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  From the East Bay Times - New Life for Point Molate
April 1, 2023

April 1, 2023BREAKING NEWS - City Council Executes About Face on Point Molate

City Council executes about face on Point Molate

By Katie Lauer, award-winning reporter

In a stunning reversal of policy going back decades that has ignited bitter fights and unending litigation, the RPA-controlled Richmond City Council reached a far-reaching accommodation in closed session on March 28 with litigants Upstream Point Molate LLC, Point Molate Futures LLC, the latter representing Guidiville Rancheria of California (the Tribe), and SunCal. The details came out yesterday in a hastily convened press conference attended by all councilmembers in the Mayor’s Office at City Hall.

In summary, the new settlement provides that Upstream and the Tribe will now be able to operate a future casino at Point Molate, but only under extremely rigid conditions. To begin with, the casino and related businesses must be operated as a cooperative, on the model of multiple cooperatives in Mondragon, Spain. All employees will share in ownership, profit and management. All employees must also be Richmond residents or members of the Guidiville Tribe, and neither Richmond residents nor Guidiville tribal members will be allowed in the gaming areas unless they are working there.

RPA stalwart Marilyn Langlois was tapped by Vice-mayor Gayle McLaughlin to design and manage the cooperative model. Langlois will work closely with Cooperation Richmond, a nonprofit founded by Councilmember Doria Robinson, which has been suspended by the Secretary of State since 2019. “I will work with Doria to get her organization back in good standing,” said Marilyn. “Having a City Council member embedded as part of the Point Molate casino operation will be invaluable.”

Asked about her previous objections to gambling, Vice-mayor McLaughlin explained, “We clearly don’t want to exploit Richmond residents by enabling gambling addictions, but we don’t mind taking money from outsiders for a good cause. They have exploited Richmond for years; it’s now time to turn the tables, so to speak.”

Figure 1 - Vice-mayor Gayle McLaughlin reluctantly backs the casino plan

“All the food served at casino restaurants must be locally sourced and healthy,” added Councilmember Claudia Jimenez, “and all fruits and vegetables will be provided by our local nonprofit, Urban Tilth.” Jimenez continued, “There will be no smoking at the casino, except of course, cannabis. We have to support our local growers and vendors. The initial contract for cannabis sales will go to Seven Stars, with more to follow.”

Figure 2 - Claudia Jimenez talks up a healthy lifestyle at Point Molate

Figure 3 - Doria Robinson's Urban Tilth will provide fresh produce to Point Molate casino restaurants

Councilmember Cesar Zepeda added a condition that RYSE will provide all casino and restaurant job training for Richmond residents and tribal members. “RYSE has good connections with the community,” said Zepeda, “and RYSE, working with SOS, will concentrate on employing our unhoused population.” “From RV to entrepreneur, that will be our slogan.” Asked about using Richmond’s award-winning employment and training program, Zepeda acknowledged its success but explained, “We had to throw a bone to John Gioia to get his support. That’s what led us to RYSE.”

Figure 4 - Cesar Zepeda talks up job training and local hiring at Point Molate

The new casino will honor local history, with a play on words, and be called “WINhaven.” “Get Rich in Richmond, will be the strapline,” said Jim Levine, “…reaching out to underserved gamblers Bay Area wide and putting Richmond in a whole different light.”

Figure 5 - Robert Cheasty gives Jim Levine the evil eye before they found common cause.

The genius behind this innovative development is City Attorney Dave Aleshire, who has a unique gift of crafting creative solutions to settle seemingly intractable litigation. “We expect some pushback,” explained Aleshire, “ but the 62 lawyers in my firm stand ready to defend any cost.”

Aleshire & Wynder, LLP - Attorneys at Law
Figure 6 - City Attorney Dave Aleshire pledges his firm's resources to defend the new Point Molate plan

Even SunCal will get a piece of the action in return for backing off their lawsuit against the City. “The employees of WINhaven will need housing,” offered Councilmember Melvin Willis, “and if we can provide it at Point Molate, it will avoid commutes and cut down of GHG and VMT, a win-win for everyone.”

“We have been adamantly against housing in the past,” continued Willis, “but that’s because it was for rich people. We have contracted with SunCal to build 1,000 units of employee housing at Point Molate, and profits from the casino will be used to subsidize it and make it profitable for SunCal. It will be different -- luxury housing at affordable prices.”

Figure 7 - Melvin Willis champions affordable housing at Point Molate

“But, what about Chevron just over the hill,” asked Jeanne Kortz? “We know that’s a huge risk.” “I’ve got that covered,” responded Mayor Eduardo Martinez. “When I took office in January, I told Chevron, “There’s a new mayor in town, and there’s not room enough for both of us in Richmond; it’s time for Chevron to go.”

“We are not intimidated by the mayor,” spoke up Chevron’s Linsi Crain, “but I can tell you that Chevron was already transitioning away from fossil fuels before Martinez was even elected. We are now committed to the new hydrogen economy – that’s the future. Hydrogen doesn’t have to be extracted from the earth like gas and oil. It’s everywhere – in the air we breathe and the water we drink. The byproduct of using hydrogen in a fuel cell, or even combusting it, is simply water.”

“In fact,” continued Crain, “Chevron New Energies and Crowley, a U.S.-based shipping and logistics company, recently invested in Zero Emission Industries to help grow the zero-emission marine hydrogen market in the Bay Area and beyond. Sea Change, a new zero-emission vessel slated to be the world’s first commercial ferry powered by hydrogen fuel cell technology, recently arrived in San Francisco and will begin taking passengers and serving Richmond in late spring.”

Figure 8 – “There is a new mayor in town.”

Figure 9 - Linsi Crain not intimidated by the mayor

Pam Stello brought up the often-cited issue of emergency evacuation – one way in – one way out. “We’ve got that covered too,” spoke up Port Marketing and Operations Manager Lucy Zhou. “Congressman Garamendi recently pushed a bill through Congress that enabled the City of Richmond to purchase for just $1.00 a superyacht seized from a Russian oligarch. It will be moored permanently at the Point Molate pier, ready to depart in an instant with hundreds of refugees in case of an emergency. Between emergency evacuations, we can charge a fee for visitors and make a little money for our struggling port.”

“Chevron will pay for the fuel,” interjected Linsi. “We will have a lot of surplus diesel left over due to our transition to hydrogen.”

Figure 10 - Evacuation vessel moving to Point Molate pier

Figure 11 - Supervisor Gioia thanks Congressman Garamendi for funding the evacuation vessel

Norman La Force, representing the Sierra Club, was concerned about the flora and fauna. “What about the lizards and ospreys?” he pleaded. Supervisor John Gioia took the question. “Back when we were fighting against Tom Butt’s plan, invoking Nature rallied a lot of support, but we don’t need that now. The birds and beasts will be just fine. Lizards are well adapted to urban life -- I can tell you from personal experience. I have several extremely happy lizards on my back patio at Marina Bay, and they are doing just fine. As for ospreys, they are neither rare nor endangered; they are essentially the pigeons of the raptor family. They will build a nest anywhere – even on an old Whirley crane.”

Looking decidedly glum, La Force and his sidekick Robert Cheasty expressed their disappointment about their beloved Sierra Club not participating in the Point Molate largesse. “Last time a casino was proposed, explained Norman, “we shook Upstream down for $30 million, but of course that went away. We aren’t getting a dime from this new proposal.”

“I just hope they don’t let people, and especially dogs, use the park,” urged La Force. “ A true park is intended to be seen but not touched.”

Figure 12 - Rosie returns to the Whirley crane in 2023

Bruce Beyaert raised the question about the $36 million Senator Nancy Skinner put in the state budget for Point Molate. “I can answer that,” responded East Bay Regional Parks District (EBRPD) Director Elizabeth Echols. “The $36 million will be split evenly, $18 million to purchase 193 acres from the City for a park and $18 million to build park infrastructure and facilities.”

Beyaert continued, “The 193 acres was offered to the EBRPD previously at no cost and turned down. What has changed?”

“Well, that was then and now is now,” responded Echols. “The previous offer was when Tom Butt was mayor. It’s common knowledge he was owned by Chevron, and that made us suspicious. Mayor Martinez, however, answers only to the RPA, the true voice of the people. We trust him implicitly.”

Figure 13 - Elizabeth Echols

“Besides that,” chimed in Councilmember Cesar Zepeda,” the City desperately needs that $18 million to fund exciting new programs for us to better serve the people. For example, we are going to increase the compensation of City Council members. We work incredibly hard and take a lot of abuse – like from Mark Wassberg, who is here with us today. City Council members should not have to work two or more jobs to make ends meet, so we are going to increase compensation from the measly $20,288 paid today to a truly livable wage of $100,000. Here’s how we came arrived at that number: The average cost of renting in in Richmond is $30,000 a year. HUD says that a home should cost no more than 30 percent of income, so total income of councilmembers should be at least $100,000. The mayor should be paid more, so we will increase the mayor’s compensation to $200,000, closer to that of Oakland.”

“But that’s’ not all,” added Councilmember Jimenez, “We need a staff member for each councilmember, just like Berkeley. ”That will cost an additional $600,000. And, we should be setting an example of sustainability for the people of Richmond, so each councilmember will receive a zero emissions vehicle of his or her choice. That will cost another $350,000.”

“I get a free car from the State, in my case a hydrogen powered Toyota Mirai” added Supervisor Gioia. “City Council members should have the same perk.”

“With the new compensation plan and other City Council needs,” Zepeda concluded, “we will go through that $18 million quickly.” Whatever is left over will be used to fund the millions of dollars spent on Point Molate-related litigation, including the several hundred thousand dollars we had to spend suing former Mayor Butt.”

With that, Mark Wassberg, former candidate for mayor, exploded, leaping out of his chair and going on an obscenity-laced rant about feeding at the public trough that concluded with his being dragged from the room by several police officers. “Thank goodness we didn’t totally defund the police,” whispered Gayle McLaughlin.

Figure 14 - Mark Wassberg

“A critical piece of this plan that hasn’t yet been discussed,” pointed out Michael Derry representing the Guidiville Tribe, “ is that the Tribe taking the land into trust will eliminate any potential CEQA challenges as well as any regulation by the City of Richmond. As a sovereign nation, Guidiville is exempt from CEQA. No one can challenge this, like the enviros did to the previous SunCal plan.”

Figure 15 - Michael Derry and Jim Levine pour over the Point Molate plan

New Councilmember Soheila Bana, who had remained pensive until now, spoke up. “What about preserving the historic buildings of Winehaven? I haven’t heard that part of the plan yet.”

The mayors’ Chief of Staff and RPA Communications Chair Shiva Mishek responded, “Preserving Winehaven is not an RPA priority. The place has a sordid history. It was built by a monopoly founded by greedy and evil bankers who exploited workers. Then it became a military installation. Why would we want to celebrate a history like that? Preserving Winehaven was a dream of Tom Butt, who like Winehaven, is now history. Winehaven is not special, it is, like Tom Butt, just old. The sooner it falls down, the better.”

Figure 16 - Soheila Bana was concerned about Winehaven

Figure 17 - Collapsing roof at a Winehaven cottage

Just as the press conference was concluding, Senator Nancy Skinner swept into room, triggering a standing ovation. “Nancy, how can we ever thank you for saving Point Molate?” gushed Gayle McLaughlin. Skinner bantered in return, “I’ll be termed out next year and unemployed. I have my eye on one of those luxury homes at affordable prices. I think I will qualify.”

Figure 18 - Senator Skinner, considering a move to Point Molate