Citizens' Lawsuit Suggests Elk Grove, Wilton Rancheria Worked Closely For Last 5 Years on Proposed Casino Project

June 21, 2017 |  

The second in a series of stories based on the lawsuit filed against the City of Elk Grove by four Elk Grove residents. This story explores communications before the June 2016 announcement that the Elk Grove site was the preferred location of the Wilton Rancheria's $400-million casino resort. 

Although the lawsuit filed on Tuesday, June 20 against the City of Elk Grove is based on claims that the City is not complying with the California Public Records Act and the Ralph M. Brown Act, the public records obtained by the plaintiffs as outlined in the complaint suggests there has been a long-term working relationship between the City and the Wilton Rancheria [hereafter the Tribe] regarding the proposed $400-million casino resort.

The lawsuit seeks to compel the City to identify which of the requested documents and correspondence are exempt from release. The plaintiffs argue that by not identifying which documents are exempt that "it is impossible to to determine if claimed exemptions apply."  

Also, an additional remedy sought by the plaintiffs would compel the City to conduct hearings on "the de facto  rezoning." The plaintiffs are also requesting the refund of legal fees should they prevail.      

The suit, which was filed in Sacramento Superior Court, outlines the relationship between the City and the Tribe dating back until at least until December 2012. While all current and past Elk Grove City Council Member in office between December 2012 and January 2017 have claimed neutrality regarding the proposed casino resort, the released information suggests otherwise.

The plaintiff's suit lists in chronological order its assertion that the City and the Tribe "beginning in 2012 a series of actions, meetings, and communications occurred between members of the City Council, its agents, and City staff to support, assist ECTC [Elk Grove Town Center, LP, a wholly owned entity of the Howard Hughes Corporation]  through its general partner HHC [Howard Hughes Corporation], and representatives of the Tribe and its development partner, [Las Vegas-based] Boyd [Gaming] with its plan to develop a portion of the Elk Grove Mall Site A as a tribal casino and hotel."

That site, more commonly known as the Outlet Collection at Elk Grove, is a 99-acre site on the west side of Highway 99 north of Kammerer Road, is the unfinished shopping center that has lied fallow since July 2008. Construction of the facility which was then called the Elk Grove Promenade came to a stop in July 2008 in the lead-up to the Chapter 11 bankruptcy of the previous developer, General Growth Company.

The suit claims that sometime in 2012 Boyd and the Tribe entered into a private agreement to develop the casino at a Sacramento County location. On November 29, 2012, through his secretary Sacramento County Supervisor Don Nottoli requested a meeting between county officials and representatives from Elk Grove and the City of Galt. 

Of significance, on December 12, 2012, former Elk Grove Assistant Manager Becky Craig emailed HHC representative Thomas Warden suggesting the shopping center site could be a suitable location for an Indian casino.

Craig wrote "I participated in an interesting meeting earlier this week and I head heard a lead that would be beneficial for HHC to follow. A local Indian tribe, Wilton Rancheria, is interested in locating a casino in the southeast vicinity of the City of Elk Grove... as HHC evaluates their development options with the Promenade Mall in Elk Grove, perhaps a call to Boyd Gaming to discuss its project as part of something bigger/different could prove useful. We would be willing to assist however we can."

Warden responded saying "That's an excellent idea, which I will pursue quickly. I'm friendly with a number of Boyd executives so who knows. Thanks for the thought. I'll be in touch."

The filing did not indicate if the meeting Craig referred to was the one requested by Nottoli, however, the proximity of the dates suggests it may have been.

On February 22, 2013, the Tribe notified Sacramento County of its intent to apply with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to take non-tribal land into trust for the development of a casino. In March 2013, HHC requested to restructure the development agreement for the site.

In the ensuing months, the Tribe pursued but ultimately withdrew from a possible 282-acre site just outside of Galt city limits. The two other identified site were the Tribe's 75-acres in Wilton and the HHC site.

By February 2014, email correspondence between tribal consultants and the City and Sacramento Area Sewer District indicated the Tribe as seeking development of sewer/water services for the HHC site. In October 2014, the City amended the development agreement for the HHC site splitting the parcel into two "phases" - one for the rebranded Outlet Collection and the phase two, the location of the proposed casino, for undefined uses.

In March 2016, the City submitted comments to the BIA on the environmental impact study and expressed concerns regarding possible effects on law enforcement, traffic, and lost tax revenues. As a result, that same month the Tribal Chairman requested meetings between the City, to review design issues for a location of the casino on the HHC site and the Sacramento Area Sewer District "responded to detailed request from the Tribe's consultants designing sewer lines at the Elk Grove Mall."

Another significant event according to the filing said that "at least by April 18, 2016, the City and HHC began bi-weekly development coordination meetings for the casino/hotel development." The documents suggest that the participants in these meetings included economic development director Darrell Doan; city manager Laura Gill; assistant city manager Jason Behrmann; assistant development director Shane Dillard; budget manager Andrew Keyes; planning director Darren Wilson; and planning manager Christoper Jones.

As part of the continued relationship, the suit claims that in May 2016 "multiple meetings between the City staff and the Tribe also occurred. The Tribal Chairman [Raymond Hitchcock] and Boyd representatives also conversed by cell phone with Mayor Davis during May." 

On May 31, Boyd, the Tribe and EGTC entered into an option agreement to sell phase 2 to the Wilton Rancheria for the development of the casino. On June 9, 2016, the Tribe issued a press release saying it was terminating pursuit of the Galt site and had selected the Outlet Collection at Elk Grove location.

As noted in the suit, the June 9 announcement "was a sudden shift, as all prior public notices and environmental documents prepared for the casino came as part of the DEIS (draft environmental impact study) emphasized the casino being developed in the City of Galt, and all public meetings and hearing regarding the tribe's plan for its casino had been held in Galt."

Following the announcement, the Tribe held a public information session at Elk Grove's Falls Event Center on July 6, 2016, to discuss the proposed project. At that meeting, when asked if he supported the casino, former Elk Grove Mayor Gary Davis deflected the query saying "he supported the tribe."

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D.J. Blutarsky said...

CODE BLUE! CODE BLUE! Doan and Nelson to the media room stat! Waltman and Region Builders, get those economic development speeches prepared ASAP! Hobbs and Ly to the Bunker!

Capt. Benjamin Willard said...

What continues to be an unending source of amazement is, outside the four Elk Grove plaintiffs who filed the lawsuit and a handful of other people in the community, is how the vast majority of voters lack any interest on how their city is governed by the executive staff along with the city council.

Regardless of what your position on the casino might be, voters should be disturbed when their elected officials claim one thing with a straight face in public, only to find out that behind closed doors, something diametrical opposite is occurring. Voters might be so conditioned to this sort of behavior from government officials and elected representatives that it has become the new standard of governance.

Nevertheless, it would appear that the word "integrity" and the current Elk Grove City Council will not be used in the same sentence, not that it has ever been their strong suit, at any point for at least another four years.

Eye on Elk Grove said...

Well now, these text messages look very interesting. Maybe with the new California State Supreme Court ruling, the plaintiffs will be able to secure not only text messages but emails from those council members who refuse to use their city email address to conduct official city business. Could it be Elk Grove City Council members have something to hide? What an eye opening thought!

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