Feds Release Comments on North Richmond Casino By RICHARD BRENNEMAN

Tuesday December 14, 2004

The passions stirred by plans to build a major casino in unincorporated North Richmond have been spelled out in 600-plus pages of documents released by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). 

The documents, a combination of letters, studies and news accounts, were collected in the scoping process for preparing an environmental impact statement on the project, one of three tribal casinos currently in the planning stages for the Richmond area. 

The other two are the Point Molate project of Berkeley developer James D. Levine and a plan to build a casino adjacent to Hilltop Mall backed by the same Florida casino developer who is planning another casino near the Oakland Airport. 

The proposed location of the North Richmond casino is a nearly 30-acre site along Richmond Parkway on a site bounded by Goodrick Avenue on the East and Parr Boulevard to the south. 

The Scotts Valley Band of Pomo tribespeople proposes to build the Sugar Bowl, a 225,000-square-foot casino building with 1,940 slot machines, 55 table games and 13 Asian card games on the main casino floor, plus a poker room with 16 tables and a “high-roller” room with 60 slots, five table games and three Asian card games. 

Plans also call for construction of more than 3,500 parking spaces, a 1,500-seat showroom, a 600-seat buffet, a 250-seat entertainment lounge, a 150-seat sports bar and a food court and restaurant, each seating 120. 

Other alternatives for the site include a smaller casino, a reduced casino with retail shopping and a shopping/office center with no casino. 

Fans of the project say it will create jobs, reduce crime and stimulate economic development in the largely minority and economically disadvantaged North Richmond community, while foes have visions of higher crime rates, increased traffic congestion and a drain on community resources. 

The band’s original reservation in Lake County was disestablished by the BIA in 1958 and many band members were dispersed into the Bay Area. 

The band won a victory in U.S. District Court in 1991, reestablishing their status as a federally recognized, albeit landless, tribe. 

Because so many members of the band lived in the Bay Area, the BIA designated Contra Costa County as a potential home for the tribe, based on a Gold Rush-era federal treaty which promised them land in Contra Costa County. 

The BIA has endorsed the notion of a tribal casino because the band is economically disadvantaged and has no sustained income or employment opportunities in their current Lake County landholdings, and because the federal government has cut back on funding programs for tribal government. 

To build the casino, the BIA must first take the land into federal trust status on behalf of the tribe. 

One opponent submitted a supplemental survey conducted in conjunction with the 2000 census that showed that Contra Costa County residents had the longest commute times—an average of 34 minutes—of any county is the western United States. 

Also included were surveys by CalTrans, ABAG, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Texas Transportation Institute.  

One of the major sources of opposition letters was Neighbors Against the Parkway Casino, which maintains its own web site at www.StopParkwayCasino.com. 

The group urged opponents to write individual letters, unlike the proponent groups, which, for the most part, relied on boilerplate letters with room for individual signatures. 

Among the opponents are: 

• The Bay Area Rescue Mission, which cited the high incidence of gambling troubles among its clientele. 

• Artichoke Joe’s, a San Bruno cardroom whose lawyers sent a seven-page letter. 

• Gerald D. and Carl Overaa, owners of Overaa Construction, a major East Bay builder headquartered near the proposed casino site. Two Overaa employees also wrote letters in opposition. 

• The Oaks Card Club and the California Grand Casino, two non-tribal card rooms in the East Bay. 

One opposition letter came from an 8-year-old boy from Lafayette, who wrote, “Both of my parents live in Richmond. I am worried that a drunk driver will hit them.” 

Among the proponents were the signatories of 71 identical letters from participants in an Aug. 16 meeting of neighborhood associations and community groups representing over 1,500 North Richmond and Parchester Village residents who met with representatives of the Scotts Valley Band. 

Another 50 supporting letters, all identical, gave no hint of their origins. 

Contra Costa County Administrator John Sweeten sent a two-page letter with a 13-page attachment spelling out areas the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) should address. 

The cover letter noted that the county hadn’t received a detailed description of the proposal and asked that the final EIS include a worst-case scenario, detail assumptions used to determine impacts, outline mitigation measures for each of the impacts and analyze and disclose the cumulative impacts of each of the proposals. 

The remainder of the letter provided a detailed laundry list of specific impacts the EIS should address. ›