Intimidated by both Upstream, which has threatened to sue, and its own City Attorney’s Office, the Richmond City Council’s wimped out majority exposed their jellied backbones last night and certified a final EIR (FEIR) for the Point Molate casino project that almost everyone agreed was substantially flawed, including other credible public agencies like the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) Bay Trail Project, the East Bay Regional Parks District and the West Contra Costa Transportation Advisory Committee.
This was stunningly similar to the events that led to the certification of the Chevron EIR in 2008 that was eventually challenged and thrown out in court.
Richmond’s award-winning Trails for Richmond Action Committee (TRAC) made a valiant effort to include the Bay Trail connection across I-580 as a mitigation and provided expert testimony supporting a fair and rational funding formula. The City Council majority blew them off.
Despite the fact that several U.S. Government agencies, including the Center for Disease Control, the Surgeon General and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) have all published reports that find that secondhand smoke in casinos is harmful to health, the City Council backed off a proposed mitigation that would have either banned smoking or required that employees not be exposed to smokers. This was particularly shocking given Richmond’s recognized leadership in the movement to protect people from unwanted secondhand tobacco smoke. I guess if someone is desperate enough to take a casino job, they deserve to die of lung cancer.
The California Native Plant Society was the lone environmental organization to point out serious errors in both the FEIR and the process by which it was fast tracked to approval at the 11th hour. Most other environmental organizations, including the Sierra Club, had long since been bought off by Upstream for a reported $45 million.
Only Mayor McLaughlin and I did not vote for the certification. Nat Bates was out of town. I was so disgusted when I saw the way things were going south, I just went home.
The FEIR was prepared by Analytical Environmental Services (AES) of Sacramento, a consulting firm that is substantially supported by Indian tribes seeking casino approvals, and they were paid directly by the Guidiville Band for their work. Although the City had signed a secret agreement with the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 2005 making the City an equal partner in the EIR process, City staff did little more than rubber stamp the document that had all the appearances of being ghost written by Upstream.
All in all, it was one of the most disappointing performances by both staff and the City Council that I have ever endured. At the end of the day, it was all about money. I thought we were on a roll towards a new era for Richmond, but it was déjà vu all over again in Richmond last night.