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New Lawsuit Filed Over Point Molate

Richmond, developer, tribe sued over Navy land deal for proposed casino complex

By John Simerman
Contra Costa Times

Posted: 01/26/2009 06:58:50 PM PST


Critics of a proposed $1 billion shoreline mega-complex anchored by a Las Vegas-style casino sued Richmond, the developer and two American Indian tribes on Monday over the Navy's planned early transfer of the last 41 acres of the former Point Molate Naval Fuel Depot.

Two local environmental groups say the city violated a 2006 settlement when it moved forward in July on a deal with the Navy for the expedited transfer of the land, to clear the way for the developer, Upstream Investments, to clean it up. That settlement resolved lawsuits brought by the state attorney general, East Bay Regional Park District and Citizens for East Shore Parks. They challenged the city's $50 million sales agreement with Upstream and Harrah's Operating Company, which has since bowed out.

That settlement demanded that the city certify an environmental report before "any decision to pursue or approve" the casino project or transfer land to the developer, the lawsuit states.

"You've got the project cart before the environmental-review horse," said Stephan Volker, an attorney for Citizens for East Shore Parks and another group. "You've got them precommitting to the casino and going through the motions of an empty review process, knowing full well it's already given the green light to Upstream to develop the casino."

Volker said he sued because an environmental impact report that was expected to be released last month has been delayed, and the statute of limitations was about to preclude a challenge to the transfer.

Messages to City Manager Bill Lindsay and the city attorney's office were not returned Monday afternoon. Jim Levine of Upstream did not return a call to his office. Michael Derry, who heads the project for the Guidville Band of Pomo Indians, could not be reached.

Upstream and the tribe aim to turn about 85 acres by the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge into a major Bay Area tourist draw. Their plan calls for 1,100 hotel rooms, shops and restaurants, waterside housing, a conference center and tribal facilities all anchored by the economic engine of a casino to rival the biggest in Las Vegas. The project promises to bring the city $20 million in annual revenue, and the developer touts its potential for thousands of local jobs.

Critics say they fear a rise in local traffic, crime and gambling addiction, along with overdevelopment of one of the few remaining pieces of prime bayshore real estate.

The lawsuit also names the Rumsey Band of Wintun Indians, which owns the Cache Creek Casino Resort in Yolo County and has agreed to bankroll the development.

For the casino project to move forward, the Department of Interior must first agree to take the land into federal trust for the tribe under a rarely granted exemption to a 20-year-old law that bars tribes from running casinos on land acquired after 1988.

Citizens for East Shore Parks also led a challenge last year to Richmond's deal with the Scotts Valley Band of Pomo Indians, which seeks a big casino along Richmond Parkway in unincorporated North Richmond. In that lawsuit, a Contra Costa judge ruled that the city violated state environmental laws when it agreed to a 20-year, $335 million pact with Scotts Valley to provide emergency services, roadwork and political support for the casino. The city is now appealing.

Reach John Simerman at 925-943-8072 or jsimerman@bayareanewsgroup.com