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.

12 Comments

  1. John on April 25, 2019 at 7:33 pm

    Ah the anti-housing NIMBYs and their love of non-stop environmental reviews. You have to hand it to them. No one disguises blatant attacks on the production of a basic human need as pseudoprogressive concern for the environment like these people do.

    To leave the NIMBYs to their homeless bats for a moment, I agree that the choice of SunCal is disappointing mainly in the context of their extremely poor response to the RFP. However the council seems to have been swayed by their experience and their financial resources. Both will likely be very important for this project so it’s hard to really argue with that choice. Also it sounds like they may partner with Orton Development possibly on the renovations to Winehaven. If so that’s a good sign that they’re taking the historical requirements seriously. Hopefully there are some serious discussions during the ERN period about bumping the total number of housing units up over 1,200. It would be nice to see it go to 2,000 or more.

    The Point Molate Alliance and their ilk seem to have recently latched onto the failure of the SunCal negotiations for Alameda Point as a point of attack. It’s takes some serious lack of self awareness for anti-housing NIMBYs to criticize a developer for falling victim to another group of anti-housing NIMBYs.

    Finally this might be one of the most balanced articles on Point Molate that I’ve seen in the RC. Good job!

  2. Carol on April 26, 2019 at 7:48 am

    The EIR is 10 years old (2009 – 2011) and things have changed significantly during that decade, especially traffic. Get in your car and drive west over the Richmond bridge every morning during the hours of 6.30 – 11 for one week and report back to us. Do current plans to ameliorate current backup stand a real chance of keeping pace with the projected increase from housing? Do they take into account all the other new town homes almost ready for sale right off Harbor Way, feeding directly onto 580? These are questions that should not be answered speculatively, they should be answered with a valid, unbiased study. That’s why we do Environmental Impact Reports.

    As for NIMBY name-calling: Pt Molate is not in anyone’s backyard except Chevron’s, and really Chevron is in Pt Molate’s backyard, since Pt Molate was there first. Anyone in the Bay Area who cares about traffic planning, public safety, transparent government, responsible financing, and public health is a valid stakeholder in current plans to develop Point Molate, and now is the right time to express concerns and ask for answers. That’s about as far from NIMBY as it gets.

    But the real question on this NIMY thing is, why resort to name-calling in the first place? Because it instigates further name-calling and causes emotions to flare, thereby side-tracking everyone into debating accusations instead of the project at hand? Name-calling will never be a valid substitute for sound thinking, real facts, and thoughtful discussion.

    Thanks for the good reporting, RC.

    • Pam on April 26, 2019 at 8:15 am

      @John,
      The SunCal plan went to a public election in Alameda, and it was defeated by an unheard of 85 percent “No” vote. That’s not a “group of anti-housing NIMBYs.” That was an informed electorate that recognized a bad deal for their City.

  3. John on April 26, 2019 at 7:50 pm

    SunCal did themselves no favors in how they wrote and campaigned for Measure B in Alameda. But make no mistake, the need for that initiative was entirely due to same racist and classist anti-housing sentiment that fuels attacks on development at Point Molate.

    Measure B would have been unnecessary had NIMBY voters in Alameda not passed a ban on multifamily housing in the 1970s. That 85% of Alameda voters voted against SunCal’s initiative definitely indicated an unhappiness with the developer but it also made clear that anti-housing fervor was still alive and well in that community.

    Alameda was eventually forced to overturn that apartment ban by the State of California. It’s extremely fortunate that public disgust with NIMBYism has finally led to action and legislation at the state level that is beginning to unwind decades of selfish and fear driven attacks on housing production in general and multifamily housing in particular.

    There are tens of thousands of people living on the street in California. Every NIMBY attempt to block new housing over the last half century because of traffic, and parking, and crowded schools, and neighborhood character, and bats, and on and on and on is directly responsible for that horror. In that context merely being labeled NIMBY is the lightest of punishments for a group of people who have done so much public harm to our communities.

  4. Lisa on April 27, 2019 at 7:40 am

    Greed is the culprit.

  5. Paul Carman on April 27, 2019 at 7:18 pm

    Hi John,
    I am posting my full name, Paul Carman, for my comment. What is your full name? As Carol already explained, you have misapplied the term NIMBY. Point Molate is NOT our backyard. But for the thousand units being built in Richmond: NOMA, Transit Village, Terminal One, Central Ave, and many more-all of which we support-none of these thousands of units will have any yard at all. These thousands of new residents will be clamoring for a yard: Point Molate. An area nature custom designed for respite, not residents. I make no apologies for defending quality of life issues. It is a broad perspective. Your interest seems peculiarly narrow.

  6. John on April 27, 2019 at 8:14 pm

    After the lovely hit job on Catherine Montalbo I think we’ve all learned NOT to post our full names when criticizing the RPA.

    An interest that strikes me as particularly narrow is trying to sabotage a project that would finally make Point Molate accessible to all Richmond residents.

    I love the “don’t call us NIMBYs because Point Molate’s not in our back yard” line that everyone’s using lately. Very catchy. Is that a Mike Parker gem or was it more of a group project?

  7. Paul Carman on April 27, 2019 at 8:25 pm

    It’s Daniel Butt!

  8. Jeanne Kortz on April 28, 2019 at 8:16 am

    Good job Paul! It’s so obvious it’s Daniel Butt. Too bad Daniel is afraid to say who he really is, and hide behind a pseudonym to support his father’s project, and use other people’s Next Door accounts since he was kicked off of Next Door for posts like the one above.

  9. John on April 28, 2019 at 10:39 am

    When your only response to your critics is to accuse them of being a Daniel Butt sock puppet you’ve basically admitted that you have no good ideas.

    The RPA’s obsession with DB is one that I’ll never understand. The last election made it pretty clear that he’s far from the only person in Richmond who opposes them.

  10. Rob Welch on April 30, 2019 at 6:20 pm

    What is so amusing to me is that when I used to post anonymously I too was accused by the RPA’ers of being one of the Butts! The RPA obsession and paranoia with the Butt family is worthy of an “RPA On The Couch” book most definitely. I think because they so arrogantly presume they represent “the community” they find it hard to believe that a substantial and growing number of people oppose them as John suggests above.
    I also think it says more about their own sneaky methods and attempts to manipulate public opinion. Like the cheater who accuses their faithful spouse of cheating for example.

  11. John on April 30, 2019 at 7:15 pm

    It’s more than just thinking they represent the community. They think they are the community. Unless you’ve been blessed by the steering committee you’re not really part of Richmond.

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