Gloomy casino message delivered

 

Despite very vocal protests from locals, there likely could be a
casino built somewhere in San Benito County. That was the recurring
message delivered by supervisors from Yolo and Sonoma counties
during Thursday’s informational meeting on the proposal of an
Indian casino off of Highway 25.
Hollister – Despite very vocal protests from locals, there likely could be a casino built somewhere in San Benito County. That was the recurring message delivered by supervisors from Yolo and Sonoma counties during Thursday’s informational meeting on the proposal of an Indian casino off of Highway 25.

The daytime meeting in the Veterans Memorial Building drew about 200 concerned residents and government officials from throughout the region.

The casino in question is being proposed by the California Valley Miwok tribe. The five-member tribe and its investors from Game Won are proposing an Indian casino development on 209 acres off Highway 25 in San Benito County. Before the group can build the project – which they estimate could cost up to $300 million – the tribe has to get approvals from both the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the governor’s office.

Governor Schwarzenegger has said he won’t approve a gaming compact with the tribe unless there’s overwhelming support from the locals.

However, Valerie Brown, supervisor for Sonoma County, which has Indian gaming, said that the best locals opposed to the casino could probably hope for would be to bring a casino in on their own terms.

Once a tribe has a trust and makes compacts with the governor, Brown said, it is almost impossible to keep it from establishing a casino. It is, however, possible to work with the tribe to find a location for the casino that may be better for the community environmentally and socially, and to negotiate to try to mitigate new needs a casino might create, such as increased fire and police protection.

Mike McGowan, supervisor for Yolo County, which also has Indian gaming, told attendees, “Once land is taken into a trust, it is almost a nation. At that point, there’s very little the (local) government can do.”

Brown urged attendees, “Don’t draw lines in the sand. There is no issue that will divide a county quicker than this one. It becomes racial very fast. It becomes hurtful very fast. If this isn’t the proper place for a casino, find a place that is.”

She also stressed the need for community awareness of “reservation shopping.” Brown defined the term as the process that tribes without land, or indigenous tribes that aren’t satisfied with the land available in their area, go through to find more suitable land for their trusts. She said this is what the Miwoks are doing; that they are not from the San Benito County area and have simply decided the land here is more conducive to a casino than their own ancestral land.

Hollister mayor Tony Bruscia expressed anxiety about this concept and asked Brown how local residents might be able to stop it. The Sonoma County supervisor told the crowd her county had formed a consortium with four other counties when faced with a casino on local wetlands, and the voices of four counties combined had been much more effective than just one. She also reiterated that San Benito County residents need to start thinking about where a casino might fit better than off of Highway 25 so that local government would have some alternatives ready if and when the time came to build.

McGowan agreed, saying “You need to say ‘here’s what we want, but here’s what we’ll accept’ to your congressman. This is a government process, not just a legal process.”

Residents expressed a huge amount of concern about the possible financial and social repercussions of a casino. While Brown and Yolo County supervisor Mike McGowan said that there has been no evidence to prove that crime increases in areas with casinos, locals were still concerned.

“I don’t want a casino. It would be trouble,” said Thoma Esparzia of Hollister. “We already have traffic, and we don’t need our kids around the casinos. We’re a small town, and yeah, we’ve grown, but we don’t need it (a casino) here.”

Gary Cameron, a pastor in Hollister, said he was also worried about the possible adverse effects a casino could have on residents.

“I oppose gambling because it exploits citizens. The weak and the poor are often the ones who lose the most,” he said.

Cameron also said the proposed placement of the casino was not environmentally sound, adding, “This is a place that is going to generate a lot of sewage, that’s on a flood plane, and that’s next to a chemical plant.”

Despite the negative sentiment expressed by the audience, California Valley Miwok Project manager Gary Ramos said he thought the meeting went very well.

“I’ve really enjoyed it. I think it was really important that we had this informational meeting. The supervisors have given us this forum so we can understand the questions the community has. We want to be able to operate a destination that will enhance the community,” he said.

If the casino does end up being built, said McGowan, “We can’t stop it, but we can influence it.”

Several members of the Amah Mutsun tribe were also present at the meeting. In a separate issue, a separate group of Amah Mutsun Indians has recently hooked up with the owner of 6,500-acre Sargent Ranch in a proposal to develop 3,500 acres of the property. The proposal differs from the Miwok’s in that the Amah Mutsuns aren’t proposing a casino, and they have not gained federal recognition from the BIA as a tribe, which they are seeking. If it gains that recognition, they could develop the property without needing government approvals.

Tribe members said they wanted to make it clear that many of them do not want development to take place on Sargent Ranch; it is sacred territory to them.

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