The Clock is Ticking at Point Molate 

Should Richmond really build a waterfront community along the historic cul-de-sac directly adjacent to Chevron’s refinery?

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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.

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.

"Chevron does not want to be in contact with immediate residential neighbors," said Robert Cheasty, executive director of Citizens for East Shore Parks and former mayor of Albany. His group supported the Chevron proposal, which would have preserved Winehaven and created park space, and a business incubator.

Mayor Butt said Chevron doesn't have an opinion about the current proposal. "They have accepted at this point that this project is going to happen," he said.

Meanwhile, Butt and former mayor Bates — who have so often clashed on a variety of issues over the years — oddly find themselves united in support of the proposal. They see the SunCal proposal as the resolution of years of lawsuits, including one that stemmed from an unsuccessful attempt to develop a casino on the property. Failure to finalize some new development agreement by April 2020 could force the city to sell the land back to the would-be casino developers for just $300.


Point Molate's known human history began as home to the Native American tribes Ohlone and Miwok. The early 1800s saw the arrival of padres from Mission Dolores, and in 1871, Chinese immigrants established a shrimp-fishing camp there. After the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, the California Wine Association built Winehaven, which at its height could ship 500,000 gallons of wine annually. But Prohibition shuttered Winehaven in 1919; the "castle" and surrounding 35 buildings are now on the National Register of Historic Places.

By 1902, neighbor Standard Oil (now Chevron) had already established itself, then as now using wharves to unload crude oil and reload refinery products for shipment on tankers. From 1942 until 1995, the U.S. Navy used Point Molate as a fuel and storage facility, building numerous houses for its officers there. With passage in 1990 of the U.S. Department of Defense Realignment and Closure Act, Naval operations ceased in 1995.

Community disagreements about what to do with the property started almost immediately, culminating in a 1997 "Reuse Plan." The Navy sold 218 acres of the land to the city of Richmond for one dollar in 2003. The rest of the land was transferred to the city in March 2010 and now consists of approximately 413 total acres, of which 270 acres are "dry upland acres" and the remainder off-shore acreage.

In 2004, developer Jim Levine and the city reached a deal for his company Upstream Point Molate LLC to build a casino and hotel on the property, based on the contention that the Mendocino Guidiville Rancheria Pomo Indians once had fishing rights there. The city council ultimately chose Levine's casino proposal over an alternative one submitted by Chevron, with Butt, Bates, and four other council members favoring the casino, and then-mayor Irma Anderson abstaining. In a telephone interview, Bates insisted that most people do not remember that the U.S Navy's 2003 transfer of the property to the city was contingent on its use including economic development and jobs creation. "The casino would have generated 10,000 jobs and millions of dollars in revenue," he said.

Years passed, the council's makeup changed, and the new councilmembers rejected the project's environmental impact report. The Point Molate Citizens Advisory Committee developed a questionnaire and held meetings to find out what Richmond residents actually wanted. "Maybe six people we surveyed wanted housing out there," said former member Jim Hite, who served on the committee until ejected by Mayor Butt.

Richmond residents definitely voted "no" on a 2010 ballot measure about the proposed casino. "We made a mistake by placing it on the ballot," Bates said. The following year, the casino plan was rejected by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which ruled that the Guidiville Band of the Pomo had no claim whatsoever to Point Molate.

Levine and the Guidiville Band sued Richmond. In fact, the developer repeatedly sued the city for either the right to build on the property or to retrieve the $17 million that his company paid to the city as a nonrefundable deposit toward a $50 million purchase price.

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."

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