Council approves extension for Point Molate developer
on January 12, 2010
The City Council voted Monday to extend a deadline to reach an agreement with the developer behind the Point Molate casino project.
Had the council failed to grant a two-month extension to allow the developer, Upstream Point Molate LLC, to close the purchase, sale and lease of the land involved, the city would have scrapped a five-year-old agreement to earmark the land for the 240,000-square-foot casino.
Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and council members Jeff Ritterman and Tom Butt voted to let the agreement expire. Butt had previously supported the casino proposal, but reversed his position at the last council meeting.
“I‘m just sort of tired of bumping my head against the wall,” Butt said at the time. “It’s a lot easier for me to just bail out and say, ‘look, I’m just going to oppose it, period.’”
But rather than simply “bail out,” he returned to the council Monday with a litany of questions that left a trio of city workers stumbling for answers.
The council began negotiating with the developer behind closed doors months ago, but when the two couldn’t reach an agreement before a Jan. 5 deadline, the ongoing negotiations were thrust into the public sphere.
When developer Jim Levine first proposed opening a casino at Point Molate with the Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians the group was backed by Harrah’s Casino, but the company backed out more than a year ago. Levine claims he’s found a new investor in the tribe behind the Cache Creek casino, but the city’s agreement with the developer still lists Harrah’s as the financial backer.
“Why are we here at the 11th hour asking for an extension after five years if we’ve known for over a year that this has to be done,” asked Butt before unleashing his criticism on the city employees. “Even though we have an alleged financial partner, no one from the city has ever taken any steps to try to ascertain whether that partner is actually on board?”
Butt also criticized the staff for having not sought out experts to address issues pertaining to the environmental impact report for the casino, and he grew visibly frustrated when the panel of workers said they couldn’t answer his questions.
“You’re telling me that because Richard Mitchell is not here tonight staff has no answer?” he said. “I hate to say it but I’m badly disappointed that our staff has done no due diligence at all. Virtually all the information has come from Upstream. It’s been passed by staff as if it were the gospel itself.”
Speaking during the public comment session, which drew more than 20 residents who were almost evenly divided, Levine defended his proposal.
“This extension is really to allow the time to work out the range of issues. … (It’s) really for the benefit of both parties,” he said. “It’s also very interesting that when people say things and they repeat them many times they start to believe that they are true. … there has not been a financing problem.”
Devin O’Keefe, a resident who described himself as “a member of the unemployed,” later used Levine’s own words to suggest that his assurances were hollow.
“He keeps saying that the money is secure,” said O’Keefe. “It’s funny how people come to believe something when they repeat it over and over.”
Most of the residents who spoke in favor of the casino said that it would bring much needed jobs to the city. The developer has agreed to hire unemployed Richmond residents to help build and operate the casino.
“I live for jobs,” said former council member John Marquez. “We can stand up here and be cynical about a lot of things. … (But) Let’s give people hope. Let’s not just cut (Levine) off because we’ve got our own jobs and we’ve got our security.”
Council member Maria Viramontes, who referenced her experience working on multibillion dollar deals as a board member for an investment firm, said that refusing to grant the extension could open the city up to lawsuits. She said the decision to grant the extension is completely separate from approving the casino itself.
“What the council has before it today is a legal document. You can have an opinion, but it may not be an informed opinion,” said Viramontes. To develop such a large project “it takes vision. It takes problem solving at a skill level that would put most people to shame, and it does require people skills for the long run. Unfortunately our council members haven’t exhibited these skills.”
Though the council gave the developer a two-month extension, it will need to reach a permanent agreement before it can move forward. Beyond the local hurdles, the Guidiville Band will also need approval from Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar before it can take over the land.
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I have to hand it to you, Mr. Wolf, you’ve got a great journalism career in front of you–as long as you only want to work for Fox News and present an ill-prepared one sided sensationalist view of a story.
Maybe I’m not sharp enough to fully appreciate what you’ve written but your story indicates that you really don’t know the history of this project, the players involved or the dynamics of the issues. You certainly don’t know Richmond.
Can you really be so naive as to have missed what really happened at that meeting and the political games that were being played out?
I’ve read many articles here on Richmond Confidential but this one embarrasses me. I’ve been a member of the print and electronic media for more than 34 years and I’ve seen plenty of green reporters but this story ranks high up there on my list of bad reporting.
I watched you last night and it seemed that you’ve fallen into the trap that so many TV producers and reporters have fallen into as I watched you ignore the people that might know something and go after the crazies in the crowd that could give you a “sound bite” that might make people want to read your article. I’m surprised that you didn’t quote–as any good tabloid “journalist” would have headlined– the hearsay gossip about what Jim Levine’s real intent was or the representative from the commercial real estate broker that demanded a million and a half dollar finder’s fee for putting the City together with the tribe. And, of course, you left out the quotes from some of the other ill informed crazies I watched you question.
Did you think to ask yourself if those members of the Council that were grilling City Staff really wanted to get to the truth that maybe they might have asked those questions during regular work hours outside of the Council meeting where Staff would have access to the information they were requesting? You emphasized that some of this information was coming at the eleventh hour but did you even wonder why the questions from the Council were also coming at the eleventh hour? Didn’t they also have the same five years to ask those questions?
There was a popular musical in the time when your grandparents were in their prime called “The Music Man” about a huckster traveling salesman. As he’s discussing with his peers how to be successful he sings a song about how “you gotta know the territory”. My suggestion to you, Mr. Wolf, is that before you attempt to write another article that you follow his advice and learn something about the subject matter and the territory surrounding it. Then study up a bit about what journalism is all about and maybe then you can write that article.
As a follow-up to my previous comments, I failed to point out that nowhere in your article did you mention what was at stake should the extension not be granted; what the extension was all about; the controversial tolling agreement that, if valid, would automatically extend the deadline; and even the involvement the City had in dragging their feet for several years with the issuance of the EIR/EIS that prompted this 11th hour approach to the deadline. Did you ask the question about if the City was the one who made this original deadline an impossible milestone should the City still hold Upstream responsible for holding up their end of the deal?
Why was there no mention of the fact that the City recently extended the comment period for the DEIR by 30 days meaning that it would be physically impossible to have the Final EIR available for the Council to review, discuss and vote on until well past that January 15th deadline?
Also, I couldn’t find any mention in your article about the fact that on this January 15th deadline Upstream would be required to fork over an additional $35 million on top of the $15+ million they’ve already paid the City nor did I read anything suggesting that Upstream might be crazy to give the City that money without an EIR certified by the Council.
A lot of questions left unanswered after reading this article. For the uninformed or the ill informed they might get a completely false idea about what really happened on Monday evening.
Don, thanks for your comments.
First of all, I didn’t get quotes from anyone from this story outside of what was said as part of the public record. You watched me get down the names of everyone who I either missed or who had a name that could be spelled multiple ways. If it so happens that these people are “the crazies,” then I guess you should blame their parents.
I didn’t report on Levine’s supposed agenda to harpoon Japanese “whales,” and take their money before they reached Vegas because it is as you described it. If there is any validity to Corey Lawrence claims that the city will owe the real estate agent a $1.5 million fee, I do plan to report it. But no evidence backing up that assertion was presented in the meeting.
As an advocate for transparency, I feel that the ongoing negotiations between the council and Upstream should have been accessible to the public prior to this week’s meeting, but it was the city’s decision to utilize the Brown act to obscure what’s gone on before now, not mine. As such, I don’t know what questions were raised to staff at that time, but I feel that the appropriate protocol would have been to solicit answers to these questions to staff in in open session so that they could have prepared answers in a timely manner for both the council and the public.
The stakes for refusing the extension were debated at the meeting, but no responses with any sort of support for that outlook. As such, I decided not to report all the possibilities.
As for the EIR deadlines and the fiscal impacts associated with them, I don’t remember any of this matter being discussed at the meeting I was reporting on.
You say there are a lot of questions left unanswered after reading my article. I’m inclined to agree with you, but I think anyone leaving that meeting was also, in turn, left with many unanswered questions.
My attempt was to report on the meeting itself, and I feel I provided a fair representation of what occurred.
Interesting that after Mr. Gosney posted his comments, that the story got shoved off the front page. Having said that I agree with some of Mr. Gosney’s assertions and sentiments. I agree it is important to dig into the history of this project, and to get to know the players and their agendas a little better. It would be very worthwhile for Mr. Wolf to look into the history of Mr. Levine’s previous projects in the Bay area, such as the Zeneca/Stauffer site capping, and the Montezuma Wetlands Project – and look into Mr. Levine’s associations and organizational involvements as well as his political campaign contribution and lobbying record. Mr Wolf could then look into the ties between the indian gaming and building & trades lobbies in both Sacramento and Martinez. He also could poll all the attendees at city council meetings who appear when an important vote is coming up on some aspect of the Pt. Molate project, and ask them if they have been paid to attend and speak.
I also agree with Mr. Gosney’s assertion that there are a lot of political games being played out. I also agree that it seems things have been left to the 11th hour. Why was the EIR/EIS not submitted by the tribe until the last day of July 2009? A year earlier the city council was asking: http://richmond.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=10&clip_id=1459 starting at 02.01.00
Perhaps if the EIR/EIS had been filed in a timely fashion it could have been reviewed in a timely fashion.
It would also be interesting for Mr. Wolf to investigate the circumstances under which the SFRWQCB cleanup order (CAO) was rescinded – a crucial component to approval for the early transfer of the land from the Navy.
Of course it would be interesting as well to look into why the developer stated that job creation would be almost an order of magnitude smaller than what was stated in the economic impact section of the EIR/EIS which can be found here http://www.pointmolateeis-eir.com/documents/draft_eis-eir/files/appendices/vol3/Appendix_T.pdf starting on page 4.
The city indeed has a responsibility to oversee land use and to be informed. That applies both to city council and staff – whose job it is to manage and monitor milestone achievements and fulfillment of terms within the city’s land agreements.
Indeed there are many uninformed people, and many unanswered questions.
As a postscript, I applaud Mr. Wolf’s entry of comments here and explanation of the basis and methods of his article. This is after all the value of 2.0 media, the ability to dialogue and comment. Kudos.
I can appreciate some of the anonymous comments made by A Richmondite but there are several suggestions in those comments that might lead someone to think something other than the truth–or at least the whole truth.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs and the City of Richmond are the lead agencies that prepared the DEIS/DEIR and although the Guidiville tribe was involved in that they supplied information (as did a great many other groups, organizations and agencies) the tribe wasn’t responsible for the issuance date of the document. I, too, asked on a regular basis for a couple of years when I might expect to see the DEIS/DEIR issued but I finally just accepted that it would be issued when it would be issued and no pressure from me was going to make it happen any sooner. I do know, though, that the BIA dragged their feet on their reviews and this was a major cause for the delay.
When you wanted to ‘out’ any of the speakers that might be on someone’s payroll to support or condemn the project, did you have anyone in mind? Wouldn’t it be better to point your finger at a specific individual that you can prove was a paid speaker rather than to just suggest that there were traitors amongst us? Perhaps that way you wouldn’t be tarring all of us with the same brush. I know that the labor leaders who spoke on behalf of the project were being paid by their membership to represent them at this meeting but other than that I’m hard pressed to tag anyone as being in the employ of Upstream or any other group. Oh, the realtor was paid by his broker. Since when is it unethical for an employee to speak up on behalf of their employer? Would you expect them to get up and bad mouth their employer?
Just curious, back in 2003 when I accepted lunch at Chevy’s from the Upstream people does that suggest that I was paid to speak on their behalf? It was a nice meal but isn’t there some sort of statute of limitations?
If you’ve ever been involved with construction–especially on a $1+ billion project–you know that it’s impossible to accurately estimate how many workers it might take to actually perform the construction so it might not all that fair to hold anyone’s feet to the fire over exact numbers. There are just too many variables to take into consideration. Likewise for the permanent employees. As for those that might be employed due to the trickle down effect, as Levine mentioned, they used the County’s models and just plugged in the numbers.
If the Contra Costa Building Trades Council or the State Building Trades Council are on the same side of an issue, does that suggest that there’s some evil or illicit conspiracy going on? There are often partnerships and alliances on issues and they’re usually benign and innocent. If someone has some proof that either Building Trades group has accepted money to force them to represent their members, then this would be the subject of yet another article. I can see the headlines now: “Labor Group paid to Do Their Jobs”.
Lastly, if Jim Levine’s credibility is to be impeached by the suggestion that he did something wrong on some other project, just the suggestion that it be researched impugns his character and credibility just with the suggestion. I’m sure that A Richmondite understands that there’s usually two sides to every story and he/she might want to give Jim Levine a call to learn something about that other side to the story before any future character assassinations are planned. Just a thought.
I wanted to let you know that Mr. Wolf’s story did not leave the front page as a result of reader feedback. Our front page shows the latest seven stories. When stories are published each morning, the current stories at the bottom of the page get kicked off the front and move into another section. Josh’s story had worked it’s way down the page and was bumped off just as it would have been had no comments been made.
Thank you for your interest.
Excuse my mistake … “Josh’s story had worked its way…”
[…] move follows a similar measure passed in January, when the council granted Upstream a two-month extension, that time over the dissenting votes of […]