Council votes to enter exclusive negotiations with SunCal on Point Molate
on April 25, 2019
On Tuesday, the Richmond City Council approved an “Exclusive Right to Negotiate” agreement with real estate developer SunCal for development at Point Molate.
SunCal’s plans for Point Molate include an estimated 1,200 units of residential housing, commercial retail and office spaces, a community kayaking center, and a shoreline park with open space areas. Seventy percent of the 270-acre Point Molate parcel will be left as open space, according to an earlier land reuse agreement.
The actual number of residential units, which will also affect the number of affordable units, is not yet determined. When the council received pitches from developers at a February 12 meeting, SunCal representatives did not present detailed plans for their project, unlike the other potential developers.
The council chambers were filled with community members who waited anxiously to express either discontent or support for the proposal. Several criticized the council’s choice of SunCal as master developer, and pointed to a controversy in Alameda that, they argued, marred the company’s reputation. The controversy involved a proposed SunCal development for the former naval air station at Alameda Point, which was rejected by the Alameda City Council in 2010 immediately after the city made a three-year exclusivity agreement for negations with the company to develop the property. SunCal filed a lawsuit against the city, which ended in a $4 million settlement agreement.
Members of unions representing sheet metal workers, plumbers and electricians spoke in favor of moving forward with the plan, but some expressed worry about the possibility of SunCal undercutting local labor in favor of contract work, and suggested that city officials are not negotiating strenuously enough to prevent that potential problem.
Richmond resident Don Gosney, a former president of the Steamfitters Local 342, criticized the unspecific language of the proposal, and argued that it could lead to exploitation down the road. Gosney specifically targeted the oft-used term “the building trades,” which he suggested should be replaced in the agreement document by the phrase “The Contra Costa Building and Construction Trades Council” to specify the umbrella organization under which the local trade unions operate.
Gosney suggested that this change would prevent SunCal from pairing with a separate “building trades” organization created and managed by non-union contractors. As an example of the dangers of this scenario, Gosney suggested that even if prevailing wages are paid, the company might assign skilled labor to unskilled workers, undermining the overall quality of the work in potentially disastrous ways.
“Words matter,” Gosney said. “Sometimes the slightest imperfection in the words chosen in an agreement can cost one or the other dearly.”
Richmond resident Demarcus Mixon, a member of the Sheet Metal Workers Local 104, agreed with Gosney. He praised his union, and said having consistent work helps him provide for his family.
Dan Torres, a Sprinkler Fitters Local 483 business agent, applauded several young trade apprentices for their support of the project.
Others, like Richmond resident Sally Tobin, questioned the environmental effect development would have on the environment at Point Molate, and criticized the current Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the project. She said that a brief, offhand mention of bats in the EIR is an example that demonstrates the report’s inadequacy and the need for a new one.
“The current EIR makes a passing remark to bats, and there’s really no mention of any sort of remediation,” Tobin said. “A really good EIR, using bats as an example, would look at the number of bats, the number of species, number of native species, whether they’re native species or whether they are non-native. It would have the locations of the different places where the different bats are located, whether they would be displaced by the current proposed project, how the bats would be transitioned, would bat boxes be mounted in other locations for homeless bats, and then how would the bat populations be restored afterwards.”
“Unless you’ve got that kind of depth and scientific knowledge for every kind of biological entity, as well as geological entities at Point Molate, it really needs to be updated, or you’re not going to be able to bring the ecosystems back at all,” she continued.
After audience members had asked questions and raised criticisms, Richmond City Manager Carlos Martinez addressed concerns from the council about what they were actually voting on. He clarified that the right to negotiate document would only establish an agreement with SunCal for exclusivity in further discussions—but it would not finalize any details of the project. Current suggestions could be seen as a first draft for later discussions, he said.
“If I can make an analogy: This document gets us to the plate,” Martinez said. “We’re just agreeing and committing the city to start discussions. Once the city council approves this agreement, we will not be able to enter into negotiations with anyone else other than SunCal.”
Councilmember Nat Bates said he was happy to support the project, and was impressed with the union representation at the meeting. But he criticized union workers for not supporting a past proposal to build a casino at Point Molate. “You didn’t come out for the casino project. That was a beautiful project. We missed the boat on that,” he said. “But we’re here today rectifying some of our mistakes in the past.”
Bates added that the only issue he has with the current project is that if both affordable and moderately-priced housing units are built at Point Molate, it could reduce the potential revenue from the project.
Councilmember Eduardo Martinez echoed sentiments from community members who called for a new environmental review. “People who dismiss the need for a new EIR as being frivolous is akin to people who dismiss the death of canaries in a coal mine,” Martinez said. “I think that it’s incumbent on us to do an EIR to make sure that the safety, accessibility, and the environment is considered before we do any major work.”
The motion to grant exclusive negotiation rights to SunCal passed 5-1-0-1, with Martinez voting against and Councilmember Melvin Willis absent.
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