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Newspapers, McLaughlin Weigh in on Point Molate


Ukiah tribe pushes $1.5 billion Richmond casino resort


Published: Sunday, July 26, 2009 at 5:18 p.m.

Plans are inching forward for a massive hotel and casino resort on the shores of San Pablo Bay, one of two proposed in Richmond by North Coast Indian tribes.

A draft environmental report has been released for the Ukiah-based Guidiville Band of Pomo’s $1.5 billion, “vibrant, five-star entertainment district and destination resort” planned at Point Molate, just north of the foot of the San Rafael—Richmond bridge.

The 266-acre project on the site of a former U.S. Navy fueling depot and old winery complex was unveiled five years ago. But the release of the 5,284-page environmental document has rekindled debate between supporters, who say it will bring jobs and economic vitality, and opponents worried about traffic, noise and air pollution.

It also has revived charges of “reservation shopping,” in which tribes are criticized for seeking urban land far from their rural base for a casino.

“This is an off-reservation gaming facility about 117 miles from the original Rancheria,” said Cheryl Schmit, casino critic and director of Stand up for California, a gambling watchdog group. “A casino operation in this location is much more market-friendly to gaming than out in the sticks in Mendocino County.”

She called it a “blatant and self-serving scheme” that benefits the tribe’s investors.

The project is likely years away from breaking ground, assuming it can overcome numerous objections and legal challenges. The land still needs to be taken into trust for a reservation by the federal government. And the governor and State Legislature need to approve a gaming compact.

The tribe, which has the backing of the City of Richmond, wants to build a 1,100-room hotel, a casino with up to 3000 slot machines, a 2,500-seat theater and a “retail village” with 30 to 75 retail shops. There could also be almost 400 housing units with some set aside for tribal members.

About 5,000 parking spaces would be built in a subterranean parking structure, along with an additional 2,500 parking spaces in a seven-level garage.

A ferry terminal with service to San Francisco and other points also is proposed.

Tribal officials say the project will transform the economics of an impoverished city and at the same time establish a sustainable economy and land base for the tribe. The Guidiville Band of Pomos was restored in 1991 after its Rancheria was “illegally terminated” by the federal government decades earlier.

The 126-member tribe is described as largely impoverished, but has partnered with developers and the Rumsey Band of Wintun Indians, which owns Cache Creek Casino in Yolo County.

Upstream Point Molate is the limited liability corporation that includes the tribe and Berkeley developer James Levine. According to their Web site, PointMolateResort.com, one of Upstream’s principals is former U.S. Senator William Cohen, R-Maine, who served as Secretary of Defense under President Bill Clinton.

While the project is supported by the City of Richmond, it is opposed by the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors.

Marin County officials also have expressed concern about the traffic that will be generated on their side of the bridge by the 15,000 visitors a day that would visit the Las Vegas-style casino resort.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is on record against the Point Molate Resort as well as another smaller casino project proposed in North Richmond by the Lake County-based Scotts Valley Band of Pomo Indians.

Conceivably, there could be three casinos within a four-mile radius. The two proposals would join the existing San Pablo Casino, which is operated by the Sonoma County-based Lytton Band of Pomo.

The San Pablo Casino has electronic bingo games that closely resemble slot machines, but do not require approval from the state.

The Contra Costa Board of Supervisors said the new casinos do not belong in a low-income minority area with high unemployment and crime rates and considerable traffic congestion.

But the City of Richmond supports the project because of a multi-million-dollar revenue sharing agreement with the tribe and the thousands of jobs the casino resort is expected to bring to Richmond and other nearby communities.

The public has until Sept. 23 to comment on the draft environmental report. Public hearings are scheduled Aug. 12 and Sept. 17 at Richmond Memorial Auditorium.

A copy of the draft environmental impact statement is available online at www.pointmolateeis-eir.com.


Toll Plaza Delays Called Main Richmond Casino Impact

By Richard Brenneman

Thursday July 23, 2009

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The $1.5 billion gambling, hotel, entertainment and housing resort planned for Richmond’s Point Molate would only create three significant impacts that couldn’t be readily remedied, concludes the project’s draft environmental impact report (EIR).

For an EIR, the critical findings for developers and regulators are those which reveal significant and unavoidable adverse impacts resulting from construction. The Point Molate draft EIR finds relatively few in any of the casino-based alternatives. They would arise from:

• Cultural impacts from demolition of one of the structures in the Winehaven National Historic District.

• Socioeconomic impacts from diversion of funds from other extant tribal casinos in the great Bay Area.

• Traffic-related impacts at roadway intersections, roadway segments, and, most critically, the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge toll plaza.

The park-only alternative would eventually cause cumulative impacts at the toll plaza by 2025, and the no-construction alternative would lead to further deterioration of the historic buildings.

Any finding of significant, unavoidable impact mandates that before the project can more forward, the Richmond City Council must adopt a “State of Overriding Considerations,” declaring that project benefits outweigh the environmental costs.

In all other areas, impacts would be reduced to a less-than-significant level, the draft document concludes.

This article, the second of three, looks at the conclusions reached by the EIR, a 5,284-document prepared by Analytical Environmental Services (AES) of Sacramento, a firm that has drafted reviews for many of the state’s tribal casinos. The final article in this series will focus on community responses to the proposal.

The environment

Earthquakes shouldn’t be a problem if the buildings are well designed, the report concludes, given a repeat of a temblor of the magnitude 6.9 Loma Prieta quake along the Hayward Fault. The report also rules out the danger of soil liquefaction in such an event.

The document also concludes that the resort fits requirements by several of the agencies with oversight over projects on the San Francisco Bay Shoreline, including the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) and the California State Lands Commission, which would have to approve any changes to the pier, which extends into state waters.

From an ecological standpoint, the site contains eight types of inland habitats and five extending out from the shoreline.

The EIR states that the site potentially houses a variety of special status plant and animal species—those deemed rare, threatened, endangered, potentially endangered, or of special concern by state or federal agencies.

Included on the list are 18 special-status plant species and 23 animal species, ranging from morning glories and thistles to owls, osprey and salmon. But only one plant of special concern, the Suisun Marsh aster, has been documented, according to the EIR, along with two birds, the double-crested cormorant and the osprey.

The aster isn’t on the state or federal endangered species lists.

While AES saw no evidence of the presence of two critically endangered water fowl, the Clapper Rail and the Least Tern, they acknowledged the site as suitable habitat for the birds.

Historical impact

One key piece of federal legislation, the National Historic Preservation Act, will play a critical role in development, given the presence of the Winehaven National Historic District.

That site includes both the castellated winery building that gives the site its name as well as cottages built for the naval personnel who later took over Point Molate as a fuel base for ships of war.

In addition, two Native American shellmounds had been identified within the project boundaries in the early 20th century, along with a third archaeological site discovered later.

The EIR concludes that one mound was likely dumped into San Francisco Bay during site grading and that while traces of the second may remain, it would not be considered of note under either state or federal law.

The third site may contain significant prehistoric material.

Winehaven itself flourished for only 13 years, ending with the enactment of Prohibition, which came into effect in 1920. Until the end of America‘s long dry spell, the winery was restricted to a thousand gallons a day of sacramental wine destined for churches.

The historic district includes the main building (formerly the cellar), an administration building, a warehouse, a power house, a shop, a fire station, the winemakers house and the naval cottages.

Starting with World War II, the wine cellar became part of a naval supply facility.

The development proposals call for demolition of the historic district’s second-largest building from the site’s winery days, the former administrative building at Winehaven (which also housed part of the cellars), to make room for the main hotel building—which the EIR calls a significant unavoidable impact in the cultural resources category.

A second building, which housed the winery’s shops, would be disassembled to make way for one of the parking structures, then rebuilt elsewhere on the site, a move the draft EIR said would reduce impacts to less than significance.

Another significant, unavoidable impact would come from the presence of several large, modern buildings and associated infrastructure, changes the document declares can be partially mitigated but that would remain significant and unavoidable nonetheless.

Money and justice

One of the most controversial sections of the document is certain to be the section covering economics and environmental justice.

One concern frequently voiced during the public scoping meetings conducted four years ago involved the potential impacts of close proximity to a Las Vegas-style resort in one of the Bay Area’s poorest communities.

The section on socioeconomic conditions and environmental justice begins with a note that federal law requires an analysis of the project area to determine the presence of minority groups, the poor and Native American tribes, with a minority community defined as one in which more than half the community belongs to minority groups or where minorities comprise a meaningfully greater percentage than found in the surrounding area.

Richmond, with a 78.9 percent minority population identified in the 2000 census, qualifies under both criteria, with a poverty rate of 16.8 percent—more than twice the county average.

The City of Richmond, with a 2006 population of 102,120, reported a significantly lower median household income compared with Contra Costa County as a whole—$49,358 versus $74,241. Crime rates are much higher than for unincorporated areas of the county, with more five times as many robberies and murders.

The Guidiville band of Pomos, who would be the legal recipients of the proposed federal reservation, certainly meet the federal criteria, with four fifths employed at wages below the poverty level and a 13 percent unemployment rate, according to 2003 figures from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Significant socioeconomic impacts, according to the EIR, are those that adversely impact the housing market or the local economy. An environmental justice impact disproportionately and adversely affects an identified minority or low-income community, or Indian tribe.

“Because construction and operation of the complex would generate substantial economic activity in the regional economy from expenditures on goods and services. . .[t]his would be a beneficial impact,” declares the EIR.

Construction impacts from the casino and housing-only alternatives would generation between $869 million and $1.68 billion dollars in direct impacts, the document states, which would be more than doubled by so-called indirect and induced impacts.

Once built, revenues generated by the ongoing project, including profits for the tribe, developers and operators, would run between $32 million for the housing-only alternative to $804 million for the casino complex plus housing alternatives, with the sums doubled when indirect and induced impacts are calculated.

Direct wages paid during construction are estimated to range between $272 million and $550 million, with annual wages during operation estimated to run between $11 million for the housing-only alternative to $283 million for maximum development.

As for tax revenues lost to the state and local governments, the draft EIR declares that they would be more than offset by a payment agreement with the city and other taxes, such as those on worker incomes and supplies sold for construction and operation of the resort.

The city agreement provides for $8 million a year for the first eight years and $10 million annually thereafter. Other annual payments to the city in lieu of taxes include $10 a day for each hotel room, $5 a year for each square foot of retail space and .285 percent of construction costs for the area operated by the tribal or casino manager and other payments for other areas.

The document also assumes the state will receive payments of 20 percent of the gross gambling revenues.

But problem gambling of the addictive sort remains an issue, and the study, while minimizing the issue, acknowledges that Las Vegas reports a significantly higher percentage of addicted gamblers that the general population, even with lotteries in 48 states and illegal forms of gambling everywhere.

The report also doesn’t note that the Las Vegas percentage would be considerably higher if members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were excluded, given that both drinking and gambling—the two major activities in a casino—are forbidden them and that Mormons constitute a major segment of the Las Vegas population.

One study cited in the draft EIR reports that addictive gambling is higher where slot machines, the mainstay of casinos, are present. Richmond will be the capital of Bay Area gambling, with slots already available at Casino San Pablo (in the guise of fast-playing bingo machines) and thousands more planned for the projected Sugar Bowl two miles from Point Molate.

Thus, one of the Bay Area’s poorest communities will be surrounded by slots, with a population least able to afford the losses.

But the draft EIR declares that proposed mitigations, including confidential referrals to an organization that provides services for problem and pathological gamblers within 10 miles of the casino and support for hiring two licensed counselors. The tribe also offers to create a voluntary exclusion for gambling addicts.

Such measures would reduce the issue to a less than significant impact, according to the document, which doesn’t note that many such organizations exist in Las Vegas, previously cited as the nexus for slot and table-game addicts.

The EIR also contends crime is not a problem associated with the presence of casinos, citing a single study which reported that insufficient evidence exists to draw a firm conclusion about law-and-order impacts.

The report also says that gambling addiction would not result in disproportionately adverse impacts to any minority or low-income communities.

The project would also bring economic benefits to one specific impoverished community, the document states—the Guidiville Band—as well as thousands of jobs to Richmond and other nearby communities.


Without mitigation, the casino resort project would create major traffic problems on both sides of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, the EIR concludes.

The maximum project, including the housing, would generate 736 new peak-hour cars trips on weekday morning, 1,534 peak-hour weekday afternoon trips and 2,000 during Saturday’s peak hour.

In Richmond, the greatest impacts would hit northbound Richmond Parkway to Interstate I-80 at Blume Drive, where resort traffic would account for 27 percent of the weekday peak-hour traffic.

The mitigation for this literal roadblock would be a restriping of the northbound approach on Richmond Parkway, paid for by the tribe, to raise the level of service from a level E to a D on an A-F rating system.

The casino would pay only a portion of the cost of fixing the other troubled intersection, Sir Francis Drake Boulevard and Anderson Drive in San Rafael on the other side of the bridge, already at traffic level F. A wider roadway and improved traffic signals are would be constructed, as already planned by that city.

The EIR proposes that the tribe will cover between 9 and 15 percent of project costs there, depending on which version of the resort is eventually built.

Western Drive, the roadway leading to and through the site, including signals or a traffic roundabout at the access to Chevron’s hillside quarry.

Even with the improvements, travel through some Richmond intersections would be slower, with slowdowns from levels C to D at three interchanges during the peak weekday afternoon hour:

• Richmond Parkway/San Pablo Avenue.

• Eastbound I-80 on and off ramps at Marine Street.

• Westbound I-80 on and off ramps at Richmond Parkway/Redwood Way.

As for the other significant impact increased delays at the bridge toll plaza, the report offers no guaranteed remedies, since jurisdiction for the bridge is under a separate agency that is not part of the casino development agreement.

Delays at the tool booths would hit level F stalls during both the morning and afternoon peak hours, the EIR states.

Other impacts

While the project would be incompatible with existing General Plan policies for the site, the EIR states that the shift from city to tribal jurisdiction means the prior inconsistency would be rendered insignificant.

Construction of the Bay Trail extension through the 50-foot city-owned shoreline strip would be consistent with the plan, as would refurbishing the pier as a ferry terminal.

The project is also consistent with the BCDC plan, according to the report.

With planned water conservation measures, the resort would not tax the East Bay Municipal Utility District’s water allocation, nor, with tribal fair-share payments, would it’s peak daily wastewater generation of nearly a million gallons adversely impact the Richmond Municipal Sewer District. Similarly, the report says no untoward impacts would be generated by the project’s anticipated 4,925 tons of solid waste annually.

The previously negotiated city-tribe agreement would ensure no adverse impacts on the city’s emergency services, the EIR states.

Traffic noise would also increase significantly on Western Drive, rising by 18.5 decibels at two locations. Setbacks, berms and building designs would reduce noise to residents of the housing projected for the third and most intense alternative, the EIR states.

Because soils were in some areas were contaminated with chemicals and hazardous metals during the site’s use as a naval base, plans will be developed for handling any unanticipated contaminants discovered during construction and site preparation.

Access to sites where toxins are known to be present after the final phases of the navy cleanup would be barred, and ongoing monitoring of groundwater would be conducted.

The EIR specifies that sheltering-in-place and evacuation plans will be prepared in the event of any anhydrous ammonia, oleum or flammable chemical releases from the Chevron refinery and General Chemical plants located on the other side of Portrero ridge from the rear of the complex.

The most likely catastrophe, failure of a chemical tank bleeder valve, is considered likely only once every 725 years, the document states.

The report also concludes that cumulative impacts, except for traffic at the toll plaza and those cited in the need for a city finding of overriding considerations, would be reduced to less than significant levels.


Readers' Forum: Casino benefit still doesn't add up for Richmond

By Gayle McLaughlin
Guest commentary

Posted: 07/25/2009 12:01:00 AM PDT


ON MAY 14, 2005, the Times published an article I wrote titled: Casino at Point Molate is a losing bet for Richmond. In this article, I took issue with the idea that a casino would sustain our local economy, our environment and our social well-being here in Richmond. Fast forward four years later and here we are with the draft environmental impact documents completed and released to the public for comment.

In my article in 2005, I cited the exhaustive study "Casinos, Crime and Community Costs" conducted by Grinols & Mustard. This study examined the relationship between casinos and crime, showing that the opening of casinos creates new crimes. Findings from this study indicate that we can expect a substantial increase in crime within a few years after a casino is built. Given the serious and tragic crime we already experience in Richmond, this study is especially significant and indicates that the cost to community runs deep.

Here are a few other concepts to ponder. Our nation and our state are in the middle of profound economic recession with no end in sight. Are casinos somehow "recession proof?" The answer to that question can be found in countless news articles documenting that tax revenue from gambling proceeds nationwide have dropped for 2 years in a row now. Even the American Gaming Association (AGA), a proponent of gaming in the U.S., is acknowledging the drop. Their 2009 report states that "With its reduction

in consumer spending and freezing credit markets, the recession that began in late 2007 made 2008 a challenging year for the commercial casino industry."

Certainly, all bets are off as we witness Indian casinos suffering in today's economy. Many casino operators nationwide, including in California, are putting off or canceling big expansions and reducing staffs. Some casinos have closed and others are filing for bankruptcy. The bottom line is clear. As gamblers spend less, profits shrink or disappear and tribal governments are hit hard.

So what does all that tell us about the proposed casino for Point Molate? For anyone who looks at the data with eyes wide open, it's clear that urban casinos have reached the point of diminishing returns. There are just so many people willing to lose money gambling and they are pretty well tapped out.

And in terms of those who still are lured by the casino's false promise of quick money, we can expect financially strapped local households to be impacted, leaving much-needed money on the casino table. Problem and pathological gamblers are sure to increase which no one, not even the environmental report, disputes.

The developers attempt to counter this by claiming that thousands (a day!) of high rollers from San Francisco will visit. Even apart from the statistics showing decreased casino visits, the scenario of thousands of high-roller gamblers coming across the Bay daily to Point Molate during their San Francisco vacation seems a bit-farfetched. Most visitors vacationing in the Bay Area come here to experience the beauty of our West Coast natural environment, as well as the cultural backdrop presented by our region's enriching theater, music and art experience, not to mention family tourist spots such as Fisherman's Wharf.

Let's think this through clearly. First of all, urban casinos have been studied and are known to create an increase in crime and other social ills. Secondly, gaming revenue is down and even the gaming proponents can't hide their heads in the sand about this fact. Thirdly, the idea that San Francisco will suddenly start attracting high roller gamblers that seek to feed their addiction at Point Molate is a fantasy that flies in the face of our region's attraction and well-known reputation.

So, where does that leave the Point Molate project? Is it a non-starter? Does the argument that this casino proposal will bring great economic benefit to Richmond have any viability?

Richmond certainly can use increased revenue. But, as many of us have said before, we need to pursue realistic solutions, putting the burden for increased revenue on those who can afford it most.

It is important to note that a previous City Council did approve an agreement with the current development team. However, the developments defined in this environmental report can be rejected and the "no action" alternative can be seen to be in the best interest of the Richmond community.

If the "no action" alternative is approved, the city may have an opportunity to take a look at other proposals for Point Molate.

The future of Point Molate still rests in the hands of the city of Richmond. City officials have an obligation to our residents to examine the future of Point Molate with serious and critical attention.

The public is invited to comment at www.pointmolateeis-eir.com or on Aug. 12 at 6 p.m. and Sept. 17 at 6 p.m., at the Richmond Memorial Auditorium, 403 Civic Center Plaza, Richmond, CA, 94804.

Written comments also can be mailed to Richmond Planning Department, 450 Civic Center Plaza, Richmond, CA 94804 or can be e-mailed to Lina_Velasco@ci.richmond.ca.us .

McLaughlin is mayor of Richmond