Richmond, Calif., faces second suit over bayfront site’s development

 
Rebecca Rosen Lum
Knight Ridder Tribune Business News [Washington]

Dec. 19–For the second time in a week, Richmond has been sued over its decision to sell undeveloped, bayfront Point Molate to a casino developer.

Lawyers for the East Bay Regional Parks District say the city flouted state law in selling Point Molate to Upstream Point Molate LLC without first conducting an environmental review. The suit also names Upstream’s partner, Harrah’s Operating Company, Inc.

The complaint comes on the heels of a nearly identical suit by environmental groups filed earlier this week.

“We are requesting the court to provide direction,” said parks district director Bob Doyle. “If this is a violation, we’d like the court to tell us — not the developer, not the city. This is about preserving the shoreline.”

The California Environmental Quality Act addresses land transactions conducted by or involving public agencies that are likely to change the physical environment. The law allows a 30-day window for challenges after such a deal has been signed. The deadline for filing CEQA-based challenges to the Point Molate sale was Friday.

Spokesmen for ChevronTexaco, who offered a competing bid for the shuttered naval fuel depot, would not say whether the oil giant, too, was considering legal action, or may join one of the lawsuits.

The park district and several Bay Area environmental groups supported Chevron’s plans for the site.

Interim City Attorney Everett Jenkins said he received letters indicating the two suits were coming, but has not seen either pleading and could not respond.

“This is a long process,” he said. “Point Molate is going to be the subject of discussion for quite some time to come in this city.”

At issue for the parks district is its investment in planning the Bay Trail, which passes through Point Molate and will ultimately connect the cities that encircle San Francisco and San Pablo bays with a 400- mile biking and hiking network.

“The area includes numerous historic buildings, a variety of archaeological sites, sensitive aquatic and terrestrial ecological resources, and unique sweeping views of the North Bay and Marin County,” the district’s complaint says. “These important values and resources deserve the full protection of CEQA and other state statutes designed to ensure that such resources are not heedlessly squandered.”

The parks district manages 56 parks and open space preserves, including 96,000 acres of land and more than 1,000 miles of trails in Contra Costa and Alameda counties.

In choosing Upstream over Chevron in November, Richmond City Council members said they were choosing a future of steady revenues over one handsome cash payment.

Chevron wanted the land as a security buffer, but offered support for a shoreline park that would be accessible to the public. Upstream, which plans a hotel/gaming complex with 1,100 hotel rooms, a 150,000-square-foot entertainment venue and 300,000 square feet of retail space, proposed shoreline access and a public park.

If the casino option fails to win federal and state approvals, Upstream will pursue building housing, hotel and some retail space on the site.

Upstream principal Jim Levine said his group’s first step was to launch an in-depth environmental review of both the intended and alternative projects. Earlier this week, he said the legal challenge was “an extremist move” by those who are indifferent to Richmond’s need for an economic engine.

“There is nothing elitist about wanting to provide parks for people,” said Robert Cheasty, executive director of Citizens for East Shore Parks, whose attorneys sued Tuesday. “Rich people don’t need parks. They have their country clubs. I’m a former soccer coach and Little League coach. I’d like to see some playing fields up there.”

Credit: Contra Costa Times, Walnut Creek, Calif.

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