Opinion - The Truth About the Petitions and the Elk Grove Casino

By Steve Lee | November 23, 2016 |  

The Elk Grove City Council has stated on numerous occasions in relation to the proposed Indian casino to be built on the ghost mall property that their hands are tied, they have no ability to stop the casino project from being built here in Elk Grove. 

That is simply not true. 

They had the opportunity to quash the project but unanimously voted to allow it to go forward. That might be okay, I’m sure many, many, citizens would love to have a casino so close to home, however, shouldn’t such a major project be subject to a vote of those who are directly affected rather than by a vote solely of the council? By saying “directly affected,” I’m referring to the citizens of Elk Grove. 

At the October 12, city council meeting the issue of the existing Developer’s Agreement (DA) between the city and Howard Hughes Corporation (HHC), who holds title to the real estate the proposed mall and casino sits on, was discussed. The DA essentially encumbers the property, dictating what can and can’t be built on the land. These encumbrances make the casino a moot point. The property title must be free of restrictions to be placed in a Federal trust by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Despite some pre-election rhetoric and fliers to the contrary, the council voted unanimously to remove the DA from the 36-acre parcel the casino proponents needed to move forward. This DA was the city’s only legal defense should the city/citizens decide the casino was a bad idea for Elk Grove. Mayor-elect Steve Ly sent out fliers stating he was against the casino for the negative aspect it would bring to those like him who supported family values. Ly voted to amend the DA and allow the casino to move forward. Upon exercising his vote, the Mayor-elect stated that he’d “be first in the buffet line.” 

As for the petition that has been disseminated across the city in the past couple of weeks, there has been much misinformation on both sides about the content and purpose of the document. An as of yet unknown deep pocket entity hired the petition greeters to gather as many valid Elk Grove voters as possible in order to have the city council’s decision to modify the DA set aside and have the issue placed on a “special election” ballot for the citizens to decide whether or not the city should exclude the 36 acres the Native-Americans have ear-marked for their hotel/casino from the existing DA. The petition, if ratified, simply allows the people of Elk Grove to either “uphold” the council’s previous decision to remove the DA from the property or to “rescind” the council’s previous decision, effectively preventing the casino from going forward via a special election. 

Despite robo-calls from council members and mailed fliers from Region Business (formerly Region Builders) stating the petition, if passed, would kill the mall, the truth is the mall and the casino are two mutually exclusive developments. Your signature on the petition has absolutely nothing to do with the mall project. While each would be beneficial to the other, neither is dependent on the other, or so we’ve always been told. Just several months ago Councilman Detrick stated that his discussions with HHC indicated that the 50% lease quota required to get the construction restarted at the mall site was almost met and the HHC said they were looking for a January, 2017 restart and a grand opening in time for the 2017 Christmas season. The latest news that Elk Grove has one of the nation’s fastest growing economies should certainly hasten mall construction as well. 

Certainly, the casino project is years away from breaking ground. So many federal hoops have to jumped through to even finalize the site as a sovereign nation and Indian land. If the mall is contingent on the casino, it will be years before the mall is again under construction. 

Putting this issue to a vote simply gives us citizens a chance to voice our opinion as to what we want for our hometown. It’s simply too big an issue to be decided solely by the council. Democracy demands that this big an issue should be decided by a vote of the people. If a majority decide to allow the DA to be modified to allow the land to be available for a casino, then so be it. Personally, I’m ambivalent to the issue of the casino. I’m not ambivalent about democracy and citizen’s rights. Shouldn’t citizens decide whether a casino is an amenity that we want? Why does the city council get the only votes on this issue?

Unfortunately, apathy is alive and well here in Elk Grove. Everyone is busy with their careers, families, and extracurricular activities for themselves and their kids and add a 1 hour commute to work each way five days a week and it’s hard to find time to get involved in city politics. That’s understandable. Very few took an interest in the council’s decision until the paid petition workers showed up and asked for signatures to give the citizens a voice. It has taken the private money of the petition drivers to awaken the citizenry. I’m okay with that. It’s about time we take our city back from the developers and require our council to start doing what’s in the best interests of the residents, not the developers.

Elk Grove has over 90,000 registered voters, roughly 50,000 took the time to vote earlier this month and of those over 13,000 didn’t cast a vote for any of the District 3 candidates for council and over 7,500 didn’t vote for any of the mayoral candidates. Consider now that almost 15,000 citizens have signed the petition asking to be heard. For this reason alone, the council should take heed and rescind their previous vote and demand that a special election be held so that the citizens can be heard. 

Many of us moved here because of the bedroom community lifestyle Elk Grove offers. Many want a bedroom community not a Destination City as our out-going mayor has fought so vehemently for. No one has asked the citizens what they want. In reality, the council is beholden to those who fill their campaign coffers with tens of thousands of dollars each campaign cycle. In return, developers have been given carte blanche to build what they want, how they want here; that’s politics. 

Reasonable minds should all agree that a vote from the public should be necessary and even preferred before a 12 story hotel and Indian casino are built within Elk Grove’s borders.

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