Tom Butt
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  Forgotten tales of Point Molate - The Wickland Oil Caper
May 5, 2022

Lost in the fog of the current political struggles over the future of Point Molate is an incident over two decades ago that could have changed its history forever.

In the mid-1990s, as Richmond was preparing for the eventual transfer of Point Molate from the Navy, Wickland Oil Company was making a play to establish an oil terminal on the Point San Pablo Peninsula using the Point Molate pier to pipe petroleum products to destinations up the Sacramento River. They pitched the idea as an environmentally attractive alternative to deepening the shipping channel to handle larger tankers delivering oil to refineries in Martinez and Benicia.

The $69 million project would have ended the need for super tankers to "lighter" a portion of their load to smaller tankers so they can navigate in shallower waters. The tankers typically lighten their loads just south of the Bay Bridge before heading up the 35-foot-deep Baldwin Ship Channel toward Martinez and Benicia. The pipeline was an alternative to making the channel deeper, and many government regulators preferred it. Deepening the channel would have cost two to three times more and made the Delta waters saltier. (
Wickland filed an application with the California Public Utilities Commission (Application (A) 96-05-005, May 1, 1996), requesting, among other things:
  • A single-berth, deep-water wharf located at Point Molate.  Included is a related dredging for ship access to the wharf. 
  • A crude oil terminal, located at either Point San Pablo or Point Orient, connected by pipeline to the new wharf facility. 
  • A new connecting pipeline from the new Richmond Terminal to the Richmond Marine Pipeline. 

Of course, any use of Point Molate as an oil terminal would require City Council approval, and to secure that approval, Wickland engaged then superstar lobbyist Darrell Reese and spent over $50,000 in the latter half of 1997 lobbying City of Richmond leaders. Although subsequent developments killed the project before it could come before the City Council, it could have gone either way.

"We truly believe it was the environmentally superior option," said Richmond planner Nancy Kaufman." It was definitely superior to dredging the channel because of the saltwater intrusion problems."

Eventually, the pipeline project died, not for lack of political support but for lack of customers.

But the pipeline isn't getting built.

Exxon, the Martinez Refining Co. and Tosco Corp. all rejected the pipeline proposal, forcing Wickland to abandon the project after spending nearly $6 million and leaving Burgett's Shore Terminals drifting.

"That's a shame," said Burgett, who along with his partners used to run the terminals for Wickland. "We were an integral part of it. We would be fine if it were built."

The pipeline project died quietly in February when Wickland notified the city of Richmond, the California Public Utilities Commission and other regulatory agencies that it had given up on the Richmond Marine-Link Pipeline Systems.

"It was not an easy decision to abandon it," said Roy Wickland, an owner of the family company. "It was sort of a one-of-a-kind project, and that's really why we spent so much time and money on it." (
The proposed Wickland pipeline was the motivation for its supporters to oppose housing at Point Molate as a part of the Reuse Plan, knowing that it would be seen as a use incompatible with an oil terminal. The housing debate eventually spilled over into the selection of a consultant to prepare the Reuse Plan. Information surfaced that seemed to indicate that at least one of the reasons that Darrell Reese was interested in Dan Peterson being selected as the Point Molate Reuse Plan consultant is that Mr. Peterson had agreed to a pre-determined outcome of the plan which would preclude a housing element, potentially benefiting Chevron and Wickland Oil Co.

Peterson later confirmed collaborating with Darrell Reese on at least two occasions in an effort to secure the contract:

  • “I then contacted Darrell Reese, who is involved with the City Council as a lobbyist, to express my concerns regarding the short RFP time schedule.”
  • “I discussed this concern with Darrell Reese and followed his suggestion by writing a complaint letter to the City manager.”

The elimination of the housing element was in the interest of Reese's circle of interrelated clients and political allies, which included Chevron, Wickland Oil Co., the Council of Industries, and the BMW (Black Men and Women). All of the above entities, along with Reese's Firefighters Local 188. PAC had been consistent major contributors to the city council members who supported Mr. Peterson's selection. One of those council members subsequently revealed to me that meetings were held at the Berkeley Marriott among several city council members and Darrell Reese to plan how to assure the selection of the team headed by Dan Peterson to prepare the Point Molate Reuse Plan. The same council member told me that he had discussed with and secured Dan Peterson's commitment for a plan that did not include a housing element.

One of the related outcomes of the Wickland proposal was the adoption in 1998 of a Lobbyist Ordinance by the Richmond City Council. The West County Times reported on February 1, 1998:

But Tom Butt, the Richmond councilman who persuaded his colleagues to adopt lobbying rules, said he believes such rules help strengthen democracy.

"The purpose of it is to create an informed electorate and an informed public. It's like campaign reporting it doesn't stop people from spending money. It just tells the public where the money is coming from, so they can see where power is located and who does what to whom."

For example, he said, the press was recently able to report that Wickland Oil Co. spent more than $50,000 during the last half of 1997 lobbying city leaders.

"We never had that kind of information before," he said. "What we had before was, Gee, I'm just a little mom-and-pop oil company doing business.' That's exactly the kind of thing it was meant to do, is inform the public about what's going on out there. If I need a conditional use permit, I can't afford to go out and spend $50,000 on lobbyists."
Now you know the rest of the story.