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Point Molate Lawsuit Settles; Some Casino Foes Doubtful

By Caitilin McAdoo (BCN)
Wednesday October 20, 2010 - 05:22:00 PM

Opponents of a proposed casino resort development on the Richmond shoreline were not swayed today by an announcement that developers for the Guidiville tribe and a coalition of environmental groups came to a settlement agreement in a lawsuit. 

Developers, union leaders and representatives from several environmental groups held a news conference at Point Molate today, the site of the proposed $1 billion project, to release details of the Shoreline Protection Agreement. 

The agreement, which settles two lawsuits filed in 2004 and 2009 by Citizens for Eastshore Parks, removes a major obstacle to the tribe's plan to build a casino resort at Point Molate, a shuttered naval fuel depot just north of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. 

The project includes a 4,000-slot machine casino, 1,100 hotel rooms, a convention center, a performing arts center, entertainment venues, retail space, a tribal government center and tribal housing. 

Under the agreement, three-fourths of the 412-acre site would be preserved as open space. The tribe has agreed to restore and protect natural habitat and to provide a continuous shoreline trail that would be a new addition to the Bay Trail. 

The tribe also promised to spend $35 million on shoreline acquisition and an additional $5 million on design and maintenance of open space land acquired. 

They would also contribute $7 million to the East Bay Natural Heritage Foundation annually for five years, $5 million to complete the Bay Trail and other hillside trails, and $3 million to fund preparatory work for open space land acquisition and conservation easements. 

Jim Levine, a spokesman for the developer Upstream Point Molate LLC, said this level of conservation couldn't be achieved with many other types of projects. 

He also said the proposed project would create 4,500 onsite jobs, 40 percent of which would be given to Richmond residents. 

The tribe has promised that the project would be built with all union labor, which elicited applause from union representatives at the news conference. 

"This is a huge opportunity to create an economic engine for the area," Levine said. 

The proposed project would also provide a home for the tribe, whose 114 members are currently spread across the country. 

"It will help us keep our culture alive," said Donald Duncan, vice chairperson of the tribe. 

According to Michael Derry, CEO of the tribe, the federal government wrongfully terminated the tribe in the 1960s, which meant the government no longer recognized the group as a tribe. 

The tribe sued the government in the 1970s, and in 1991, federal recognition of the tribe was restored. 

The tribe, however, didn't have any land and didn't have any money. In 2004, they initiated discussions with the city of Richmond to purchase Point Molate and turn it into their new home, Derry said. 

Robert Cheasty, president of Citizens for Eastshore Parks, said that as representatives for the environmental groups were talking with representatives from the tribe, "an unusual thing happened." 

"We began to know the people we were involved with...and we found that we have a lot of common interests," Cheasty said. 

He said that environmental preservation and stewardship was a cultural value held by members of the tribe. 

"In my 36 years of litigation against some of the biggest agencies in the United States, I have never had the privilege of finding this kind of common ground," said Stephen Volker, the attorney who sued the developer on behalf of the environmental groups. 

He said he believes Upstream could have fought the lawsuit harder, but instead, "They decided to do the right thing." 

"We believe this is the first step in creating a system of regional shoreline parks encircling the bay," Volker said. 

The agreement, however, did not come as a surprise to opponents of the project. 

Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, who has been opposed to the casino project since the beginning, said the settlement agreement is just a side issue and that she believes the majority of Richmond residents are still strongly opposed to the casino project. 

"(The settlement) has nothing to do with people's opposition to the casino," McLaughlin said. 

"We have to defeat and reject it and bring a healthy project to Richmond with good jobs that doesn't include a casino." 

She said she believes that if the project were approved, "It would just bring more poverty, crime and addiction and just more misery" to Richmond. It would also lower property values, she said. 

She said she would like to see development at Point Molate that "showcases a Richmond with a soul," including a performing arts center, a museum, galleries, an open market, open air cafes, nice restaurants, retail stores, recreation facilities, community gardens and open-space areas. 

"These developments would bring good jobs that people can feel good about," McLaughlin said. 

She added that opponents of the project don't believe it will bring the jobs promised in the project proposal. 

Even if the city did go forward with the proposed casino project, neighboring cities would most likely sue Richmond, which could delay the project for at least a decade. 

McLaughlin said she believed the alternative vision for Point Molate would actually bring jobs sooner. 

"We should not look at Point Molate as a quick fix," McLaughlin said. "Let's bring good businesses into Richmond." 

Some opponents of the project are also concerned that it could set a precedent for off-reservation gaming in California. 

Sen. Dianne Feinstein released a statement today announcing her opposition to the project and to Measure U, an advisory measure on the Nov. 2 ballot that addresses the project. 

"I'm opposed to Measure U because a casino for Richmond's Point Molate is just wrong," Feinstein said. "It's wrong for Richmond, wrong for the East Bay shoreline environment, and it sets the wrong precedent for our state when it comes to off-reservation gaming casinos." 

Barry Barnes, a campaign consultant for the No on Measure U campaign, said the settlement agreement didn't address most of the concerns of the people who oppose the project, including objections that it is too big. 

"It would be one of the largest casinos in the world," Barnes said. 

He said people also believe that Richmond can do better in terms of how the area is developed and how the shoreline is protected. 

And finally, opponents don't believe the project will bring the jobs the developers have promised. 

"I would be surprised if anyone changes sides as a result of this agreement," Barnes said. 

The project still needs approval from the Richmond City Council and the Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs before it can move forward. The tribe would also need to enter into a gaming compact with the state.