Opponents of the proposed casino coastal resort at Richmond’s Point Molate gained a powerful ally this week when the state attorney general’s office intervened on their behalf.
Citizens for Eastshore Parks and the East Bay Regional Parks District filed suit in December, alleging that the city’s sale of the land to Berkeley developer James D. Levine and his partners violated key provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
Their lawsuit seeks to void the Land Development Agreement (LDA) passed by the City Council approving the sale of the former U.S. Navy refueling base on one of the few largely undeveloped stretches of bayshore.
Janill L. Richards, an environmental attorney with the attorney generals office, Tuesday mailed copies of a Peoples’ Complaint in Intervention to all parties in the litigation.
“We’re concerned that a proper review be conducted before a decision is made on an important piece of public property with significant public interests,” Richards said.
Levine discounted the significance of the state intervention. “We think their claims are absurd,” he said. “That’s just not how business is done. Besides, any lawyer can think whatever they want, but the only lawyers’ opinions that matter belong to the ones wearing the black robes.”
The plaintiffs think otherwise.
“It’s a great boost to have such a formidable ally,” said Stephan Volker, the Oakland environmental attorney who is representing CESP. “The attorney general has confirmed that our objections are well-grounded and has intervened on our behalf.”
“We think it’s fantastic,” said Matthew Zinn, the San Francisco attorney retained by the parks district. While Zinn said he felt the case was strong enough to prevail on its own merit, the state intervention “certainly adds legitimacy to our claims.”
A second major action in the case took place on the same date as the filing when Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Barbara A. Zuniga ordered a change of venue from her court to Marin County.
The parks district had sought to have the case heard in Alameda or Contra Costa counties while Levine had asked for a court in Fairfield or Sacramento. While Levine said the move to the North Bay places the case in a neutral venue, Volker and Zinn said they were pleased with the decision to send the case to what they consider a favorable jurisdiction for their side.
The State’s Case
The state sided with the plaintiffs in contending that city violated CEQA by failing to produce either the CEQA-mandated environmental study before the sale, or a full environmental impact report (EIR).
“[I]f the development is built,” the motion states, “it is almost certain there will be significant impacts to the land, air, water, flora, fauna, noise and objects of historic and aesthetic significance.”
Furthermore, the suit alleges, a full EIR is required because there is “a fair argument that (the sale), which contemplates that Point Molate will be developed as a gaming and entertainment complex, will have a significant effect of the environment, including, but not limited to, destruction of wildlife habitant, obstructions or impediments to shore and water front access, interference with the Bay Trial, permanent changes to or loss of archeological sites and historic buildings, increased water use, and increased noise and traffic.”
The state is asking for all costs associated with their litigation and:
• Writs of mandate “to void every determination, finding and/or decision related to approval and execution of the LDA.
• Writs compelling the City of Richmond to comply with CEQA.
• A writ halting all activity on the project until CEQA compliance is satisfied, and
• A temporary restraining order enforcing the writs.
The final decision will rest in the hands of the judge appointed to hear the case in Marin County. The plaintiffs’ attorneys say they expect a final hearing in September, after both sides have had a chance to present their cases in written form.
The lawyers for CESP and the parks district are presently preparing a written record that will include transcripts of Richmond City Council sessions where the sale was considered and decided.
Richards served a copy of the suit on Richmond Mayor Irma Anderson, who did not return calls Thursday.
City Councilmember Gayle McLaughlin, a member of the Richmond Progressive Alliance elected in November and seated on the City Council after the Point Molate vote, hailed the state intervention.
“It’s excellent,” she said. “I wouldn’t have thought they’d have done it. This is what we wanted. The sale should never have happened in the first place.”
The one concern she did have was that the city has already spent some of the deposit money Levine and his partners paid after the LDA was concluded.
The council majority hailed the sale as a financial savior and source of jobs in an ailing community. Opponents opposed the project both on environmental impacts and for the impact the massive array of slots could have on the city’s poorer residents.
Levine’s plans call for a four-hotel luxury resort with a large entertainment auditorium and casino with 2,500 to 3,000 slot machines and 125 to 160 table games in the landmarked Winehaven building.
The Bureau of Indian Affair is currently considering the application of the Lytton Band of Pomo tribespeople to have the site designated a reservation.