By Katherine Tam
Contra Costa Times
Posted: 04/06/2011 01:57:10 AM PDT
Updated: 04/06/2011 06:03:12 AM PDT
Dreams of a $1.2 billion casino-hotel resort at Richmond's waterfront are dead.
City leaders ended a five-hour meeting Tuesday night by nixing further consideration of the proposal, saying there are too many problems from traffic congestion to federal approvals that have yet to come. Ultimately, they said Richmond voters made their opposition clear when they defeated November's advisory ballot measure on whether a casino should be built at Point Molate.
"This project has failed to obtain federal approval. The Bureau of Indian Affairs has not given a timetable for the decision-making process," City Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles said. "I don't think it's right nor is it fair to keep the residents of Richmond waiting for a decision indefinitely."
The 5-2 vote -- with councilmen Nat Bates and Jim Rogers dissenting -- was no surprise, given the results of November's election. Voters picked council newcomers Beckles and Corky Booze, creating an anti-gaming majority at the dais. They then rejected advisory Measure U, with 58 percent voting no on the casino question.
Bates, a longtime supporter of the project, said he was saddened to see the project die, in part because it would have provided jobs to locals who lack a college education and have trouble getting employment.
"I still think it's a good idea what we tried to do," Bates said. "I think it would have been a positive."
The council directed the city staff to begin negotiating for 120 days with Upstream, the project developer, for a nongaming development alternative, as outlined in the 2004 deal in which the city agreed to sell Point Molate for $50 million.
Tuesday's meeting drew more than 150 people on both sides of the issue, with opponents outnumbering supporters by a considerable margin. A large banner dangling from the balcony seats read in bold lettering: "Richmond Voted No Casino."
Upstream and the Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians have spent $17 million to date on their proposal, including partial payments for the land, said Michael Derry, tribe spokesman. He and developer Jim Levine urged the city not to shut the door on the gaming project and to instead keep all options open.
The resort was to include two hotels, a 122,000-square-foot conference center, restaurants, shops, tribal facilities, open space, a shoreline trail and ferry access. But it was the 124,000-square-foot gaming floor that divided the community.
With Richmond's unemployment rate hovering stubbornly at 18 percent, supporters say the project would bring thousands of much-needed jobs and millions in revenue. But opponents argued the plan is a pipe dream that would fall short of its promise and instead bring traffic congestion, crime and addictions.