On Tuesday night, at the last city council meeting before a month-long recess, the council wrapped up by approving nearly a dozen expenditure items, most notably the resurrection of Richmond’s only beach—Point Molate.
The Point Molate beach approval was part of the council’s decision on how to allocate the $669,000 settlement awarded to the city from the owner of the Cosco Busan tanker, which hit the Bay Bridge in 2007, causing over 50,000 gallons of fuel to spill in to the bay. According to the terms of the settlement, the money must be used to “implement appropriate restoration projects” along the Richmond edge of the bay.
Following the advice of the staff, the council allocated $489,000 of the settlement money to close two gaps in the San Francisco Bay Trail. The recently completed trail in the Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park will be connected with the trail that leads in to the Miller/Knox Regional Shoreline Park, and the 0.16-mile gap along Garrard Boulevard between Cutting Boulevard and the Ferry Point Tunnel will also be closed.
Councilmembers Tom Butt and Corky Booze debated how best to spend the remaining money at Point Molate. Butt motioned for $154,000 to rehabilitate and re-open the beach. The park closed in 2004 due to budget constraints.
Booze wanted some of the funds to go towards creating a railing for the pier at Point Molate, in the hopes it would allow fisherman to fish safely in the area. Councilmember Nat Bates agreed with Booze’s amended motion. “There’s enough money to go around,” said Bates.
The final motion put the money towards re-opening the beach and set aside the balance of the funding—roughly $26,000—for a safety railing on the pier.
“Let the record reflect this is a new year,” Bates chuckled after the council unanimously approved the allocation of the money, referring to the contrast between Tuesday night’s meeting and other, more contentious, recent council meetings.
Many members of the public spoke before the final vote and expressed excitement for the return of Point Molate. “I can’t think of family who, given the chance, wouldn’t go to Point Molate,” said Richmond resident David Helber.
The other large appropriation vote for the night was for a five-year commitment of $375,000 annually to the Richmond Art Center (RAC). The RAC is a non-profit community organization founded in 1936; it helps children in Richmond engage with art and offers some need-based scholarships so that children can participate in its programs. According to its website, this year was a particularly hard one for fundraising and the center received large cuts to many of their grants.
The RAC item had the most public speakers signed up to comment, and many stayed late for a chance to speak. “As a teen, the art center helped me. By supporting the art center you are supporting the youth within Richmond. The arts have quantifiable and tangible relations to preventing violence within our communities,” said Gerard Gutierrez, a member of the Richmond Art Center board.
Reverend Wesley Ellis said he was conflicted on whether or not the arts should receive so much money from the city. “Over a five year period you will spend over $1 million,” he said. Given the state of Richmond’s finances and some of the pressing problems in the city, Ellis said, he wasn’t sure if this was the best way to spend the money.
The council unanimously approved granting the funding.
In other business, councilmembers approved giving $45,000 to the Office of Neighborhood safety to cover costs for administering a grant for expanding the Native American Health Center in Richmond to better serve children and their families who suffer from serious mental health conditions. By a vote of 6 to 1—with Booze opposed—the council approved amendment of the city’s municipal code to allow citizens to keep and store one vehicle per parcel that is mechanically operable, but has a specific DMV non-operable status that makes it illegal to operate on a public street.
Mayor Gayle McLaughlin ended the meeting on a bittersweet note that recalled the tension of the last few meetings. “Some time away from these meetings, I think, will do everyone a world of good. Please enjoy the break and I’ll see everyone in September,” she said.