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Residents protest the development of Point Molate outside the Richmond city council chambers

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.


  1. Zak Wear on February 14, 2019 at 12:34 pm

    A NIMBY crowd is driving the Point Molate, “Alliance” (Alliance suggests a diverse group that represents the city equally, they don’t, it’s almost all retired white homeowners running it.) The fact that so many of these people advocated for the city to reneg on it’s settlement agreement illuminates how reckless and obstinate they are– doing so risks not only the city for millions, but it risks losing control of what happens at that property.

    The City Council has debated Point Molate for years. Many of the people who spoke against development have done so a number of times at City Council already. Readers of this article are left to think the Mayor callously closed debate and silenced Eduardo, when in reality (and this happens at our council,) he would have filibustered the council’s time. When Tom Butt says the council isn’t debating this in public, I bet money he meant debate concerning the selection of a developer, which had to happen in 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” — My Ass. I say this as someone who used to run campaigns for Eduardo’s group– the only citizens Eduardo actually listens to are the people who donate money to his campaigns and knock doors for him. He and Gayle McLaughlin had their shot with Pt. Molate and bungled the lawsuit. Now the same group of people want to keep, “debating” until others either give up or give in.

    Time to build housing. I’m not a fan that the economic reality puts luxury units first, but we need to put highly educated workers somewhere, and make them pay in lieu fees to build affordable housing. I go to Pt. Molate all the time to walk the dog and watch water foul. This development will only make it easier to use the open space and deepen our tax base.

  2. Pierson Willoughby on February 14, 2019 at 3:34 pm

    @ Zak Wear
    What tax base do you speak of?
    Your lack of historical knowledge on the comings and goings of Pt. Molate since the initial parcel turnover by the Navy in 2003 is almost excruciating given the self-confidence of the assertions you make. Gayle McLaughlin did not bungle the lawsuit. MF/in conjunction w/city attorney’s did. The only breathing judge on the panel that heard orals on the appeal BUNGLED by conflating CA contract law with tribal law and govt:govt responsibilities and authorities of both tribes and the BIA. And the hired and on payroll atty’s meant to represent the City of Richmond BLEW that. Jim Levine drove through that hole, offering a ‘save face’ way out. The bleating at the time was that Levine was so beleaguered and suffering materially – everyone should feel sorry for him. BS. He took on a project he couldn’t handle, gambled, and lost. The city owed him NOTHING, but here’s some developers showing up on Tuesday – with whom he has ties….. to save his ass. Pt. Molate has been strangleheld by this charlatan since 2008.

    You line right on up to whatever suits your agenda of seeking vengeance on the RPA, including taking stances you never would have during your ‘tenure’ in the RPA. But you are ill informed.

  3. Daniel Butt on February 14, 2019 at 6:59 pm

    “Pristine” is a bizarre term for a contaminated former Navy Fuel Depot and US EPA Superfund site, and one of the earliest and oldest developments in Richmond.

    That is exactly the opposite of the dictionary definition of pristine (untouched, original).

    I look forward a day when RC engages in real journalism again rather than ideologically driven issue advocacy – the quality of its work in recent years has been gravely disappointing.

  4. John on February 14, 2019 at 7:49 pm

    Thank you Zak for an excellent depiction of the Alliance’s true nature. I’m sick to death of this small group of wealthy and entitled seniors trying to sabotage a project that will bring significant benefits to the city.

  5. Pierson Willoughby on February 14, 2019 at 9:29 pm

    Daniel, it was NEVER a superfund EPA site. Get your facts lined up. Once you do, you might gain credibility.

  6. Cycle One on February 15, 2019 at 8:18 am

    Zak, you’ve become a spokesperson for the rich and powerful. How is this NIMBY when this development will be for rich, white people? Make no mistake, developers always promise the moon, and they never come through. Low income housing will never happen there. Developers allocate that money for low income to other entitities. If you are a property owner, you should be very concerned. This will increase your property taxes because we are going to end up paying for the insfrastruture costs, and police, fire, maintenance, etc. for decades. If you rent, be prepared for a rent increase if you live in a unit that is not affected by rent control. It’s unbelieveable to me how many people have fallen for Tom Butt’s lies and disinformation. And Daniel is wrong too. This site is not a superfund site. It was cleaned up to the tune of $25 million, which all went to a Levine company called Terra Phase. Daniel likes to emulate his father. It’s like Trump and Don Jr.

  7. Richmond resident on February 15, 2019 at 8:35 am

    This property was sold to the city for $1 and the navy made it clear that they wanted to see dome sort of development. Only a small portion of the beach was open to the public. The rest of it was fenced off, because for years the navy stored munitions there – most of the area is unsafe even for walking on. I believe some cleanup was done; I’m not sure how much.

    No one is talking about building along the coastline. The entire beach, except for cleanup, will be left as it is. Any building will be done up on the hillside, and 70% of the area will NOT be developed on.

    For over 15 years, no one talked about doing nothing with Point Molate. There were no groups opposing it, no speakers at the city council meetings. Not until the proposal of a casino and hotel was presented did people react. Eventually, the question made it to the balllt, after the developer had spent money working on ideas for the site. The people of Richmond voted no – we did not want a hotel and casino.

    But everyone knew that would not be the end of it. Under our agreement with the Navy, there had to be some development. The original developer sued the city for millions of dollars to try to recoup the money they had already spent on the project. After years of litigation, an agreement was finally reached: we had 2 years to find and sign papers with a developer of our choosing, who had to follow what we wanted. If that didn’t happen, the property would revert to that original builder, I believe for $1. If that were to happen, there would be no real money as a result of the sale. And the original developer could do what they wanted with the property.

    During the 15 years that all this was happening, where were all the people who are so against any development. Why did they wait until there was finally a settlement to begin protesting? Why didn’t they protest when the land was first sold to the city when the Navy said it was to be developed?

    As far as our mayor not allowing Mr. Martinez to speak about the project, realize that he already has spoken about it, at length. If he is so adamant now, where was his voice for the past 15 years?

    I am tired of a group of mostly white, wealthy and retired people thinking that they have the right to speak for the entire city in nearly everything that is done. If things gone their way, they are kind and supportive. But if someone disagrees with them, out come the claws and the ugly language that they either deny, or say it’s the only way to get people to listen. Yo them, any compromise would be failure and is not allowed. You are either for all their demands and everything they stand for, or you are out. There is no room for dissent.

    I am sick and tired of this minority group using their voices and money to shove down our throats what they claim to know what is best for us. I have lived here for 30 years, and I would love to at least once see all these dissenting groups sit down, together, and work something out, together. Not exactly what one groups wants – but what is best for all of the people of Richmond. Sadly, I have no faith in that happening – not when one large and angry mob refuses to listen. Their dissent is ruining our beautiful city.

  8. non-nimby on February 15, 2019 at 9:15 am

    Who started this “nimby” thing? Point Molate is not my backyard and it’s prob not yours either. Point Molate is a regional public resource and anyone who cares about the health of the SF bay, climate change, and public safety are stakeholders. That’s about as far from “nimby” as it gets.

  9. Charles T Smith on February 15, 2019 at 10:29 am

    Friends and neighbors,

    I’ve lived in Richmond for over 45 years. I’m not wealthy.
    I’ve been a student of Richmond politics since 1989. Richmond is the most corrupt city in all of Contra Costa County and that is saying a lot. In Richmond, it’s one City related scandal after another. No one goes to jail or loses their job. While the insiders enhance their bank accounts. Building a casino or housing at Point Molate was and is another boondoggle. The residents of Richmond will end up paying dearly for this travesty if it happens. Those that buy houses at Point Molate, should they be built, will be putting their lives on the line living behind one of the largest refineries in California with one lane in and one lane out.

    Insiders would make a fortune on this deal and the less fortunate will end up picking up the tab. Guaranteed!

    Don’t believe the hype! JUST SAY NO!

  10. Lech Naumovich on February 15, 2019 at 10:46 am

    Hey guys, I put in a constructive comment with a link to a pertinent document, but my message got rejected. If you’d like, please just remove the link from the comment. Thanks

  11. Lech Naumovich on February 15, 2019 at 10:58 am

    John, Great comment. Let’s expand on that. What “significant” benefits to the City do you foresee? Have you considered the infrastructure and public service costs in light of these benefits? I’m just curious because there are lots and ideas of benefits floating around. Will you move your kids into an area that still has toxins in the soil? Is it fair to provide affordable housing at the cost of exposure? I’m just curious how you/we/the public can analyze these in light of other “benefits”?

    Let’s use this comment board as a way to educate readers. Here’s the federal finding of suitability for transfer. Please note that in the introduction it is stated that: “There are two general types of early transfers: (1) … (2) transfer of property where the subsequent property owner assumes the responsibility for the remediation. The proposed transfer of NFD Point Molate is in the second category, commonly referred to as “an early transfer with privatized remediation.” The remaining remediation activities will be performed by Upstream Point Molate, LLC (Upstream), the master developer to which the City intends to transfer the property for development after deed transfer from the Navy. ” Has anyone reviewed the “private remediation”. Is it peer-reviewed by someone other than one of the developers? Don’t you think this would be worth sharing? Where do we find these documents? See below for the Department of the Navy document which sites MANY areas that are still contaminated. This can be found if you google keywords such as “Point Molate contamination Navy Final bracpmo”. I just realized I can’t post a direct link – sorry.

  12. Daniel Butt on February 15, 2019 at 5:50 pm

    I linked to the EPA’s website, listing Pt. Molate as a Superfund site, but it was rejected by the gatekeepers here. A Google search for “Pt. Molate Superfund” will find it.

  13. John on February 15, 2019 at 7:23 pm

    Education is a wondeful thing. Far better than half truths and outright lies.

    The project as conceived in the RFP places the burden for infrastructure costs on the master developer. This is yet another reason why the luxury hotel alternative proposed by those who want to keep Point Molate as a quasi private park is such a farce. The amount of infrastructure required to provide access to more than just the Point Molate Alliance requires housing construction to finance it.

    The public benefits to our community include not just that expanded access but also an increase in the housing supply as well as an increase in property tax revenue.

    Many developments in the Bay Area take place on formerly contaminated land. This is far more common than the anti-Point Molate crowd seems to realize. Marina Bay is an excellent example. And in some cases where land retains levels of residual contamination after remediation that are too high for single family homes it can still be possible to build multi-family housing due to construction methods and lack of direct access to the soil. If market rate or affordable housing is built on sites that remain contaminated it will be built in a way that prevents exposure.

    Remediation of Point Molate has been ongoing for many years now and is almost complete. It has been overseen by the city using escrow funds provided by the Navy. Extensive details and monthly status updates are available on the City’s website. Sites that remain significantly contaminated will not be used for housing and will be restricted in access. Upstream is no longer the master developer nor will they have anything to do with any remediation activities.

    I would argue that North Richmond and San Pablo, being downwind of the refinery, are in far more danger than future residents of Point Molate will be but no one seems to be arguing that we permanently evacuate those areas.

    And finally I agree that NIMBY is not an appropriate term for anti-Point Molate types. That’s an insult to NIMBYs everywhere who traditionally are fighting to keep things like toxic waste dumps or sewage plants out of their neighborhoods. Trying to sabotage a community process that seeks to increase the housing supply and provide new public parks is just selfish misanthropy.

  14. Smart Development on February 16, 2019 at 11:26 am

    Build downtown where there is infrastructure in place, near transportation, where it will attract new businesses and provide jobs. No one is against housing development. We need smart housing development. Make no mistake. This proposed housing development will be a huge flop because of the multiple hazards. People want to live near transportation and amenities, and I don’t want my taxes to pay for infrastructure and services for years to come for a development that privatizes public land, and will most certainly be a huge flop. Talk to any successful real estate agent. They will agree.

  15. John on February 16, 2019 at 12:08 pm

    So many lies. If your position requires lies to defend it it’s probably not worth defending.

    The Alliance loves to keeping repeating the lie that Richmond residents will fund infrastructure at Point Molate through their taxes. Infrastructure costs will be funded via the new housing.

    We need housing downtown, at Point Molate, in South Richmond, in North Richmond. We need it everywhere.

    As for privatizing public land that is exactly what the Alliance is trying to achieve. They want to maintain the status quo which is access for themselves and no one else. Developing Point Molate for the benefit and access of everyone in Richmond was the requirement of the agreement with the Navy that turned the property over to the city. Someday that will happen if the Alliance stops trying to sabotage the process for their own benefit.

  16. Rob Welch on February 16, 2019 at 9:29 pm

    Years ago people said the housing at Brickyard Cove and Marina Bay would be a flop as well. Now look at those nice developments. As far as them only being for rich people, whenever I go walking at Marina Bay or take my granddaughter to the park there I see plenty of Richmond residents from other parts of town enjoying the parks and shoreline path, not just the people who live there. The same thing will happen at Point Molate. If you build nice housing and such there all residents will have a safe and pleasant place to enjoy.
    The protesters at the city council meeting definitely do NOT represent the citizens of Richmond.
    They are a crackpot minority.

  17. Troy on March 12, 2019 at 4:29 am

    It’s just as close to the refinery as point Richmond and people there do just fine with the modernization going on things are better now we have a housing shortage right now and point molate is a cute place to build i think 15% is a reasonable area to build on that doesn’t ruin any of the habitat for the deer at all i would even support 25% development. There’s already tons of buildings there and people are the end of it at the yacht club also live fine there. Richmond already had huge parkland areas And native people deserve self reliance developing their land into something profitable for them should be a priority i just hope there is a cultural center and native housing and homestead included in the development. A hotel would be a boon to the city the lighthouse there has a successful hotel already there should also be a firehouse built and hopefully a new educational center and some tiny houses for the homeless windmills could generate money and clean energy for the city and could be run by chevron and solarrichmond in a partnership. I would like too see a monument and interpretive centre for the naval history too it could be incorporated into Rosie the riveter national historic monument and furthermore the 72m bus line could have select trips extended to winehaven village there or the beach park a roundabout would have to be built and there could be a developed free shuttle to Richmond bart or point Richmond or to a bus pad at the intersection of western drive the main thoroughfare through the site and the i-80 freeway to connect to the number 40/40x bus to el cerrito del norte and Marin County. Three bay trail needs to be connected to the site to make walking or biking a reality to point Richmond area and i think 1800 units wound be a fine start it would be just as desirable as point Richmond but it needs some commercial development too perhaps a mini target or grocer or walgreens and a gas station and a coffeeshop subsidised by housing association fees at first to help them get a start a dog wash would be great a cannabis store to serve marinites that don’t have a physical store in nearby San Rafael could also be operated by the tribe with perhaps a retreat and vape lounge and dancehall this could help with self reliance all the business should have a majority stake owned by the tribe Richmond is Indian country too you know think of the first Californians first!

  18. Ritchie Cook on March 15, 2019 at 6:41 am

    Just a heads up. Chances are San Quentin will be another public land give away. About 20 years ago In spite of the best efforts by the politicians flush with developer money the prison could not be closed in part because death row is housed there.Gavin has taken the first step to remove that hurdle. Developers in Marin do not have the very large challenge faced here. When the mc mansions were being built next to the Richmond Country Club do you know what the real estate agents were saying ? ..We don’t know how it will go… that was the phrase they used wringing their hands and their voices trembling with fear. Well we know how Pt. Molate will go don’t we? … All white , self absorbed yuppies….and a ferry to take into SF to boot. Will wonders never cease? Imagine all of this in a city that as of 1980 was 50% black. You have to hand it to them. Why spend all that money on land when you can get it for free and not have to worry about your neighbor’s skin color?

  19. Troy on March 16, 2019 at 8:08 pm

    What’s wrong with while people with jobs?

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