The strongest immediate concerns to the siting of a massive casino complex at Point Molate were raised by two state agencies with oversight over cleanups at chemically contaminated sites.
One, the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, has been overseeing the cleanup of contaminants left over from the days the site was used as a naval refueling basis.
Berkeley developer James D. Levine, whose Upstream LLC is spearheading the project, once served on the board’s staff before setting up his own toxic contamination remediation firm, which he ran before launching himself on the career of a developer whose first major project, Point Molate, is located on a so-called “brownfield” site.
Water Board Executive Officer Bruce H. Wolfe submitted a staff report that concludes the transfer of the site shouldn’t take place “until a more aggressive cleanup effort is completed, that cleanup success is evaluated, and final remedy consensus is achieved.”
Of the 29 parcels transferred from the Navy to the city in September 2003, seven have enough residual contamination to mandate deed restrictions on use of the property and five are recorded as unsuitable for residential use.
Of the remaining 15 percent of property still undergoing remediation, some is contaminated by the potentially deadly solvent TCE, another parcel was a landfill and is of continuing concern, a third has heavy metal soil contamination and two have worrisome concentrations of volatile organic compounds and petroleum products in subsurface groundwater.
The Water Board doesn’t want a transfer until the cleanup is finished, despite a request for an earlier transfer made by the Richmond City Council in November 2004.
The state Department of Toxic Substances Control raised its own concerns about on-site contamination, calling for the environmental documents’ acknowledgment of the ongoing cleanup, inclusion of the names all contaminants still needing to be cleaned up, a list of known or suspected releases of contaminants and plans for their cleanup, and preparation of a risk assessment and levels calling for action.
The California Highway Patrol letter offered a specific prediction:
“I-580 is the only and would likely be the primary access to any form of development of Point Molate ... we expect significant increase in traffic would lead to extended commute times and an attendant potential for collisions and vehicle code violations on the part of those trying to access Point Molate.”
The letter also said that with alcohol consumed at the casino and especially “during special events (concerts, sports contests, etc.), we would expect to experience an increase in incidents relating to driving under the influence.”
The law enforcement agency also noted that Levine’s development might lead to a need for increased security and personnel to protect the refinery just over the ridge.
Other state agencies
Timothy Sable, a Caltrans district chief responsible for environmental impact issues, laid out many of the same requests as had been suggested by the CHP and county officials.
Caltrans also asked for study of impacts on bridge travel, including examination of effects on specific interchanges with focus on both peak and off-peak transit hours and on potential mitigations.
Among requests raised by the California State Lands Commission was a study of the impacts of Levine’s proposed ferry service on marine traffic in San Francisco Bay waters.
The Department of Fish and Game asked that the reports focus on impacts to flora and fauna, particularly those involving rare, threatened and endangered species.
A 21-page letter from Contra Costa County Administrator John Sweeten and the Western Contra Costa Transportation Advisory Committee made no secret of county officialdom’s disdain for the project.
Sweeten declared that “the county has seen no objective evidence Guidiville Band’s interest in the Point Molate site for a casino/resort project is anything but reservation shopping, i.e., acquisition of land outside the area where the tribe was traditionally located.”
That contention was supported by a letter from Randall Milliken, who holds an anthropology doctorate from UC Berkeley and is the author of A Time of Little Choice: The Disintegration of Tribal Culture in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1769-1810, who wrote to argue that Richmond had not been inhabited by any Pomo-speakers but was the ancestral homeland of the Huichin tribelet of the Chocenyo Ohlone.
Sweeten also asked that the environmental documents deal specifically with a worst-case scenario and examine the cumulative effects of all impacts.
The transportation committee called for inclusion of impacts on specific streets, highways and intersections, the effects on public transportation and of the proposed ferry service not only of the Levine resort, but on their effects in combination with the proposed Sugarbowl Casino in North Richmond and momentarily delayed expansion of Casino San Pablo.
The list also included a call to examine a host of other potential areas that could be affected.
Among the issues the Marin County Community Development Agency asked to be considered were impacts of the project on regional housing, possible spillover effects on neighboring counties and traffic impacts on Richmond/San Rafael Bridge travel.
Marin County Administrator Mark J. Riesenfeld offered predictions of his own.
“[O]ff-reservation impacts associated with gaming would affect not only Contra Costa County, but Marin County as well ... potential impacts include ... increased traffic congestion ... associated with air pollution and increased crime” and minor demands for increased emergency services.
Marin County Board of Supervisors President Harold C. Brown wrote a similar letter addressing the same basic points.
A letter from the Contra Costa County Administrator’s office asked that the environmental documents detail the impacts of the project on Emergency Medical Services, including those on the reservation, off-reservation demands cause by activities on the reservation and the effects of service delays resulting from the development.
Pinole City Planner Elizabeth Dunn asked that the Contra Costa County report be incorporated as reflecting her city’s concerns as well.
East Bay Regional Parks District lawyers filed a 17-page request, raising such issues as:
• Impairment of views of the Bay and the site, destruction or impairments to sensitive habitats and species.
• Visual and physical impacts on historic structures.
• Destruction of archaeological sites.
• Conflicts of local, regional, state and federal land use plans.
• Traffic impacts.
• Elimination or interference with aquatic and open space recreational uses.?