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Mercury News

July 20, 2010

Developer rails against advisory vote on Point Molate casino

By John Simerman
Contra Costa Times

RICHMOND — The developer of a proposed Indian casino-resort at Point Molate criticized a proposed advisory vote for the November ballot and suggested City Council approval tonight would violate its deal with the city.

In a letter to the council Monday, Jim Levine of Upstream Point Molate wrote that even a nonbinding public vote would make for "a useless exercise rooted in spin and deception," since it would likely come before completion of the environmental review process, and before the city and Upstream hammer out details of a revised agreement.

It also would violate the spirit of a 2006 legal settlement that required completion of a full environmental review before any final decisions on the project, he wrote. The council "has a contractual duty to follow through on the project evaluation process agreed to and publicized years ago and confirmed in our recent (agreement)," Levine wrote.

That deal, in May, extended the city's land development agreement with Upstream to next April, to allow continued negotiations on various terms that would pave the way for a transfer of the former Naval fuel depot land from the city to Upstream.

It was unclear Tuesday evening whether the city attorney had found any legal concerns with an advisory vote.

Upstream and the Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians aim to build a $1.2 billion casino-hotel resort with thousands of slot machines, 1,100 hotel rooms, a conference center, restaurants, shops, tribal headquarters, open space and a shoreline trail on scenic property at the foot of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge.

The plan promises thousands of jobs to local residents and more than $16 million annually to the city should the casino get up and running. But as local and federal approvals near, a rising chorus of complaint has come from local residents and from a group of California card clubs.

Citywide public opinion on the casino plan is hard to gauge. Supporters and opponents have floated poll results leaning one side and the other.

Councilman Tom Butt, whose public stance has toggled from pro to con to leery amid negotiations with the developer, offered ballot language co-sponsored by Vice Mayor Jeff Ritterman and Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, the most vocal casino opponent. A second measure by Councilwoman Maria Viramontes asks voters the same basic question — casino or no? — but gives a nod to the shoreline and open space protections the developer has pledged.

In an interview, Levine insisted voters would not have enough information on the project by election day. The city has just begun a new process to gather ideas on an alternative project, he noted.

"It's political gamesmanship. I think they just want to draw card club money into the election," Levine said. "I just find it really curious the mayor and all her people in the card clubs are pushing for a vote before the facts are on the table. We think they're afraid of the facts."

Chuck Finnie, a spokesman for a coalition of card clubs, countered that the fear is all Upstream's, at what he called a "grassroots movement" of local opposition, and card club polling that indicates fervent opposition to a casino.

The city's leverage lies in the need for the council to certify the environment review. The tribe, meanwhile, must secure a key federal decision allowing it to operate a casino there. The Department of Interior must take the land into trust for the tribe, and the governor would need to negotiate a gaming compact with the tribe to allow slot machines and other Las Vegas-style games.

The City Council is not expected to consider the issue until late tonight.


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