Tom Butt
  E-Mail Forum – 2020  
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  When Parks Advocates Were Badass
September 5, 2020

It turns out that the crusade to “Save Point Molate” by the Point Molate Alliance is not actually about saving anything. It is solely about housing.

The current plan that anticipates development of only 30 percent of Point Molate is not significantly different than the “Community Plan” advocated by the Point Molate Alliance. The only difference is housing. The former has housing; the latter doesn’t. That’s it. Period.

The Point Molate Alliance has no objection to the current plan to allocate 70 percent of the project’s 275 acres (191 acres) to open space. Both plans have a shoreline park and 1.5 miles of Bay Trail. Both plans include development of the 37-acre Winehaven Historic District.  The Community Plan even adds a large hotel and conference center. This fight is not about saving Point Molate at all, it’s solely about 47 acres of housing.

Richmond already has over 3,000 acres of shoreline parks and miles of Bay Trail – more than any other city on San Francisco Bay. The 47 acres the Point Molate Alliance wants to save from housing represents less than 2 percent of the total area of shoreline parks in Richmond – less than that if you count the 191 acres at Point Molate.

The Point Molate Alliance is, at its core, simply a NIMBY organization obsessed with preventing the spread of housing in Richmond.

Let’s step back in history and take a look at the real environmentalists who actually created those 3,000 acres of shoreline parks in Richmond.

As late as the early 1970s, only 65 feet of the 32 miles of Richmond shoreline was accessible to the public. The Contra Costa Shoreline Parks Committee, also known as “Little Old Ladies in Tennis Shoes,” set out to change that.

The Contra Costa Shoreline Parks Committee included Lucretia Edwards, Barbara Vincent, Laurie Shaper and Louise Hammond. In a couple of decades, they schemed, lobbied, cajoled, threatened and even litigated successfully to establish Miller-Knox Regional Shoreline and Point Pinole Regional Shoreline, to make sure Marina Bay had a full complement of shoreline parks and to place Point Molate (Winehaven Historic District) and East Brother Light Station on the National Register of Historic Places. Thanks to their vision and leadership, Richmond went from 67 feet of publicly accessible waterfront to thousands of acres! Two parks at Marina Bay are named for Barbara Vincent and Lucretia Edwards in recognition of their successful advocacy.

Figure 1 - Lucretia Edwards

These women were not pessimistic, cynical and hostile like the Point Molate Alliance people. Nor were they from outside Richmond. They were fortunate enough to live near the shoreline, and they wanted future Richmond residents to share what they had come to love.

Lucretia, however, was much more than civic-minded. She had vision. From the day she arrived in Richmond in 1948, she knew it was “ridiculous” that Richmond’s 32 miles of shoreline offered only 67 feet of public access. “I was enraged by what I saw,” said Lucretia. “You hardly knew that the Bay was there.” Lucretia’s refined manner and soft voice belied the strength of her convictions. 

In addition to all her good ideas, she knew what she had to do to get the parks built, and her commitment never wavered. “I joined the League of Women Voters and started finding buddies who agreed with me. Then we just went to meeting after meeting talking about how badly the city needed waterfront parks.” She took federal, state, regional, and local officials—any officials who would listen—out to the bay front to see the possibilities first-hand. “We took them out one at a time, so we could divide and conquer. We did a lot of walking.” The women’s secret weapons were gourmet picnics and lots of cheap champagne, always served liberally as if at a world class resort on Richmond’s scenic beaches, islands and promontories. 

She became the leader of Richmond’s Contra Costa Shoreline Parks Committee, also known as “the little old ladies in tennis shoes,” who coined such slogans as “Tanks, but no tanks,” to suggest that at least some of Richmond’s beautiful waterfront should be used for something other than storing petroleum products. 

Creating the Miller-Knox Regional Shoreline Park was one of her proudest achievements. She lobbied heavily for the park, and just as plans were solidifying, the owner of a key parcel that included the park’s highest point, Nicholl Knob, decided to sell to a developer who planned high-rise apartment buildings. Lucretia wept at the news. Her husband, distraught at seeing Lucretia this way, cashed in his pension and bought the land for her as a surprise gift. The Edwards kept ownership of the land until the East Bay Regional Park District could buy it—at the same price the Edwards had paid for it several years earlier. 

Not stopping with what is now Miller-Knox, Lucretia and her friends also brought Point Pinole Regional Park into the East Bay Regional Parks District. Lucretia’s Shoreline Committee and others successfully placed East Brother Light Station, the Point Richmond Historic District and the Winehaven Historical District at Point Molate on the National Register of Historic Places. 
Of Winehaven, which she saw for the first time in the mid-1970s, Edwards once said, “I fell in love with the buildings. They are so astonishing, those great red-brick castles. They're so out of place, it just made me laugh!” 
The neo-environmentalists who are obsessed with “saving Point Molate” are, in fact, lightweight wannabees compared to those who came before them and who actually saved vast portions of the Richmond shoreline for public use. These women were, in a phrase used today, “badass.”

In the mid-1970s, Lucretia Edwards, the acknowledged leader of the Contra Costa Shoreline Parks Committee, served on the 24-member Point Molate Blue Ribbon Advisory Committee, a diverse cross-section of Richmond residents that informed the Reuse Plan. The committee understood the value of a future mixed-use (meaning a combination of commercial and housing) neighborhood at Point Molate. The Reuse Plan, endorsed by the Blue Ribbon Advisory Committee, saw Point Molate as a living neighborhood, not an isolated place where the gate would be closed at sundown.  :

Closure of Point Molate offers the City a unique opportunity to take advantage of the exceptional location and historical attributes of this site … Point Molate will play an important role in enhancing the economic base of Richmond, enhancing Richmond’s regional presence, expanding open space and recreational opportunities and creating a new City neighborhood with a ix of uses. (Reuse Plan I-1)

Regarding residential use, the Reuse Plan stated:

Developers familiar with water-oriented residential development in the East and North Bay were contacted to provide an assessment of Point Molate’s potential reuse as a residential site. Overall, the interviewees agreed both the hillsides and the areas near the shoreline are attractive development sites for future residential use. Most developers felt that any residential pp0jets at Point Molate should include a mix of high-density multi-family ownership and rental units near the shore, as well as lower density single-family homes on the hillsides. (Reuse Plan III-19)

The vision of those little old ladies in tennis shoes included a shoreline park at Point Molate for all of Richmond to enjoy, but it also included a complete neighborhood with housing. Let’s make that happen.

Below is an example of the advocacy used by the Committee back in the 1970s before electronic social media – in this case “Tiny Tennis Shoes Book No. 2”

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