Deciding Point Molate’s Future

May 15, 2010

Update, May 21

On May 18, The Richmond City Council voted 4-2 in favor of extending the negotiations with Jim Levine of Upstream LLC, which is working with the Ukiah-based Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians on a proposal for a large casino at Point Molate, a large headland at the southern foot of the Richmond Bridge. The debate was over the Land Disposition Agreement, or LDA, which expired in January and has been extended on a monlthy basis since then. On Tuesday, casino critics had hoped to shift the discussion to include alternative visions for the site.

“There were more than 80 speakers, and the majority of them spoke to let the LDA expire and move on to a better plan,” says Carol Teltschick-Fall, a member of the city planning commission and a critic of Upstream’s plans. Another measure, advanced by Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, would have required the city to consider alternative development proposals. That measure failed. “Levine definitely won the night,” says Teltschick-Fall, “but he looked as worn down and beat up as everyone else.”

Posted May 15


On Tuesday, May 18, the Richmond City Council will vote once again on whether to extend an agreement with developer Upstream for a proposed casino at Point Molate, a former Navy fuel depot (and many other things) near the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge.

The council has held similar votes several times since the main agreement, called a Land Disposition Agreement (LDA) expired in January 2010.

This time, however, casino critics say the vote might fall their way, with swing votes coming against the casino. Or the council might pass a longer-term extension that would keep the proposal alive at least through July 20. Community groups are encouraging the public to attend the meeting, at 6:30 p.m. on May 18 at 440 Civic Center Plaza in Richmond.

But that’s just the latest twist in a struggle that’s been going on for years over a parcel that’s rich in Bay views, freeway access, human history, and rare native grassland and coastal prairie. (There’s a rare guided walk out there on May 16. Get the details.)

The city has been negotiating with developer Upstream Investments over various forms of a major casino developed by Upstream and the Ukiah-based Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians, which claims ancestral ties to the land. The plans include Bay Trail easements and other amenities, but some Richmond activists, architects, and native plant advocates are campaigning to stop the casino, which will by any account be a massive development project in a rare piece of Bayshore open space.

The site is also home to a number of dilapidated buildings, some historic, and various kinds of hazardous materials. So it will take money to make the place accessible in whatever form.

Seeking a form of development that they think better fits the remarkable site, local residents and activists with Citizens for a Sustainable Point Molate ( enlisted the help of a number of architects and planners who are developing an alternative vision for the site.

“This is a complex site and a long-term project,” says Carol Teltschick-Fall, a CFSPM member who has devoted herself to fighting the casino for more than five years. “Even if they build a casino out there, it’s going to take 10 years. So why not take the time to do it right?”

The chance to “do it right” is what inspired architect Brendon Levitt and three colleagues at KLMR Environmental Design. He thought they’d originally spend a couple of weekends making sketches, but ended up doing much more. “The site is so amazing–in Richmond, near the Bay, near the bridge, and in what really is a stunning landscape,” says Levitt. “As I went into it, there was so much there to respond to–the layers of history, both anthropological and ecological, it’s a site that keeps giving in terms of richness.”

Indeed, as Bay Nature first reported in a feature article in 2005, this area is remarkable for both human and natural history: In addition to its unusual native grasses and military history, Point Molate was the site of Winehaven, once billed as the world’s largest winery.

The giant Winehaven building is still a centerpiece of the property, and the hub of KLMR’s proposal to divide up the property into distinct areas that would see various phases of development, open space protection, and habitat restoration.

“One thing that was clear to us is that it’s really a world-class site, a site that could be one of the top 50 places in the world to visit,” says Levitt, who’s done work globally. “We’re very excited about the potential here and at the same time quite disturbed by the current proposal, not just because it’s a casino but also because of the lack of understanding the plan shows for the site.”

At the same time, Levitt grants that the site needs to provide jobs and economic benefit to Richmond, one of the key selling points for the casino. “This place definitely should give back to Richmond monetarily as well as recreationally and socially,” he says. “The key is to look at it over time.”

Teltschick-Fall, who now serves on the Richmond planning commission, is especially excited about the phased nature of KLMR’s plan. “Our sustainable plan is designed to be implemented in phases,” she says, “whichwill allow public access sooner than the casino plan would, sosustainable job development can also begin to develop sooner.”

Meanwhile, city officials could decide on Tuesday the fate of the Upstream proposal, though ultimately it remains for the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs to make a determination about the Guidiville Band’s claim to the land here.

The city council will also consider another measure to clarify whether the city should, or perhaps even must, consider alternative proposals. (The state attorney general’s office recently weighed in on this on the side of considering alternatives.) That would likely include the proposal from KLMR and the Citizens for a Sustainable Point Molate, though their proposal will need financial backing to be further developed.

Stay tuned for a follow-up article with information on this and more.

About the Author

Dan was editor of Bay Nature from 2004 until 2013, when he left to work for SF-based Stamen Design. He is now executive director of GreenInfo Network, a nonprofit mapmaking organization. A onetime professional cabinetmaker, he considers himself a lifelong maker of things and teller of stories. Dan has been working at the intersection of journalism and technology since, at age 16, he began learning reporting, page layout, and database design. His enduring interest in environmental issues crystallized into a career path in 1998 when he assisted former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass in a cross-disciplinary nature writing and ecology course at UC Berkeley, from which Dan received a Masters in English literature. In 1999, he became Associate Editor of Terrain, the erstwhile quarterly magazine of Berkeley's Ecology Center. In addition to editing and art-directing Bay Nature magazine, he was also Bay Nature’s chief technology strategist, fixer of broken things, and designer of databases and fancy spreadsheets. And he was even known to leave the office and actually hike outdoors.

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