Bay Nature magazineSummer 2019

Policy

A New Chapter in the Fight for Point Molate

June 23, 2019

Last March, Richmond officials announced that they’d chosen SunCal to develop a housing and renovation project on Point Molate, a small headland just north of the Richmond Bridge. The project has vocal opponents who, among other concerns, worry over the fate of important eelgrass beds just off shore. 

Opponents of the project maintain that the waterfront apartments will be for luxury buyers and won’t help Richmond with its housing crunch—an oft-cited rationale for developing Point Molate. New housing should be sited near public transportation, argues David Helvarg, co-chair of the Point Molate Alliance. “You’re making major investment where housing doesn’t make sense.” 

Helvarg’s group wants the city to create a public park and restore the point’s historic Winehaven, once the largest winery in the country, into a commercial and recreational center. 

There’s also concern about the 50 acres of eelgrass beds just offshore of the headland, among the most pristine in the Bay and a source of grass for other restoration projects. Katharyn Boyer, a marine biologist at San Francisco State University, fears that development of Point Molate will cause silt and other runoff to smother the beds.

Richmond mayor Tom Butt disagrees on all points. The type of housing at Point Molate won’t necessarily be all luxury, he says, but will also include affordable units. Citing a prior environmental impact report, he notes that once sewer and stormwater treatment facilities are in place, water coming off Point Molate will be “clearer than what’s going into the Bay now.” He also points to over 1,000 mixed-income units planned or in development near BART and elsewhere in Richmond. The city needs housing at all income levels, he says. No matter what happens at Point Molate, someone needs to build basic infrastructure there, and the developer will pass those costs on to whomever buys Point Molate housing. This will pay for amenities, he says, that will benefit the public, including renovation of historic Winehaven and the creation of a public waterfront park. “There’s no way to pay for that unless you put in the housing,” he says.

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