Gilroy is hosting forum for regional leaders to address two hot
topics: a proposed Indian casino in San Benito County and the
potential development of Sargent Ranch. But not all councilmembers
are sure it’s a good idea.
Gilroy is hosting forum for regional leaders to address two hot topics: a proposed Indian casino in San Benito County and the potential development of Sargent Ranch. But not all councilmembers are sure it’s a good idea.

The Gilroy City Council, Mayor Al Pinheiro and City Manager Jay Baksa have invited city councils, mayors and city managers from jurisdictions surrounding Gilroy – including Hollister Mayor Tony Bruscia and City Manager Clint Quilter – to talk about potential impacts of the two proposed developments.

“It’s imperitive that we work together,” Bruscia said.

The California Valley Miwok tribe is working with about two dozen investors to build a casino in San Benito County just north of Hollister. The five-member tribe is federally recognized as a landless tribe, thus making them eligible to negotiate with federal and state governments about establishing sovereign land. The casino could be built without following local planning ordinances.

In a separate deal, Sargent Ranch owner Wayne Pierce has an agreement with a band of the Amah Mutsun tribe to develop 3,500 acres of the 6,500-acre ranch. Pierce would lease 500 acres to the tribe for its members’ homes, businesses and a cultural center, then develop his 3,000 acres.

The development hinges on whether the Amah Mutsun band receives federal recognition, which could take several years if done through the Bureau of Indian Affairs. An act of Congress could accelerate the process considerably. The tribe applied for official recognition through the BIA about two years ago. If the tribe receives federal recognition, it also could develop its tribal land free of local planning ordinances.

The main goal of the forum is the get the facts straight regarding the two developments, Baksa said.

“There’s a lot of information from an educational point of view that we just don’t have right now, and we need to have a forum to get educated,” Baksa said. “It’s a regional issue, and we want to talk about that. As time goes on, we all need to hear the exact same story.”

Exploring certain federal and state legal issues is another reason for the meeting, which Baksa said will take place Oct. 27.

Leaders from Hollister, San Juan Bautista, San Martin and Morgan Hillas well as District 1 Santa Clara County Supervisor Don Gage and San Benito County supervisors, will be invited to the forum. City Clerk Rhonda Pellin, Morgan Hill Mayor Dennis Kennedy, San Juan Bautista Mayor George Rowe Jr. and Gage have already said they’d attend.

Although San Juan Bautista City Manager Larry Cain said he will be in Sacramento on Oct. 27, he said he will send city councilman Dan Reed in his place, along with the city mayor.

“I think it’s always good when you talk about something that’s close at hand and maybe controversial. I certainly think it can’t hurt,” Cain said. “I’ve heard concerns in the community about people who are going to be using the casino with money they need to live on, and that’s an issue, especially in a small community like this.”

Gilroy City Councilman Bob Dillon didn’t seem as receptive to the idea of a regional meeting. Whether the two tribes receive federal recognition is strictly a federal issue, and that leaves local governments with their hands tied, Dillon said. The only thing local governments can do is voice their concerns and trust they are heard, he said.

“I’m generally against meetings where nothing is accomplished, and I think that’s what’s going to happen,” he said. “It’s a federal matter.”

Dillon noted that neither Sargent Ranch nor the location where the Indian casino might go is in Gilroy’s jurisdiction.

“The forces at play are way outside what we can affect,” he said. “Nonetheless, we’re going to try.”

Dillon, an occasional gambler in Reno and Tahoe, said he’s opposed to a casino anywhere near Gilroy because of the negative impacts he thinks will come along with it, such as prostitution, drugs and increased crime.

Holding a regional forum on a regular basis to talk about the two Indian developments is a possibility, Baksa said, depending on what the group thinks will be the most effective approach.

“Right now, there are a lot of different people with a lot of different opinions and ideas,” Baksa said. “We need a central location for the dissemination of information. I see this group hopefully becoming a much more active group that represents the whole part of South County and the part of north San Benito County that will be most affected.”

Hollister Mayor Bruscia said he’s worried if San Benito rejects the idea altogether, the Miwok tribe could just build the casino on the Santa Clara side of the county line.

“Then what?” Bruscia said. “We’ve got all the negative impacts it creates and no (benefits).”

Staff writer Jessica Quandt contributed to this report.

Katie Niekerk is a staff writer. Reach her at 408-842-6400 or [email protected]

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.


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