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Judge Orders Halt To Pt. Molate Pact: By RICHARD BRENNEMAN

Tuesday August 31, 2004

A Contra Costa County Superior Court judge dealt a setback to the Richmond City Council’s plans to sign a lucrative deal for a casino resort at Point Molate, handing ChevronTexaco a temporary restraining order (TRO) blocking the sale prior to another hearing on Sept. 20. 

Judge David Flinn issued the 20-day TRO in his Martinez courtroom on Monday. While it is in force, the city may not sell the site to Berkeley developer James Levine’s Upstream Point Molate LLC. 

Levine’s plans call for development of the site, which would become a reservation of the Guidiville Rancheria band of Pomo tribespeople managed by Harrah’s Operating Company, an arm of the six-decade-old Nevada casino giant. 

The Richmond City Council was scheduled to vote this evening (Tuesday) on its proposed contract with Upstream to sell the property for a waterfront Las-Vegas style casino resort with four hotels and a major shopping center. The hearing will go forward, but no action will be taken, said a city spokesperson. 

Earlier in the day, councilmembers are scheduled for a 9 a.m. executive session to discuss the status of the suit, originally filed by ChevronTexaco and the Ione Band of Miwok tribespeople who are seeking to block the casino. 

The Native Americans backed out of the suit after their status was challenged by other Miwoks, leaving ChevronTexaco and the city as the sole contenders. 

The legal grounds for the challenge rest on the oil firm’s contention that the sale should be precluded by the California Surplus Property Act, which calls for other public agencies to get the first crack at lands sold by public agencies. 

Gabrielle Whelan, a lawyer from the Oakland law firm of McDonnough Holland & Allen retained by the city for the lawsuit, said that statue does not apply, and that the California Military Base Reuse Act applies instead. 

The legal argument could revolve on the Navy’s earlier sale of the site to the city, raising the issue of whether the military reuse statute would apply since the title is no longer held by the military. 

The oil firm argued that the land should remain undeveloped to serve as a security buffer for their massive refinery just across the ridge from the casino site. The company has offered $34 million for the site, which would be used as park land and wildlife habitat. 

The most controversial of the casino projects, one that has the potential for sinking all the others, fell into legislative limbo last week when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declined to introduce his plans for a San Pablo casino that would have bestowed a Bay Area monopoly on a tribe without historic roots in the region. 

One of five major compacts proposed by the governor, the Casino San Pablo proposals would have granted the Lytton Band of the Pomos an exclusive monopoly on slot machines within a 35-mile radius of San Pablo. 

Originally floated as a 5,500-slot monster that would have been larger than anything in Las Vegas or Atlantic City, the San Pablo sank into legislative quicksand when Democrats in both houses of the state legislature made in very clear they’d sink the deal—even after the governor and the Lyttons cut the number of slots in half. 

“When the governor’s administrative staff came to brief the Legislature, both houses had serious concerns, so they decided not to introduce the proposal and settled for the four other compacts,” said Hans Hemann, chief of staff for Assemblymember Loni Hancock. 

The proposal is on hold until January, “unless the tribe does something else, perhaps through the courts,” Hemann said. 

When the Legislature returns to Sacramento in January, Hancock will present a proposed amendment to the state Constitution that would mandate a 60-day legislative review period for any future casino deals. Schwarzenegger’s proposal hit legislators with only a week to go before the session closed. 

Schwarzenegger’s deals called for the five casinos to pay the state a quarter of their net earnings, revenues his staff had estimated at combined total of $1 billion a year. 

The other four pacts—for casinos in Humboldt, Amador, San Diego and San Bernardino counties—sailed through both houses of the legislature and now await approval by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. 

The Point Molate casino proposals call for a site purchase price paid to the City of Richmond of $50 million, plus an ongoing cash flow to compensate the city for lost sales and property taxes and for needed city services. 

Details are sparser for the second Richmond casino, which would be built in the economically distressed and unincorporated North Richmond on a site purchased by a Florida casino developer for the Scotts Valley Band of Pomos.?