Developers present plans for Point Molate to Richmond City Council
on February 14, 2019
On Tuesday, the Richmond City Council received pitches from four developers to build waterfront housing on the pristine Point Molate shoreline.
Orton Development, Samuelson Schafer, SunCal, and Point Molate Partners each presented plans, in 20-minute chunks, to both the council and a chamber filled with protesting members of the public. The crowd, many a part of the Point Molate Alliance— a coalition of residents that seeks to halt development on the site—carried signs, pictures, paintings and an illustrated cloth banner that said “Save Pt. Molate.” Over 30 people spoke during the public comment period to criticize and oppose the proposed plans.
The developers’ proposals varied, but for the most part they depicted big-picture visions of a modern bayside town developed around a proposed 670 to 2,200 units of residential housing. They also sketched out potential amenities for the area—the number generally rising in correlation with the number of residential units to be built—including building a new hotel, transforming historical facilities into food, art and entertainment venues, restoring and preserving the local environment, and creating various means of producing green energy.
A settlement agreement between Richmond officials, the Guidiville Rancheria of California Indian Tribe and developer Upstream Point Molate, made in April of last year, requires the city to build at least 670 units of housing in the region or sell the land back to the developer for $300. The settlement resulted from a longstanding legal conflict the city had with Guidiville and Upstream who were hoping to build a casino on Point Molate. The developers sued for damages in 2010: They argued that they had spent millions of dollars to obtain agreements to build the casino, but had their proposal rejected by Richmond voters in a 2010 advisory referendum vote.
Although the developers originally asked to be awarded damages, the city was not ordered to pay them. Instead, the profits from selling the land to other developers—presumably one of the four represented at the meeting, who will then be responsible for building at least 670 residential units—will be split 50-50. This split will also apply if city sells the land back to the developer.
This settlement was also challenged in August by a group of residents who argued that the city, in devising the settlement, had violated the Brown Act, a state law that requires legislative bodies to meet openly.
At Tuesday’s meeting, representatives from Orton Development presented first. They presented an array of development options and mapped-out visualizations of each one. The differences in their approaches largely came down to a split in unit count: 670, 1,100, or 2,200 units. They also presented suboptions to showcase different ways housing might be spread across the area. When pressed by the council, James Madson, a partner with Orton, said the 1,100 unit development would be most feasible for them.
Representatives from Point Molate Partners—a combination of Mar Ventures Inc and Cal-Coast Companies, LLC—were next. Their presentation offered three options similar to Orton’s—of 670, 1,100, and 2,000 units—and they included a more detailed map of what their proposed design for 1,100 units, which included a hotel, would look like.
Staffers from Samuelson Schafer proposed only one option, for 1,800 units, though they said they would like to be able to increase that number to 2,000. Their presentation also contained plans for a retirement community, an independent sewer system, anti-fire measures and the possible use of wind energy.
SunCal representatives made the final presentation. They based their economic evaluation on 670 units, but they didn’t include visualizations or specific plans as the other developers had, and mostly talked about their past projects. This prompted Councilmember Jael Myrick to criticize them. “Put yourself in my shoes,” Myrick said. “Why would I support your project over three others?”
After hearing that there were over 35 requests for public comment, Mayor Tom Butt reminded the crowd that the meeting was about deciding on a developer, not on whether development would happen. Nonetheless, the public near-unanimously called upon the council to reverse course and reject the settlement agreement, even if it would cause the city to fall back into litigation.
People warned of earthquake, fire and Chevron refinery-related safety hazards; potential damage to the environment; and criticized the lack of transportation options, among other concerns. Toni Hanna, a real estate agent and Richmond resident, argued that Point Molate represented “a perfect storm of hazards.”
“As a real estate professional, I can tell you with certainty that housing at Point Molate will be a big flop,” Hanna said. “Savvy buyers do not want to purchase upscale housing, in multiple hazard zones, adjacent to a refinery in a remote location.”
Others criticized the development of more market-rate housing in Richmond, though all the plans integrated some affordable units.
David Helvarg, executive director of the Blue Frontier Campaign—a marine conservation group—took a marker to a framed picture of Point Molate (labeled “Richmond” in the original drawing) and drew in a makeshift development along the coast. He said that since none of the developers had suggested a name for the development, he would give it one, and wrote “Buttville” on the picture. “Clearly, I don’t know what this has to do with our general plan. I think this is all about the mayor’s wall of high-end market-value housing along our 30-mile shoreline,” Helvarg said.
“So it’s not serving the people of Richmond. It’s just sort of serving one faction of the people here,” Helvarg continued while crossing out the “mond” in the word “Richmond.”
At the end of the public session, before a closed session when the council would discuss and possibly select one of the developers, Councilmember Eduardo Martinez requested to speak about the issue. He was not given permission by Butt, who said “We’re not going to debate in public.” But Martinez spoke anyway as the rest of the council left the dais and moved into closed session.
“I’m becoming increasingly troubled that really important questions brought forth by concerned citizens about the future of Point Molate are being dismissed to the side, such as the mayor has just done,” Martinez said.
He continued: “We as elected officials should be dealing with these questions in a serious way because the economic and social equity consequences for poor residents is enormous. Point Molate is the largest giveaway of the public commons to private investors.”
The council took no reported action during the closed session. The decision on a developer will be made at a later date.
Clarification: A previous version of this article neglected to mention that, due to the settlement, Richmond would split development profits 50-50 with the original developer even in the event that they sold the land back.
Clarification: A previous version of this article stated: “As a result of the settlement, the city doesn’t have to pay damages.” The wording of this statement was unclear and has been revised to better reflect the fact that damages were never awarded.
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