Council Likely Moving Forward
on Alcohol Fee, Point Molate Still up in the Air
The first city council meeting of 2010 saw several items stricken
from the agenda or pushed back to later dates, but Tuesday’s
meeting was anything but dull. As has become nearly customary
at council meetings, the proposed casino at Point Molate was
a hot topic of discussion. The banter between council members
became so lively that three of the five present members threatened
to leave before the meeting was adjourned, and all within a
10 minute span.
“It’s just kind of business as usual,” said councilmember
Tom Butt. “It’s what we do here.”
The Point Molate saga took another turn at the meeting, when
a frustrated Butt declared that he was no longer in support
of the development. Once one of its most vocal proponents on
the council, Butt said the development has too many problems.
“I‘m just sort of tired of bumping my head against the wall,”
Butt said. “It’s a lot easier for me to just bail out and say,
‘look, I’m just going to oppose it, period.’”
The meeting was one of the shortest in recent memory for the
council, adjourning in less than three-and-a-half hours, but
some controversial issues were discussed and met with much
commentary from the public. Aside from the always contentious
Point Molate debate, a new ordinance that would impose a fee
on businesses that sell alcohol was again put before the council.
Upon implementation, the $950 fee would pay for inspections
of businesses that sell alcohol to ensure they are not violating
city ordinances, as well as an expanded decoy program that
would expose vendors who sell alcohol or cigarettes to underage
Members of local alcohol awareness groups spoke out in favor
of the measure, including Julie Waters of the West County Alcohol
Policy Working Group. She alleged that not a single one of
the 137 businesses that sell alcohol in Richmond were in compliance
with city ordinances, which necessitated the new ordinance.
“The system is not working,” Waters said. “This is honestly
the only measure I can see that would change the atmosphere
of Richmond and improve crime subsequently.”
But speakers representing local businesses questioned the
fairness of the ordinance. Hamid Amini, owner of Amini’s by
the Bay, argued that the fee penalized businesses that were
following the rules because of “a couple of bad apples.”
“I‘ve been over there for 20 years and I‘ve never sold a cigarette
to a minor, or alcohol to any minors,” Amini said. “The economy
is really bad, we are all suffering. We cannot afford to pay
the $950 extra.”
Councilmembers Butt and Nathaniel Bates also voiced concerns
about the measure, but their problems were with the inspections
that would be conducted. The ordinance would ensure that every
business received at least one inspection within three years,
which Butt said was too long of a timeframe.
“I don’t think it’s enough,” Butt said. “It’s a very, very
Bates advocated that the ordinance be revisited in future
years, so that businesses that follow the rules may be exempt
from future fees.
A consensus could not be reached among the council regarding
the framework of the ordinance, but every councilmember agreed
that the ordinance was needed.
“It’s clear we’ve had a lot of problems with liquor stores
in Richmond,” said councilmember Jim Rogers.
Changes to the ordinance will be implemented by staff, and
a revised ordinance will be presented at a future council meeting.
The Point Molate debate that stirred up so much commotion
began with a motion to allow the developer of the Point Molate
project, Upstream Point Molate LLC, a two-month extension to
close the purchase, sale and lease of the land involved.
Councilmember Maria Viramontes advocated approving the extension,
arguing that denying it would simply result in a lawsuit by
Upstream. But other council members were concerned with what
they said were acts of noncompliance on the part of Upstream.
Upstream has failed to deliver biannual letters to the city
divulging financial information, despite the fact that the
land development agreement requires them, which Butt took issue
Viramontes heavily criticized Butt’s opposition and interrupted
both Butt and Mayor Gayle McLaughlin during the discussion,
which drew catcalls and outbursts from the audience. [emphasis
Ultimately, the extension was denied by the council.
A follow-up motion to direct city staff to research the design
of destination resorts, in order to have more expertise in
that area, was also voted against by the council. It was during
this debate that Butt announced his reversal on the Point Molate
“From now on, I will not be supporting this project under
any circumstances,” Butt said. “I don’t think that we know
enough about it, I don’t think our staff is willing to find
out enough information about it, I don’t think our city council
wants to know about it, and I can’t live with it anymore.”
His comments drew the ire of Bates, who accused Butt of having
that position “from the get-go.”
“You’re the kind of person that, unless you get your way on
everything, that you‘re opposed to it,” Bates said. “You’ve
done it on project after project.”
He was subsequently chastised by McLaughlin, who said his
comments were “out of character of this discussion” [emphasis
Bates then announced he was feeling ill and would leave the
meeting early, which prompted Butt to make a similar proclamation.
Both would end up staying, although minutes later Viramontes
nearly excused herself as well, also as a result of illness.
“This is becoming the most dysfunctional city council in the
history that I have been associated with,” Bates said during
Butt denied that there was any real hostility amongst the
“It’s just political posturing,” he said.
The next regular city council meeting is scheduled for Jan.