It's Not Too Late to Avoid a Big Mistake
Why We Oppose the City’s Plan to Develop Point Molate
(1) It is likely to cost Richmond taxpayers a lot of money
The City and the developer claim that their proposed development will bring “millions of dollars” into our General Fund. Save Our Point Molate had HATCH, an Economic Analysis consulting group, analyze the economics of the City’s proposal. Based on that analysis, we found that the City’s operating expenses will skyrocket due to the cost of operating a new 24X7 fire and police sub-station. The City does not dispute this. Total General Fund losses over forty years could exceed $100 million and with bad luck, could exceed $150 million. There are four problems:
a. Even if the development is a complete success and all properties sell at asking price, there will still be a twenty to thirty-year period when General Fund expenses exceed property tax revenues by $2-4 million/year. A three shift/day fire station costs the same amount to operate when 200 units have sold as when 2,000 have. Will the developer cover these shortfalls?
b. Even when all properties have sold, General Fund expenses will still exceed General Fund receipts by at least $1 million/year.
c. There is a real risk that the General Fund deficit could be worse. If the developers end up only able to build and sell 75% of the projected properties at 80% of the price they hope for, Richmond will get 40% less in property taxes. This will increase losses during the ramp-up period and would increase the annual operating loss when all units are sold to over $2 mil/year.
d. This is in addition to any liability the city would incur if the project’s “special tax district” fails to cover the infrastructure bond payments. Mello Roos bonds are issued by the City and we would be liable for any shortfalls if the developer went bankrupt or if they failed to sell the planned number of properties. How would the City protect itself?
Richmond taxpayers should not be asked to subsidize this project or guarantee its debts. As of April 14th, despite repeated requests, the City has not produced a full analysis of the cash flow impacts on the General Fund or the financing risks. How can we go further down this path without clearing this up?
(2) Traffic and Safety is a big problem – it’s a bad location for 1000-2000 homes
Because of the location of the property on a two-lane cul-de-sac with access and egress only via I-580 right at the bottlenecked approach onto the bridge, there are four serious problems with the project. As the Draft SEIR reports, the problems are “significant and unavoidable.”
a. The project will significantly worsen already bad everyday morning commute traffic on I-580 West as well as on Richmond Parkway. Back-ups to Central Avenue would increase in frequency and duration. The increase in GHG emissions would be significant. And projects in our Priority Development Areas will also need to contribute new cars to the I-580 West morning commute. Should a large project at Point Molate take limited freeway capacity away from our priorities?
b. Emergency vehicle (i.e., fire, police, and EMT) access and egress times may be unacceptable. The Draft SEIR failed to analyze these critical public safety issues. At times, it might take 2 hours or more to get someone to a hospital.
c. The property is in a “Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone” and the Chevron oil refinery lies just on the other side of the ridge, and there are groves of highly flammable eucalyptus trees along the sole access road to the site. Refinery flaring, explosions and fires, or ammonia releases could range from unsettling to highly dangerous. The City has not proposed how it will evacuate the residents in case of fire or other disaster, leaving it unclear, even after the project has been approved, whether that can be safely accomplished.
d. The City’s own analysis in the current draft environmental impact report shows that the proposed project would increase greenhouse gases and transportation congestion with “significant and unavoidable” environmental impacts. And the analysis of alternatives states clearly that the Community Plan (Alternative D) would be environmentally superior. We should not be approving projects that significantly worsen global warming and climate change when environmentally superior alternatives exist.
(3) The proposed project takes unacceptable risks with the environment.
The developer’s marketing brochures and the Mayor’s PR all say that 70% of Point Molate will be kept as “open space.” But the way this is calculated is misleading and dishonest. They calculate this by saying that the areas they will grade but not put buildings or roads on are still “open space.” If you look at the plan honestly, 60% of the property is being proposed for development.
The San Pablo Peninsula is one of 6 jewels on Contra Costa County’s shoreline, along with Point Isabel, Miller-Knox Park, Point Pinole, the Martinez Shoreline and Bethel Island. Over 200 species of birds make this area their home, including special-concern species such as the osprey and Cooper’s Hawk. The peninsula is the premier osprey breeding location in the entire bay. Why would we build a major development directly above the healthiest and most important eelgrass beds left in San Francisco Bay, nurseries for salmon and Dungeness crab and foraging destinations for many bird species? Building homes along the entire Point Molate shoreline is likely to damage habitat that is a critical part of the SF Bay ecosystem. It is possible that the project as currently proposed will not be approved by the SF Bay Conservation & Development Commission, and it could get tied up in significant litigation for violating the federal Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation & Management Act of 1976 as well as Richmond’s General Plan.
(4) It will take attention away from our real housing priorities
The City should be focused on building housing in our Priority Development Areas (PDAs) where transit and infrastructure already exist and where mixed market rate and affordable housing projects are feasible and where development will help – not hurt – Richmond’s General Fund. Point Molate with all its complexity and challenges will be an energy-sink for our Planning Department, our Attorneys, and our City Manager. It’s simply not the best use of their time. Imagine if the Mayor put the same amount of time he’s been putting into Point Molate into promoting the development of Downtown!
(5) There is a compromise staring us right in the face
Point Molate could become a significant regional park with a more modest development limited to the Winehaven District. This is our Community Plan. In fact, in the city’s EIR, the city’s own consultants concluded that this was the “Environmentally Superior Alternative.” Our economists also found it to be financially superior to the City’s proposal due to lower infrastructure and city operating costs. And this is also what our County Supervisor, John Gioia, has recommended. How big the development in the Winehaven District ought to be depends on an honest look at the traffic and safety issues as well as the economics, but we can make it work. Point Molate is already part of the East Bay Regional Park District’s Master Plan, and they have set aside $4.3 million to develop and maintain a park there. A larger public park could include playing fields, more hiking and biking trails, opportunities for camping, picnicking, and environmental/cultural education. Additional funds can be raised, once the land is secured as a public resource. This option deserves serious consideration by the Planning Commission, the City Council and the City Manager.
(6) It’s not too late to avoid a Big Mistake
Hasn’t everything already been decided because of the Settlement Agreement? No. First off, the Settlement Agreement is being challenged in court for being agreed to behind closed doors without a public hearing or comment period. The judge supervising the Settlement Agreement has not closed the case and is expecting community input to be part of the resolution of what happens to Point Molate. Secondly, the Settlement Agreement only promises a minimum of 670 housing units at Point Molate The City is under no obligation to approve a project as large as the options being proposed by SunCal. And it doesn’t bar the City of Richmond from approving the Community Plan which turns the southern portion of the property into a ridge-to-bay public park.
What about the agreement with the developer? The City Council entered into an agreement with the developer giving SunCal the exclusive right to develop and present a proposal for a period of time, but this doesn’t mean the City has to accept the particular proposal they make. That’s one reason why there was a need for an updated Environmental Impact Report. The developer’s proposal is for either 2,040 housing units with some modest retail and commercial space or 1,260 housing units with 625,000 sq ft of commercial space. Both proposals would develop a lot more than the 30% of the property they have claimed would be developed. And both would intensively develop the southern 40% of the property that is most sensitive environmentally and where a park would be located. But it is still possible to negotiate in good faith with them. And it is still possible to reject their proposal, either via Richmond’s project approval process, through the court system or at the ballot box via popular initiative.