Richmond residents turned out in force for two separate meetings at the Civic Center Wednesday night, each dealing with sites for proposed casinos that could turn the East Bay into a haven for gamblers.
At the Memorial Auditorium, representatives of the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) ran a three-hour scoping session on plans to install a massive 225,000-square-foot in economically stricken and unincorporated North Richmond.
The 173-member Scotts Valley Band of the Pomo tribe has teamed with a Florida development firm to float plans for a casino tribal chair Don Arnold has predicted would generate $366 million a year in local revenue and create 4,500 new jobs, 2,200 in the casino and 2,300 in local businesses serving the Las Vegas style gaming palace.
The second meeting, just across the street at the Richmond Public Library, dealt with the status of the Navy’s cleanup of its former refueling base at Point Molate—where a politically connected Berkeley toxics cleanup expert hopes to build yet another, more spectacular casino complex.
Earlier Wednesday, Sacramento BIA spokesperson Kevin Bearquiver told the Daily Planet that the developer had teamed up with Guidiville Rancheria band of Pomos—which then made the initial approach to the BIA to start the approval process rolling for the Point Molate site.
“They’re a lot further away from approval” than the North Richmond site, Bearquiver said.
The Scotts Valley Band casino would house 2,000 slot machines—the most of any gambling parlor west of Las Vegas—plus table games and the inevitable steak house and buffet, plus 3,500 parking spaces.
Arnold, the head of a landless band of Pomos displaced from their lands in 1958 and relocated by the BIA, is backed by Noram-Richmond, LLC, one of the Maitland, Florida, companies created by Alan Ginsburg, the head of North American Sports Management—a firm which has emerged as a major force in Native American gambling from Florida to Washington state.
NSV Development, another Ginsburg firm, purchased a 30-acre site adjacent to Parr Boulevard in January.
Wednesday night’s BIA hearing was a scoping session designed to gather community comments for use in preparing the Environmental Impact Statement on the proposal, said meeting chair and Sacramento BIA Environmental Protection Specialist William C. Allan.
“The decision will be made by the assistant secretary of Indian affairs based on the environmental impact report, economic and environmental analyses and other factors,” Allan said.
Physician Henry Clark was first to take the podium. A member of the Environmental Justice Council, the North Richmond Advisory Council and other civic organization, Clark praised the casino as means to improve the quality of life for North Richmond residents by generating jobs and protecting the community from other, more harmful projects.
Saying he had no evidence of any harmful effects, he said the casino “would be a good project, providing jobs, beautifying the neighborhood and helping the community. Our biggest problem is crime related to drug dealing, and not any casino.”
Jerry Overaa, co-owner of Overaa Construction, a 97-year-old Richmond firm, questioned “a new Gold Rush” that would place three casinos (the third being the San Pablo Casino) within four miles of each other.
Overaa was the first of several casino critics to cite statistics of increased crime and family problems associated with casino development.
Florence Reed Randall, like most of the speakers from North Richmond’s African American community, enthused about project.
Looking at the tribal chair, she implored, “Mr. Arnold, tear down that trash out there and build us something we can be proud of,” though she did add “please keep your promise” about giving jobs to the community.
She ended by asking Arnold, “If you put up a quarter machine, please put up a sign: Florence’s Quarter Machine.”
Most North Richmond residents who spoke scoffed at the notion that the casino could bring problems.
“A casino can only bring good because of the jobs it would bring,” said Lee Jones, a retired UC Berkeley employee who’s lived in North Richmond for the past four years. “I haven’t read anything that says a casino would bring anything negative,” Jones said, calling the proposal “a godsend.”
Annie Lee Meredith, a 52-year resident, said, “I am pretty sure there will be a job or part-time job available” for everyone who wants one. . .Everyone I’ve talked to in the community is for it.”
Ohlone tribal elder Alex Ramirez, who retired from California and moved to Costa Rico 14 years ago, spoke against the casino, citing the dangers of gambling addiction. A gambler himself, he said that before a casino was allowed, the community should “educate the people first with a sense of value” so wage-earners wouldn’t “put your children last in your paycheck.”
Cara Gregg, a part-owner of Overaa Construction, rattled off a long list of statistics citing increased rates or crime, drunk driving, divorce, child and spousal abuse and other social problems documented following the introduction of casino gambling in jurisdictions across the country.
Many proponents challenged critics by citing the long neglect of the area by governmental agencies and demanding they offer up something else in place of the casino to make their denunciations credible to the community.
Meanwhile, in the library across the street, few new details were offered about plans for the $700 million resort planned by Upstream Development, Inc., headed by Berkeley toxic cleanup expert Jim Levine.
Officials who said they would name the tribe “within a week” obviously hadn’t heard of Bearquiver’s statement.›