Other Tribes, Construction Unions Could Gum-up Wilton Rancheria's Elk Grove Casino

July 8, 2016 |

During the Wednesday night information session held by the Wilton Rancheria regarding their proposed Elk Grove Casino, Tribal Chair Raymond Hitchcock answered numerous questions. Among the questions asked included when would ground break and when would the resort be open for business.

"Three to five years is a good estimate to put shovels in the ground," Hitchcock said.

Moments earlier Hitchcock also said that the casino could open in five years and that "most likely we will have some lawsuits that we will have to settle."

So who could litigate against the tribe? There are several possibilities, but the most likely and well-funded sources of litigation are other tribal casinos or labor unions.

The motivation for other casinos is pretty obvious. If the Wilton Rancheria and their current partner, Las Vegas-based Boyd Gaming, succeed in their $400-million casino resort, it will squeeze other nearby casinos most notably the Jackson Rancheria, Thunder Valley, and Red Hawk.

Although Hitchcock tried to downplay the notion of other tribes not minding their intrusion into the lucrative Sacramento market, those casinos are in the business of making money, and any threat to their franchise is not likely to go unaddressed in some form. If you don't think that can happen, look south to Madera.

According to Courthouse News, The Picayune Rancheria of Chukchansi Indians filed suit in California Superior Court to stop construction of another Indian casino planned near its facility. The proposed casino is about 30 miles away from the Picayune Rancheria casino, about 10 miles less than the distance the proposed Wilton Rancheria casino is from Thunder Valley in Roseville.

As a follow-up, the Picayune Rancheria filed a Federal suit in Sacramento on July 1. In this suit the Picayune Rancheria claims that the proposed casino by the North Fork Rancheria Band of Mono Indians "does constitute as Indian lands for gaming per the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act."

Of course, the Wilton Rancheria could also be sued by various construction trade unions should the tribe not have a so-called project labor agreement (PLA). By far this could prove to be riskier for Elk Grove taxpayers.

Simply put, PLA's are agreements usually between government agencies or any entity undertaking a large construction project that agrees to use only union labor. Often building trade unions such as electricians, laborers, carpenters, operating engineers or plumbers and pipe-fitters will threaten a project with a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) lawsuit if they do not agree to a PLA.

Typically, rather than be suspected to lengthy litigation, project proponent agree to the PLA to avoid costly delays. If the Wilton Rancheria has not agreed to PLA's the unions will probably file suit.

When the Federal environmental impact studies is released, whether or not the Wilton Rancheria has a PLA can be gauged by whether or not and what sort of comments the building trade unions have submitted. A summary by the Dayton Public Policy Institute outlines some of the PLA's tribal casinos have agreed to can be viewed here

Although the City of Elk Grove will not have any direct say in this, the building trade union who have given generously to all five of our current councilmen can use that as leverage as the City, and the Cosumnes Community Services District for that matter, negotiate their service agreements for police and fire protection.

The danger for Elk Grove taxpayers exists if the labor unions exert their influence on Mayor Gary Davis and his four city council colleagues to negotiate a weak service agreement with the Rancheria. In a three-way negotiation between the unions, the Rancheria and the City, if the Rancheria agrees to a PLA with the unions, the Rancheria could ask the unions to prevail on the councilmen, who have all accepted ten of thousands of their dollars, to accept a service agreement that is favorable to the Rancheria and not so for taxpayers.

As the casino progresses, it will be important to monitor who sues the Wilton Rancheria, the service agreement the city council negotiates, and how all three might be interrelated. Elk Grove taxpayers beware.

If you are interested in reading three stories from 2004 about how a similar series of events that unfolded between building trade unions and the City of Sacramento, please email us at editor@elkgrovenew.net and we will send you the 11-page document that provides an overview of how the process worked for unions as they stalled the development of a project.  


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