Molate: Waterfront Dream or Terrorist Nightmare?
By Susan Williams
Many in the City of Richmond have
dreams for Point Molate—a secluded, mostly undeveloped, 290-acre
strip of waterfront nestled in Richmond’s Potrero Hills north of
the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. It offers spectacular views of the
San Francisco and San Pablo Bays, the Marin hills, and the bridge
from its 500-foot high ridge top down to the water’s edge. In late
September, the Navy turned the deed to Point Molate over to the
City. Now dreams for allowing the public in and for creating a
Bay-front gem—a large park, homes, and a retreat center—tantalize
the City more than ever.
Surrounding this piece of
paradise, however, is the Chevron Texaco Refinery. The company’s
executives envision nightmarish scenarios if the public gains access
to Point Molate. They are pressuring the City to fence it off as a
security area or to allow industrial uses only.
Plans for Building in Paradise
Eight years ago, the City got the
news from the Navy that Point Molate could one day be theirs. They
developed a Reuse Plan, and more recently, issued a request for
developer bids. Seven developers expressed interest.
The City’s Reuse Plan includes
preservation and access to a little-known historic treasure called
Winehaven—a century-old red brick castle, with turrets and
crenellations—which could be a set for Lord of the Rings. Early in
the century, Winehaven was the largest wine producer in America. A
couple of the City’s development proposals envision a new winery
and a retreat center moving into the renovated castle. The
winemaster’s home and the 29 winemakers’ cottages could lodge
travelers, and house restaurants and cafes.
Most of Point Molate, which the
Navy used for underground fuel storage during WW II, is clean and
ready for developers. Unfortunately, the remaining contaminated
portions, three 400-foot treatment ponds, lie in the center of the
90 most developable acres. The Navy-funded cleanup may continue for
a few more years.
A Difficult Neighbor
The real obstacle to the City’s
development plans comes not from underground contamination, but from
Point Molate’s next door neighbor, the Chevron Texaco Refinery. An
ammonia leak at the refinery could create a toxic cloud and endanger
Point Molate residents, according to the Navy’s environmental
report. Housing at Point Molate is deemed an incompatible use, but
transient residential use, such as a conference center, would be
The most dire threat, according to
Chevron itself, is the possibility of terrorists sneaking into the
refinery by way of Point Molate. "Since September 11, 2001,
much has changed," says a letter from Gary Fisher, Chevron’s
Manager of External Affairs. It warns that the U.S. Office of
Homeland Security and the FBI see the refinery as a critical
facility. Therefore, Chevron objects to any use other than
"industrial, manufacturing and restricted open space,"—in
other words, very few people.
Don Gosney, Community Co-Chair of
the Point Molate Restoration Advisory Board, says "Chevron is
milking the paranoia surrounding the September 11 attacks." He
adds, "They’re more concerned with keeping potential
litigants away than with terrorists. Chevron thinks residents at
Point Molate will sue the first time there’s a little spill. They’re
just concerned with their profits."
"There are 25 better ways for
a terrorist to get into the refinery than through Point Molate,"
says Tom Butt, Richmond City Councilman. "The refinery can be
reached very readily by land, sea or air."
Rosemary Corbin, ex-Mayor, decries
the toxic clouds as a false threat as well. "The Point Richmond
neighborhood is just as close to the refinery as Point Molate. Yet
Chevron says Point Richmond is safe."
Some fear that Chevron will find a
way to get their way. Gosney thinks that Chevron will get an
injunction on the land preventing the City from building anything.
Or the company will lease the land for a year then offer the City a
"gazillion dollars," a chunk of change that would be hard
to resist. Once Chevron owned Point Molate, they’d fence it off
and let the historic buildings crumble.
A Solution: Bigger Fences, Better
Tom Butt recommends taking the
time to negotiate. "The next time Chevron asks the City for
some kind of permit, the City could require Chevron, as a condition,
to move or downsize the ammonia tanks, or at least to add more
"Maybe a solution would be
for Chevron to purchase the ridge top, the area adjacent to the
refinery— or to put an easement there," says Corbin.
"Chevron could build a better fence there and provide increased
security. Then the City could have the waterfront portion of the
property." Bigger fences make better neighbors, particularly
when your neighbor is a huge Chevron refinery.
Both the Richmond City Council and Chevron hope
for a mutually acceptable solution. But for now, the fate of Point
Molate is anybody’s guess.