Tom Butt
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  Dissecting the Point Molate Alliance Myths
August 16, 2020

As the Federal Court ordered entitlement phase of the Point Molate settlement nears completion, the Point Molate Alliance is stepping up their campaign to derail it. After a blistering legal loss on August 15, the Point Molate Alliance has taken to social media in an effort to bolster their case and seek supporters.

Like those heartbreaking sad dog commercials used by SPCA to raise millions, the Point Molate Alliance has its own evocative “sad dog,” buzzwords that they keep trotting out, such as “eel grass,” “ospreys,” “luxury housings for the wealthy” and “Ohlone ancestral lands and sacred sites.”

You don’t have to go to Snopes to find out that the Point Molate Alliance claims are no more than urban myths; you can just read the Subsequent EIR.

…the Modified Project includes elements such as construction of Bay Trail extension, shoreline park, 193 acres of open space, water taxi services, protection of eel grass beds and enhanced access for the public to the shoreline in general, which are generally consistent with the major elements of this policy. As such, the Modified Project, and specifically the development proposed within the BCDC jurisdiction, the Modified Project is generally consistent with the Bay Plan policy. EIR, Page 4.1-4 (


Figure 1 - Osprey at Point Molate

The Point Molate Alliance writes, “Point Molate is home to an unusual diversity of rare plant and animal life, from nesting osprey to black swallowtail butterflies.”

The Point San Pablo Peninsula is home to maybe a dozen nesting osprey, at least three at Point Molate proper – all at the pier. The Point Molate Alliance uses nesting ospreys as one of its Save Point Molate poster children. But are nesting ospreys really threatened by future development? It turns out the answer is a clear “No!”  Ospreys are not native to the Bay Area, at least in the last millennium, but they have become well established, actually embracing the urban and industrial landscape for nesting sites.  They are not frightened away by human activity – the ospreys at the Whirley Crane next to the Red Oak Victory and Riggers Loft have thrived. For more information, see Meet the Urban Osprey and Raptors Adapt Well to Life in the City. The idea that development at Point Molate will scare off or discourage ospreys is just another myth spread by the anti-development crowd.

There is no mention of the black swallowtail butterfly (papilio polyxenes) in the SEIR and no evidence that it is present or endangered at Point Molate. In fact, the SEIR does not identify any endangered insects present at Point Molate. It does mention the monarch butterfly as a sensitive species and provides the following mitigation:

The General Plan also identifies monarch butterflies as a sensitive species known to roost over winter in the vicinity of the Project Site. Monarch butterflies are candidates for listing under the federal ESA, and removal of an active over-winter roost tree would be a potentially significant impact. While this species was not returned in the USFWS official list of candidate or listed species with the potential to occur on the Project Site, Mitigation Measure 4.3-20has been added to the Modified Project, similar to Mitigation Measure BIO-4as included for the expansion of the Bay Trail. Mitigation Measure 4.3-20would require a pre-construction survey of eucalyptus woodland during the monarch butterfly winter roost season. Eucalyptus trees utilized by monarch butterflies as an over-wintering roost would be protected from removal or disturbance during the roost season. With incorporation of these protections, sensitive biological resources identified in the General Plan would not be significantly impacted by the Modified Project. (SEIR4.5-83)

Perhaps the Point Molate Alliance is thinking of the similar pipevine swallowtail, which does inhabit Richmond, In fact, the pipevine swallowtail is the most common butterfly in my yard.

Figure 2 - Black swallowtail

Figure 3 - Pipevine swallowtail

Eel Grass

Figure 4 - Eel grass

A second apocalyptic poster child of the Point Molate Alliance is eel grass. “Its offshore eelgrass beds — a pillar of the Bay Estuary ecosystem — are the healthiest and most expansive in San Francisco Bay.”

While that statement might be a little hyperbolic, the eel grass beds will be protected. The SEIR states:

Mitigation Measure 4.3-4 Preservation and Protection of Eelgrass. The eelgrass bed habitat onsite shall be completely avoided during construction and operation of the Project. Specifically, water vessels (e.g., ferries, barges, water taxis/shuttles) servicing the retrofitted pier shall not come within 1,000 feet of the eelgrass bed habitat as identified in the pre-construction and annual surveys. The existing pier shall be utilized, and the total surface area of the pier shall not be increased. Improvement of the existing pier shall be implemented as necessary, but no new piers and/or structures shall be built within or in the vicinity of any eelgrass bed habitat. Activities associated with the pier reuse shall be subject to the acquisition of necessary permits. These may include, but are not limited to, necessary BCDC permits. The Applicant shall employ dust control measures to ensure excavated soil transferred from the Project Site to barges docked at the end of the pier using a conveyor belt system does not result in debris in the Bay. Such dust control measures shall include, but not be limited to, the following.

  • The conveyor belt system shall be completely enclosed to prevent any loose aggregate, soils, or dust from entering the Bay during these transport operations.
  • Sediment shall be watered as needed to prevent dust from becoming airborne.
  • Vehicles transporting soils shall utilize designated routes. Should these routes include dirt roads, these roads shall be watered as needed to prevent excessive production of dust.
  • Vehicles transporting soils across dirt roads shall not exceed a speed of 15 miles per hour.
  • Soils shall be covered when transported from the location of excavation to the removal offsite.

All water vessel routes shall be limited to the deep-water shipping channel when not moored at the pier, and velocities shall be lowered as water vessels approach the pier to reduce waking. Water vessel speeds shall be limited to 10 knots or less within 750 feet of the pier. In addition, water vessel traffic shall not route from the terminal landward towards the shoreline. Mooring of private boats is not to be allowed on the pier. An appropriate signage and/or a buoy system shall be implemented to properly inform marine traffic of the sensitive eelgrass habitats and to help keep any vessels away from these habitats.

Prior to construction, the Applicant shall prepare an eelgrass monitoring plan consistent with the California Eelgrass Mitigation Policy and Implementing Guidelines, to be submitted to the NMFS for review and approval. The Plan shall require eelgrass surveys be conducted by a qualified biologist immediately prior to construction, annually throughout construction, and three years following the initial use of the pier to ensure ship travel routes do not impact eelgrass. Surveys shall be conducted by a qualified biologist pursuant to protocols outlined in the California Eelgrass Mitigation Policy and Implementing Guidelines, and shall document eelgrass distribution and density on both the Project Site and at a suitable control site during the eelgrass growing season. The surveys shall also assess the health of the eelgrass beds, including documenting the presence of any algal blooms. The surveys shall monitor eelgrass beds between 1 kilometer north and south of the Project Site and 0.5 kilometers seaward. Results of surveys shall be provided to the NMFS Santa Rosa office staff within 60 days of completion. An additional survey shall be completed within 90 days in the event of failure of debris containment systems along the conveyor belt, or in the event that a SWPPP inspection reveals the failure of BMPs protecting Bay waters resulting in the exceeding of water quality discharge standards. If NMFS determines the Project actions have adversely impacted eelgrass in or adjacent to the Project Site based on pre-and post- work distribution and density surveys, an eelgrass mitigation plan shall be provided to NMFS and the SFBRWQCB for review and approval within 60 days of the determination of adverse impacts.

The mitigation plan shall provide for no net loss of habitat function, and shall include criteria consistent with the California Eelgrass Mitigation Policy and Implementing Guidelines (NOAA, 2014) as well as one or more of the following.

  • In-kind creation, restoration, or enhancement of habitat with a success ratio following three years of monitoring at or exceeding 1.2:1
  • Purchase of mitigation credits from an established and NMFS-approved eelgrass mitigation bank at a ratio of 1:1 for banks established over three years
  • Purchase of mitigation credits from a NMFS-approved eelgrass mitigation bank at a NMFS approved ratio exceeding 1:1 for banks that have been established less than three years
  • Payment to in-lieu-fee conservation program(s)
  • Out-of-kind mitigation only in the circumstance that in-kind mitigation is not feasible, and out of kind mitigation provides for sufficient ecological benefits approved by NMFS and other trustee agencies such as CDFW

Implementation of the above measure would reduce impacts to special status wildlife that may rely on eelgrass beds for food or refuge by minimizing the potential for indirect impacts to this habitat type. No eelgrass beds will be directly removed by the Project.

The DEIR states, “Protection of the Eelgrass Beds Implementation of Mitigation Measures 4.8-1 and4.8-2, and Mitigation Measures 4.3-4and 4.3-6,would reduce impacts to eelgrass beds to less-than-significant levels as discussed in Impact 4.3.2.” (SEIR 4.4-35)

Luxury Housing Development for a Wealthy Few

Figure 5 - Waterline in Point Richmond (Brickyard Cove)

“Luxury housing development for the wealthy few,” is how the Point Molate Alliance describes future housing at Point Molate.

In reality, housing at Point Molate will be like housing anywhere else along the Richmond shoreline, like Marina Bay, where several Point Molate Alliance leaders make their homes, or Brickyard Cove, Brickyard Landing, Seacliff or Waterline. Existing homes along Richmond’s waterfront, while still the least expensive in the Bay Area for their prime location, are already in the $600,000 to $2.5 million range. Like homes anywhere, the market will set the price – not the developer. The Bay Area median home price is now just under $1 million, making Richmond waterfront homes affordable for roughly half of the Bay Area population – not just a “wealthy few.” Unlike other Richmond waterfront residential developments, Point Molate will also actually include affordable housing units, and in-lieu fees paid under Richmond’s Inclusionary Zoning will help subsidize perhaps hundreds of affordable units in other parts of Richmond.

Finally, another important point, housing at Point Molate will not deprive anyone already living in Richmond of a place to live. It will not gentrify any Richmond neighborhood. If anything, by increasing the housing stock, it will take pressure off existing neighborhoods from buyers desperate to purchase a home.

Point Molate Has a Rich Local History that Should be Preserved

Figure 6 - Winehaven Building 1

The Point Molate Alliance says “Restoring historic Winehaven Village as a commercial, educational and cultural destination would provide jobs for Richmond residents and revenue for the city.”

Well, they got that right, but the implication that letting Point Molate go wild will somehow facilitate restoration is nothing but naive wishful thinking. These people don’t know anything about historic preservation, real estate economics, construction or jobs-producing economic development.

Those who do not want Point Molate to be developed are essentially writing off one of the most important historical resources in California. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a historic district, Winehaven stands alone as the apogee of the pre-Prohibition wine industry in California. When the 18th Amendment was passed in 1920, Winehaven and the California Wine Association controlled 80 percent of the California wine industry. Today, wine is a $57 billion industry in California, a pillar of the state’s economy. Although the 300,000 square feet of historic buildings and additional acres of grounds that constitute Winehaven are not included in the open space calculation, the structures will be rehabilitated to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for adaptive reuse and will include public access and interpretation, adding a unique cultural addition to the experience of park users. During its heyday, Winehaven was not just a winery but also a regional excursion attraction in the Bay Area and could be once again.

Which leads us to a truth that the Point Molate Alliance refuses to accept. The preservation of Winehaven will be an expensive project that cannot proceed without tens of millions of dollars in infrastructure investments that will be made possible only by the proposed development. There has been a great hue and cry from “Save Point Molate” advocates to limit development to the historic district or even allow no development at all. They have also insisted that no public funds be used for infrastructure at Point Molate, so the proposed development will have to pay for all the costs of infrastructure, including substantial park facilities. In order to have a park at all, and in order to preserve Winehaven for future generations, there must be the level of development now proposed – which is not unlike the juxtaposition of Miller Knox Regional Shoreline with Brickyard Landing, Brickyard Cove, Seacliff, Waterline,Terminal 1 and historic Point Richmond. It is also not unlike Marina Bay, which houses some 3,000 people while providing acres of public parks, the Bay Tail and Rosie The Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park. The authors of the 1997 Reuse Plan understood this, and it is just as true today.

Sacred Sites on Ohlone Ancestral Land and The site was also home to a Chinese shrimping camp that Jack London wrote about in 'Tales of the Fish Patrol'

Figure 7 - 19th Century Chinese Shrimp Camp

The SEIR recognizes and provides mitigations for both native American prehistoric sites and the Chinese Shrimping Camp on Page 4.4.33.

4.4 Cultural Resources and Tribal Cultural Resources

Construction of the Modified ProjectCA-CCO-506H (Chinese Shrimp Camp) is located in an area that maybe subjected to ground-disturbing activities associated with the proposed development. Grading and re-contouring of the ground surface, landscaping, widening of roads, excavation of utility trenches, widening and partial redesign of portions of Stenmark Drive, and creation of trails and other amenities have the potential to significantly impact this resource during ground-disturbing activity. The implementation of Mitigation Measure 4.4-3, requiring worker training and archaeological monitoring in the vicinity of this resource, would reduce these impacts to less-than-significant levels by requiring physical avoidance of the principal site deposits, requiring worker training so that if outlying artifacts or features are encountered they will be recognized and construction halted, and by having an archaeologist present to ensure that any new finds associated with CA-CCO-506H are properly treated and documented.

The Modified Project lies in a region known to have been used by Native Americans. The remnants of several shell mounds lie within and adjacent to the Study Area, and burials associated with CA-CCO-283have been recovered even though the bulk of that site has been destroyed. Therefore, there is potential to uncover additional prehistoric resources or human remains during ground-disturbing activities associated with any phase of on-site or off-site construction. If any such a discovery comprises a CRHR-eligible cultural resource, the impacts would be potentially significant. The implementation of Mitigation Measures4.4-3and 4.4-4would reduce these impacts to a less-than-significant level by implementing a program of construction worker training, targeted archaeological monitoring, and development of an Unanticipated Discoveries Plan that provides procedures to follow in the event of a find made during construction. The inadvertent discovery of human remains is addressed under Impact 4.4.3.

Construction of Off-Site Improvements Construction of off-site improvements would require grading, excavation, and other construction-related activities. These activities may impact archaeological sites CA-CCO-283, CA-CCO-284, and CA-CCO-506H, as well as yet unknown archaeological resources; therefore, this is a potentially significant impact. The implementation of Mitigation Measure 4.4-3would reduce these impacts to less-than-significant levelsby implementing a program of construction worker training, targeted archaeological monitoring, and establishing procedures to follow in the event of a find made during construction.

Following is the latest Point Molate Alliance claim:

Save Point Molate As a Public Park For All — Not For a Wealthy Few
Don't let the City of Richmond sell off Point Molate to a private developer for luxury housing. It should be permanently protected as a public resource.

Why This Matters

Point Molate is one of the last great stretches of shoreline in the Bay Area that’s not already developed or protected for the public. Because of its remote location and remarkable environmental features, it should be preserved as a park for all Richmond residents to enjoy — not sold off for a luxury housing development for a wealthy few. Unfortunately, the city is barreling ahead with a development boondoggle that would transfer this beautiful and biologically rich place to private hands.

Point Molate is home to an unusual diversity of rare plant and animal life, from nesting osprey to black swallowtail butterflies. Its offshore eelgrass beds — a pillar of the Bay Estuary ecosystem — are the healthiest and most expansive in San Francisco Bay.

Point Molate also has a rich local history that should be preserved. Visitors can't miss Winehaven, a fantastic castle-like structure that was part of the largest winery in the U.S. prior to Prohibition. The site was also home to a Chinese shrimping camp that Jack London wrote about in 'Tales of the Fish Patrol' and a World War II fuel depot for the Pacific naval fleet.

Instead of selling off Point Molate to a private developer, the City should adopt the more equitable, economically prudent, and environmentally sensitive Community Plan. That plan would create a magnificent public waterfront park providing community recreational opportunities and preserving important ecosystems. It would also preserve sacred sites on Ohlone ancestral land. Restoring historic Winehaven Village as a commercial, educational and cultural destination would provide jobs for Richmond reside