Calling it a ‘sick pig,’ residents urge reopening of Point Molate settlement

Richmond resident Juan Reardon holds a sign protesting the Point Molate settlement outside City Hall on Tuesday, Sept. 25. Reardon later called the deal between the city and developers a

Richmond resident Juan Reardon holds a sign protesting the Point Molate settlement outside City Hall on Tuesday, Sept. 25. Reardon later called the deal between the city and developers a "sick pig" during public comment at the City Council meeting.

Audible gasps spread through the Richmond City Council meeting on Tuesday when it was announced that nearly 50 people had signed up to speak during the public comment period, most about the city’s most valuable piece of shoreline that is once again the subject of tense debate.

The gasps foreshadowed some colorful comments from the residents who blasted city officials about how they approved a settlement agreement for the prized shoreline, known as Point Molate.

Richmond resident Juan Reardon denounced as a “sick pig” the settlement the city had reached with a would-be developer of Point Molate. He declared that Mayor Tom Butt was “becoming the worst mayor Richmond’s ever had.”

“We are not buying sick pigs, Tom. And no amount of lipstick will help,” he said, addressing the mayor.

The city appears to be on the back foot in the aftermath of a judge earlier this month allowing a lawsuit to proceed that challenges a settlement city officials reached with a developer. U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers accused the city of a lack of transparency in the process as she refused the city’s motion to dismiss the residents’ lawsuit. The settlement agreement in dispute would allow hundreds of housing units to be built on Point Molate.

Residents like Reardon came to the meeting hoping that the judge’s refusal to dismiss the lawsuit would open up discussion on the controversial settlement once again, thereby giving them the public process they’ve been demanding for months.

The settlement at the center of the dispute was the result of a years-long legal battle between the city and developers who had sought to build a casino at Point Molate. Richmond voters rejected the proposed casino in an advisory referendum vote in 2010.

The developers, in turn, sued the city. Both parties eventually agreed to a settlement in April. A group of residents has challenged this settlement in court, suggesting the process of reaching the agreement was not transparent.

Earlier in the week, it had appeared that Butt would bring up the settlement agreement for the council to discuss again and vote on publicly. But that didn’t happen.

An item placed on the agenda by Butt had called for the council to “approve the Point Molate settlement agreement,” this time in a public vote. The previous vote was held out of the eyesight of the public, in closed session.

That agenda item was later revised to call for the council to “consider whether to publicly reaffirm the Point Molate settlement.”

But by Tuesday evening, shortly before the council was scheduled to meet, the item was removed entirely from the agenda, prompting much speculation from opponents of the settlement agreement.

Richmond resident David Helvarg, co-chair of the Point Molate Alliance, a group that opposes the settlement plan, said he believed the agenda item was pulled because some council members may be apprehensive about re-affirming their previous votes.

“I think that he may have been unsure if he actually has the council votes in the public as opposed to behind closed doors,” Helvarg said.

“He knew that people are mobilizing for this, and he didn’t want to confront public opposition. I think he’d rather sneak it through on a quiet council evening,” Helvarg said.

“But I don’t think there’s going to be a quiet council evening between now and the elections. This is an expanding issue that’s going to become an election issue.”

In a later interview, Butt offered a different explanation for his decision not to put the settlement on the agenda for the evening. He said he had originally placed the item on the agenda as a way of addressing complaints that the council erred when it approved the settlement behind closed doors. But feedback from residents made him change his mind, he said.

Butt said that in the days leading up to the council meeting, he had received emails from residents that implied that placing the debate on the agenda wouldn’t end the litigation.

“So I thought, ‘What’s the point? Why go through all of the time and effort re-voting on it in public session if it’s not going to go satisfy these guys?’” Butt said.

Despite the settlement agreement’s absence from the agenda, it figured prominently at the meeting where dozens of Richmond residents shared their concerns during public comment.

Several activists, some of whom are involved in the lawsuit against the city, took shots at the city’s handling of the settlement. The urged council members to reject the plan to build housing on the shoreline.

Richmond resident Charles Smith called the proposed housing “a deathtrap,” noting its proximity to the Chevron refinery and the limited roadways in and out of the area.

“Shame on the city council for voting for this,” Smith said, receiving applause from attendees.

Several speakers decried the housing plans as a pathway to gentrification, noting that the development would primarily benefit the wealthy, and that housing is desperately needed in Richmond’s urban core—not on the shoreline.

Other speakers focused on the potential environmental impact that housing would have on Point Molate, which is home to eelgrass beds vital to the region’s habitat.

Butt sat stone-faced through public comment and did not address residents.

Butt later disputed several of the points made by residents, including the critique that the housing would primarily benefit wealthy homeowners. Butt noted that the eventual developers would either have to designate a number of units as affordable housing or pay the city in-lieu fees, which the city would use to build affordable housing.

However, Butt also added that he isn’t opposed to the idea of the development attracting high-income buyers, saying that, “frankly, we could use more rich people in Richmond.”

A court hearing on the residents’ lawsuit that had been scheduled for Sept. 24 was postponed in order to give both parties time to consider any potential developments that occurred during the council meeting.

Butt said he may put a vote on the Point Molate settlement agreement back on the city council agenda in the coming weeks.

Robert Cheasty, executive director of Citizens for East Shore Parks, a local nonprofit that was among the groups that filed the suit, said that for now, the fight will head back to court. But he expressed disappointment in the continuing lack of public process.

“What I thought would have been great tonight would be to have a real discussion on Point Molate and Richmond City planning,” Cheasty said. “But the mayor didn’t want that.”

21 Comments

  1. Pri Vacy

    Ugh. RPA has people brainwashed, including the author of this article.

  2. John

    This is sad on so many levels. Wealthy residents of Richmond opposing new housing construction thereby causing displacement in their own community. Interference in Richmond’s attempts to build new housing by residents of wealthier cities; cities that have already contributed to displacement in Richmond by failing to allow enough new housing internally. And RC lending a helping hand to all of the above by publishing articles that are just poorly disguised partisan cheerleading. It’s disgusting. All involved should ashamed of themselves.

  3. Sunny

    Other areas of Richmond cry out for development that might not be next door to a refinery or affect the Bay and this all seems somewhat shady. I see no benefit to the city, better to develop run down areas. this dump hasn’t improved that I can see since Butt became mayor. I was a fan, been to his house, his wife is in my garden club, but putting housing on Pt Molate seems foolhardy and I have no idea who RPA is.

    • Tek Sandoval

      Have you ever been to Pt. Moralte? It’s about as rundown as it gets. In your own words, a dump. Develop it.

  4. John

    The RPA for one is Juan Reardon. In fact, despite him being a co-founder of the group this “article” tries to pass him off as Mr. average concerned Richmond resident.

    One of the many reasons that NIMBYs are so successful in causing displacement is that they push the housing construction that they are unable to completely block into poorer neighborhoods with less political influence. This contributes to displacement in those neighborhoods as they both gentrify and remain cheaper than other areas that have blocked development. This scenario plays out over and over at multiple levels. SF and the peninsula block development that ends up in Oakland and Berkeley instead. Oakland’s Rockridge blocks development that ends up in Longfellow instead. North Berkeley blocks development that ends up in South Berkeley instead.

    So, no, you can’t just build new housing in Richmond’s “run down” areas. That is a recipe for gentrification and displacement. Richmond needs new housing across all its areas and income levels just as the Bay Area does. We have to stop finding every excuse imaginable to block new housing if we are ever going to make any progress on our housing crisis.

  5. Deborah Bayer

    It is odd to call opposition to housing at Point Molate “nimbyism,” since Point Molate is not in anybody’s back yard. Point Molate is an isolated piece of shoreline with little to no infrastructure and a rare coastal and marine ecology that would be devastated by large development. It is a great place for a park with cultural and recreational uses. It is not an appropriate place for housing. One of the areas the city wants to sell off for housing is still too toxic to allow single family homes to be built on it, or to allow food grown there to be eaten.

    • Tek Sandoval

      Can you provide evidence that the marine ecology would be “devastated” by a large development? Where is Richmond to get the money for this “park with cultural and recreational uses?” Richmond/California needs housing not more endless foot dragging.

      • D

        Where hasn’t large development ruined Marine ecology? I’ll tell you where, nowhere.

        The east bay coast has been ravaged since World War II and has pointed out in the Article the land there is still too toxic for single-family homes. But that never stops the developers from trying…

  6. John

    I agree that NIMBYism is too generous a word. Anti-housers is a better description. And we have to stop letting them label every potential development site as inappropriate for housing. Sites are too isolated or too close to existing neighborhoods. They are too contaminated or too pristine. Too close or too far from transit. Too small or too large. The list goes on and on. And yet all of these anti-housers happen to live in housing that was magically in just the right spot when it was built.

    The minimum of 670 units that are part of the proposed settlement would allow for preservation 70% of the city-owned portion of Point Molate as open space. And this number is nothing new. It comes from the reuse plan. It both provides for badly needed new housing (including affordable units) and provides the funding needed to create a new open-space area that is actually accessible to the public.

    Anti-housing opponents of the settlement act like this was part of some recently hatched secret plot to subvert the community’s plans for the site. The opposite is true. Groups opposing the settlement are trying to derail a multi-decade community based process to develop Point Molate for the benefit of the entire city. Their goal is to “preserve” the status quo: a quasi-private site with access restricted to a small number of people with the right connections.

  7. Rob Welch

    It’s a fortunate thing that these anti-housing folks were not around to block developements =such as Brickyard Cove or Marina Bay, or else where would they live today? I’m sure they quite enjoy their life at Marina Bay as I don’t see them selling their units there and moving downtown….

    • D

      I’ll tell you where they wouldn’t live. Next to the Chevron refinery it blows up every two years.

      • Rob Welch

        Well they are living in Point Richmond and Atchison Village, so you are wrong.
        Let’s not forget that people are already living at Point San Pablo as well.

  8. John

    Multi-family housing is not subject to the same soil contamination restrictions as single family homes. And only certain areas of Point Molate do not meet single family home remediation requirements. To state that because SFDs can’t be built in some areas that all development at Point Molate should be blocked is incredibly misleading. It is however par for course for anti-housers.

    And it’s not the evil developers that are behind this project. It’s the community.

  9. Get Real in Richmond

    As a proud rich person, I would like to say one thing. Will the area have a Starbucks ..?

  10. David Helvarg

    Yes, to earlier comment that large scale onshore development has ruined marine ecology everywhere (which is not really an argument for more development). Point Molate is an isolated headland adjacent to the largest and healthiest eel grass beds in the SF Bay Area – studied by SF State Marine Lab for two decades, they are where Herring and other commercial and recreationally targeted fish lay their eggs and where seals, sea lions, ospreys, gulls and other wildlife feed. Also they are home to leopard sharks, rays, etc. Chief scientist for the marine lab has testified that large scale onshore development in the southern watershed of Pt. Molate and subsequent sedimentation and runoff will likely destroy these vital eel grass beds. That’s one of about twenty reasons why the Mayor’s development settlement makes no sense from an economic, ecological or equity point of view.

  11. John

    So somehow building housing for current and future Richmond residents will destroy eel grass beds but the following will not?

    “It has potential for a Mount Tamalpais-bayview hotel, food and wine retail shops, start-up offices, a plant nursery, nature center, etc.”

    Only anti-housers are capable of the mental contortions necesssary to elevate the building of luxury resorts over building housing for people as a worthy social goal.

  12. Jeanne Kortz

    Despite some commenters thinking this is the RPA, it absolutely is not. The RPA is not taking a formal stand, and two of the city council RPA members voted in favor of the settlement in secret. This is about people who care about the future of Point Molate, a place where job development and tourism can happen. Do not believe Tom Butt. He lies, distorts, and attacks those who disagree with him. He is excellent at getting his false messages out on his one-way e-forum. He doesn’t deserve to serve the city of Richmond. Once housing is put in, you can kiss our last public headland goodbye. Those of you who criticize the people who are against housing, I wonder how many of you have actually been to Pt. Molate? I bet not many of you.

    • Tek Sandoval

      I’ve been there more times than you can count. Presently it is mostly fenced off with warning signs in abundance. Where are you proposing to get the money to build your ecological utopia? Housing will pay for remediation and developing public spaces. Tom Butt gets my voter for trying to get something done. If the no housing team wins I can assure you point Molate will remain an off-limits dump, the main reason no one goes there.

    • Rob Welch

      Frankly, it is the RPA who you cannot trust, who lie and distort the truth. The best thing that could happen to the city of Richmond would be to vote them out of office this election and release the choke hold they have on our city government. Constantly blaming Tom Butt for everything under the sun is part of their sick divide and conquer strategy they use to obtain power, which they then abuse.
      With new non-RPA aligned council members, perhaps then we can have a functional city government that Richmond deserves. We will NEVER have that with the RPA. Only endless bickering finger pointing and strife. Enough already.

  13. John

    Point Molate will be far more public than it is now once it has been developed. The vision document that is to be presented to the planning commission this Thursday proposes numerous public facilities and areas. And more importantly it proposes new housing which is also the primary means by which to fund the entire project.

    When opponents of housing at Point Molate suggest that it can instead be some kind of eco tourism site what they are really proposing is instead making permanent the current status quo: a semi-private club for themselves and their friends. Because without housing in the mix there is no money for any development and they know that.

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