UPDATED: Complaint Filed in Federal Court in Washington D.C. Against U.S. Dept. of Interior over Proposed Elk Grove Casino

California Assemblymember Jim Cooper (l), with Wilton Rancheria Tribal Chairman Raymond Hitchcok, and former
Elk Grove Mayor Gary Davis at the February 14, 2017 announcement that the 36-acre parcel purchased by Boyd Gaming
had been placed into federal trust.  |  
August 10, 2017 |

An amended complaint was filed this morning in U.S. District Court in Washington D.C. by Stand Up For California (SUFC) against the U.S. Department of the Interior challenging recent decisions that have helped the Wilton Rancheria's pursuit of a $400 million casino to be located in Elk Grove City limits.

The complaint, which was filed on behalf of casino watchdog group SUFC and three Elk Grove residents, continues to challenge the validity of the decision to place the 36-acre parcel located at the site of the unfinished Outlets Collection at Elk Grove shopping center into federal trust. Placement of the parcel into federal trust is required for any Indian casino on non-tribal land.

At the core of SUFC argument is that the decision was made in violation of 1998 Federal Vacancies Reform Act. SUFC contends the decision made by Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs, Lawrence Roberts, lacked the authority under the Vacancies Reform Act (VRA). 

Previous to this amended complaint, SUFC's administrative complaint with the Department of Interior was denied. 

The proposed casino by the Wilton Rancheria has been a source of controversy in Elk Grove since it was formally introduced last summer. Las Vegas-based Boyd Gaming, who is financing the project for the tribe, recently purchased a portion of the unfinished mall from Howard Hughes Corporation (HHC).

The City of Elk Grove, who is also embroiled with SUFC in a lawsuit over the release of public documents, has supported the development of the mall as a way of kick-starting the Outlet Collection at Elk Grove. Construction on the shopping center, which was previously called the Elk Grove Promenade, stopped over nine years ago, and despite repeated claims by HHC of their interested in the development of the shopping center, construction has not resumed.

While past and current Elk Grove City Council members and the city's executive team initially stated they were neutral on the project, public documents revealed the city's interest in working with the Wilton Rancheria dating to at least 2012. In December 2012, not long after Gary Davis became Elk Grove's first directly elected mayor, former assistant city manager Beck Craig emailed HHC saying the city had a good prospect, what became Wilton Rancheria's proposed casino, for them to explore as a way of resurrecting development of the moribund site. 

Along with the VRA argument, SUFC contends that federal officials denied proper local notice; did not require an Environmental Impact Statement when the location was switched from a proposed Galt, Calif. location to Elk Grove; and ignored the development agreement title encumbrance placed on the entire site. 

Among nine specific requests for relief included requests to reverse the decision to place the land into trust based on violation of the VRA; and the "unwinding all of the steps taken by the Defendants to change the status of the lands in Elk Grove, including requiring the Defendants to return the declared trust land to its non-trust, fee title status prior to the issuance of the ROD; to rescind the Defendants’ “restored lands” and “restored tribe” determination under IGRA."

In a statement issued this morning, SUFC said "Off-reservation gaming creates enough controversy and contentious political activity in affected communities as well as between and with tribal governments. In this instance, we have the added frustration of Interior officials overstepping their authority, ignoring regulations, statutes and Department guidelines. 

In response to the filing, Wilton Rancheria Chairman Raymond Hitchcock reasserted that land has been placed in trust and said the complaint was void of merit.

“The land is in trust, we have signed a compact with the State of California, and the project continues to progress. It’s time for certain card club interests that are writing checks for baseless lawsuits to step aside," Hitchcock said. "The project will create thousands of new jobs and new opportunities for businesses, and invest more than $180 million into the City of Elk Grove and Sacramento County over the next 20 years.”

Interestingly, California Assemblymember Jim Cooper penned an opinion piece that appeared today in the Sacramento Bee praising the benefits the casino. As part of his support of the casino, Cooper recently introduced urgency legislation to approve the gaming compact between the State of California and Wilton Rancheria approved by Gov. Jerry Brown. 

Perhaps in anticipation of push back, in their statement, SUFC stressed they are not seeking "to harm the economic viability of any California tribe, or any shopping mall project." However, they asserted that the process for placing the land into trust is flawed and illegal.

"Instead we strive to ensure that State and Federal statutes, regulations and decision-making processes are adhered to properly. In doing so, all citizens can be assured that Federal officials cannot thrust a casino into any urban community, next to homes, schools, places of worship, and businesses that are not compatible with a casino environment."

SUFC is being represented in the complaint by Jennifer A. MacLean and Benjamin S. Sharp, of Perkins Coie, Washington D.C. 

August 10: Updated at 5:20 p.m. to include a statement from Wilton Rancheria Chairman Raymond Hitchcock. 


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D.J. Blutarsky said...

EGN needs to back off!

Look, there is too much money to be made by the tribe, Boyd Gaming, Howard Hughes, Region Builders, M&H, Hume's wife, the City treasury, and probably a few Greeks lurking out there too. Besides, there is a lot of political capital to be milked out of this deal too.

EGN needs to back off!

Unknown said...

What happened to the residents of E.G. getting to vote on this crap. Dam council is doing everything in it's power to prevent the community from having it's say.

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