Controversial Point Molate housing project to move forward with city council approval Plans for the Richmond peninsula site have long been debated
The main building and former Naval officers’ homes, foreground, are seen from this drone view at Winehaven in Richmond, Calif., on Monday, Aug. 14, 2018. Winehaven was the world’s largest winery from 1907-1919, and then became a fuel depot for the U.S. Navy. The city will be selling the Point Molate property to developers. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group)
By Annie Sciacca | firstname.lastname@example.org | Bay Area News Group
PUBLISHED: September 9, 2020 at 1:02 a.m. | UPDATED: September 9, 2020 at 11:23 a.m.
RICHMOND — Controversial plans to build housing on the Point Molate peninsula will move forward after the City Council on Tuesday approved various entitlements for the project and a deal with the project’s developer.
The development will change a large portion of Richmond’s bayfront, injecting about 1,450 housing units and more than 400,000 square-feet of commercial space into the area on the site of the former military base, and furthering decades-old controversy between those who see the future project as a beacon for new jobs, needed housing and economic vitality and others who see it as an environmental destroyer.
“Without a project that will create the infrastructure for these spaces, it’s never going to happen,” Mayor Tom Butt said of his support of the project. “I don’t want to see Point Molate fenced off for another 10 years. I want to see a project that has something for everyone. … I want to see a neighborhood at Point Molate.”
After hearing from dozens of residents who urged the Council to reject the developer’s proposal, the Council approved the disposition and development agreement with Winehaven Legacy, LLC — a subsidiary of development firm SunCal — in a 4-2 vote, as well as various entitlements for the plan and the final environmental impact report, allowing the long-debated project to go forward.
In addition to the housing and commercial real estate development, about 70 percent of the Point Molate site — 193 acres — will be reserved for public parks and open space under the plan. A new fire and police station is slated to go in, and on the north end of the site, the plan is to rehab the large buildings and about 30 existing cottages — potentially into a “live-work village” — as the Winehaven Historical District.
With councilmember Jael Myrick absent, councilmembers Ben Choi, Demnlus Johnson and Vice Mayor Nat Bates joined the mayor in favor of approving the proposal and accompanying entitlements. Councilmembers Eduardo Martinez and Melvin Willis voted against it after an initial motion by them to postpone the decision was rejected by the rest of the council.
Martinez expressed concern over the finances of the plan, worrying that with the expansion, Richmond would be among cities that “have expanded more than their capabilities.”
Residents and activists challenging the development have also questioned the financial implications of the plan, doubting that the developers would be able to sell all the homes at a high enough cost for the property tax revenue to cover the true costs of maintaining the infrastructure and staffing a fire department or other services.
During Tuesday’s meeting, city’s consultants pushed back on that, noting that by their estimates, the city would get revenue from the project even if property values take a hit. The developer is buying the site for $45 million, which — under the terms of a court-approved settlement — the city is required to split with other developers who sued the city after the council rejected their plans to build a casino on Point Molate.
The master developer is also obligated to pay $25,000 per unit for each housing unit that’s built beyond 1,260 units. The city’s consultants estimate the project would gain the city about $29 million in one-time fees and sales costs, plus an annual $6.8 million after new city expenses are paid for.
Even if it does pencil out, some opponents of the plan said they do not want to create a community only for the wealthy on land they believe should be entirely for the public.
Willis on Tuesday commented on the lack of affordable housing in the plans, noting that the development agreement requires the developer to provide only 67 units of affordable housing out of the more than 1,400 suggested as part of the plan. While city law requires some additional affordable housing based on the actual number of units and affordability levels provided, the developer can meet those by paying in lieu fees instead of actually building affordable units.
“I’m concerned that we’re unintentionally creating a gated community if we don’t have enough affordability,” Willis said.
Opponents of the plan also expressed their concerns about the environmental implications of the project, urging the city to do a more thorough analysis of the environmental impact report.
Pam Young, of the Golden Gate Audobon Society, told the council during the public comment period that Point Molate supports over 200 bird species and “provides cost-free protection against sea level rise.”
Plus, others said, the area could be tricky to escape in case of a disaster like a fire, with cars potentially packed onto Stenmark Drive.
A letter from East Bay Regional Parks District Manager Robert Doyle echoed that concern, saying that “It is our opinion that the design of Suncal’s development areas between the Shoreline and the slope of Ridgeline poses an extreme fire danger which cannot be mitigated by having a fire station nearby.”
Doyle also rejected the city’s previous request that the park district potentially manage the hillside open space, saying that because of the risks posed by the homes, it would not take on that obligation.
Community residents and activists opposed to the plan as part of the Point Molate Alliance have encouraged an alternative: building some commercial space, including a hotel, to promote jobs while moving housing to downtown and keeping most of Point Molate open as accessible land.
Resident Courtney Cummings pointed out that there are still human remains on the site — the former burial sites of people indigenous to the area — and that turning the area into housing will “desecrate” that.
“It’s amazing how much time and effort we’re putting into buildings that were after colonialism, yet we’re forgetting the original people of this land,” Cummings said in response to the developer’s proposal to restore the historic buildings on the site. “People do want free access to this land. I don’t see that happening.”
Mayor Butt and Vice Mayor Bates pushed back, noting that the plan would ensure about 70 percent of the site is reserved for open space.
Bates noted that under the terms of redeveloping many of the area’s former military bases and sites, there was an understanding that cities would ensure “economic development and job creation” for the areas.
“Those resources could really be used to help Black and Brown communities in Richmond,” councilmember Johnson said of potential revenue from the development’s property taxes.
A completed project is still years away. The transfer of the property to the developer will happen in May 2022, at the latest. And construction will happen in two phases, with the police and fire station, master infrastructure for the neighborhood of restored historic buildings and the required affordable housing required to be built in the first phase, and the rest of the housing and other construction to follow in the second phase.