Calif. State Senate Committee Holds Hearing on Fast-Tracked Elk Grove Casino Indian Gaming Compact

Lisa Jimenez, Chair of Historical Disenrolled Families of the Wilton Rancheria. | 

August 22, 2017 | 

In a California State Senate hearing held this morning, a large group of supporters converged to speak in support of the Wilton Rancheria's proposed $400 million casino on the site of Elk Grove's so-called ghost mall.

The hearing was conducted by Senate's Governmental Organization Committee and was held for information purposes. The session was part of Assembly Bill 1606 introduced by Assemblymember Jim Cooper (D -Elk Grove).

Cooper's bill, which was introduced as urgency legislation, seeks to quickly approve the state gaming compact agreed to by Gov. Jerry Brown and the Wilton Rancheria. Today's informational session was the first hearing in what is expected to be a speedy process for the compact.

After hearing opening remarks from Cooper and Joe Dhillon from Gov. Brown's staff, the committee heard testimony from Wilton Rancheria Chairman Raymond "Chuckie" Hitchcock and Elk Grove City Council members.

In his comments, Hitchcock gave a history of the tribe's various dealing with the federal government regarding recognition, which was reinstated in 2009. Additionally, Hitchcock said the casino, which has the backing of Las Vegas-based Boyd Gaming, is an opportunity for the tribe to reach self-sufficiency and be beneficial to nearby communities.

"This is huge not only for the tribe, but the community, south Sacramento, and the city of Elk Grove," Hitchcock said. 

The committee also heard testimony from Elk Grove City Council Members Pat Hume and Stephanie Nguyen. Contrary to Cooper's introducing them as representatives of the City, Hume and Nguyen stressed they were appearing as private citizens.

Both urged approving the compact and said there would be numerous benefits for Elk Grove. Hume said the tribe was going "above and beyond" in their mitigation payments to the city, while Nguyen said the opportunity for job development is beneficial to the region.

"This gives us an opportunity to provide such quality high-paying jobs to individuals who need it," Nguyen said.  

Also speaking on behalf of the tribe was AFL-CIO Unite Here's, Jack Gribbon. Unite Here represents over 200,000 hospitality employees in collective bargaining units including 7,000 California Indian casino employees.

In his comments, Gribbon said the Wilton Rancheria has committed to allowing employees at their facility to organize if they so choose. The California legislators, which has Democratic super majorities in both houses counts organized labor as one of their most important interest groups.

"For this tribe to look forward to that, given what their current mandate which is to lift their own tribe up with economic development, is a very, very, humbling thing for us at Unite Here," Gribbon said. "We support this, we hope you vote for it unanimously, and we hope the assembly votes unanimously as well."

During public testimony over three dozen people expressed views on the compact. While the vast majority of the speakers supporting the compact were from various business interests, labor unions, trade associations, and municipalities, there were five individuals who spoke in opposition. 

Speaking on behalf of casino watchdog group Stand Up For California, Cheryl Schmitt suggested the City of Elk Grove that the language of the compact be changed so that the California Environmental Quality Act be in enforced on newly acquired lands.  

"City governments should be required to negotiate, they should be required to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act," Schmitt said. "So these environmental projects, that are huge, beyond scales of a regular shopping mall, can be addressed because this is something the city [Elk Grove did not do."    

Schmitt also questioned the need for the compact to be introduced as urgency legislation noting SUFC and a group of Elk Grove citizens recently filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Washington DC challenging the decision to place the tribe's recently purchased parcel for the casino into federal trust. 

"We would rather see the compact delayed at this time for ratification," she added. "Even the chairman [Hitchcock] has said in the papers they probably wouldn't start construction for three years."   
Perhaps the most emotional comments made during public comment came from Elk Grove resident Lisa Jimenez. Speaking as the chair of the Historical Disenrolled Families of the Wilton Rancheria, Jimenez said she opposed the compact and that her family, along with 123 other members, were expelled from the tribe, and thus not eligible for the direct benefits of the casino. 

Jimenez noted that the oldest member of the tribe, who is 93, had her membership stripped and the disenrollment process was unfair. 

"If they can do this to the members, what can they do to the city of Elk Grove or anybody," she stated. 


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