The future of the proposed $1.2 billion Point Molate casino-hotel resort in Richmond hinges on what happens April 5.
The Richmond City Council will vote then on whether to approve or kill the project.
Upstream and the Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians still hope to build the resort at the old Point Molate Navy Fuel Depot, despite a council majority opposed to gaming. They are seeking state and federal approvals, but they need the city to turn over land for development.
On Tuesday, the City Council voted 4-1 to certify the environmental impact report for the project, with Mayor Gayle McLaughlin dissenting. Vice Mayor Tom Butt walked out of the meeting before the vote in frustration, and Councilman Nat Bates was absent.
The council majority admitted the report has multiple flaws, including analysis some call superficial and mitigation measures that don't adequately solve problems.
"Although I'm not entirely happy with this EIR, I believe it serves its purpose," Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles said. "I see that as a whole, there's some insufficiencies but we need to move forward."
Butt accused his colleagues of yielding to stave off a lawsuit. He proposed changes, such as requiring Upstream pay more to close gaps in the Bay Trail and banning smoking or allowing employees to stay away from areas where people smoke. He grew frustrated when others disagreed, and left the dais.
"You guys are so worried about getting sued on this thing," Butt said. "I'm going to vote for the casino project, because you've convinced me that you're so scared about getting sued that we should give Upstream everything they want."
The vote to certify the report is separate from a decision to build a casino resort, meaning the council retains the option of approving or nixing the project April 5.
The resort would include two hotels, a 122,000-square-foot conference center, restaurants, shops, tribal facilities and a shoreline trail, but it's the 124,000-square-foot gaming floor that divided the community.
It became a big election issue last November, when 57.5 percent of voters rejected advisory Measure U on a Point Molate casino. Voters also created an anti-casino majority by electing new members, Beckles and Corky Booze.
Beckles, Booze, Butt, McLaughlin and Jeff Ritterman have opposed a casino, forming a strong five-member voting bloc on the seven-member council. Four votes are needed to approve or reject the casino.
At Tuesday's hearing, supporters said no one has proposed another development that can turn Point Molate into an economic force that provides the thousands of jobs and millions in revenue the casino project promises.
Myrtle Jones's granddaughter worked at Lytton Casino San Pablo without a problem.
"I got a boy shot down by my house on Friday," she said. "I'm talking about jobs. I'm not talking about casino. I'm talking about jobs and I think it'll cut out a lot of killing."
Opponents fear a casino will bring crime, addiction and other ills while congesting local roads. Donald Johnson said the casino project would be a siphon, not a boon for the local economy.
"We have to get people independent and working jobs, but a casino will not do that," he said. "A casino steals more money than it gives back. It's a bad deal for everybody except Upstream, the Pomos and those Jack Abramoff wannabes who are in this room right now," referring to the disgraced former Washington lobbyist convicted in a scheme to collect exorbitant fees from opposing tribes.
Don Gosney presented pictures of a dilapidated Building 6 which was used for administration and warehousing at Point Molate, chiding Butt's "obstinance" for insisting on restoring the 116,000-square-foot cube at a cost of about $25 million.
Even then, "What you're left with is a really old, ugly warehouse," Gosney said. "Sometimes an old building is just an old building."
Staff writer John Simerman contributed to this report.