Point Molate advisory committee vanishes, ignites controversy at City Hall

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After 14 years of ballot-box battles, lawsuits and political fights, Richmond’s Point Molate continues to stir drama at City Hall.

Earlier this year, Mayor Tom Butt quietly disbanded an important city committee that advises on plans for the 290-acre, undeveloped “jewel” on the bay.

His move ruffled Richmond’s progressive majority, however, who responded with political maneuvering of its own.

In July, the Point Molate Citizens Advisory Committee was disbanded after the mayor neglected to reappoint any of its members.

The committee met monthly and consisted of Richmond residents particularly knowledgeable about the Point. They made recommendations to city council, and provided a forum for other residents to learn and give input about the activities.

Former chairperson Jim Hanson explained that often the committee would pick up the city’s slack. “The city has limited staffing, so it’s difficult for staff to keep on top of everything,” Hanson said. He said members, all Richmond residents, would review city contracts, explore ways to generate revenue for Point Molate, and work with city staff.

But at city council on October 24, former committee member Connie Portero revealed that the Point Molate committee was no longer operating. Members who had become “experts in their fields,” according to Portero, were suddenly deprived of their ability to serve.

“Gayle McLaughlin was our council liaison, and shortly after her leaving, the committee doesn’t exist anymore. There is no community oversight regarding Point Molate. It is gone,” Portero said.

At the subsequent meeting, on November 7, city council responded to Butt’s move to disband the committee by refusing to approve the entirety of the week’s consent calendar — a list of items that require action, but are considered uncontroversial and can be voted on all at once.

The sticking point was one of the very last consent items, a seemingly innocuous push to start conducting public meetings concerning Point Molate’s future.

Councilmember Jovanka Beckles asked to strike said item from the calendar, only to receive push back from the mayor. What followed was an argument over protocol that ended with Councilmember Eduardo Martinez asking Butt why he was so “hell-bent” on pursuing the matter.

After denying requests during and before the meeting, according to Beckles, the mayor relented and offered to remove item I-29 from the consent calendar. But the six remaining council members still refused to vote on the calendar or discuss the item further.

“This has never happened before in Richmond history,” Butt wrote about the RPA’s failure to approve the consent-calendar in his email newsletter later that night after the meeting.

Point Molate’s legacy is contentious. Once in the hands of the Navy, it was offered to the city of Richmond in 1995 for a $1 price tag. In 2003, Richmond finally acquired the property, and within that year entertained a proposal for a $1.2 billion casino.

Voters ultimately rejected the casino plan in 2010, which led developer Jim Levine and his company Upstream Investments to sue the city, claiming that it interfered with the development’s federal approval process.

Seven years have passed, yet the litigation continues, effectively placing the brakes on any new development until resolved, a process that could drag on for several more years, according to the mayor.

Butt has been vocal about his dissatisfaction with Point Molate’s slow slog toward development. A condition of Point Molate’s sale was that the area be used for economic development.

At a Point Molate Community Advisory Committee meeting in September 2016, for instance, the mayor presented an update on litigation and pieces of his vision. During the meeting, Butt vented about a lack of progress and development at the point.

“I’ve been at this for 20 years at Point Molate, and I’m really getting to the point that I want to get something done. I want to stop talking about it and I want to make it happen, and if it’s going to happen, it’s going to have to be something that’s practical. That can be done. That’s going to attract developers,” Butt said in his address to the committee.

His vision: The development of 600 to 1,800 housing units, which he believes will “generate the money that’s needed to build the infrastructure that’s needed, so that the rest of [Point Molate] can be built out,” according to a transcript of his comments from the September meeting.

Altogether, there are 12 different plans for the development of Point Molate, varying from high-density housing and a shopping district to strict conservation and the development of a public park.

Currently, the city of Richmond makes roughly $7,300 in rent per month from the property, while security and landscaping cost more than $30,000 a month. According to City Attorney Bruce Goodmiller, more than $2 million has been paid by the city in attorney fees for ongoing litigation with Upstream Investments.

At a November 21 council meeting, former committee members and concerned citizens showed up in force to call for broader public engagement in the Point Molate planning process.

Councilmembers Melvin Willis and Benjamin Choi authored a directive to give the public a role in organizing public meetings and workshops concerning the bayside property.

Butt’s consent-calendar item would have provided for these meetings, but according to former PMCAC members, with a key exception: there wouldn’t be public and stakeholder input on the organization of the meetings, which would fail to uphold the intent of the original initiative. As proposed by former Councilmember Gayle McLaughlin, her goal was to give the public and stakeholders, like the advisory committee, an opportunity to educate themselves about the property and give informed suggestions, backed by actual leverage.

The concern is that the public won’t have this much input if city staff alone is in charge of outreach.

The mayor, however, says that city staff is well-equipped to handle the design of these public meetings.

“Our city staff has been doing this kind of thing successfully for a long time,” the mayor wrote in an email to Richmond Confidential. “There is no reason to believe anyone’s input would be excluded.”

“Many residents in the city of Richmond recognize that with comprehensive community input, the development of Point Molate can have the greatest economic and social impact on the city of Richmond since World War II,” former committee member Portero said last Tuesday.

Former Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean, now board president of Citizens for East Shore Parks, urged that future plans for Point Molate be “open, transparent and all inclusive.”

Willis and Choi’s directive passed on November 21. Now, former Point Molate advisory committee members can have a seat at the table in an unofficial capacity, and with the Richmond public, will plan three public workshops to take place between now and late spring 2018.

Correction: The original version of this article stated that the mayor had allowed the resolution forming the PMCAC to expire. This was incorrect. Resolution No. 51-16, an amended version of the establishing resolution (Res. No. 8-11), does not have an expiration date, and can only be officially dissolved through a majority vote by the city council.

This story has been updated since its original publication.

 

17 Comments

  1. Commenter

    Yet another biased piece from Richmond Confidential, which is becoming more and more like the extreme lefts answer to Fox News with these biased and misleading articles. I am beggining to wonder whether or not some of these pieces originate from the RPA politburo.
    Here is the mayor’s version of these events and I guarantee you the more accurate one as well:

    This has never happened before in Richmond history.
    Back on September 13 of 2016, the Richmond City Council unanimously adopted Item L-2, which directed staff to “…schedule three public meetings starting in October 2016, after a planning process with stakeholders, so that the public can provide input on key values for Pt. Molate’s rehabilitation and redevelopment.”
    The direction was never carried out, primarily because a final resolution of the litigation, expected to be in the City’s favor, was delayed far beyond what was originally anticipated. It was presumed that the public meetings would be more productive once the litigation had concluded, so they were also delayed. To the surprise of many, the 9th Circuit, on appeal, did not eventually find in the City’s favor. It sent the litigation back to the Federal District Court where it could reside for years (see Setback for City of Richmond in Point Molate Litigation, August 4, 2017)
    At some point, the Point Molate litigation will be resolved, either through a judicial decision or settlement. It seemed appropriate to move forward to carry out the City Council’s previous direction, so I agendized Item I-29 on tonight’s meeting to “Direct the city manager, pursuant to previous direction by the City Council, to conduct three public workshops between now and the end of February 2018, to envision future land uses for the city-owned property at Point Molate.” Since it explicitly carried out direction previously adopted by the City Council over a year ago, I figured it would be non-controversial and placed it on the consent calendar.
    Now we have a rule in the City Council that anyone can remove an item from the Consent Calendar but only after first contacting the person who sponsored it and discussing his or her concerns. Vice-mayor Beckles asked that it be removed but did not engage in any of the required prerequisite discussions.
    It was not removed, and all four RPA Council members present (Recinos was absent) refused to vote on any of the other 28 items on the consent calendar, including a number of critical approvals such as:
    Four rent board positions
    Two contracts for grant funded construction on the Richmond Greenway
    Re-roofing the Family Justice Center
    Continuing the emergency designations for slides on Rifle Range Road and Via Verde
    A grant-funded contract for engineering services to support the Richmond Housing Renovation Program
    A grant funded contract to restore Baxter Creek at the Miraflores Project
    Although not critical, they even refused to vote on a proclamation declaring November as Homeless Awareness Month.
    What the RPA members did exhibited a complete lack of leadership on important City items that affect most Richmond residents.. It turned out that what they wanted was to give an opportunity to a small group to speak on Item I-29, including Berkeley resident and former Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean. Why she is so keenly interested in Point Molate is anyone’s guess.
    As it turned out the Point Molate speakers got their say anyway during Open Forum. When I offered to take I-29 off the consent calendar so Vice-mayer Beckles could finally tell us what her issues were and vote to approve the rest of the Consent Calendar, she refused, and the other three RPA Council members backed her up. This is the kind of leadership being shown by a candidate to replace Tony Thurmond as your Assembly District 15 representative.
    The RPA may control the Richmond City Council, but they can’t figure out how to actually get any City business done.

    • Offerta

      Daniel, don’t you have anything better to do than crawl all over social media bolstering your father’s positions and repeating his eForum missives?

      • Commenter

        I’m not Daniel Butt or anyone related to them. The Butt family doesn’t seem to have any problem putting their name to their posts. It’s really disturbing that you extremists cannot imagine or tolerate that anyone disagrees with your cultish faction. I wish that more people would notice that. Many already have.

  2. Jeannette

    I take back my comment about Don who has certainly made a lot of contributions to the PMCAC. Thank you, Don.

    Sure seems like Daniel to me.

    • Commenter

      Thanks, I’ll take that as a compliment.
      But you are so very wrong. It is interesting that the extremists are more concerned with my identity, which doesn’t matter at all, than with what I have to say, which does. Very telling indeed.
      By the way, ask Don Gosney what happened to him for disagreeing publicly with the RPA.
      I would love to see that the subject of a Richmond Confidential article.

  3. Lisa Hire

    I am a resident of Richmond with no ties to the Mayor. This article is slanted towards the RPA. Thanks again for contributing to the political chaos of Richmond by acting as the RPA’s mouthpiece.

  4. John

    Count me as another Richmond resident with no ties to the Mayor. In fact I mostly disagree with his approach at Point Molate. The PMCAC was doing great work and should have been allowed to continue that work. I also find the idea of the city conducting closed-door negotiations with the developer that is suing them to be a terrible idea.

    That said I agree that this Richmond Confidential article is yet another recent example of one-sided pro-RPA propaganda masquerading as real reporting. It’s hard to watch what was a once highly reputable independent source of Richmond news lower itself to the level of the RPA. It’s especially disheartening given the Confidential’s primary purpose as a tool for the training of future journalists. Spouting off RPA talking points is not reporting.

    • Janet S Johnson

      The Richmond Confidential is accused of “lowering” itself to the level of the RPA? Look at the combined experience of the RPA-backed council members: educator, child protection services counselor, executive at an alternative energy firm, nonprofit manager, community organizer. These are working people giving their time to improve their community. Most important, they were chosen to serve because they listen to all the community.

      They’re all accustomed to attacks from larger fish than those writing here, but readers like myself get tired of seeing their public servants abused, often anonymously, “John.” Walk a mile in their shoes some time.

      • Teresa

        “Larger fish than those writing here” — that is to say the little people? The voters who installed them as well as the voters who were opposed to installing them? One thing about the RPA (and RPA councilmembers) is for sure: they do NOT listen to “all the community.” They are intolerant of views different from theirs and are not interested in finding consensus. The voters should walk a mile in their shoes, you suggest? I think it works the other way around: our representatives (whether we voted for them or not) should walk a mile in their constituents’ shoes and give equal weight to all concerns in the community. Or at least pretend to care.

  5. Daniel

    Lifetime Richmond and El Cerrito resident here. I know nothing about the agenda of the RPA, and from what I have read about the mayor’s wishes, they seem to be very oriented towards complete development of Pt. Molate for private homes.
    As a child in the 1960s, my family was poor; borderline homeless. We kids did not know it, though, and spent many happy years going to the Richmond Library, to the Plunge, and to Pt Molate, which was very much a lost corner of the bay. On the beach there, we would search for shells, and for bits of metal debris, believing that perhaps an old locomotive had tumbled down to the beach from the tracks above, to slowly corrode and provide souveniers, stories and dreams for us children. I loved that faraway, uncared-for place so much!
    Moving back to the East Bay in recent years, I was overjoyed to rediscover the Richmond shoreline was still the place of my childhood dreams–a forgotten place of haunting beauty, neglected but lovely– a place that time had barely touched, it seemed.
    So I ask this: Must every place be exploited? Must every square inch of land be dredged, scraped, sold and built? Can there not be even one place in this town that is not assessed with a critical eye towards profits and development, then handed over to the lord of money, whomever that may be at the time?
    Enough! Let’s have an end to the narrow-eyed decisions, privately made, about common resources such as this long-lost strip of beach. Enough with the anonymous, lengthy, cynical assaults that compelled me to write this letter. We already get plenty of that from our own White House.
    Can we not be allowed a few wild fringes to our city, just around the edges? Must every damn inch be developed?
    The child that I once was, and the adult that I am, hope so.
    I vote for a park. Pt. Molate Seashore Park, wild and beautiful and forgotten. A place to get lost, and to dream.

  6. Pat

    Family has been here since 1905
    Richmond can’t just move forward with a council that is so divided. Sure wish that Winehaven coud be used as a plethora of wineries butit is not much of anything at themoment. great Beach but no accest to terminal 4 or the whaling station or the fish cannery .

  7. jim hite

    I was a member of the PMCAC for a number of years. I was thrown off the board by Mayor Butt. He re-instated me later but I refused to accept the membership because he refused to re appoint Charles Smith who was also initially fired by Mayor Butt.

    That said, one of the projects assigned to me during my tenure on the committee was to attend every existing Neighborhood Council meeting and distributed a survey that asked the citizens of Richmond what they wanted to see out at Pt. Molate. This survey was created by students at UC Berkeley and was intended to include impartial questions so a real point of view of Richmond’s citizens could be established. This survey is about seven ( or so ) years old. Out of over 250 respondents, only eight people wanted private housing at Pt. Molate. Not even counting safety issues involved with development, the will of the majority should preclude any discussion of giving the land away to private development. Thank you, Jim Hite

    • Daniel

      Thanks for that info, Jim. Kind of baffling why anyone who has seen it would really choose to build the place, given the option of creating an incredible shoreline park. Unless, of course, they had an iron in the fire.
      Just from my casual observation, it looks like there is huge force being brought to bear on this issue, with the intention of handing the land to some developer, come hell or high water.
      Every resident of this town deserved to know who is doing this and the real reason why they are doing it.
      Anonymous screeds like the one above where the author refers to those he is attacking as extremists is exactly what is wrong with this process, and with the political system writ large.
      That these authors need to resort to virulent attacks and hiding their identity make it clear they are extremists themselves, and do not deserve this forum.
      This is a public issue, for us, the people of the city of Richmond to decide, in the full light of day, using our real names and disclosing our real motivations.
      Now wouldn’t that be a refreshing change?
      That decisions should be made behind closed doors, and that expert comittee members should be ignored and strategically sidelined is shameful, dishonest and a betrayal of the public trust.
      Let’s all speak up and demand an end to this back-room dealing, and this backhanded behavior by those who would hand this precious bit of land off to their wealthy developer pals.
      Enough already!

  8. Don Gosney

    For the record, here it is mid afternoon on Friday which is a full 3+ days after the article was posted and this is the first I was even aware that it had been posted. For the commenter who suggested that I had posted a comment—you wuz wrong on that one. I’m good but I can’t comment on articles I don’t know exist.

    And also for the record, there isn’t anything that I ever post that doesn’t have my name attached to it. I don’t use pseudonyms and, when possible, the avatar I use is a headshot that actually looks like me. I can’t use my headshot on RC because a couple of years back their site had a technical glitch that will not allow me to sign in using Facebook. I mentioned it to their editor but fixing this flaw has not been an item of importance to them.

    I’ve been associated with Point Molate since November of 1994 first serving on the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Advisory Council where I helped draft the ReUse Plan required by the Department of Defense as the City was trying to acquire the recently closed former fuel depot.

    That work segued into Congress allowing me to serve on the Restoration Advisory Board (RAB) where I helped advise the Navy on the environmental restoration of the site. I was the only elected Community Co-Chair for the duration of the RAB (August 1996 through April 2011). [I shared chairmanship with a representative of the Navy.]

    Even though the terms of the Land Disposition Agreement between the City and the Navy required that the RAB continue (or a committee serving a similar function) as an independent body (absent any ties or allegiances to the Navy, the City or the developer), Richmond’s Mayor defunded this extremely successful committee and forbade city staffers from working with us.

    In it’s place, the Council created the PMCAC—staffed by political appointees of the Mayor. To appreciate the make-up of this new committee you have to go back and read the qualifications stated by the appointees on their application. In particular, I loved the one where the applicant wrote that as a child, he/she could see PM when they crossed the San Rafael Bridge to visit relatives in Marin County. Another wrote that, as a child, he used to go fishing near PM. These were the only qualifications listed by those applicants. What were not listed by any of the applicants were their ties to the Mayor or the organization she so closely affiliated herself with.

    The terms of the resolution that created the PMCAC requires that EVERYTHING associated with PM must pass through the PMCAC. Typical Richmond, though, virtually nothing has ever passed through the committee.

    The PMCAC is supposed to report directly to the Council but the very few reports have been in writing and buried in the consent calendar of the Council agenda packets. [Sometimes these packets have approached 1400 pages so if you believe that the Councilmembers devoted much time to actually reading these Point Molate reports, your naiveté should worry us all.]

    The Mayor has publicly said that since the City is still in litigation with the developer, the reuse of the site is a longs ways off. He also has said that the site is clean. Citing these two criteria, he says that there’s no need for the PMCAC.

    Nonetheless, the limited funds available for the cleanup are still being spent, parts of the site is being rented out to persons and businesses known to but a few city hall insiders and staff, the Bay Area Water Quality Control Board has still not signed off on the environmental restoration of the site and the City is planning public meetings and workshops to come up with ideas on what the future of the site should be. [When the Navy sold PM to the City (for the obligatory dollar—that I provided), a negotiated settlement of $28.5 million was put into an escrow account to finalize the environmental restoration of the site. Of that $28.5 million, about a third of the funds have been spent on an insurance policy, administrative costs and legal fees.]

    And ALL of this is taking place without the mandated PMCAC.

    This is why some members of the Council and the public have been expressing their concerns over the fact that the entire committee was “termed out” last May and even though applications have been submitted to the Mayor, no appointments have been made.

    Since this project began 23 years ago, there have been elected leaders, power brokers, city staffers and a host of other people who have had their own agendas on what should happen to our ‘Jewel by the Bay’.

    Even some of the public workshops were so heavily slanted in one direction that their legitimacy was laughable.

    Some of us wonder if this is what’s taking place right now. We wonder because we don’t know for sure. What ever is happening with the site is happening absent the transparency that the public demands.

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