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Richmond Council Cancels Point Molate Casino Deal

By Janna Brancolini (BCN)
Wednesday April 06, 2011 - 01:31:00 PM

The Richmond City Council voted Tuesday night not to continue with plans to develop an Indian casino at Point Molate after more than six years of back-and-forth about development of the former Navy base.  

The council members voted 5 to 2 to in favor of a motion by Mayor Gayle McLaughlin to discontinue discussion of the casino, with Councilmen Jim Rogers and Nathaniel Bates dissenting.  

Developer Upstream Point Molate LLC, which has been working on the project with the Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians since 2004, now has 120 days to propose a non-gaming development at the site. 

Original plans called for the 412-acre piece of shoreline property to be cleaned up and turned into a complex featuring a casino, hotel, convention center, performing arts center, entertainment venues, retail space, tribal government center, and housing.  

McLaughlin laid out 12 reasons why she moved to oppose further discussion of the casino, including a nonbinding advisory vote that was passed in November in which 58 percent of the city's residents said they would oppose the gaming proposal. 

McLaughlin also said studies have linked casinos to increased crime, increased problem gambling, and overall economic loss. 

She said that locally marketed casinos don't lead to net financial gains because local residents spend money on gambling that would have been used for other services.  

Other council members questioned whether jobs would really go toward improving Richmond's 17 percent unemployment rate and putting its parolees to work.  

"If you had this beautiful new hotel, would you put a guy who just got out of prison in the rooms cleaning?" Councilman Courtland Booze said. "Think about it." 

He and several other council members also said they respected the democratic process and wanted to honor the wishes of residents who support development without a casino.  

The developers, however, have argued the $1.7 billion resort would not be profitable without a casino acting as a central draw. They also said the casino was needed to fulfill the city's mandate that the project be a job-creating economic engine for the city.  

"Building homes does not create jobs after the homes are finished," Upstream LLC spokesman Jim Levine said. 

The casino project would create an estimated 17,000 permanent jobs and 1,600 to 1,700 temporary jobs, according to its proponents.  

Members of the City Council and of the public have questioned those figures. 

Tuesday's decision could lead to a protracted legal battle, the dissenting council members pointed out, because millions of dollars have already been spent developing the project.  

Michael Derry, CEO of the Guidiville Pomo Indians, said the tribe originally entered into negotiations with the city with the understanding that officials wanted to work with developers to build a casino. 

Their agreement required the city to negotiate in good faith, and if the tribe can prove the city did not intend to follow through on the project, it could be entitled to compensation for million of dollars already invested in the casino plan, Derry said.