Over the years, Point Molate, on the Richmond shoreline, has been many things to many people: A place for the Navy to store bunker fuel. A community of Chinese shrimpers. The world’s largest winery.
Today, Point Molate is quiet. There’s a handful of abandoned buildings, palm and oak trees, and a view clear across the bay to Mount Tamalpais.
Lech Naumovich is a conservation analyst for the California Native Plant Society. He says if you want to see an eagle or a hawk in the East Bay, this is the place to come.
“The landscape here is just phenomenal,” says Naumovich. “We consider this place to be the Marin Headlands of the East Bay.”
Point Molate has some of the best native coastal grasslands in the East Bay, Naumovich says. Plus rich eelgrass beds. And habitat for the western snowy plover, a federally-recognized threatened species.
He believes that this precious slice of coastline will be jeopardized if Richmond voters approve Measure U. That is, if voters say yes to a project that developer Jim Levine describes this way:
“We’re talking about building a $1 billion world class – I’m talking on the scale of Monaco, or Pebble Beach – a world class destination resort with hotels and a convention center.”
And, a casino. Levine’s company, Upstream, has partnered with an Indian tribe, the Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians, based in Mendocino. If the project succeeds, most of Point Molate will become the Guideville’s new, permanent Indian reservation.
As a result of a settlement reached between environmental groups and the Guidiville, the casino development, if approved, will include about 180 acres of open space. Levine says plans also include habitat restoration and green energy facilities. He believes the casino is the only way that Point Molate is ever going to get cleaned up.
“All the buildings are uninhabitable,” says Levine. “Most have lead and asbestos, and structural deficiencies. So to do anything at this site is going to cost 150 million dollars.”
Levine points to other former military bases in the Bay Area, like Alameda and Mare Island. “How many of those are developed now?” he asks. “None. It takes a huge amount of capital to make this work.”
Measure U is a non-binding advisory measure. So even if voters approve it, the project still will need approval from the Richmond City Council and also from the federal government. But a strong vote either way could send a powerful message.