Richmond Casino Pact Illegal, Declares Judge

By Richard Brenneman
Thursday August 21, 2008 - 09:18:00 AM

A Contra Costa County judge dealt a blow to plans for a North Richmond casino Wednesday, saying she intends to strike down an agreement for the City of Richmond to provide police, fire and other services. 

Superior Court Judge Barbara Zuniga issued a tentative ruling declaring the Municipal Services Agreement (MSA) between the city and the Scotts Valley band of Pomos violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). 

In November 2006, the Richmond City Council voted to approve an agreement that promises the city $335 million over 20 years, primarily in return for providing police and fire services. 

One of the opponents was Councilmember and Mayor-Elect Gayle McLaughlin. 

Judge Zuniga said the city failed to follow CEQA provisions for determining the environmental consequences of their action. 

In addition to providing police and fire protections, the MSA also calls for several construction projects, including either a new or upgraded fire station as well as the creation of a new left-turn lane on Parr Boulevard and additional traffic lanes on that boulevard, an interchange at the intersection of Richmond Parkway and San Pablo Avenue and a new bike lane. 

“These activities have a potential for resulting in either a direct physical change to the environment, or a reasonably foreseeable indirect physical change in the environment,” said Zuniga in her two-page finding. 

She rejected the city’s contention that they had complied with CEQA by including a provision in the MSA calling for “future compliance with CEQA if required.” Because the MSA is a contract that obligates the city to undertake the agreed actions and doesn’t include a “no-option alternative required by CEQA,” the MSA violates the law. 

The action was brought by a coalition of plaintiffs that included the Parchester Village Neighborhood Council, Citizens for Eastshore Parks, the Sustainability, Parks, Recycling and Wildlife Defense Fund and Richmond environmental activist Whitney Dotson. 

Oakland attorney Stephan Volker represented the plaintiffs, while the city was represented by Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, a San Francisco firm.