Contra Costa County, Orinda Say No to Urban Casinos; Senate May Act By RICHARD BRENNEMAN

Tuesday April 12, 2005

Contra Costa County and the City of Orinda joined the ranks of East Bay casino foes last week, while a Washington D.C. hearing targeted Casino San Pablo. 

Meeting in Martinez on Tuesday, Contra Costa Supervisors voted 4-0 to oppose new or expanded casinos anywhere in the county. The Orinda City Council voted their own opposition that evening, joining the Berkeley, Oakland, Albany, El Cerrito and San Leandro city councils. 

But the biggest action that day was in Washington, where East Bay Assemblymember Loni Hancock was one of the four witnesses to testify before Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and his fellow members of his Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. 

The Senate panel is considering legislation by Sen. Diane Feinstein of California that would strip the Lytton Rancheria of Pomos of the special status granted when they acquired the Casino San Pablo card room. 

Rep. George Miller (D-East Bay) wrote special legislation that backdated the tribe’s acquisition of the card room, exempting it from the review required of other tribes with newly acquired land which must undergo extensive public review before gaming is approved. 

“It was a fascinating experience,” said Hancock, an ardent opponent of urban gambling. “Senator McCain seemed very interested in the legislation.” 

Marjorie Mejia, the Lytton tribal chair, defended her band’s right to gambling and the legitimacy of the Miller measure. 

However, Mark Maccoro, a Native American who appeared in advertisements supporting Proposition 1A, an unsuccessful measure defeated by California voters last November, testified in support of Feinstein’s bill. Maccoro’s opposition was based on the unfair disadvantages faced by other tribes in comparison with the Lytton’s, Hancock said. 

Joining Mejia in supporting Miller’s measure was San Pablo Councilmember Sharon Brow, who praised the tribe. Miller has stated that he never intended that his amendment would give rise to plans for the 5,000-slot-machine gaming operation jointly proposed by the tribe and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. 

That plan was later reduced to 2,500 machines when legislators and the public came down solidly against the original plan. Mejia later abandoned that plan too in the face of ongoing opposition. The tribe now plans to offer a 1,000 coin-operated bingo machines, which can be installed under the current law. 

Sen. Feinstein told the panel that if her law is enacted, it “would simply return the Lytton tribe to the same status as all other tribes seeking to game on newly acquired lands.”ª