By Tarnel Abbott and Deborah Bayer
Where We Stand Now
The Richmond Shoreline Alliance, Citizens for East Shore Parks, Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice, Sunflower Alliance, and Sustainability, Parks, Recycling and Wildlife Legal Defense Fund (or SPRAWLDEF) have filed a lawsuit against the City of Richmond based on the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and due process violations. The suit contends the City Council ignored evidence that the proposed cleanup process will not be sufficient for future residents living on the site, and it seeks to reopen the 2016 Environmental Impact Report to include recent science on sea level rise projections and health impacts. The lawsuit and the development have been discussed in closed session, but the public is not privy to how those discussions are going.Read more
By Eduardo Martinez, Richmond City Councilmember, and Eli Moore
The Chevron oil spill into the Bay in February is only the latest in a series of devastating fires and releases of toxic chemicals into the air, water and soil of Richmond and the region.
The refinery is also the second largest source of greenhouse gases in all of California.
Scientists have determined that the only way for California to reach its goals for overcoming the climate crisis is to start closing refineries and switching to renewable energy sources.
For years, the prospect of the refinery closing was only a threat Chevron used against us, to silence calls for public health protections and fair corporate taxes. But lately the scenario of a refinery closure is much more visible, with refineries in Rodeo and Martinez both announcing in the past year that they were halting fossil fuel processing. The economic effects of Covid 19 have rocked the oil industry, and that has speeded up a process that was already underway to replace fossil fuels with clean, renewable energy sources. The end of oil refining is actually in sight. Even General Motors realizes this and has planned to end its production of gas-powered cars by 2035.
The proposed project is now 2200 residential units. This was never voted on by the council and thus is not a legal alternative.
Moreover, this is a significantly different project from the Casino alternative and all other alternatives in the old EIS/EIR. A full new EIR needs to be prepared for evaluation and comment.
EIS/EIR was approved over a decade ago. Circumstances have changed significantly, especially traffic conditions and climate change impacts. Even if the information in the old EIS/EIR was valid at the time of that document, with the length of time and major changes in conditions, the city must start from scratch and do a full new analysis since the old EIS/EIR is no longer relevant
It also inconsistent with the General Plan that designates the Pt Molate area as open space to protect environmental values.
The proposed project is contrary to the Plan Bay Area policies for regional development. Adopted in 2013, Plan Bay Area is our first regional plan to incorporate a state-mandated Sustainable Communities Strategy. It identified Preferred Development Areas or PDAs close to public transit, existing commercial and retail uses so as to reduce auto traffic and emissions. Pt Molate is not one of Richmond’s five PDAs. The City will need to evaluate how it can comply with Plan Bay Area policies and the impacts for failing to do so.
The City needs to evaluate the recently released Hatch fiscal impact report and explain how the City can approve any project that could result in the city losing $3.00+ million in revenue from the proposed development.
In the latest attempt to deny public input into the future of publicly-owned Point Molate, the newly- seated Richmond City Council voted Tuesday January 15, 2019 to amend the RFP on Point Molate, removing restrictions and gutting community benefits: No limit on number of units to be built, no limitation on building on southern watershed (AKA Drumlot 2), no affordable housing beyond City ordinance requirements, and no guarantee that financial burden will not fall on the City.Read more
Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) is pleased to announce that a motion regarding Point Molate, sponsored by RPA-endorsed Council Members Eduardo Martinez and Ada Recinos and Vice Mayor Melvin Willis, was unanimously passed Tuesday June 19, 2018. In the motion Staff was directed to make modifications to the timeline and scope of the Point Molate Land Use Visioning process to allow for more comprehensive outreach and meaningful community participation. This significant motion put forth by RPA council members has the goal of engaging more residents to participate in the decision-making process around Point Molate, something RPA has continuously fought for. Though originally critical of the motion, Mayor Butt voted with the progressive council members to improve on the work plan originally brought forth by consultants
Tuesday’s motion by Martinez, Recinos and Willis will:
1. Make sure that public input on is gathered from a minimum of 2,500 community members from across Richmond (via the website, workshops, pop-up events, youth forum and interviews).
2. Publicize community meetings, tours, forums and other activities widely and at least 30 days before the date of the event.
3. Provide at least 4 public tours of Pt. Molate with transportation, translation, and childcare as needed.
4. Include community-driven, special-topic forums as part of the community planning process. Some examples of potential forums would cover topics relating to:
- Community Economics and Housing Forum
- Public Uses of Pt. Molate Forum
- Achieving Equity and Sustainability
- Natural Resource Forum
- Site Infrastructure Forum
5. Redirect market analysis and feasibility studies to include development benefits for Richmond residents.
6. Add a transparency component that gives progress reports on Council agenda and lists all organizations and businesses that are contacted and interviewed.
7. Add a real-time evaluation component for participants to give feedback after every workshop and event.
8. Solicit development proposals after City has completed zoning and made updates to the General Plan.
For more information about the role of the Richmond Progressive Alliance in protecting Point Molate, go to www.richmondprogressivealliance.net/environment.
Big thanks to all the presenters who inspired us at the RPA’s Earth Day event, Activating Environmental Justice.
And many thanks to panelist Cheryl Holzmeyer who just introduced us to the Refinery Monitoring Tool.
Produced by Air Watch Bay Area this new, online, interactive tool allows you to see current data on air pollution in Richmond, Crockett, Rodeo, and Benicia. You can also sign up for daily air quality alerts or use the website (or a downloadable app) to report smells and pollution events to the Air Watch Bay Area website and/or to the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.
This tool was created by the The Fair Tech Collective at Drexel University in Philadelphia in collaboration with the Community Robotics, Education, and Technology Empowerment Lab at Carnegie Mellon University.
The recently announced settlement of the Point Molate litigation is a far cry from what the RPA has been firmly advocating for many years, namely maximizing public involvement in determining the future of this precious and unique resource owned by the City. We had no position on any particular use or project but we felt it crucial that we make it possible to hear all proposals for development so that the public could weigh-in with full information.
We believe that the settlement itself is greatly unbalanced. Upstream and its partners get a significant sum of money (in the tens of millions) from the City in a relatively short time, and no public review of settlement terms before they were finalized. All the City gets is an end to the litigation, yet it is losing not only a lot of money, but also any opportunity for a comprehensive and inclusive public process on what the future of Point Molate should look like.
The City Council had voted three times in open session (2012, 2016 and 2017) to direct staff on conducting an open public process to determine appropriate land uses and a whole array of potential development options for all of Point Molate--including innovative combinations of commercial, educational, research and development, parks, agricultural, historical preservation, etc. with or without some housing.
But instead of an open process, the Council in closed session voted to accept settlement terms that mandate residential land use for most of the buildable land, thus sharply curtailing the scope of the public process that was being planned. (Most of Point Molate consists of unbuildable hillsides, and was always earmarked as open space.) In closed session the Council bypassed open hearings on zoning and planning.
From statements of different Councilmembers we know that the City Council’s vote on the settlement terms was split. (Councilmembers are allowed to state their vote on an issue once the decision has become public.) We thank Councilmembers Eduardo Martinez, Jovanka Beckles, and Melvin Wills for refusing to support the settlement.
This is not the end of the RPA's advocacy on the Point Molate issue. In coming weeks, the RPA will invite its members to take action to help ensure that the land is used for public good, not private profit. Stay tuned.
More About the Settlement
The RPA acknowledges that the Richmond needs more housing, especially affordable housing, and we openly advocate for more transit oriented residential and mixed use development at vacant sites in the city’s core, with an emphasis on maximizing affordability. One example is the large residential development downtown on Nevin between 21st and 23rd Streets that was approved a few years ago and is now breaking ground. The desirability of extensive housing at Point Molate, however, given its remote location and access constraints, has been controversial and was supposed to be fully vetted in the public process that now is moot unless this settlement agreement is reversed through legal action.
The settlement mandate paves the way for Pt. Molate to be an enclave for luxury development. For developers, the fastest way to make profits at a beautiful setting in the Bay Area’s tight housing market is by putting up high dollar residences, as other types of development require lengthier planning and lead time.
In every respect the settlement is a setback for progressive values. It did not even require that the development include affordable housing units (inclusionary housing). It specifically allowed the far-too-low current in-lieu fee. This means that if housing is built under the terms of the settlement (market rate sales) it will almost certainly be all luxury housing.
There are many bad scenarios possible from this bad agreement. Luxury housing is one when in fact our need is for more affordable housing in our urban center accessible to transportation supported by parks on the shore. Problems with access and infrastructure may mean that nothing gets built and that the city is saddled with costs for maintaining the property through a decade or more of attempted sale under the settlement terms but has to give half the sales price to Upstream.
The public is not privy to confidential information and advice given to City councilmembers in closed session, in making their decision, so we can’t fully understand what motivated each person’s vote.
Thoughts about Decision Making
Councilmembers were in a in a tough position, undoubtedly facing intense pressure behind closed doors with skewed information biased towards the Mayor's preferred outcome of implementing the least community-friendly proposed scenario in the 1997 Base Reuse Plan at all costs. Perceived or exaggerated legal risks may also have been a consideration, though the case overall has always been very strong and clear-cut in the City’s favor—see below for a brief summary of background information on Point Molate. We also know that a strong-arming approach in closed session was expected by Pt Molate community advocates and many attempted to encourage the council to exhibit strong political will in spite of this.
In any event, nothing should have prevented the Council from insisting on bringing the proposed settlement to the public before finalizing it. Union and other negotiators will generally walk away from the table if the other side says that you have to decide now or the deal is off. Yet the City’s negotiating team agreed to Upstream’s demand for finalizing a settlement in closed session without public review.
A number of RPA members and community members who have devoted thousands of volunteer hours over the years researching and advocating for community participation in outcomes at a casino-free Point Molate, and who have acquired in-depth knowledge on all aspects of Point Molate, including legal ones, met with all of the RPA endorsed council members after rumors of a settlement began to surface. They urged caution and at a minimum no decision on settlement terms until after the City had determined appropriate land uses at Point Molate via the extensive public process that was being planned. And the RPA steering committee, at its March 15 meeting, voted to call for no settlement until after this public process was completed.
This issue also brings into focus questions about how elected officials make their decisions and how we as an activist movement can hold our elected officials responsible. The RPA is planning to examine these questions in the immediate future
California’s environmental and environmental justice communities are unanimously opposed to Proposition 70, which they are characterizing at a Big Oil attack on California’s climate policy.
According to the No on Prop 70 coalition, if passed Prop 70 “would seize funding that is currently used to fight pollution and improve community health. It would subject this funding to a two-thirds vote in 2024, and by doing so, it would hold these climate investments hostage to the lobbying of corporate interests. Prop 70 would lead to budget gridlock, undermine California’s progress on climate change and clean air, and increase the power of corporate interests.”
California decided to stop requiring a two-thirds vote for budgeting because it introduced gridlock and dysfunction. It also increased pork barrel projects because a minority of legislators were able to delay the process and extract compromises in exchange for their votes. By requiring a two-thirds vote over climate funding, Prop 70 would enable powerful lobbyists to block good climate programs and to fund wasteful projects that only benefit corporate interests.
Richmond has been battling Chevron’s refinery emissions for decades. But did you know that just north of us in Rodeo the Phillips 66 refinery is planning a huge expansion that would double the number of tankers bringing crude oil into the Bay? To make matters worse, according to Baykeeper:
“The oil arriving at the Phillips refinery will likely be dirty, heavy tar sands oil. This type of oil is difficult, if not impossible, to remove after a spill. In 2010, when tar sands oil spilled into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River, response crews were unable to completely remove the oil from the riverbed, even after five years of cleanup efforts. If tar sands oil spilled in San Francisco Bay, it could irreparably smother bottom-dwelling life forms that are critical to the Bay’s food chain.
“The Phillips refinery also has a poor track record of oil spills. [In September 2016,] oil was spilled during the unloading of a tanker ship, causing large oil slicks in northern San Francisco Bay. Over 100 nearby residents sought treatment at hospital emergency rooms for exposure to unidentified fumes, and Vallejo officials urged community members to stay indoors with their windows closed. Until recently, the refinery denied any responsibility for the oil spill that is now linked to the nearby air quality complaints.
“More than doubling the number of oil tankers on their way to Phillips 66 via the Bay would increase the risk of spills. What’s more, the oil tankers will need to navigate through a San Francisco Bay shipping channel that is scheduled for less frequent dredging than in the past, due to new budget concerns raised by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. While the exact effects of reduced dredging on tanker traffic are unclear, it is possible that the risk of tankers running aground will increase."
Phillips is pushing this proposal because San Luis Obispo, concerned about oil spills and health impacts, recently quashed the company's efforts to bring more oil into their SLO refinery via train.