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The Squeaky Wheel Wins the Cash

The squeaky wheel wins the cash

By Lisa Vorderbrueggen
Contra Costa Times

Posted: 11/13/2009 07:54:30 PM PST

Updated: 11/13/2009 07:54:31 PM PST


The drama surrounding Contra Costa County's about-face on the proposed Point Molate Indian casino illustrates a powerful political reality: Opposition pays.

After spending $1 million of taxpayers' money on a hard-hitting analysis that labeled urban gaming a societal scourge, the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors last week dropped its condemnation in return for payments of up to $22 million a year.

Citizens for East Shore Parks, an environmental coalition, is rumored to be close to a deal with the Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians worth tens of millions of dollars.

Powerful labor groups have secured promises from the tribe to hire union workers and support its apprentice programs.

And tribal advocates have somehow persuaded nearly 50 Richmond area ministers to sign a letter of support. Apparently, the evils of unemployment outrank the evils of gambling.

The legal payoff is a common strategy in hot-button development proposals: Identify your critics and satisfy them. Money works.

"Richmond was the first to be bought off, and I don't say that to be critical," said Richmond Councilman Tom Butt, who supported the city's decision to sell Point Molate to the tribe for $50 million plus $20 million a year for impacts. "There is so much money in this operation, once it gets going, that (the tribe) could literally afford to spend $300 million a year to buy people off and still make money beyond belief." Cash won't appease everyone, particularly folks with strong anti-gambling views or gaming competitors such as card rooms.

But the Bay Area Rescue Mission, a homeless shelter and service provider for the poor in Richmond, may be open to a deal.

The mission has reportedly hired Antioch political consultant Dan Lee.

Its president, Rev. John Anderson, brought a carload of his clients to the supervisors' Martinez hearing last week, where the men testified about the ills of gambling addiction. Lee sat in the back of the room.

The tensest political drama, though, centers on Supervisor John Gioia of Richmond.

Gioia had been an unwavering urban Indian casino critic until October when he disclosed the county's negotiations with the tribe and signaled its willingness to change course.

His reversal angered anti-casino activists who say Gioia buckled under union pressure.

Citizens to Save Point Molate member Andres Soto of Richmond points to the big pro-casino, union crowd at the weekday hearings. Three well-known local labor leaders sat visibly in the front row Greg Feere of the building trades, Rollie Katz of the public employees union and Contra Costa Labor Council Executive Director Pam Aguilar.

"It was orchestrated and designed to put the scare into the board, all of whom have to stand for re-election," Soto said.

Keep in mind, the card clubs bankroll Soto's group, although he says he is a unpaid volunteer.

Gioia is taking the criticism hard.

He grew up in Richmond. His kids go to school in Richmond. Accusations that he sold out or folded under labor's thumb are wrong, he says.

Gioia described it as a painful but pragmatic vote.

He says the county's limited leverage over the federal government's pending decision whether to designate Point Molate as tribal land would have evaporated along with any payments for impacts if it had waited.

"The easier political decision would have been to stick to my position," Gioia said. "But ultimately, it's about making the right decision."

Reach Lisa Vorderbrueggen at lvorderbrueggen@bayareanewsgroup.com or 925-945-4773 or www.ibabuzz.com/politics.