RPA Statement on Point Molate
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