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Richmond City Council Approves Casino Environmental Report

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Point Molate in Richmond. (CBS)

Point Molate in Richmond. (CBS)

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RICHMOND (CBS SF) — In a divided vote Tuesday night, the Richmond City Council approved the final environmental impact report for a proposed $1 billion casino resort at Point Molate, a former naval fuel base on the city’s shoreline.

Mayor Gayle McLaughlin was the only member of the council to vote against certifying the report, although Councilman Tom Butt said he was planning to vote against it but left in frustration before the votes were cast.

KCBS’ Dave Padilla Reports:

Council members Jovanka Beckles, Courtland “Corky” Booze and Jim Rogers voted to approve the EIR. Councilman Nathaniel Bates was out of town, Butt said.

Certification of the EIR is not approval of the casino project, however. The certification means only that the council has reviewed the document and found it to be accurate and complete, Butt said.

The council is scheduled to vote on the proposed casino project itself April 5.

The project, which is being proposed by the Guidiville Indian tribe and their developer, Upstream Point Molate LLC, would include a 4,000-slot-machine casino, 1,100 hotel rooms, a convention center, a performing arts center, entertainment venues, retail space, a tribal government center and tribal housing. It would also create about 1,200 jobs.

Three-fourths of the 412-acre site would be preserved as open space and the tribe has agreed to restore and protect habitat and provide access for the Bay Trail.

The tribe has also agreed to give the city $50 million up front if the project is approved and $20 million a year after that, Butt said.

The tribe would also contribute millions to environmental groups and open space projects.

Butt said Wednesday that he doesn’t believe any of the council members actually thought the EIR was complete. He said he believes they were pressured by the city’s lawyers and Upstream to approve the EIR in an effort to avoid a potential $30 million lawsuit.

He said he found deficiencies in the report’s mitigations for traffic impacts and did not feel that it adequately addressed how the project would impact historic and biological resources on the site.

Smoking would also be allowed inside the proposed casino, which Butt said he was opposed to, and he said he didn’t feel the report provided sufficient plans for extending the Bay Trail through the site.

McLaughlin said she was in favor of amendments Butt proposed to remedy what he saw as the document’s shortcomings and chose to vote against certifying the EIR because those amendments weren’t added.

Beckles, Ritterman and Booze have all said publicly that they are opposed to the casino project despite voting to certify it Tuesday.

Beckles said she had been advised by the city’s attorneys not to comment on Tuesday’s vote or the April 5 vote because of a potential lawsuit, but did say part of her election campaign in November focused on rejecting the proposed casino project.

“And people voted for me for a reason,” Beckles said.

Ritterman pointed out that the EIR applies to the casino project as well as projects that don’t include a casino and could be useful for potential future projects if the casino project fails.

He also said, however, that it was important for council members to keep an open mind about the proposed project and to consider the final proposal in good faith.

Rogers said his goal was to work with Upstream to fully develop the project proposal and then put it on the ballot and let voters decide.

He said residents have been passionate about the issue on both sides and that he believes there are compelling arguments both for and against the proposed project.

“I think that the way to honor that very passionate difference of opinion is to put it on the ballot,” Rogers said.

He said if the city were to let voters decide, the matter could be settled once and for all.

Butt, however, said he believes that whichever way the council votes in April, there will be lawsuits and the issue will be around for years to come.

Booze was not available for comment Wednesday.

In an advisory measure in November, voters said they did not want a casino to be built in Richmond.

Even if the city council were to approve the project, it would still require state and federal approval to move forward.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services may have contributed to this report.)

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