Ukiah tribe pushes $1.5 billion Richmond casino resort
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
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
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
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
About 5,000 parking spaces would be built in a subterranean parking
structure, along with an additional 2,500 parking spaces in a
A ferry terminal with service to San Francisco and other points also
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
A copy of the draft environmental impact statement is available
Toll Plaza Delays Called Main Richmond Casino Impact
By Richard Brenneman
Thursday July 23, 2009
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Fund for Local Reporting! 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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
The report also says that gambling addiction would not result in
disproportionately adverse impacts to any minority or low-income
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
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
Western Drive, the roadway leading to and through the site, including
signals or a traffic roundabout at the access to Chevron’s hillside
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
Delays at the tool booths would hit level F stalls during both the
morning and afternoon peak hours, the EIR states.
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
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
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
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
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
Readers' Forum: Casino benefit still doesn't add up for Richmond
By Gayle McLaughlin
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
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
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
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
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
McLaughlin is mayor of Richmond