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Contra Costa Times on Governor's Point Molate Letter

Governor opposes Richmond casino plan

By Katherine Tam and John Simerman
Contra Costa Times

Posted: 10/13/2009 05:13:29 PM PDT

Updated: 10/14/2009 06:46:28 AM PDT


Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger lodged his opposition this week to a proposed Las Vegas-style casino on Richmond's waterfront, saying the plan violates the intent of the 2000 voter-approved state law that authorized tribal gaming and launched an $8 billion industry, primarily in rural areas.

Schwarzenegger's opposition could hold sway with the federal Department of Interior, which must decide whether to grant the Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians an exception to a general ban on tribal casinos on land acquired after 1988.

Allowing Guidiville to build its proposed hotel-casino resort at the old Point Molate Naval Fuel Depot north of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge would fly in the face of Proposition 1A, the governor's office said in a letter to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

That initiative, which allows tribes to operate slot machines and card tables on Indian lands, was not meant to open the door to urban gaming, but rather limit it to a tribe's existing reservation lands, mostly located in nonurban areas, according to the letter from Andrea Hoch, Schwarzenegger's legal affairs secretary.

"Proposition 1A was not intended to expose the most populous areas of the state to the effects of casino-style gambling," Hoch wrote. "This proposed land acquisition, if approved, may also undermine the constitutionality of California's Indian gaming regime."

Proposition 1A survived a legal challenge in 2003. A judge ruled it reasonable for the state to restrict tribal gaming to "carefully limited locations" to meet its interests of protecting public health, safety, welfare and order.

Michael Derry, CEO of the Guidiville tribe's economic development arm, said Tuesday that he had not seen the letter, but noted that the governor's approval was not required. He said the tribe has closely adhered to the federal process laid out for tribes like Guidiville.

Guidiville and developer Upstream Point Molate LLC want to build a mega resort that would include a 240,000-square-foot casino with 124,000 square feet of gaming, a conference center, nearly 1,100 hotel rooms, restaurants, shops, tribal headquarters and a shoreline park and trail.

"We're not breaking the law," Derry said. "We're following the law."

The argument that the casino project would endanger the legal foundation for Indian gaming in California echoes a stance Schwarzenegger took four years ago against a bid by the Scotts Valley Band of Pomo Indians to build a Las Vegas-style casino in unincorporated North Richmond. At the same time, Schwarzenegger issued a proclamation opposing Indian gaming in urban areas of the state.

Like Guidiville, Scotts Valley awaits a federal decision on its application to have the land placed into federal trust.

Just what influence the governor might have on either casino proposal is uncertain. Federal law bars tribes from gaming on newly acquired lands, with a few exceptions. One requires the interior secretary to approve and the governor to concur.

But both Guidiville and Scotts Valley are seeking casino land under a different provision, for tribes that lost federal status and their land, then were restored to federal recognition. The "restored lands" provision does not require the governor's support,

If the land is placed into trust, the governor would need to negotiate in good faith with the tribe on a gaming compact and could stall or seek to limit the casino plans. In the case of Scotts Valley and Guidiville, that is unlikely to occur before Schwarzenegger leaves office.

Opponents of the casino project hailed the governor's position.

"Point Molate is the fifth attempt to put a large casino in the urban East Bay using tribes that are not indigenous to the area," said Andres Soto, chairman of the opposition group Coalition to Save Point Molate. "It's clear that this is simply another attempt to exploit a vulnerable city like Richmond in tough economic times."

Derry, however, said that while tribal members hail from a rancheria around Ukiah, they have deeper roots in the Bay Area, and the tribe has supplied federal officials with thousands of pages of documents to prove it.

Locally, the proposed hotel-casino resort has roused much debate over whether it could prove Richmond's boon or bane. Supporters welcome the jobs and revenue it would bring, saying it would transform Richmond into a more economically viable place.

Opponents fear the project would bring criminal activity and social ills. The draft environmental impact report is deficient in its analysis of traffic impacts and other environmental effects, they added.

Katherine Tam covers Richmond. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/katherinetam.