Richmond City Council: Casino Four Hands Out 11-Month Extension of Point Molate Casino Land Disposition Agreement

By Councilmember Tom Butt (Partisan Position)
Wednesday May 19, 2010 - 05:05:00 PM

With a rambling and multifaceted motion, the actual details of which are still being debated, Maria Viramontes emerged last night as the new champion of the controversial Point Molate mega casino and leader of the “Casino Four.” Joined by Bates, Rogers and Lopez, the “Casino Four” gave Upstream Point Molate nearly another year’s extension of the Land Disposition Agreement (LDA) that expired in January of this year without specifically attaching any of the conditions that have been the subject of intense negotiation over the last several months. 

I believe the story in the Contra Costa Times may include some errors. My recollection is that the extension is through April of 2011, not July of 2010. The revenue from the Municipal Services Agreement is a function of the area of building constructed and begins to flow only when the facility opens for business. Upstream has made it clear that they plan to phase the project, building only a casino, hotel and a 4,000 car parking structure in Phase 1, which in the best case scenario would be 5 ½ years from now. The $16.6 million estimated revenue is based on a full build out, which Upstream has said would not occur under even the most optimistic scenario for nearly eight years. Under the MSA, most of the revenue would have to be spent providing infrastructure, services and maintenance for Point Molate, leaving little to spend in the rest of Richmond. 

Critics suggest that the construction trade unions got to Viramontes and persuaded her into reversing her last two votes that were not in support of extending the LDA. The clamor for jobs by the hard-hit construction trades was almost the only support Upstream had at the meeting where nearly 60 speakers offered testimony. The fact is that in the best case scenario, any construction jobs are at least two years away and could be even further or non-existent, depending on the success of legal challenges that are almost a certainty. 

Unfortunately, the construction trades didn’t learn much from the Chevron project. They supported a project based on a flawed EIR and got the majority vote they wanted from the “Viramontes Five” (also known as the “Chevron Five”), but the jobs evaporated when the courts threw out the EIR. With Point Molate, they are exercising the same political muscle to secure votes for an even riskier project instead of supporting an effort to make sure the approval, if it takes place, is bullet proof. 

Even with the razor thin support from a divided City Council, the casino project faces many hurdles, including a key decision from the Department of the Interior on whether or not Point Molate constitutes legitimate ancestral lands of the Guidiville Band of the Pomo Indians. The fatally flawed EIR must be certified by the City and receive a record of decision from the Department of the Interior. The Department of the Interior must decide to take the land into trust. And finally, the City Council must decide to go through with the actual sale. 

The move led by Viramontes will conveniently stifle public debate about Point Molate in the City Council Chamber until after the November 2010 election and after a new City Council is sworn in January 2011. Viramontes wants to be a part of that City Council, possibly as mayor, and be joined by like minded successful candidates that suck up to Big Oil, Big Business and Big Gambling.