Wilton tribe gambles on Galt City Council’s support for casino

Miwoks present plan to council, Galt community with mixed reception

By Jennifer Bonnett /News-Sentinel Staff Writer

The Galt City Council stopped short of giving unconditional support to the Wilton Rancheria Miwok tribe whose members are seeking to build a casino just north of the city along Highway 99, but said they are willing to work with the tribe.

Members made their first public presentation regarding plans to build the gaming facility, possibly along with an adjoining hotel, new housing, a school and a health care center for its 700 tribal members.

If built at the southwest corner of Highway 99 and Arno Road, the casino could potentially create thousands of jobs for local residents and generate spin-off revenue by patrons spending money at Galt's gas stations, motels and restaurants.

The location is close to the tribe's burial grounds within Hickville Cemetery.

"There's no neighbors to disturb, and there's an overpass," tribe chairman Andrew Franklin said. "Our vision would be to become a destination."

Rancheria leaders have already asked the Bureau of Indian Affairs to put the site into a land trust and a developer is secured, Franklin said.

"This is just the first baby steps. We'll be meeting along the way," Mayor Marylou Powers said following Franklin's first public presentation, adding that it will be a long process. "My personal opinion is, it sounds like a go to me."

Franklin said the tribe is looking to be financially stable and hopes to not only rebuild their community, but work with the community of Galt, where a number of their tribe members already live.

"This (casino) project comes first, because without funding there is no community. We're looking to be partners with Galt in that community," he said.

It could take five to seven years before ground is even broken, according to Franklin, who anticipates litigation based on the nature of the project.

At Tuesday's council meeting, several area residents spoke out against the project, citing concerns with increased crime and traffic.

"This is crazy," said Galt resident Linda Clendenin, who only learned of the proposal a few hours earlier. "This should be nipped in the bud. We have enough casinos. I just don't think that's a good spot. We've got one in Jackson."

Another speaker, Lisa Jimenez, claimed the tribe is only out for money. She said her family was left out of the tribal agreement.

The location is not within Galt's city limits nor its sphere of influence, so it does not require the city council's approval.
"I'm intrigued with the concept, and it's certainly worthy of study," said Councilman Curt Campion, who said it's premature to give an endorsement.

Councilman Mark Crews echoed those concerns, but said he is willing to work with the tribe.

"It's an opportunity for the community, if managed well," Councilwoman Barbara Payne said.

Several years ago, Elk Grove and Sacramento County raised concerns about the possibility of a casino being built on 40 acres that were previously part of the original rancheria, located near Wilton and Green roads.

Under a memorandum of understanding filed in court, the rancheria is required to alert both government agencies when a land agreement is near. A letter was mailed Feb. 19.

In the last year, tribal leaders met with representatives of Sacramento County as well as the cities of Galt and Elk Grove before settling on the Arno Road site. Other options could include the abandoned mall site south of Elk Grove or the rancheria's original property in Wilton, according to Franklin.

"We probably didn't have to do that," he added of the private meetings. "But we wanted to."

Vice Mayor Mike Singleton, who has met with tribal members on more than one occasion, is also encouraged.

"It's nice that they're open to working with the surrounding communities," he said.

There will be future meetings for public comment, including a "scoping" meeting to be held by the BIA likely later this month or next.

The Wilton Rancheria was established in 1927 and is the only federally recognized tribe in Sacramento County.

The Wilton Miwok Rancheria, together with the Me-Wuk Indian Community of the Wilton Rancheria, filed a lawsuit to restore the tribe's federally recognized status.

The court ruling in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ended a legal odyssey that began in 1958 when the U.S. Rancheria Act stripped numerous tribes of their federally recognized status, among them the Wilton Miwok Rancheria.

Policy created through the act was declared a failure in 1970, and most tribes were re-instated as federally recognized. However, the Wilton Miwok Rancheria was left out.

The suit was settled in 2009, allowing the group to elect its own government and begin to hold regular tribal council meetings. It renamed itself the Wilton Rancheria and alluded to possible plans of building a future casino.

Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at jenniferb@lodinews.com.

Posted: Mar 6, 2013,
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