At June’s meeting of the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC), developers proposing a huge residential development project at Richmond’s Point Molate applied for a major amendment to the San Francisco Bay Plan to allow their project to go forward, but the meeting didn’t go as the developers planned.
Developers SunCal and Orton Development want the BCDC, a commission chartered to protect the overall health and environment of San Francisco Bay, to change Point Molate’s current designation as a park in the San Francisco Bay Plan. Originally created by the BCDC and adopted in 1969, the San Francisco Bay Plan (also referred to as the Bay Plan) is an enforceable plan that guides the future protection and use of San Francisco Bay. The BCDC is tasked with continually reviewing the Bay Plan and amending it to reflect changing conditions and new information. Developers SunCal and Orton Development want the BCDC to amend the Bay Plan to allow their large, high-end condominium complex to be built in Point Molate’s environmentally sensitive south watershed.
Our CNPS East Bay Chapter, many Richmond residents, and the Sierra Club testified at the online BCDC meeting in June and asked the BCDC commissioners not to proceed with a Bay Plan amendment that could eliminate the chance to create a regional park at Point Molate. CNPS supports a balanced plan for Point Molate that includes a new regional park along with appropriate development of the site’s historic Winehaven district.
In addition to testifying, our CNPS East Bay Chapter sent a letter to the BCDC pointing out some of the project’s many problems, including its plan to massively grade Point Molate’s natural hillsides in order to squeeze in over 1,000 condominiums. CNPS also noted that the developers want BCDC to accept the project’s remaining steeply graded engineered slopes and filled drainages as “public open space.”
When it came time for the BCDC to vote, BCDC Commissioner and Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia said initiating a Bay Plan amendment should not go forward at this time. He noted that there are active lawsuits opposing the development project (including a CEQA lawsuit that CNPS has joined), and any attempts by the current Richmond City Council to seek a negotiated settlement to those lawsuits with the developers and plaintiffs would be undermined if BCDC considered the Bay Plan amendment at this time.
After about an hour of discussion, Supervisor Gioia made a motion that was seconded by San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin, another BCDC commissioner, to delay consideration of a Bay Plan amendment for Point Molate for four months while staff provides answers to the commissioners’ many questions about the amendment and the development plan. Despite vigorous opposition to the motion by Richmond Mayor Tom Butt, who is also a BCDC commissioner, it passed 13 to 8 with one abstention.
Why was this action important? First, it shows that regional San Francisco Bay planning body BCDC may not want to blithely proceed with a major change to its Bay Plan to replace park use with a development project that brings massive hillside grading and intensive road and building development along a sensitive area of the Bay. The still-intact coastal native prairie, coastal scrub communities, and willow drainages of Point Molate moderate sediment and water flows into rare offshore native eelgrass beds that serve as a vital nursery for our San Francisco Bay fisheries.
Also, BCDC is committed to supporting quality open space for all, especially at unique sites like Point Molate that are near urban centers. The Bay Plan’s designation of Point Molate as parkland is a wise one. A significant regional park here could provide sports fields for Richmond youth. It also could fully recognize Point Molate’s history: the workers of World War II who looked to Point Molate for peace, the camp of Chinese shrimp fishermen in the late 1800s, and the sacred sites of the Confederated Villages of Lisjan/Ohlone (who support our campaign to preserve Point Molate). If Point Molate were opened as a park, a walk in its uplands would offer a health-giving outdoor experience amidst the quiet natural beauty that has been here for centuries.
— Jim Hanson, Conservation Committee Chair, CNPS East Bay Chapter