Page One

Challenge to Point Molate Casino Filed by Open Space Advocates By RICHARD BRENNEMAN

Friday December 17, 2004

Eastshore State Park supporters Wednesday filed legal papers in an attempt to block the casino and resort complex planned for Point Molate. 

Citizens for the Eastshore State Park (CESP) seeks to overturn the City of Richmond’s award of the property to Berkeley developer James D. Levine’s Upstream Point Molate LLC on the grounds that the transaction was made without an environmental review as mandated by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). 

At least one other environmental organization may enter the suit, said CESP President Robert Cheasty, and the East Bay Regional Parks District is also contemplating its own filing. 

“I’ve been in contact with the park district, and it’s my understanding that they are considering filing tomorrow (Friday),” Cheasty said late Thursday.  

“A gambling casino is certainly not the highest and best use of the land,” Cheasty said. “It was a desperation move by the city to solve their financial problems.” 

CESP contends that the city was obligated to perform a full Environmental Impact Report before the transfer to address the full range of impacts the project could create. 

Under CEQA, environmental impact analyses are mandated at the earliest possible stages of the planning process to ensure that the project is designed to minimize impacts on the environment. 

The legal action, a petition for a writ of mandate, was filed in Contra Costa County Superior Court by Oakland attorney Stephan C. Volker. 

Levine, in partnership with gambling giant Harrah’s and the Guidiville Band of the Pomo tribe, plans to build a massive casino with 2,500 to 3,000 slot machines and 125 to 160 table games, along with four hotels, a major shopping center and a major live entertainment venue on land that was once a U.S. Navy refueling station. 

Upstream beat out a rival offer from petro-giant ChevronTexaco, which sought most of the site as a security buffer for its Richmond refinery, just over the ridge from the casino site. 

When an oil company official announced the firm’s offer for the site, he shared the platform with Cheasty and other environmental activists, who are calling for the majority of the site to be incorporated into the Eastshore State Park. 

“This is and has been public land and it shouldn’t be privatized,” Cheasty said. “It’s shoreline, and it should be preserved for the public, not just the rich and famous. There were lots of alternatives that should’ve been explored by the city, and there was no need to rush into the agreement. It could’ve been done slowly and thoughtfully.”  

The San Francisco Bay chapter of the Sierra Club has endorsed the CESP’s legal move, said chapter legal chair Norman LaForce. 

Volker said the next legal move is to serve the city and Upstream with formal summonses notifying them of the action and calling on them to respond. A process server was expected to deliver the legal notices today (Friday), he said. Another copy will be delivered to the California Attorney General’s office, which has the authority to intervene. 

The central issue, he said, is that the Land Development Agreement signed by the city requires Richmond to support the transfer of the land to the tribe. 

“Once the land is transferred, the city and the state lose regulatory control over the land except for their services agreement, which is a far cry from full control,” Volker said. “An Environmental Impact Report prepared after the transfer will not restore the authority the city gave up. It’s locking the door after the horse has left.” 

“I’m convinced we’re correct as a matter of law,” he said. 

“Our goal is a shoreline park, but we not opposed to some development at the site,” Cheasty said. 

“With regard to Indian casinos, we believe the issue of urban gambling needs to be put to a statewide conversation. The rent-a-tribe orientation taken by Harrah’s flies in the face of the original intent of tribal gambling proponents.” 

Calls placed to developer Levine were not returned. ›