Elk Grove Citizens
By Lance Armstrong - Citizen Staff Writer
The Wilton Rancheria’s efforts to have an Indian casino built in Elk Grove have been met with opposition from various local citizens and an anti-casino effort, known as Protect Elk Grove.
Prior to the City Council’s July 13 meeting, a mailer produced by the anti-casino group Protect Elk Grove was distributed throughout the city.
The mailer poses the question, “What will a Vegas-style mega casino do to our community?”
Listed below that question are the words, “More crime, more traffic” and “devastate local business.”
Included on the mailer are several photographs, including one that portrays the impression that, if built, the casino would also draw prostitution to the area.
The mailer also encouraged citizens to attend the July 13 meeting to “tell the mayor and City Council to protect Elk Grove from a Vegas-style mega casino.”
During that heavily attended meeting’s public comment period, about 20 speakers expressed their disapproval of that plan to the council, as opposed to only a few who spoke in favor of the proposed casino.
Those opposing the project at the meeting addressed their concerns regarding potential increases in crime and traffic, financial impacts on the city, and nonsmokers being impacted by secondhand smoke in the gaming area.
Two residents living near the proposed casino site expressed their disappointment with the idea that they could eventually live next to a casino. And one of those people said if the casino was built at that site, she would sell her property.
Another speaker mentioned that with “seven casinos in the greater Sacramento area,” Elk Grove residents are not deprived of a casino.
Carlos Valdez, deputy director of public affairs with the California Nations Indian Gaming Association, clarified that statistic, saying that the Sacramento Valley is home to three tribal casinos and four licensed commercial card rooms in Sacramento. However, only three of those card rooms are currently in operation.
Valdez also commended the area’s Indian casinos.
“(Those casinos) employ several thousand residents and provide great paying full-time jobs and excellent benefits,” he said. “In addition to these facilities being economic boosters for their respective cities, they are well regulated facilities that are overseen by their individual tribal gaming regulatory body, the California Gambling Control Commission and the National Indian Gaming Commission.
“No other gaming entity goes through this type of regulatory oversight. We encourage local governments to work collaboratively with their local tribal governments and develop mutually beneficial relationships.”
Among the favorable comments presented at the meeting were that the proposed casino would bring many different types of jobs to the area, and the opinion that positive impacts would outweigh the negatives in terms of problem gambling and the type of people who would frequent the place.
Elk Grove business owner Paula Maita, a 58-year resident of the area, negatively spoke about a robocall that she received, and the mailers and fliers that she read.
“I also want to know who is paying for the robocalls, who is paying for the mailings,” she said. “Who’s paying for all of the literature that was left on your front door that you have sucked up and decided that it’s all truth?
“I think the question is ‘Who’s trying to defeat this (project) is something worth knowing. It may be a good thing, it may be a bad thing, but I don’t like my neighbors being so heavily influenced by an unknown source.”
Multiple requests for a representative of the Protect Elk Grove group to contact the Citizen received no response.
Wilton Rancheria Tribal Chair Raymond “Chuckie” Hitchcock on July 14 referred to Protect Elk Grove’s literature as “a mischaracterization of the real facts” about the casino project.
“My first reaction to the flier was it was egregious and a lot of false propaganda from the opposition,” he said. “And after last night’s meeting, nobody is taking responsibility for this egregious mailing. So, whoever it is, they should be ashamed of themselves. We can only assume, I’m sure they’re probably not from Elk Grove.”
Hitchcock added that with the many mailers and robocalls that were received by local citizens, the opposition at the meeting was minimal.
“The fact that only 20 people showed up in opposition and actually some people did show up in favor of it, showed that this attempt to drum up fear, or fear-mongering, if you will, didn’t pan out,” he said. “And whoever is behind this mailer didn’t stand up and take credit for it. So, what does that tell you about the opposition?”
Hitchcock also responded to a portion of the mailer that mentions that Mayor Gary Davis supports the tribe.
“(Davis) was glad to see us be a tribe,” he said. “But for them to make it as a ‘Mayor Davis supports the casino, you need to tell him to stop,’ he never said that. He sees about his community, he’s here to protect his community. But he understands Native American tribes; he understands our tribe and what our rights are. And I applaud that.”
In regard to the tribe’s influence beyond the proposed casino site, Hitchcock said that the tribe is working with the county and city to mitigate off-site impacts.
“We entered into a memorandum of understanding – an MOU – with the county of Sacramento on June 8 of this year,” he said. “And we’re currently having discussions with the city of Elk Grove about off-site impacts, as well.”
Hitchcock said that despite knowing about the opposition’s efforts to encourage people to speak against Wilton Rancheria’s gaming project at the City Council meeting, the tribe opted not to attend the meeting.
“The tribe didn’t show up,” he said. “There are a lot of supporters in this community here who didn’t show up or take the time to. It wasn’t an agenda item or anything we felt we needed to show up to, respond to or rebut.”
Instead, the Wilton Rancheria remains interested in educating people in the community through local meetings. The tribe’s first informational meeting was attended by about 300 people at The Falls Event Center on July 6.
Hitchcock said that holding local meetings is important to the Wilton Rancheria.
“This is our community, as well,” he said. “We are concerned what people think, and we want to make this the best community project we can, because it’s going to benefit everybody.”