By Jim Cooper
Special to The Bee
The Wilton Rancheria Tribe of Miwok People have traveled a long, hard road – a dramatic testament to their determination and will.
Many of the tribe’s members died in the murderous violence against Native Americans that swept through California and the Sacramento Valley in the 1800s. In 1958, Wilton Rancheria’s federal recognition as a tribe was taken away and not restored until 2009. And only in February, after decades of struggle, did the U.S. Department of the Interior place land into federal trust for the tribe – 36 acres along Highway 99 in Elk Grove.
On July 19, Gov. Jerry Brown took an important step in the tribe’s path to self-sufficiency when he signed a tribal gaming compact with Wilton Rancheria for its plans to build a resort and casino on the site of the city’s abandoned “ghost mall.” Like other recent compacts, this one includes a range of provisions, from oversight, labor and licensing, to environmental protection, public safety and community investment. As the Assemblyman representing the region that includes Elk Grove, I am privileged to have introduced Assembly Bill 1606, which will take the next step: ratification of the compact by the Legislature.
The Wilton Rancheria project is vital to the future of Elk Grove and the surrounding region. It will create thousands of well-paying jobs – something Elk Grove needs and must have.
It will mean opportunities for small businesses, from printers and recyclers to food and beverage providers. Under long-term deals with Elk Grove and Sacramento County, Wilton Rancheria will invest more than $180 million in the first 20 years of the project to improve public safety, traffic, schools and community programs. And the resort and casino will create in Elk Grove the second-largest convention center in Sacramento County, as well as a luxury hotel, fine-dining options and concert venues. This is why dozens of leading organizations – business, labor, police, environmental, religious, governmental and other groups – strongly support the project.
Wherever there is gaming, there will be concerns about crime, and the Wilton Rancheria project is no different. As someone with 30 years of experience in law enforcement, I know a thing or two about crime and how to fight it. In addition, as a member of the Assembly Committee on Governmental Organization, I have had the opportunity to tour numerous California tribal gaming facilities, and I know that in communities across the country, Indian gaming has been associated with lower, not higher, rates of crime.
This makes sense because tribes such as Wilton Rancheria have committed to making major investments in law enforcement and state-of-the-art security and surveillance systems. As Elk Grove Police Chief Bryan Noblett said at a community meeting this year, his department conducted a survey of communities surrounding Indian gaming venues and found no appreciable uptick in crime.
For the tribe, the compact marks a big step toward providing the level of independence and support its more than 750 members deserve. The project will mean scholarships, health care, housing and other benefits for a tribe with an unemployment rate above 60 percent, a median income well below the poverty line and college graduation rate near 14 percent.
For people who have endured so much hardship, finally having land of their own and government-to-government agreements to move forward amounts to progress that all of us should embrace. And for the city and region, partnering with Wilton Rancheria represents a prime opportunity to seize the future and ensure continued growth and prosperity.
JIM COOPER, A DEMOCRAT, REPRESENTS THE 9TH ASSEMBLY DISTRICT, WHICH INCLUDES ELK GROVE, LODI, GALT AND PORTIONS OF SACRAMENTO.