RICHMOND — A controversial development planned for Richmonds northern shoreline cleared a big legal hurdle this week after a judge ruled the city lawfully addressed the project’s potential environmental impacts.
After hearing oral arguments in November, Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Edward G. Weil on Monday tossed a lawsuit that tried to block Winehaven Legacy LLC’s proposal to build 1,425 housing units and more than 400,000 square feet of commercial space on 193 acres of the city’s Point Molate peninsula.
The site has been the focus of a decade-old debate about whether development there would revitalize the city’s economy and provide much-needed housing or create an environmental disaster on the northern edge of San Francisco Bay.
The lawsuit — a consolidation of two cases filed by a coalition of environmental groups collectively referred to as the Point Molate Alliance and North Coast Rivers Alliance — alleged that city officials failed to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), state laws governing planning, zoning and open meetings, the state constitution and Richmond’s own general plan when the City Council reached a settlement with Upstream Point Molate LLC and the Guidiville Rancheria of California tribe in 2018 and approved another developer’s project in September 2020.
In a 42-page decision, Weil ruled there was not enough evidence to back up the environmental coalition’s complaints that the city inadequately accounted for the planned development’s potential harm to Point Molates surrounding water quality, uncovered tribal artifacts, raptor nesting sites and 100 acres of eelgrass beds located about 1,000 feet offshore.
The judge also determined that wildfire risks cited by the coalition weren’t applicable to CEQA and noted that the 150 acres of land proposed as open space — accounting for 54% of the projects entire land area — will help mitigate concerns.
Additionally, Weil rejected the coalition’s contention that the city granted entitlements to the original plaintiffs after rejecting their bid to build a casino on the property. All the city did in settling that lawsuit — filed by Guidiville Rancheria of California and Upstream Point Molate LLC in 2019 — was agree to consider any future development proposals for Point Molate, he concluded.
Mayor Tom Butt said that the verdict is a huge win for those who have been fighting for 25 years to redevelop Point Molate. This site was a former U.S. Navy fuel storage/transfer facility.
Butt wrote that this decision removes a major obstacle that had been preventing the Point Molate project from moving forward for many years.e-Forum blog. After the 2018 settlement of the Federal Court lawsuit brought forward by Upstream Point Molate LLC, and the Guidiville Tribe, the City of Richmond has won all legal challenges to Point Molate’s project.
The North Coast Rivers Alliance, the Point Molate Alliance, and other plaintiffs in the lawsuit were not available for comment.
The case has been discussed. inner turmoil at Richmond City Hall that boiled over after council members Gayle McLaughlin, Claudia Jimenez, Eduardo Martinez and Melvin Willis asked former city attorney Teresa Stricker in a closed session last fall to support the environmentalists’ lawsuit instead of defending the city.
Although the city took no such action, the debacle led to the city attorney’s resignation, the city manager’s departure and a council vote to censure Butt.