Elk Grove City Council Validates Anti-Casino Referendum Petition, Defers Decision on When to Hold Election

January 12, 2017 |  

The Elk Grove City Council last night voted to unanimously to certify the referendum petition seeking to overturn an ordinance that helps the process of locating an Indian gaming casino in the City.

The ordinance, 23-2013, was passed in October 2016 released the Howard Hughes Company from a development agreement. With the release of the development agreement, HHC could sell 35-acres of their unfinished Outlet Collection at Elk Grove shopping center to the Wilton Rancheria.

With the pending purchase of the parcel, the Wilton Rancheria has proposed a $400 million casino resort, To win approval from the Bureau of Indian Affairs for gaming facilities on non-tribal land, the land must be free of any encumbrances. By releasing HHC from the development agreement, that hurdle has been removed for the Tribe.

The petition drive to qualify a referendum started immediately after the November elections and sought to allow Elk Grove voters the opportunity to vote on whether or not to repeal the development agreement. The petition drive was paid for by Emeryville, Calif-based Knighted Ventures who operates card rooms, several of which are in Sacramento. 

The City Council approved the certification with little deliberation by a 3-0 vote with Councilman Pat Hume recusing himself. Instead of certifying the referendum petition, the Council could have rescinded the ordinance. The council did not discuss when the matter would be placed on a ballot deferring that decision to their January 25 regular meeting. 

In his discussion of his office's certification process, Elk Grove City Clerk Jason Lindgren said he and City Attorney Jonathon Hobbs made a conservative interpretation of state election laws and stated that a special election would be required. The cost of the special election is estimated to cost more than $1 million.

Lindgren also noted during his presentation that a letter submitted by an attorney representing Knighted Ventures said that a special election was not necessary and the matter could be placed on the ballot of the next scheduled election in November 2018.

Speaking during public comment, Ashlee Titus of the Sacramento-based law firm of Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk acknowledged Lindgren and Hobb's conservative interpretation of election law, but the law allows for more flexibility. 

"Legally, you do have the option of placing this on a special election within at least 88 days of tonight at a cost of nearly $1 million, or at the next regular municipal election," Titus said. "That is an option that I believe members of this City Council should discuss in public."

Titus went on to say that in 12 years of her election laws practice, she "has never seen a court demand that a local jurisdiction place a referendum matter on a special election ballot." She added that the outer boundaries of an election are the next regular municipal election.

About a dozen people on both sides of the issue spoke during public comment. On the pro-casino side, there were several construction and labor advocates including Tom Waltman of Sacramento-based Region Builders while speakers in opposition included Cheryl Schmitt of the gaming watchdog group Stand up for California.

Interestingly, there was one speaker, Elk Grove resident Lisa Jimenez, in opposition to the proposed casino who said she was a former member of the Wilton Rancheria. In her comments, Jimenez painted an unflattering picture of the tribe's practices and BIA Regional Director Amy Dutschke.

Jimenez claimed that Dutschke disenrolled her family and several others, and then enrolled her family members in the Wilton Rancheria placing them in leadership roles. Jimenez also claimed that Dutschke was fast-tracking the Wilton Rancheria application for the benefit of family members. 

"Ms. Dutschke's decision to recommend approval for the casino proposal creates a serious conflict of interest," Jimenez said. "Her decision is to financially benefit her family members, and indirectly, and potentially Ms. Dutschke herself."


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