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Richmond Delays Pt. Molate Deal: By RICHARD BRENNEMAN

Friday October 08, 2004

Confronted by too many unresolved questions, the Richmond City Council Tuesday delayed a vote on the sale of Point Molate until they can get more answers. 

The two would-be buyers of the former naval refueling station made their pitches to the council Tuesday: the oil giant ChevronTexaco, which wants the land as a security buffer, and a Berkeley developer who wants it for a casino resort complex. 

“I am prepared to sign tonight,” said Dennis Triplitt, regional real estate projects manager for the oil company. “Ours is a bona fide solid offer that offers great value to the community.” 

ChevronTexaco is offering $5 million within ten days of signing for a city job training and creation program, a $50 million purchase payment when the property is transferred and $1 million a year for 25 years for maintenance of public improvements on the site. 

While the proposal would allow for light industrial and commercial development of part of the site—including the landmarked Winehaven building—Triplitt acknowledged that the project wouldn’t create as many jobs as the casino proposal. 

To compensate, the oil company is offering the city a long-term lease on 25 acres across from the Point Richmond Technical Center adjacent to the I-580 onramp on Castro Street. 

The now-vacant site, which once housed a Chevron warehouse, would be made available “to help the city realize their economic development plans,” said ChevronTexaco spokesperson Dean O’Hair. Terms would be negotiated whenever the city meets with the company to work out details of the Point Molate agreement. 

No meeting has yet been scheduled, O’Hair said Wednesday afternoon. 

ChevronTexaco’s original offer also included city-owned land at Point San Pablo at the tip of the Richmond peninsula. After city officials refused to consider the sale of that parcel, the oil company excluded it from their bid but didn’t change the purchase price. “In essence, we’ve increased the price for Point Molate,” Triplitt said. 

Berkeley developer James D. Levine, whose Upstream Point Molate LLC has teamed with gambling giant Harrah’s Entertainment and former Secretary of Defense William Cohen, ridiculed the ChevronTexaco offer. Levine referred to the city’s contentious dealings over the years with the refinery as a caution against accepting the firm’s current proposal. 

“You’re trying to find a partner, and the fundamental basis of any partnership is trust. But Chevron has misled you, Chevron has duped you, and now they want to be your partner,” he said. 

Levine declared that, unlike the oil company’s proposal, the casino, hotel, upscale retail and entertainment complex he plans will offer Richmond “jobs and opportunities not seen since World War II.” 

Because Chevron’s offer “has no sustainable economic development plan, it does not meet the fundamental purpose for reuse” for a former military base, he said. Calling Chevron’s promises “pie in the sky,” he said, “We don’t think that’s what the city needs.” 

While some Richmond residents have questioned the wisdom of bringing casinos into cities, Levine said, “there will be urban gaming in California. The only question is where and how much of it? 

“With this project you can set the model. There will be fewer urban gaming projects if you get this up to Sacramento.” 

He did not explain what he meant by this comment. 

Levine said his project would create a retail base that would help the deeply indebted city balance its books, and he promised that “once the casino is up and running,” the project would establish a million-dollar-a-year “community-based foundation to award 50 grants a year to community organizations in Richmond.” 

Norman LaForce, legal affairs director for the Bay Area Sierra Club, said Levine had offered a similar million-dollar-a-year environmental trust fund if the Sierra Club and other organizations agreed to endorse his proposal. 

“We refused to sign off, and now that’s gone,” he said, warning the council that once the land transfers to tribal reservation status, the city loses all control over environmental impacts at the site. 

Two clear endorsements came during public testimony, a ringing approval of the casino plan from the politically powerful Richmond Local 188 of the International Association of Firefighters and a hearty thumbs up to the ChevronTexaco offer from the Council of Industries. 

Most of the other speakers questioned both offers, and interim City Manager Phil Batchelor said too many questions remained unanswered about both proposals. 

While city staff and consultant attorney John Knox had spent months hammering out details of the Upstream proposal, Batchelor said the ChevronTexaco offer had just been received and there had been no time to iron out potential wrinkles. 

Questions about the oil company offer included: 

• While Upstream offered the city complete indemnity from pre-existing problems with the site, the ChevronTexaco offer didn’t. 

• What would happen if the federal government spent too long in releasing the 51 acres of the site still under their control? 

• Would their offer still stand if the city wasn’t able to comply with all of the company’s requests? 

• How long was the offer to remain open? 

Questions for Upstream included: 

• What would the developer do if they couldn’t receive authorization for a casino, the likelihood of which the city had been informed was somewhere between 5 percent and 50 percent? 

• What would happen if Harrah’s backed out? 

• Would the city lose its indemnification? 

“We should put this over until we get the answers so we can clearly know what we’ll be voting on,” said Mayor Irma Anderson. The rest of the council agreed, and the proposals were tabled until such time as city staff could bring back concrete answers to the questions they’d raised. 

One other item scheduled for action was pulled off the agenda, a proposed council censure of one of their members, Tom Butt, for his outspoken e-mail criticism of the city attorney staff members and of lunchtime spending habits of the city Human Resources director. 

The motion was withdrawn in part because city ordinances neither define nor provide for censure of councilmembers. 

The Upstream proposal is one of three casino plans being floated for Richmond. One would site a major casino at Hilltop Mall and another would build a similar gambling palace in unincorporated North Richmond. 

Of the three proposals, plans for the Sugar Bowl Casino in North Richmond are the farthest advanced. The Bureau of Indian Affairs has already conducted hearings on Scotts Valley Band of Pomo tribespeople’s proposed reservation on the site along Richmond Parkway. 

No such hearings have yet been held for the other two sites.