Contra Costa Supervisors willing to be wooed
on November 4, 2009
MARTINEZ – The Contra Costa Board of Supervisors on Tuesday discussed reasons to reverse their longstanding opposition to the proposed casino resort at Point Molate. In exchange for the Supervisors’ support, the county would receive $12 million annually from casino profits. The money would be used for public health, law enforcement, detention facilities and traffic mitigation. It would also pay for a gambling addiction treatment and prevention program, to be run by two county health professionals.
The memorandum of understanding between Contra Costa Supervisors and the Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians – the tribe that proposes to operate the casino – was agenda item number one at Tuesday’s meeting. It was pushed up the list “to accommodate the large number of speakers,” said Board Chair Susan Bonilla.
Currently, the land on which the casino would be built belongs to the city of Richmond, but the Guidiville Band is petitioning the federal government to be granted the land in trust for the tribe. The Guidiville Band doesn’t have a reservation elsewhere and must meet certain criteria to be granted trust land at Point Molate.
If Point Molate is given in trust to the Guidiville Band, it would be the first time a California tribe received urban land to operate a casino with Las Vegas-style gaming. The tribe and developers are proposing a resort complex with two hotels, a 124,000 square foot casino, a roundhouse, homes for tribal members and numerous shops and restaurants. Many of the facilities would be restored turn-of-the-century buildings that once housed Winehaven, a large pre-Prohibition winery.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Senator Dianne Feinstein stand firmly against the tribe’s petition for the land. Earlier this month the Governor sent a letter to the Bureau of Indian Affairs stating that “land acquisitions that would allow Indian Gaming in urban areas are contrary to the intent of the voters of the State and State policy.”
Board of Supervisors Vice-Chair John Gioia represents Richmond. On Tuesday, Gioia acknowledged the county has become “ground zero” in the controversy over urban gaming. Before public comment commenced, he outlined the reasons the county decided to work with the tribe on a memorandum supporting the casino.
“It’s no secret that we were against it,” he said. “We spent about $1 million fighting it.” But Gioia argued that it’s ultimately up to the Interior Secretary whether the tribe gets the land in trust – and if that happens the county ought to benefit from the project. “As a county,” Gioia said, “our residents have the most to lose if a project is built without adequate mitigation.”
Richmond mayor, Gayle McLaughlin, who said she cleared her agenda to be present at the meeting, has made no secret of her own opposition to urban gaming. “We deserve a real economy that creates a product and a service, not one based on casinos,” she told Supervisors. McLaughlin urged them not to rush to agreement with the tribe and to review the memorandum carefully.
Casino opponent Andres Soto spoke more tersely than McLaughlin. “This sudden reversal is shocking,” he said, speaking for the Coalition to Save Point Molate, a staunchly anti-casino group.
But Soto and a handful of other opponents were in the minority at Tuesday’s Supervisors’ meeting, outnumbered by casino supporters sporting pale green “We Support Pt. Molate Resort” pins. They included several labor unions and local pastors who favor the economic renewal the development promises.
Greg Feere of the Contra Costa Building and Construction Trade Union received the loudest cheers. “This is the most well-organized design I have ever seen in this county,” Perry said. “And don’t pay attention to those Contra Costa Times editorials; they are decided upon by three old white guys in a room.”
Tribal vice-chair Donald Duncan, developer Jim Levine and Tribe CEO Michael Derry all thanked the Supervisors for taking the time to review their proposal. “We find that misinformation is our biggest enemy,” said Derry, pointing to what he called false statements that the plan called for paving over parts of the Bay trail with concrete parking lots.
The Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians has 112 members. Its efforts to have land restored to them are being bankrolled by the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, owner of the Cache Creek Casino in Brooks. Derry told Richmond Confidential he has no idea when the Bureau of Indian Affairs will hear the tribe’s case to put the land in trust, upon which the resort proposal hinges.
The Board of Supervisors agreed to consider reservations expressed by several speakers, and mentioned concerns of their own. Mary Piepho said she didn’t want to set a precedent for off-reservation gambling, and had questions about how smoking would be regulated. Gayle Uilkema wondered whether their support would turn Contra Costa County into the “urban gaming capital of the state.” However, all supervisors agreed that the memorandum supporting the casino had merit.
Alex L. Weber contributed reporting.
The story so far:
Before Napa there was Winehaven (Oct. 13)
County supervisors willing to be wooed (Nov. 3)
County unanimous support for casino (Nov. 11)
Local casino opposition crumbling (Nov. 11)
The law behind gaming at Point Molate (Nov. 12)
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