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Key concerns about a proposed major Point Molate development project – about emergency egress, conflicts with Richmond’s general plan, open space preservation and traffic mitigation, among other things – linger for Richmond planning commissioners, less than two weeks before a scheduled vote on approving the project’s final environmental report.

The Planning Commission sat for a presentation Thursday night on the Final Subsequent Environmental Impact Report for the proposed Point Molate Mixed Use Development Project. This, its most updated and adjusted iteration proposed by Irvine-based developer SunCal, would include 1,452 new residential units (mostly condominiums), approximately 375,000 square feet of rehabilitated existing structures and 250,000 square feet of new construction for mixed-use development that could include restaurant, retail, commercial and residential uses, all on about 270 acres. Point Molate is about a mile and a half north of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge.

At least 70 percent of the site, about 193 acres, would remain as open space, including recreational areas, parks, trails (including an approximately 1.5-mile portion of the San Francisco Bay Trail along the shoreline), vista overlooks and other similar amenities. A terminal on the existing pier may be accessible to water transit options, such as ferries, water shuttles and/or water taxis. There would be an historic district, a waterfront park and hillside open spaces on the east side.

Jeff Winehaven at the former Point Molate Naval Fuel Depot in Richmond, Calif. is just one of several areas being considered as part of future development plans at the 193-acre space.

But many public commenters Thursday night implored the commission to reject the SunCal proposal and instead recommend to the City Council adoption of the alternate Community Plan. That plan, supported by the Point Molate Alliance, calls for some development in the Winehaven Historical District on Point Molate’s north end, but no homes.

Richmond resident Sally Tobin told the planning commissioners:

“If this project is approved, Point Molate will become yet another enclave for the privileged few. This is the essence of gentrification.”

Former Richmond Planning Commissioner Jeff Kilbreth said the SunCal project “isn’t in the spirit” of Richmond’s general plan. If the homes don’t sell, he said:

“(Y)ou simply can’t guarantee that the project won’t bankrupt the city.”

Planning Commissioner Andrew Butt said he too has concerns about whether the city will be left holding the bag if the condos don’t sell, and the city still has to pay for the infrastructure to support them. Commissioner Jen Loy said she wants to know whether Native American tribes that still have ties to Point Molate have been sufficiently updated on this process.

Commissioner Nancy Baer said she was “confused and disturbed” about traffic issues that, according to the environmental impact report, present “significant and unavoidable” problems.

Baer said:

“To me, that means the project that was presented to us might not be possible.”

Todd Lappin Air raid shelter sign at former Point Molate Naval Fuel Depot in Richmond, Calif. Development of the former base is being debated by the Planning Commission with a final vote pending in August 2020.

From 1942 until 1995, Point Molate hosted a U.S. Navy fuel storage and transfer facility. After its September 1995 closure as part of the Department of Defense’s Base Closure Act, a Point Molate Reuse Plan was approved by the Richmond Local Reuse Authority in 1997.

A lawsuit was filed in 2011 by Upstream Point Molate, LLC and the Guidiville Rancheria, a Pomo tribe based in Mendocino County, after Richmond voters rejected a proposed casino at Point Molate. A federal judge also said no to the casino, but required that any profits from eventual development there be split between the city and the casino developers. The suit was settled in April 2018.

Richmond city staff will return Aug. 17 with responses to the commissioners’ questions Thursday. The commission could certify the environmental report that night; if they do, the Richmond City Council could take further action as early as Sept. 1.

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