Council ditches casino plan

on April 6, 2011

After years of controversy, Richmond’s City Council decided yesterday to nix plans for a casino at Point Molate. In a raucous five-hour meeting that dealt solely with the decision on whether to continue considering a plan to build a $1.2 billion dollar Las Vegas-style gaming resort, councilmembers voted 5-to-2, with Nat Bates and Jim Rogers dissenting, to end the six-year debate over the casino plan.

Tom Butt, in front, originally supported the plan to build a tribal casino resort, but said that after spending years trying to work out the details and get assurances the city wanted, he would vote against the plan. “Frankly, it’s just time to move on,” he said.

Mayor Gayle McLaughlin motioned to end consideration of the casino plan, citing a dozen points of concern including studies that connected gaming to increased crime, drunk driving and drug addiction. She said the casino resort would also increase traffic congestion, and be an economic drain to the city and its residents.

Council member Jovanka Beckles seconded the motion, saying the project had failed to obtain federal approval. “The Bureau of Indian Affairs has not given a timeline for a decision-making process,” she said. She added that it was clearly the will of Richmond residents ditch the casino plan.

Three of the six proposed plans for Point Molate have included a tribal casino to be run by the Guidiville Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians. Upstream Point Molate, LLC has spearheaded the proposal to build a tribal casino resort in the former Naval fuel station. Because the site is still contaminated and a couple dozen buildings still stand on the land, developing Point Molate is an expensive prospect.

Rev. Andre Shumake, president of the Richmond Improvement Association, said that by focusing solely on the casino missed the bigger picture. The casino-resort would also include two hotels, a conference center, performance venues and retail spaces.

The original casino plan called for a Las Vegas-style resort including a casino, a conference center, two hotels, performance centers, retail space and tribal government offices to be built on the more than 400-acre shoreline property. In addition, Upstream and the Guidivilles, who would take over the land and whose tribal designation would allow legal gaming, said they would pay for the cleanup of the site and ensure extra habitat protections, build out an extension of the Bay Trail, and that at least 40 percent of the jobs at the resort would go to Richmond residents.

The plan for the casino has made strange bedfellows over the years it’s been debated. Some environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, have backed the plan to develop Point Molate as a massive gaming resort complex because the plan would fund extra protections for native habitats and the removal of invasive plant species. It also brought massive amounts of money into last fall’s election as supporters like building trades unions and the Guidivilles, as well as its opponents, including area card clubs that would face competition from a new casino, poured nearly a million dollars into ads.

Citizens for a Sustainable Point Molate handed out anti-casino signs, cans of soda and bottled water at the door to the auditorium. The pro-casino Point Molate Project Offices handed out sandwiches.

Opposition has come from other environmental groups and nearby residents concerned about crime, the morality of gaming, addictions and traffic congestion. Many thought a casino resort would detract from the natural beauty of Point Molate. Some opponents argued that a casino plan would cede control over the land when it becomes sovereign tribal territory, and the tribe would then not be required to fulfill promises of local hiring and environmental rehabilitation.

Last fall, 58 percent of Richmond voters came out against Measure U, an advisory measure designed to gauge public opinion about the casino plan. Two of the three current council members elected last November—Jovanka Beckles and Corky Boozé—campaigned with strong anti-casino stands.

At Tuesday night’s meeting, council member Nat Bates, who has supported the casino idea since its inception as a vehicle to tackle Richmond’s chronically high unemployment rate, said the council’s opposition to the plan saddened him. “It’s sad to see this council turn their backs on a whole lot of people in this community who need jobs to support their families,” he said.

Jim Levine of casino developer Upstream Point Molate, LLC, said the casino would bring 17,000 regular jobs to Richmond.

Bates also said the federal bill that ceded abandoned military bases to cities requires that development of the sites be financially sustainable for the city and not rely on city revenues to maintain the site. He said that alternative development plans would potentially violate this mandate because they would not create enough revenue to pay for cleanup and upkeep at Point Molate.

Jim Levine of Upstream Point Molate, LLC, the developer the city hired to come up with development ideas for the abandoned Navy base, said that without a casino, he was unsure how the city could pay for the cleanup of the site. “There are very few ways that you’re going to get that done in this economy,” he said.

Levine said the casino-resort plan is the only option for the site to provide regular jobs—which he estimated at 17,000—beyond the construction jobs involved in the initial development. “We did not want to build housing because housing does not leave jobs after the homes are finished,” he said. Levine also cited studies that estimated only one percent of the money spent at the casino would come from Richmond residents.

Many at the meeting challenged those numbers. Councilmember Corky Boozé said the jobs were a pipe dream. “They said people who look like me could come out of jail and go to work at the casino,” he said. “I checked, and you can’t get work in a casino if you’ve got a criminal record.”

Tuesday’s meeting was held in the auditorium at the City Center, across from the city council chambers, to accommodate the hundreds expected to attend the meeting. Out front, Citizens for a Sustainable Point Molate handed out signs opposing the casino at the front door. The Point Molate Project Office, funded by the Guidivilles, handed out sandwiches in front of the auditorium.

Inside the auditorium, two large sheets hung from the balcony, painted with a bold “Richmond voted no casino.” During three hours of public comment, people lined up to plead, rant, harangue and reason with the council. Two people used their time at the microphone to sing. Mayor McLaughlin repeatedly asked the audience to refrain from heckling speakers supporting the casino plan.

When Norman Laforce of the local Sierra Club chapter made the case that “there will be a major restoration of native habitats that will not happen otherwise,” he was booed and called a hypocrite and a turncoat.

Casino opponents outnumbered supporters, and raucously cheered their supporters.

By the end of the night when the councilmembers finally voted, the audience had thinned considerably. But when the council approved the decision to nix the casino, a cheer went up from the audience. As people got up to leave, casino opponents hugged and slapped each other on the backs. Bates, Levine and a half dozen other casino supporters huddled outside the auditorium. A few were shaking their heads.

Now that the casino plan is off the table, the issue of what to do with Point Molate remains up in the air. Upstream has 120 days to present non-casino development alternatives for Point Molate. It will take millions to clean up the land and millions more for any development.

Don Gosney, who previously served on a blue-ribbon committee to study closing the old Navy fuel depot, said he was disappointed by the decision. He said it would take at least five more years for any new plan at the site to break ground, and that he sees no fiscally viable option for the site.

Michael Derry, CEO of the Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians, said the tribe has spent over $17 million already on Point Molate. If the tribe can prove that City Council did not act in good faith in considering the plans, the city may have to pay back some or all of those costs.

“Upstream has other options, but will they be profitable in this economy?” he said. “No matter what, we’re talking up to a hundred million dollars to develop Point Molate.”

Regardless of the eventual future of the site, the city’s decision could lead to a protracted legal battle. Michael Derry, CEO of the Guidivilles, said the tribe has spent some $17 million to develop the plan and pay for security services at the site. He said the tribe was initially led to believe that the city wanted to build a casino. If the tribe could prove that city council was not operating in good faith, they could sue to recoup the costs of the project.

17 Comments

  1. Richmond Voter on April 6, 2011 at 5:39 pm

    finally this Casino plan has been Thrown out . the people of Richmond where fooled into Beliving that this Casino was gonna be the Answers to all there prayers . but it only Benefits a few people and there is no sure promise that Richmond residents would be hired for the Casino . i’m glad the City council especially Gayle Jeff Jovanka Tom and Corky voted on throwing this Pipe dream out the window . now let build a real Economic center in Pt Molate that dosen’t involve Gambaling .



    • jW on April 7, 2011 at 6:47 am

      And what do you propose be built as an economic center for a location that nobody has wanted anything to do with for the last decade? And what’s with the random Capitalization of random words in Your comment, the poor grammar, the poor punctuation and lack of proper spelling?



      • Richmond Voter on April 7, 2011 at 3:36 pm

        wow just like a Casino loser to attack someone that disagree with him and his views lol .



        • Don Gosney on April 8, 2011 at 10:42 am

          Were you not at the many meetings held on Point Molate? Could you not hear the yelling, the taunts and even the threats coming from the people who were opposed to the casino. Were you totally unaware of the violence perpetrated against those that supported the casino? Did you not hear the anti-casino people yelling at the Council to not allow some speakers their right to voice their opinions?

          Perhaps this is a time when we should recall that old adage that “he who is without sin cast the first stone”.

          To read your comment less well informed readers might think that the anti-casino people were just another group of civic minded peaceniks who opposed a project instead of the often unruly mob that tried so often to deny open discussions.



          • From the Vatican on April 8, 2011 at 2:59 pm

            Don Gosney strikes out again!
            Rumors here in the Vatican have it the St Jude, the patron of lost cuases, will be replaced by Don in coming weeks…Oremus.



  2. Jim Kay on April 6, 2011 at 7:46 pm

    Nat(Mr.veolia)Bates casts another vote for power and money hungry corporations. Way to go Nat.



    • Richmond Voter on April 6, 2011 at 7:57 pm

      why am i not surprised . Nat Bates throws himself at the biggest Bidder . he has been selling Richmond to Greedy corporations since the 70s .



  3. Tony Suggs on April 7, 2011 at 10:28 am

    So lets see, San Pablo built a casino. Now it is over runned with crime.

    Yea right!

    What did happen, is their streets were repaired, the business district has been revitalized and oh yea, crime has NOT gone up!

    So I guess we will see more pie in the sky green energy somethings going in there. Even though companies like Solyndra in Fremont have closed plants.

    Way to go Richmond!



    • Don Gosney on April 8, 2011 at 10:50 am

      We’re bombarded with comments from anti-casino people who keep claiming that casinos bring crime to a community yet crime around the San Pablo Casino is down significantly from that time when the space was occupied by the bowling alley and the trailer park. This is information that has often come from the San Pablo Police Chief and San Pablo City Manager’s Office.

      We can’t forget, too, that when there’s a vacant lot there’s minimal crime but when that lot gets developed and there’s a thriving business, crime surely follows. The crime that we used to see at the old Montgomery Wards lot was mostly vandalism (although it was also a good place to do drugs and commit other nefarious crimes associated with large expanses of unsecured vacant properties). Now that the Target store is there, we have shifting, auto theft and robberies. These are crimes that come with having a major business where cash is exchanged.

      When you have such developments, you simply deal with the problem. You add security features like cameras, roving security personnel and better lighting.



      • Don Gosney on April 8, 2011 at 3:45 pm

        My apologies for my typo. Instead of “shifting” I meant to type “shoplifting”.

        Don’t you just hate it when the keyboard types whatever it wants? 🙂



      • Blimfark Smith on April 13, 2011 at 7:38 am

        Presuming that the San Pablo Casino is a significant net win for that community, what do you think will happen to that story if the Richmond Casino is built? Or to Richmond when the next mega-Casino is built, based on its success? Also, is the crime generated by a retail operation and a casino really equivalent?



  4. United Native Americans on April 7, 2011 at 11:49 am

    They Have $1.2 billion dollar’s to Build another Las Vegas-style gaming resort, Yet Chose Not To Form a NEW BOARD of Trustees Made Up of All The California Tribal Gaming Casinos to Help Re-Open California’s One & Only Intertribal College (D-Q University) When Your Business is Already Making Billions of Dollars Annually. When is Enough…Enough. Our Children Need Atleast One Operational Tribal College in California.



  5. Don Gosney on April 8, 2011 at 11:19 am

    No matter what project is proposed for a community there are two questions that need to be asked over and over again:

    The first being “What are the alternatives?”

    The second being “How are we going to pay for it?”

    When it comes to the development of Point Molate the whole picture needs to be looked at and these questions need to be asked and asked often.

    We can start with the $40-$60 million infrastructure upgrades necessary for just about any development.

    Add to that the $25-$75 million to restore the historic buildings.

    Throw in the guaranteed payments to the City, the County, the State and the cost goes up by another $50 million up front and $50+ million per year.

    And how about another $9 million for the Bay Trail on the peninsula (even though more than 80% of that part of the Trail isn’t a part of Point Molate).

    And let’s not forget the greenmail necessary for paying off the environmental groups who ALWAYS pop up with their lawsuits demanding that someone else pay for their other projects.

    Of course, in this booming economy developers with truckloads of cash are lining up at the City’s gates waiting for the opportunity to leave their money here in Richmond.

    This brings us to the question of the alternatives–the real ones. We should ignore right up front some of those that have come from some members of the Council that include a dog park, a marijuana farm and an 11th campus of the University of California (the bankrupt university system that already has a campus 6 miles away and another 13 miles away).

    When asked to provide the names of developers who have the authorization to write a check to the City for $50 million right now the people who oppose this development were unable to do so. When asked to provide the name of the people who can come in and hire thousands of people at Point Molate tomorrow they couldn’t do so.

    Why is it that so many of the ideas that have been put forth so far are tax exempt and will actually cost the City money if they occupy Point Molate?

    We’ve heard nothing but pie in the sky idealism so far absent any concrete plans or financing yet so many people here in this community are so eager to throw away opportunities–and in a violent fashion.

    Of course we have the “secret” development plans that were talked about by two members of this Council when they ran for office last Fall.

    It’s currently costing the City $2 million per year for the bare bones security, fire control and maintenance (and the place is still falling apart). When this Council boots Upstream from Richmond, who will they get to pay this $2 million? Currently Upstream’s footing the bill. When Upstream takes their checkbook and leaves town, the cost will fall into the laps of the already overtaxed and flat busted broke citizens of Richmond. What are we going to do–raise our sales taxes again?

    People need to put themselves in the shoes of outside developers and look very closely at the way this Council and this community have treated developers. Richmond is NOT a business friendly town and their credibility is almost nonexistent. Why would a developer want to come to Richmond when they know they’re going to be treated as pariahs and it will cost them megabucks to even set up a lemonade stand (oh, I forgot, lemonade stands are illegal here in Richmond)?

    The development of Point Molate has never been a simple concept and the current political climate here in Richmond complicates it even more.



    • Tony Suggs on April 8, 2011 at 12:19 pm

      Well,

      A dog park! Great. I will be closer to it than the one near Costco. I’ll be able to take the dogs there everyday.

      I vote for the dog park. I’ll even bring my own plastic bags to pick up the poop so that it will not cost the City. I’ll even bring extras for those other dog owners that may need one.

      Then maybe some enterprising person will open a doggie restaurant, salon and shop. Maybe there will be a doggie day care center there also.

      And who said Richmond is not business friendly?



    • Blimfark Smith on April 13, 2011 at 7:50 am

      Don, I think there are more than your two questions which need to be asked. Speaking of which, where are your number coming from? I’ve looked over various budget documents and the Point Molate Monthly Status Report and I don’t see anything close to $2 million / year. I’m looking at e.g. the “SUB-TOTAL – LANDSCAPING & SECURITY (#s as of 11/18)” from the latter and the number is a little over a quarter of that. Also, it looks like Upstream has been paying the City closer to $1MM / year than $2MM / year …?



  6. From the Vatican on April 8, 2011 at 11:00 pm

    Don Gosney, patron saint of lost causes…
    (all the mega-developers prayed to him)
    ora pro nobis…



    • Don Gosney on April 9, 2011 at 11:41 am

      It’s doubtful that you know me at all yet you hide behind a pseudonym to hurl personal barbs against me.

      Perhaps you might better use this comment section to write comments about the article or what’s contained in the other comments and leave the personal attacks to the City Council meetings or when you might come up behind me on a darkened street.

      I’ve always been willing to sit peacefully with anyone and actually discuss issues and I extend this invitation now.

      These sophomoric personal insults, though, should be left in the junior high school locker room.



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