After almost eight years of grinding litigation that has brought proposals to develop Richmond’s controversial Point Molate area to a halt, the city and the developer who sued it over a plan to build a casino have finally reached a settlement.
This means 13 years of political fighting since Richmond officially acquired the 270-acre parcel of land and former fuel depot from the Navy in 2003 may finally give way to a unified plan to make economic use of the property.
U.S. district judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, who entered the final judgement on April 12, ruled that the city will not have to pay any damages to Upstream Point Molate LLC, and that no casino will be built on Point Molate. The development group was seeking $750 million in damages, claiming it had lost almost $30 million in the process of securing rights to start construction.
“We think the resolution promotes the public interest, and removes a dark cloud over Point Molate,” said Mayor Tom Butt in a statement issued by the city.
The city originally reached a tentative agreement with Upstream Point Molate and the Guidiville Rancheria of California, a Native-American tribe based in Mendocino County, on a $1.2 billion casino plan in 2003, but it was voted down by residents in 2010. This led the groups to sue Richmond for breach of contract and for blocking the tribe from being able to seek federal approval for the casino.
After Richmond initially won the case in district court, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which handles legal cases in California, reversed the outcome and remanded it back to Judge Gonzalez Rogers.
The settlement comes on the heels of a contentious period at the end of 2017, after Butt and councilmembers clashed over the mayor’s handling of the Point Molate Citizens Advisory Committee. On November 7, the council held up a vote approving items on its consent calendar, which are usually voted on unanimously with little discussion, after it was revealed at the council meeting two weeks earlier that Butt had not reappointed any members to the committee.
The controversy was settled on November 21, with the passage of a motion submitted by Councilmembers Melvin Willis and Ben Choi that makes meetings regarding Point Molate development open to the public and gives former advisory committee members unofficial roles in this process.
Richmond now plans to develop 670 residential units at the site while preserving 70 percent of it as open space. The 70 percent number is based on the city’s “Point Molate Reuse Plan,” which was adopted by the city council in 1997.
The city will also restore the historic town of Winehaven, which is located on Point Molate. Winehaven is made up of a number of cottages, which once served as the homes for employees who worked at the Winehaven winery, which operated from 1907-1919 and was the largest winery in the world at this time.
According to Richmond City Councilmember Ada Recinos, plans for the development will be created through a public process that will rely heavily on the input of community members. The structure of these community meetings is currently being decided upon by the Richmond Planning Commission.
“I’m excited that after 13 years folks will actually be able to not only give input, but the input is going to be implemented right away,” she said. Recinos said she hopes the space will include recreational fields and campgrounds, and possibly be accessible by a bike trail.
In the end, she said, the final plans will ultimately be decided on by Richmond residents. “I want to see what the community comes up with,” she said. “I’m interested to see how they can get creative.”
The city hopes to choose a developer for the project by 2020 and start selling parcels of land within two years after that point.