After the Navy closed its fuel depot there and deeded the property to the City of Richmond, the City Council in 2004 (before Gayle McLaughlin was first elected to the City Council) voted to give the developer Upstream the right to purchase nearly all of Point Molate if he could get the permits to erect a mega-casino there in conjunction with a small tribe based in Mendocino, over 100 miles away. Upstream paid the City a non-refundable deposit of $15 million towards the purchase price of $50 million, and for that received exclusive right to work on developing the casino project, meaning that no other developer or agency could make a bid or proposal on Point Molate. . It was clear that if Upstream failed to get permits for the casino project or a project alternative specified in the EIR, that the deposit paid would not be returned.
The process of environmental review and permitting at the local and federal level were extremely complex and time consuming. Until 2010 there was still a majority on the City Council who supported having a casino, while RPA council members Gayle McLaughlin, and Jeff Ritterman opposed the casino, along with a growing and vocal segment of the community.
The November 2010 election was a turning point. Through massive mobilization by the RPA and other allied groups, the voters overwhelmingly passed an advisory ballot measure opposing the casino, and two new casino opponents, including RPA endorsed Jovanka Beckles, were elected to the City Council. Then-councilmember Butt around this time changed his position from support to opposition of the casino. In early 2011 the city council certified the EIR and voted 5-2 to reject the casino project, as well as the project alternative in the EIR, which was well within its legal rights to do. Subsequently the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs denied the permit for Indian gaming at Point Molate due to lack of local support and the unquestionable fact that the tribe in question had no current or historical ties whatsoever with the Point Molate area.
That should have been the end of the City’s relationship with Upstream, whose exclusive right to develop the casino project had now expired. The community was eager to re-open the whole Point Molate discussion, have a public process to create a new vision for the area and be able to solicit bids and proposals from an array of potential developers. That would have to wait, however, because Upstream refused to concede defeat and sued the City to recover not only its non-refundable deposit but additional millions for security and maintenance costs and legal fees.
That litigation with Upstream has dragged on, with Upstream appealing multiple court decisions in the City’s favor.
Many legal experts who are very familiar with this case, including lawyers for environmental organizations that had been in peripheral litigation on Point Molate, have affirmed the strength of the City’s case and that it was highly likely that the City would ultimately prevail, either at trial or an eve of trial settlement.