Welcome to River City, Part II: by BECKY O'MALLEY

Tuesday August 10, 2004

The ongoing plans to turn the Richmond area into Vegas-by-the-Bay last appeared in this space around the middle of June. This was right after our intrepid reporter had uncovered a hither-to-secret scheme to put a massive tribal gaming complex right smack in the middle of Point Molate, a former Navy fuel depot with gorgeous bay views, charming historic buildings, and lots of open space. The property was transferred to the City of Richmond a few years ago, with Navy promises to clean up serious on-site toxic waste problems. 

For our pains, we got a complaining letter from one Don Gosney, co-chair of the Regional Advisory Board (RAB), which is supposed to be advising the Navy on whether their clean-up efforts are proceeding as desired. (He just happens to be an official of a big construction union as well.) The piece was published over the objections of developer Jim Levine, doing business as Upstream Development LLC, who wanted us to wait until he was ready to make the announcement himself. Last Wednesday, Levine presented The Full Powerpoint Version to the RAB. We were reminded of the Music Man talking to the folks in River City about how great it’s gonna be.  

FOUR hotels! A CONVENTION CENTER! Parking, Parking, Parking! The historic brick winery gutted and converted to a casino! Linked by glass bridges to the hotels (“approved by preservationists”)! Historic winery workers’ cottages turned into a spa village! A paved walk by the bay! A great big shopping mall! Jobs for every one! Money for natives! Money(“in the high eight figures”) for the City of Richmond, which badly needs it ! More money (much much more money) for the lucky winner, one of three gambling conglomerates currently fighting for the deal! 

Something for almost everyone, in fact. Nothing new, nothing that wasn’t in the Planet article in June, but the Photoshopped conceptual drawings were magnificent, if you like that kind of thing. 

Mr. Gosney, who chaired the board meeting, preceded Levine’s talk with a report on the terrific show the Navy put on last month in Salt Lake City for all of the chairs of boards like his from all over the country. He allowed as how their main problem was that people just didn’t trust their government anymore, and what a shame. A board member afterwards commented, perhaps a touch acidly, that Gosney had used the word “faith” seven times in his short talk, and wondered if there was any significance in that. Yes, Virginia, there probably is. 

The West County Times offshoot of Knight-Ridder’s Contra Costa Times finally published a full report on Levine’s plans last Friday, which appeared to have been taken directly from his Power Point file. Levine has been coy about revealing the name of the lucky gaming company, or the name of the native tribe who will be the front partner. The official announcement of the latter fact, he said at the RAB meeting, won’t be made until Wednesday of this week, so it wasn’t in the CoCo Times. 

Our intrepid reporter, however, figured it out the old-fashioned way: He asked the right person. Sacramento BIA spokesperson Kevin Bearquiver told him that the developer had teamed up with Guidiville Rancheria band of Pomos—which then made the initial approach to the BIA to start the approval process rolling for the Point Molate site. 

So what’s wrong with all this? Some environmental groups seem to be climbing on board already, perhaps thinking that the gravy train is almost out of the station and they’ll miss it if they don’t rush to endorse the project. Construction unions are salivating, and non-union workers are being promised training programs as their part of the pie. But before you make up your mind, you should try to get out to Point Molate and see what’s there now. It’s one of the last relatively unspoiled bits of bay shoreline, even with its problems of underground toxic petroleum waste and remaining tanks. All kinds of birds still live there—a Baird’s sandpiper was spotted in 2001. If anyone cares. 

While you’re there, close your eyes and imagine the sky blazing with the lights from a gigantic casino, a convention center, four hotels and a great big mall. Not much room for sandpipers, of course. If you like Vegas, you might be pleased with the vision. But if you don’t, you might want to contact your favorite environmental organization to see what can still be done to derail the project. It won’t be easy, because Levine has every possible kind of political juice in his development engine.