Elk Grove, Wilton Rancheria Reach Agreement on MOU Financial Terms For Proposed Casino

September 28, 2016 | 

By a unanimous vote, tonight the Elk Grove City Council approved a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Wilton Rancheria that helps pave the way for the proposed $400-million casino resort. The casino is proposed for a 35-acre parcel that is currently home to the unfinished Outlet Collection of Elk Grove.

The MOU between the City and the Wilton Rancheria determines the fees that will be paid to mitigate various effects the casino will have on Elk Grove. The City will be paid about $6.5 million annually for the next 20 years as mitigation for things like public safety and traffic should the project be green-lighted by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Although the City Council conducted a relatively short deliberation to reach their decision, it was done after hearing two hours of testimony from over 40 people in a standing-room-only city council chamber. 

Roughly two-thirds of speakers were for the casino citing a host or reasons centered on economic development. Along with Elk Grove residents, many of those speaking in favor of the project were members of the Wilton Rancheria and construction and real estate interests.

Among those speaking for the casino was Wilton Rancheria Chairman Raymond "Chucky" Hitchcock. In his presentation, Hitchcock emphasized the casino will benefit Elk Grove and will help the tribe to become self-sufficient. 

"It will create 1,600 construction jobs over the two-year life of the building of this project," Hitchcock said. "It will create over 2,000 full-time jobs once the facility is up and running paying, good, competitive wages."

The speakers in favor of the project cited the economic benefits associated with the casino including the 2,000 jobs and the belief that it would help get the unfinished Outlet Collection at Elk Grove completed.

Of the roughly one-third of the audience that opposed the project one of the common themes was their assertion that the City has rushed through the MOU with no public input. 

One resident who expressed displeasure with the process was Angie Wangsgard who said she had a negative experience "trying to get straight-forward answers on the influence the City has on this project."

Wangsgard said the City had not given people a fair opportunity to have their voice heard in the process and urged a delay in approving the process until the Federal environmental impact study is completed.  

Additionally, Wangsgard said she was disturbed by a May 4, 2016, email sent by Elk Grove Development Director Darrell Doan to Hitchcock that showed the City was supportive of the project before the public had an opportunity to comment. (see related story here).

A couple of speakers also voiced concerns regarding the societal ills they believe are brought on by gambling. One of those was Elk Grove resident and Elk Grove Chinese Association member Jennifer Xie who said she was involved in the production of a Chinese-language public service announcement regarding problem gambling.

"Gambling addiction is a real problem for some people," she said. Xie also expressed concern that the proposed casino was to close to schools, and would be a negative influence on children. 

Rubin Castillo said as a former casino employee holding 36-different casino licenses he saw the ill-effects of gambling up close. Castillo said after the regular people leave casinos were often filled with problematic customers, and he was concerned how it will affect local children.   

"I've seen the dark side, I 've seen the meth-heads, I've seen the speedsters," he said. "It's going to suck the soul out of the children of Elk Grove."

Although the MOU agreement has been reached, the City Council still needs to approve the release of the development agreement that is attached to the title of the property. That process by the City Council, which has not been scheduled, needs to be completed before the BIA will hold any land in trust for a casino 

During deliberations Councilman Pat Hume, who in a sort of anti-Horace Greeley manifest destiny diatribe, used the brutality of Native Americans Tribes and their Federal status as Sovereign Nations as a justification for approving the MOU. 

"My job is not to to say I approve of how they want to better their lives or disapprove," Hume said. "It is to get the hell out of way."



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