The Point Without a Purpose, Part 2: Difficulties Ahead

blogimage.jpgIn part 1, Radio Free Richmond explored the difficulty of gaining traction around any project at Point Molate. Endless red tape, poorly thought-out ideas, and an indecisive city government have made the prospect of development on the land seem less than feasible. In Part 2 we discuss what’s in store for the future of Point Molate.

The cleaning of the remaining 15% of Point Molate was at a standstill throughout the city’s litigation with UpStream. Fifteen years into the project, some community members thought the Navy was dragging their feet. Others were more patient for bureaucracy to run its course. 

“Some issues take a long time to beat out all the details,”explains George Leyva of the Bay Area Water Quality Control Board (BAWQCB). Leyva has been involved in Point Molate since 2005 and wrote orders for the clean up projects.“Finding the right contractor, cleaning up the area —this all takes time.”

20100908_pt_molate_oldbuildings.jpgTo consolidate the project —and to get the Navy out of the picture — an Early Transfer Cooperate Agreement (ETCA) was approved in March of 2010. The ETCA officially signed over the rest of Point Molate to Richmond. The city was given $28.5 million by the Navy to finish the clean up, which the Navy estimated would continue past 2016.

Since the ETCA was signed four years ago, the clean up has continued at Point Molate, but problems remain and have only grown in complication. While the land has been cleaned, many buildings on the site have continued to deteriorate and have been stripped of their copper. 

This isn’t to say that no concrete changes have happened at Point Molate. April 2014 saw the opening of the Point Molate Beach Park, a 900-foot stretch of land along the Bay. Restoration of Site 3, the area widely regarded as the most friendly to development, began in September and it scheduled for completion in January. The land at Point Molate is almost entirely restored nearly 20 years after the project began.

What happens next, though, is likely to stir a debate on two very different forms of sustainability. As required by the 1990 Base Realignment and Closure Act, Point Molate must be economically self-sustaining. This means that some sort of revenue stream must work through the area in order for it to support itself. Many see this clause of the Base Realignment and Closure Act as non-binding (mostly because the Navy doesn’t want the land back). Regardless, its existence looms over discussions for future plans. As it stands right now, Point Molate costs the city more than a million of dollars per year for security services, plant maintenance, and consultant fees. 

WinehavenPoster.jpgFurther, before the land can be made into a potentially profitable development, there is another hurdle to cross. “Point Molate is frozen in time,”explains Craig Murray, a development project manager for the city of Richmond. “It’s frozen with 1940s technology and basic utilities.”Any development wishing to plant ground in Point Molate is going to have to fork out millions to prepare the area with basic utilities like running water and electricity. 

A utility study from 1999 estimated it would cost $18,413,000 to get the land up to speed. The cost today is estimated to be near $60 million to establish basic utilities at Point Molate. This sticker shock alone is a deterrent to developers. But if it doesn't happen, Murray explains, “we’ll just have a lot of city departments and other environmental groups out there storing materials and treating it like a large storage area.”In other words, if the investment doesn’t come, Point Molate will continue as is.

On the other side of the sustainability debate is the organization Citizens for a Sustainable Point Molate. Their mission is to preserve the land of Point Molate and protect it as one of the last remaining undeveloped lands in the Bay Area. This vision butts heads with the requirements of the Base Realignment and Closure Act, though it is undoubtedly the easier option. 

Mary Sundance, Vice Chair of the Point Molate Community Advisory Committee —a contemporary iteration of the Blue Ribbon Advisory Committee —understands the difficult balancing act of simultaneously cleaning up the oil, trying to draw in investors, and preserving the area’s natural beauty. “The contamination is being addressed and remediated at this time, but no viable plans are in place on what to do with this site once the contamination is abated,”Sundance explained. 

Sundance acknowledges the binding agreement with the Navy for economic sustainability of the site and suggests that “the best route to making Point Molate successful, like the Presidio, is to have a trust firm come in that will recruit developers with experience, funds, and vision to make Point Molate a great place to visit, play at, and remember.” 

PtMolateAerialDG.jpgUnfortunately, the future of the stretch of land sprawling north of the San Rafael bridge is bound to be as complicated as its past. Memories of the city’s troubles with UpStream and the developer’s big losses are still fresh in the minds of potential investors. And any discussion of future projects will have to work out how to preserve the historic nature of the site —starting with the estimated $26 million required to restore the Winehaven Building. 

Over its many iterations, Point Molate has proven to be a versatile resource. Whatever its next form may be, the land is certain to oblige —whether that be a dog park or a mega development. Not until the dust of restoration settles will a genuine debate on the future of Point Molate be feasible. Even then, the success of any endeavor will depend on the will of generous investors dedicated to a realistic project. For now, Point Molate remains in a state of transition, waiting for its next life.

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