Point Molate Casino Backer to Help Fund Cleanup

By Richard Brenneman
Thursday July 24, 2008 - 09:58:00 AM

The mysterious financial angel bankrolling a planned billion-dollar casino proposed for Richmond’s Point Molate has emerged from the shadows. 

The Rumsey Band of Wintuns, operators of one of California’s richest casinos, is the backer of the controversial project proposed by Berkeley developer James D. Levine and the Guidiville Rancheria band of Pomos. 

The Wintuns own and operate the Cache Creek Casino in Yolo County’s Capay Valley, where they are proposing a $300 million expansion plan, including a 10-story hotel. They would serve as operators of the casino. 

Yolo County’s largest employer according to published accounts, Cache Creek houses more than 2,900 slot machines and 142 table games according to the casino’s website. 

The tribe pays the state $25 million a year under terms of its gambling compact. 

The massive Richmond project would provide a reservation for the Guidivilles and yet another source of revenue for the Rumseys, one of the richest tribal groups in California. 

Cache Creek already targets one of the key demographics Levine said would be sought for the Richmond casino, Asians and Asian-Americans from San Francisco, providing regular bus service to and from the city. Guidiville economic development director Michael Derry said that experience would be helpful in Richmond. 

“We also hope to target a lot of new tourism dollars,” he said. Derry said the Rumsey band was picked as a partner by the Guidivilles in part “because of their experience as operators of a high-class facility.” 

While Levine’s original proposal was developed through Upstream Point Molate LLC, the Rumseys are partners in another limited liability corporation, Winehaven Partners. 

Transfer of the site to the new owners had been contingent on completion of a cleanup of contaminants left over from the site’s previous incarnation as a naval refueling station. 

But the Navy has proposed an accelerated handover that would take place before the cleanup is finished, and a press release issued late Tuesday by Levine and Derry said the Rumseys would assist in the reclamation work. 

If the proposal Levine advanced—at a recent meeting of a citizen group that is advising the Navy on cleanup efforts— becomes reality, the new “five-star resort” would offer 1,100 hotel rooms, a 150,000-square-foot convention center, a business conference center, 300,000 square feet of retail outlets, outdoor cafes, other entertainment and educational attractions, and a condo community roofed with photovoltaic panels and solar water heating. 

Projections call for 15,000 visitors a day to the Las Vegas-style casino (everything but craps and wheels of fortune), and a bounty of cash, creating “an economic engine that can fuel community projects on a scale never dreamed of before,” Levine said. 

Earlier versions of the proposals called for 3,000 slot machines—more than most Las Vegas resorts—and a variety of table games. 


Report nears 

A draft statement on the resort’s environmental impacts is now under review by federal, state and local agencies. 

John P. Rydzik, the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs environmental scientist handling preparation of environmental documents for East Bay casino projects, said the document would be delivered this week to reviewing agencies. 

“Cooperating agencies have a 30-day period to review the document, so we’re probably looking at some time between the end of August and mid-September for a release for public review,” he said. 

The document, prepared by Sacramento consulting firm Analytical Environmental Services, will undergo revisions after agencies finish their comments. 

It will serve as both a federal environmental impact statement and a state environmental impact review, meeting requirements set out by both the National Environmental Policy Act and the California Environmental Quality Act. 

One of Levine’s partners in the project has been former Secretary of Defense William Cohen, who once exercised civilian oversight of the Navy. 

One-time financial angel Harrah’s Entertainment dropped out of the picture, but Levine told the citizens’ group that he has a new backer, another California tribe with a highly successful casino operation. He declined to name the group at the time. 

If all goes well, Derry said, the former navy base could become a reservation by late next year or early 2010, with construction following sometime later. 


Political cash 

The Guidivilles were major bankrollers of a series of campaign mailers targeting Assemblymember Loni Hancock, who had been a leading opponent of urban casinos in the Bay Area. 

Funded by the California Tribal Business Alliance (CTBA) and a front group called Education Leaders for High Standards, the campaign spent more than $161,442 in the closing weeks of the race between Hancock and former Assemblymember Wilma Chan for the state Senate in the June Democratic primary. 

Levine, however, gave Hancock $6,000 at the same time his then-silent partner was funding hit pieces opposing her. 

While the Rumseys aren’t listed as members of the alliance on the CTBA website, their website lists the alliance as one of three of the tribe’s projects, with the others being the casino and “economic diversification.” 

“Along with the Rumsey Band of Wintun Indians,” the Rumsey web page states, “the CTBA’s other members are the Pala Band of Mission Indians, the Paskenta Band of Nomlaki Indians, the Pauma Band of Luiseño Indians, the United Auburn Indian Community and the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians.” 

The CTBA site, however, lists another tribe as a member, the Lytton Band of Pomos, the tribe that owns Casino San Pablo.