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Comment Archives: stories: News & Opinion: Feature

Re: “The Clock is Ticking at Point Molate

When you consider the accidents that are possible with those refineries and other facilities so near, who would want to live there knowing that? The developers would have to deceive prospective buyers.

Posted by Ellen McCarthy on 11/18/2019 at 6:38 PM

Re: “The Clock is Ticking at Point Molate

Besides the questions on fire safety, equity, and loss of habitat, we need an honest accounting of who benefits? Who profits? The City Council easily came up with an analysis that it would cost Richmond $5 million per year to provide city services to North Richmond, and that property taxes would not cover the cost. Although we were promised a year ago that the City would provide an economic analysis of a development at Point Molate, nothing has been done to date. This is another bad deal for Richmond, similar to the sale of the Ford building to Butt's friend Eddie Orton. And similar to the choice of Veolia to run our sewer district. I am tired of a bunch of good old buddies, slapping each other's backs, and doing each other favors.

Posted by dbayer49 on 11/18/2019 at 12:19 PM

Re: “The Clock is Ticking at Point Molate

Thank you for the excellent article. Point Molate is a treasure worth saving for all people in Richmond, the Bay Area , and beyond to enjoy. I have spoken with hundreds of people at community events in Richmond and have yet to meet anyone who thinks that using this land for housing is a good idea. People who live in this gritty over urbanized part of the world need more contact with nature - our health depends on it. It is documented that construction and housing will damage the eelgrass beds. We need the eelgrass to thrive - we need the crabs and the fish . We need sports fields, we need hiking trails, we need an Ohlone cultural center, we do not need another high end housing development, we need BREATHING ROOM.
Tarnel Abbott

Posted by Tarnel Abbott on 11/18/2019 at 10:26 AM

Re: “The Clock is Ticking at Point Molate

Tom Butt, like Donald Trump, believes if you repeat the same lies often enough people will accept them. Just one example - Butt asked the scientist who's been leading over a decade of peer-reviewed studies of Point Molate's eelgrass beds if this housing development would impact their health, telling her he thought it would improve them. When she told him it could damage or destroy the eelgrass beds he turned away and walked off. When I wrote about the threat to the eelgrass in Bay Nature he called it "Junk Science" and his son took to social media to call it "Fake News." Butt continues to ignore the science and claim the housing tract's water treatment will improve the eelgrass. That's why the Estuary and Ocean Science Center, the major marine science lab on SF Bay, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, the largest commercial fishing organization on the West Coast, and others have joined the Point Molate Alliance in opposing this bad deal for Richmond, the eelgrass and the health of SF Bay. As for SunCal, I've assembled a lovely drone tour for potential buyers they should feel free to use.

Posted by David Helvarg on 11/17/2019 at 8:41 PM

Re: “The Clock is Ticking at Point Molate

Ask UCSF scientist Kathy Boyer whether housing will be good for the eelgrass, since she has been studying the eel grass at Point Molate for years.
Tom Butt has opinions that support his politics, but that does not make them factual.

Posted by Carol Teltschick on 11/17/2019 at 5:41 PM

Re: “The Clock is Ticking at Point Molate

There were no JUDGMENTS. This is simply a propagandized talking point by certain sectors on City Council to get you to believe there were no options. That is FALSE. The judge simply stamped the SETTLEMENT - that Tom Butt negotiated - or should I say - shoved down the throats of his surreptitiously called sub-committee. When a settlement is reached, the judge, finding no legal discrepancy is required to then enter it as an 'order'. The courts have zero jurisdiction nor can they "Order" the no's of housing or any other land use specificity. And although the 'consultants' on the development of the 'public process' were challenged incessantly about falsely continuing to refer to a 'judgement' they did not. They know where their bread was buttered. Tom Butt, on his own without a consensus vote from City Council appointed a sub-committee to participate in the settlement process. He pulled in one person who only does Tom's bidding because he is scared to death of his job at MCE - where Tom sits on the board, and a young, naive councilor who had ZERO history of the property and a tangible bias about housing - to basically be a rubber stamp on providing a 5 car lane opening for his buddy Jim Levine to do whatever he wanted. The entire process was shameful.

If ANYONE in the City of Richmond should be ashamed and stand back from his biased 'OK WHITE BOOMER' standpoint - it is Tom Butt.

Posted by Pierson on 11/17/2019 at 5:05 PM

Re: “Why Do Oakland Police Dismiss So Many Rape Cases?

Bruce, thank you for writing. I'm not using innuendo at all; I have hard evidence in the form of data that demonstrate what I have reported.

I've included information from advocates who work with sexual assault survivors to explain what might make someone decide not to pursue a case. Similarly, I talked with lawyers from the D.A.'s office to find out what makes prosecutors decline to take a case. But the total number of cases cleared by exception because either a survivor no longer wanted to press charges or the prosecutor declined the case add up to less than half of the cases OPD closed by exception.

What happened in the other 50+% of cases? OPD hasn't explained in person, and in the data set, the reason listed is "Not applicable." What does "Not applicable" mean in this context? Were these cases quietly closed to reduce the detectives' workload? Were they closed by mistake? Things like that have happened in other big-city police departments. Is it happening here?

Posted by Mary Rees on 11/15/2019 at 2:13 PM

Re: “The Clock is Ticking at Point Molate

This article has a lot of missing, irrelevant and erroneous information:

"Mule deer and wild turkey roam the grasslands among live oak, coyote brush, wild mint, huge toyons, and other native plants." This is not a relevant fcat. Most of the East Bay has “Mule deer and wild turkey …live oak, coyote brush, wild mint, huge toyons, and other native plants,“ including my home in Richmond. This does not make Point Molate exceptional.

"The site's beauty, isolation, and million-dollar views isolation have led to the two competing visions for its future, either as preserved primarily for public access and parkland, or redeveloped into a residential community with waterfront homes." The fact is that the current plan for Point Molate is, in fact, “primarily public access and parkland,” in fact, 70 percent of it.

"Point Molate's adjacency to the Chevron Corporation's refinery and tank farm, which experienced major explosions and fires in 1989, 1999, and 2012, and continues to be plagued by flaring and emissions, is further complicated by the site's lack of access and egress. Stenmark Drive, directly next to the bridge tollbooths, is often heavily congested, creating possible nightmare scenarios for potential residents in the case of a wildfire or refinery accident." Stenmark Drive is, in fact, not “heavily congested.” It has almost no traffic at all. According to Caltrans (…) , the capacity of a two-lane road is 1,000 to 2,400 vehicles per lane per hour (or 2,800 to 4,800 vehicles for the street (Stenmark Drive), more than enough to handle even the highest estimate of potential Point Molate development. It is true that there is congestion at the toll booth, westbound, in the morning commute hours, but there is never congestion eastbound. If anyone had to leave Point Molate in a hurry, why would they head for the bridge when I-580 eastbound has clear sailing? Furthermore, RM3 has $75 million committed to multiple measures to reduce or eliminate the westbound congestion – it is not a permanent state of affairs.

"But members of the Save Point Molate Alliance have major objections to SunCal's proposal. "Point Molate should be a model of what we should see in the future, not a throwback to the 1970s," Alliance cofounder Pam Stello said. An alternate "Community Plan" put forward in 2018 by the alliance calls for restoration of Winehaven and its village, including a hotel and conference center, restaurants, an education facility, and "other business and job generators." It also calls for a park, playing fields and other recreational opportunities, the public beach to be fully restored, and preservation of the area's natural habitat including its offshore eelgrass beds." The Point Molate Alliance has never provided a plan for financing their dream project. They just assume it will magically happen because they want it.

"The Alliance maintains that community meetings and surveys have repeatedly revealed that the majority of Richmond residents do not want a major housing development at Point Molate, and that safety, concerns about infrastructure costs, and potential ecological damage to the site are being ignored." This is not true. There is no credible survey that verifies this claim.

"The dispute over the proposed development is also fascinating for the ways that in has jumbled traditional Richmond political alliances. The progressive and environmental opponents of housing at Point Molate find themselves in uneasy tacit agreement with Chevron, which made an $80 million offer for the property in 2004 that was rejected by the city." The $80 million offer was rejected because Chevron refused to commit to a future use of the property.

"Years passed, the council's makeup changed, and the new councilmembers rejected the project's environmental impact report." This is not true. The City Council certified the EIR but rejected the casino plan.

"By 2016, Levine was back, touting a new plan that included 400 units of senior housing, 1,100 residential units, a 150-room hotel with an additional 29 hotel cottages, a 5,000-square-foot ferry terminal, and 100,000 square feet of office space. "Advocates for open space and small-scale development at Point Molate have grown furious because city officials have been holding closed-door discussions with Jim Levine about his proposed large-scale multiuse project at the site," an article in Oakland magazine stated. "City officials claim that discussions are preliminary, but according to Planning Department emails, Levine has paid the city $24,520 for a biological resource survey and traffic studies at the site." This is not true. Levine paid the cost of the EIOR, which included a biological resource study, but the study was contracted by the city. Developers normally pay the entire cost of EIRs. The discussions between the City Council and Levine were the subject of closed sessions, which are allowed by the Brown Act as litigation actions.

"The new plan also went nowhere. And on April 12, 2018, U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers ruled that no casino would be built and that the city did not have to pay damages to Levine's company, Upstream Point Molate."
The author skipped a major development here. The City prevailed in Federal District Court, but Upstream and the Tribe appealed to the Ninth Circuit, which remanded the case back to the District Court, finding a plausible claim that Mayor McLaughlin had inappropriately tried to influence public policy and “breached the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.”

The Court wrote, "We therefore conclude that the TAC states a plausible claim that, by preventing the occurrence of the condition precedent and relying partially on the non-occurrence to deny the casino project and avoid carrying out the purpose of the LDA, the City breached the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing when it promulgated Resolution 23-11 and discontinued consideration of a casino use for Point Molate. (…)."

This is particularly important because the band of 20-somethig opponents of Point Molate development are largely the remnants of the Richmond Progressive Alliance, founded and led by no other than Gayle McLaughlin. It was the their leader who essentially lost control of Point Molate by the City.

But in August 2018, four private citizens; the group Citizens for East Shore Parks; and a coalition known as the Sustainability, Parks, Recycling and Wildlife Legal Defense Fund (SPRAWLDEF) filed a new lawsuit contending that a deal cut between the city, Upstream Point Molate, and the Guidiville Rancheria violated the Brown Act, the state's open meeting law. The suit alleged that discussions about the settlement agreement, calling for a minimum of 670 housing units to be built on the site, should have been made in open session since they involved non-government parties and resolved a land-use decision."This happened only after the City and Upstream/Tribe attended a mandatory settlement conference in Federal Court and settled the lawsuit.

"Bates and Butt vehemently disagree. "The law permits execution of contracts behind closed doors," Bates said." Not only did Bates and Butt disagree, the City Council majority, the city attorney, the city manager and outside counsel disagreed.

"Attempting to move forward to meet the original settlement's 2020 deadline, on April 23, 2019, the city council voted to sell the Point Molate acreage to Winehaven LLC, a subsidiary of Irvine-based SunCal, for $45 million, while negotiating specifics during the following six months." This is not accurate The sales price is fluid depending on the scope of development.

"SunCal submitted a proposal in September 2018 that mostly depicted projects elsewhere. Local real estate agent and member of the Save Point Molate Alliance Toni Hanna called the proposed housing an anachronism. "With their proposal as described, SunCal seems to be applying a suburban Southern California subdivision template to the urban Bay Area, which is a very different market," Hanna said. She noted that a 3,000-4,000 square-foot lot is "a massive size for a townhome," and would sell for starting prices in "the low $1 millions." SunCal did not propose a specific design, instead following the highly conceptual layout of the 1997 Reuse Plan. The type and quantity of housing has not been determined at this time. The opponents continue to bandy the phrase “high-end housing” as a pejorative to bolster their message. There will be a substantial number of affordable units on-site and perhaps additional units off-site.

"People might have been looking for this in the '70s and '80s, but now they want homes that have high walk scores, are near urban amenities and good schools," she said. Hanna said a similar development in Point Richmond, Waterline, was not selling. "Too much house for that location, which will probably be under water in a decade or so," Hanna said. "They've been trying to sell those for at least three years and have been slashing the prices." This is not accurate.Take a look at Waterline; many homes are sold and occupied.

"But project critics regards those concessions as insufficient. Hanna called the parcel "a totally inappropriate site for housing" due to the hazards posed by Chevron and other nearby industrial uses. Alliance cofounder Helvarg referred to the proposal as "subsidizing people to live in harm's way." Meanwhile, Councilmember Martinez said, "Putting a large community at Point Molate exponentially increases the chances for a major disaster." The neighborhoods of Point Richmond, the Iron Triangle and others downwind from and more proximate to Chevron are more at risk than Point Molate, which is both upwind from Chevron and separated by a 400-foot high ridge. In the nearly 120 years Chevron has been in Richmond, there is no record of an incident that affected people living or working on the San Pablo Penninsula including Point Molate. Point Molate is also one of safest areas in the Bay Area when it comes to seismic events.

"Comparisons to what happened to Paradise residents during the 2018 Camp Fire are inevitable. Trapped and unable to get out on a congested, fire-engulfed road, more than 80 people died and the town was destroyed. Point Molate's Stenmark Drive, which ends in a cul-de-sac at the San Pablo Harbor, remains the only way in and out of the area. What might be described as red-flag warnings went up on Oct. 26, 2019, when eight fires sprang up in 18 hours in Contra Costa County. Martinez, along with many others, believes planning needs to take into account this new climate normal." Point Molate is no Paradise. All the areas proposed for development are largely free of flammable trees and are bounded on one side by San Francisco Bay. When the red flag warnings went up, there were none at Pont Molate , and it has not been subject to a PSPS. Point Molate is not isolated. It is located on a 4-mile long road that has many areas of refuge.

"Facing all these issues, could homes built on Point Molate even obtain insurance? Butt said, "If they can't get insurance, they can't build them — but that's never happened." Hanna, however, provided a letter written to Richmond's Director of Planning and Building Services, Lina Velsco, by Sarmad Naqvi, a personal insurance consultant, calling the area "almost uninsurable," and noting that the Paradise fire cost the industry $12 billion." There is no credible evidence that home at Point Molate will be uninsurable. This is pure speculation. Other buildings and houseboats on the San pablo Peninsula are insured.

"Its shoreline hosts 180 acres of eelgrass, one of the last thriving habitats on the San Francisco Bay, and vital to the health of the whole bay. Helvarg called the eelgrass beds a "natural nursery," home to Dungeness crab, sea hares, and leopard sharks, among many other species. Eelgrass blades slow the motion of the tides, allowing sediment to settle and combating sea level rise, while their photosynthesis ability sucks in carbon. On Nov. 5, the same day as the city council meeting, a report compiled by more than 11,000 global researchers stated: "Climate change mitigation efforts should focus on protecting and restoring ecosystems such as forests, coral reefs, savannas and wetlands, which naturally absorb and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere." The most recent EIR, stated: with “the implementation of the full suite of habitat restoration, on-site biological mitigation, and improvements to the aged stormwater system currently in place, the quality of water discharged to the Bay is expected to significantly increase.” Eelgrass will actually benefit from development.

"During the Richmond council's Nov. 5 meeting, approximately 20 speakers asked that body to reconsider the current plan. Comments included questions about the community-input process, which some described as being slanted by the city toward housing." Twenty speakers in a population of 110,000 and some 40,000 registered voters is not a compelling representation of public opinion.

"Butt made a statement touting his development knowledge and role in restoring multiple Richmond properties, including the Craneway Pavilion, the Richmond Plunge swimming pool, and the Hotel Mac. While true, this aroused the suspicions of some opposition members that the mayor, an architect, contractor, and former real estate broker, wants the potentially lucrative contract to restore Winehaven." Are you kidding me? I cannot participate in a city project, and I have not since before I was elected in 1995. I can’t believe you actually wrote this.

"Butt also referred to the anti-agreement attendees as "a bunch of old white folks," and claimed to have seen "no people of color" speaking, apparently forgetting that local Native American leader Courtney Cummings had spoken about the misuse of Ohlone sacred sites." I think I said “few people of color,” including no African Americans. Of course I saw Courtney and one or two Latinos.

Posted by Tom Butt on 11/14/2019 at 4:53 PM

Re: “The Clock is Ticking at Point Molate

Eric, thank you!!!! This article doesn't even mention the federal judge's orders. Richmond either uses it or loses it. If the author "researched this thoroughly" why isn't that mentioned??????

Posted by Sandra Davenport on 11/14/2019 at 1:56 PM

Re: “The Clock is Ticking at Point Molate

Where is the info on the federal judge ordering Richmond to build at least 670 units as part of the lawsuit settlement?

Posted by Eric Doziér on 11/14/2019 at 6:39 AM

Re: “The Clock is Ticking at Point Molate

Tom Butt is no advocate of the Bay or the less fortunate - Sick and tired of selfish bureaucrats who are more than happy to toss the future health of our planet under the bus for immediate monetary gain - who gives them right?

Posted by JMHSRV on 11/13/2019 at 9:33 PM

Re: “The Clock is Ticking at Point Molate

I'd like to correct one of my quotes in this very thorough and well-researched article. I mentioned a new waterfront development in Pt. Richmond that I implied wasn't selling well. My information came mostly from agent hearsay and I hadn't done a recent market analysis on that development prior to speaking with the reporter. I've since heard from a homeowner there who says their property has increased in price by $400K over the past year and the project is filling up, which is great news for that community. I stand corrected and want to apologize to the homeowners and the developer of Waterline since I seem to have mischaracterized the situation over there. On the other hand, I've had many years to consider all the angles at Pt. Molate, starting with several years sitting on the City of Richmond's Point Molate Citizens Advisory Committee. I stand by my professional opinion that the combination of hazards, climate change exigencies, inaccessible location/lack of amenities and costs for infrastructure (and the opportunity cost of not concentrating development where it's really needed) make Pt. Molate an unsuitable location for housing. The real benefit to the city would be to develop and preserve the land as a community resource as so many Richmond residents have said they want.

Posted by Toni Hanna on 11/13/2019 at 8:41 PM

Re: “The Clock is Ticking at Point Molate

Building 2000 luxury townhomes at Point Molate will ultimately be infeasible due to the exorbitant cost of infrastructure and the likely exorbitant cost of homeowners insurance at this location with such limited access in case of wild fire, earthquake or refinery explosion.
And even if such a project were built, it would likely be a net drain on the city's budget, with any property and sales tax revenue overshadowed by both partial infrastructure costs the developer will try to foist upon the city, as well as the ongoing high cost of providing police and fire services to residents in this remote location with limited accessibility.
The Community Plan is the way to go, and bring Ohlone people whose ancestors actually lived on this land into the conversation and decision making!

Posted by Marilyn Langlois1 on 11/13/2019 at 2:16 PM

Re: “The Clock is Ticking at Point Molate

Jeannette and Charles, excellent astute comments on an excellent astute article--Thank you so much!

Posted by Dorothy Gilbert on 11/13/2019 at 1:08 PM

Re: “The Clock is Ticking at Point Molate

Excellent article!

Besides the "old white people" who spoke to the council (btw, five people spoke at the 3:00 council meeting before closed session), there were at least a dozen people holding signs stating "save our Point Molate", and "keep public land in public hands", etc.

There are youth groups of color who are against this plan, They could not make it to the council meeting to speak out. Tom Butt has to stop being a bully. After all, he is an old white person himself, and he is bringing old white men from outside of Richmond to profit off of our public land.

Nat Bates should learn more about sustainable jobs. Construction jobs are not sustainable, and most of those jobs go to people living outside of Richmond. We need a plan for Point Molate that incorporates sustainable jobs for people that live in Richmond. By stating that the" speakers were not from Richmond, didn't care about Richmond, and didn't pay taxes in Richmond", was a low blow which started the "riot" as Tom Butt called it. The Base Realignment and Closure Act of 1990 didn't include housing as economic development.

Posted by Jeannette Kortz 1 on 11/13/2019 at 10:20 AM

Re: “The Clock is Ticking at Point Molate

Richmond has always been corrupt. This article is another example of politicians pushing through a housing deal that harms both the community and the environment.
The people fighting this abomination need everyone on board to fight these political opportunists who continue to lie and obfuscate regardless of horrible consequences to the environment and danger people living that Point Molate would face should there be an earthquake and/or explosions at Chevron.

Posted by Charles T. Smith on 11/13/2019 at 8:01 AM

Re: “What Color Is Fire?

Jerry- are you insinuating that all of the minorities that apply to the Alameda
Fire department have bad characters and are ignorant? You area stuck in the past with the good ol' boys!

Posted by Lilongas on 11/11/2019 at 8:00 AM

Re: “What Color Is Fire?

Look, I'm sure there are diversity problems in the fire department just like almost any department. I'm a woman, I'm asian, and no this isn't news. But for you to put a spotlight on this issue (esp about a postcard from February?) in the VERY WAKE of another massive California fire where people are absolutely depending on these people to save their lives and homes, actually made me pretty sick to my stomach. Really poor timing. Not even conclusive or solutions-oriented. Didn't even interview any of the minority firemen about their thoughts. I was honestly really surprised to find this on your front page.

Posted by Nomura on 11/08/2019 at 11:59 AM

Re: “What Color Is Fire?

Content of your character, not the color of your skin. Let me see, who said that? How often so many people have forgotten what Dr. King admonished. This article should investigate whether or not the hiring criteria are biased. Do we not want the most highly qualified people to become firefighters, without regard to the color or the skin, ethnic origin, etc.? This article has a particular point of view prior to writing. What are the characteristics of the hiring process that are biased? Are these appropriate characteristics to become a firefighter? Could this person save his comrade in a dangerous situation where lives are on the line? Does this person know enough about fire science to determine what is possibly safe when entering a burning building? Does the person have prior experience fighting fires, such as forest fires? These are the criteria which should matter. Then the admonition of Dr. Martin Luther King would be recognized.

Posted by Jerry Udinksy on 11/07/2019 at 8:42 AM

Re: “What Color Is Fire?

Maybe it's a Great time to look at offering hiring the released inmates that fight fires along side the 61% non hispanic caucasian firefighters... they've had on the job training and might Really like the opportunity... with real Pay... food for thought and law changes !

Posted by Maikani on 11/07/2019 at 8:01 AM

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