Ruben Salazar, a 55-year-old laborer and resident of North Richmond who has been unemployed for a year.  Salazar is a member of Union Labor Local 324 and so are the friends who sat next to him during the council meeting.

Laborers who are facing unemployment, like Salazar, see the casino project as hope for future construction jobs. They support the creation of jobs more than the idea of the casino itself. “We go to council meetings because we need a job,” said Antonio Sanchez, another union member who is facing unemployment.

Salazar and Sanchez said that they learned about the council meeting through word of mouth. Both got their T-shirts from the supporters of the casino who had a table outside of the Community Services Building where council meetings take place. Nearby, a group opposing the casino project had a table too; both groups were giving away sandwiches, pamphlets, signs and sodas. “Why oppose it if it’s going to bring jobs?” asked Salazar, referring to the group that is against the project.

Salazar and his wife, the parents of four children, are not working. The unemployment insurance money that Salazar gets is their only income. “If people don’t have the means to make ends meet, they are going to find other ways,” said Salazar, he fears that the crime rate will climb if unemployment in Richmond continues to rise.

But not all Latinos at the meeting supported the casino idea. One of the few Latinos that spoke up against the casino project was Andrés Soto, a member of the Richmond Progressive Alliance, a non-partisan liberal group. Soto is a 54-year-old musician employed part time. “Not all jobs are good jobs,” he said.

Soto alleged that developer Jim Levine of Upstream, which has partnered with the Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians to turn what used to be the Point Molate Naval Fuel Depot into a casino-hotel resort, had organized the leaders of the labor unions in order to get people of color show their support for the project.

Suporters of the building of a casino in Point Molate wore green T-shirts during the last Richmond Council meeting.

 

The T-shirts given away by Upstream promised “17,000 new jobs.” But Soto contested those figures. “The number of jobs has been inflated,” Soto said. He also said that Latinos, who have been hit hard by the recession, are vulnerable to believing a sugar-coated story that promises jobs.

Salazar and other members of his union were a strong presence at the beginning of the council meeting, which started off with a full house. Some attendees were standing unable to find chairs to sit down. But the number of attendees faded away as the meeting stretched past midnight.

At 10:00 pm the council started discussing the city’s right to explore various development alternatives for the Point Molate site. Mayor Gayle McLaughlin read part of a 2006 settlement agreement that stated that the city had the right to look at other projects. But by this point, more than half of the attendees had left.

Salazar, who left a few hours into the meeting, was unaware of the possibility of other projects. When later asked if he would support a different plan, he said, “If it brings jobs and we are all content, I would support other projects.”

3 Comments

  1. Don Gosney

    Too much emphasis is being placed on the number of jobs that may be created by this project.

    Perhaps when you’re planning some landscaping in your backyard you be somewhat accurate about how many people you’re going to employ but there are too many variables on a project of this size to speak with any form of accuracy.

    With a billion dollar construction project the number of construction workers depends on a great many factors. Weather can impact the schedule. Availability of supplies can also have an impact.

    If the project is fast tracked and multiple shifts are worked then the number of workers increase dramatically.

    If the quality of the construction workers and the management team is top notch, then those workers can get a lot more done with fewer workers.

    As for the permanent jobs, the project itself is still very fluid so the number of workers is also fluid.

    The 17,000 job figure that we hear about so often stems from the trickle down effect caused when local vendors are used to supply materials and services. This figure doesn’t come from Upstream but is a number derived by established practices used by the City and the County who provided these figures.

    Whether the number of jobs is 17,000, 15,000 or 12,000, this is far more than we have right now and exponentially more than any other project that has been publicly suggested to date. It’s guaranteed that however many jobs this resort project produces, it will be more than a dog park which has been suggested at some of the highest levels.

    Let’s not forget that 40% of the non-casino jobs have been reserved for Richmond residents. That doesn’t mean that Richmond residents won’t be eligible for the casino jobs but since these are specialized jobs the need may not be what Richmond can provide. More than 90% of the jobs will be outside of the casino so this is a good thing for Richmond residents.

    With a hotel with nearly 1100 rooms, with nearly 20 restaurants, with nearly 200 acres of parkland and open space, this project will need many thousands of groundskeepers, housekeeping staff and restaurant workers. Typically these jobs pay minimum wages but on this project they’ll receive Richmond’s Living Wage which is nearly twice what minimum wage is. Furthermore, these types of jobs do not require a proficiency in the English language, they do not require a high school diploma or any previous training. For some of the people of Richmond who need these jobs the most, they have the qualifications necessary to secure good paying jobs.

    For those that think that Richmond is full of unemployed college graduates walking the streets, they need to take a closer look at who makes up the unemployed of Richmond. It’s time for a reality check. We need to find jobs for all of the Richmond residents that need jobs and not just those living in the Annex, the Marina and Point Richmond.

    Much has also been said about the fact that if the project were to be approved today, these jobs won’t be available to be filled tomorrow. Even the Mayor admitted on the record and on TV last Tuesday evening that even if this project were scrapped and a new developer brought on board, that there wouldn’t be any jobs for quite a while. She admitted that the new project would require an EIR and a lengthy permitting process.

    Call me stupid if you will—and some of you do on a regular basis—but I’d much rather wait a little longer for many thousands of good paying jobs rather than settle on a small handful of mediocre paying jobs.

  2. Bruce Kaplan

    Upstream is already putting union members to work, spending money for “outreach” at the Richmond City Council meetings. Unions have bought the developers estimated even though Upstream refuses to commit to a specific number of jobs, and best estimates at the city council meeting put the number closer to 1700 than 17,000.

    As to Don Gosney’s incorrect attribution to Mayor McLaughlin the assertion that casino jobs are likely to appear sooner than alternatives, most casino opponents believe the opposite. That is, with the controversial nature of the poposal, the land assignment review by the BIA, and the inevitable lawsuits to stop it, it will be a long time before the casino provides any jobs for low skill workers.

    I personally am glad that the Council has agreed to review outside alternative proposals that will hopefully result in a more family-oriented project that will reunite the city and avoid another destabilizing factor for Richmond families.

    Do we really want McJobs at any cost? That’s short term thinking.

  3. Sean

    All job creation is a good thing for Richmond.

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