Report: Richmond Casino Poses No Environmental Threats By RICHARD BRENNEMAN

Tuesday February 28, 2006

Construction of the Sugar Bowl, a $200 million tribal casino on industrial lands in unincorporated North Richmond, would have no negative environmental impacts so great that they can’t be mitigated, according to a recently released environmental impact statement (EIS). 

The document, prepared as one of the U.S. Department of the Interior’s requirements for transfer of land to reservation status, is the equivalent of an environmental impact report under California law. 

Both the state and federal documents require a detailed examination of the potentially negative impacts on the human and natural environments as well as proposed mitigations that would offset those effects. 

“Environmental analysis throughout the EIS has determined there are no unavoidable adverse environmental effects,” concludes the report, employing the technical jargon of the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA). 

The document was released in advance of a March 15 public hearing, starting at 6 p.m. in the Richmond Memorial Auditorium, 403 Civic Center Plaza. 

The Bureau of Indian Affairs will continue to take written comments on the project until April 28. 

The site in question contains 29.9 acres of land along the eastern side of Richmond Parkway north of Parr Boulevard. It is one of two tribal casino projects now under development in the Richmond area, and the one closest to approval. 

The Guidiville Rancheria Pomo band in conjunction with Berkeley developer James D. Levine and Harrah’s Entertainment are planning a much grander casino with a larger entertainment venue and a hotel complex on Richmond’s Point Molate on the site of a former U.S. Navy fueling station. That project is about eight months behind the Sugar Bowl project in the approval process. 

Plans to expand an existing tribal card room, Casino San Pablo in San Pablo, into a full-scale gambling hall and hotel have been stalled in the face of opposition to massive expansion plans initially approved by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. 

The Sugar Bowl would be a major boon to the Scott’s Valley Pomos, a small and impoverished group which is developing the casino in conjunction with Noram Richmond LLC, a special purpose corporation formed by Noram LLC, a Florida firm which is part of the multi-corporate empire which has evolved from North American Sports Management. 

The companies were created by Alan H. Ginsburg of Maitland, Fla., a major player in the Native American gambling boom, with casino ventures spanning the nation from the extreme Southeast to the far Northwest. 

According to the EIS, of the Scott’s Valley Band’s 181 members, one-third of the adults are unemployed, 56.8 percent of tribal members receive some form of government assistance, and 95.5 percent are categorized as low income. 

Only 22.7 percent of tribal members have full-time jobs—though the majority of the tribal members—93 out of 181—were under the age of 18 in 2005, and 86 between the ages of 18 and 64 and two age 65 and older. 

Plans call for a 225,000-sqaure-foot building that would house a 79,320-square-foot casino, with a 24,000-square-foot showroom with seating for 1,500 plus a 250-seat venue for lounge acts and a 150-seat sports bar. It would feature a 600-seat buffet, plus a 120-seat restaurant and a food court. The facility would also have 3,549 parking spaces, 2,044 of them in a five-level structure. 

The document predicts the casino would generate an additional 14,000 weekday car trips, with 441 of them during the peak morning commute and 932 during the equivalent evening hour. The report concludes that the increase wouldn’t result in delays beyond a few seconds at intersections in the area with the traffic improvements suggested in the report. 

Because most employees are expected to be hired locally and Richmond now has 1,431 vacant housing units, the EIS concludes that the casino would not result in the need for new housing construction. 


Economic benefits 

The casino is presented as a major economic boon to the ailing Richmond economy, with construction labor costs estimated at $28.1 million, the equivalent of 553 fulltime builders working for a full year. 

The gain in jobs is one of the reasons that several prominent members of the African-American clergy in Richmond—a group traditionally opposed to gambling—have endorsed both the Sugar Bowl and the Point Molate casino projects. 

Once in operation, the casino is expected to create 2,279 new jobs, 1,937 of them full-time, with most predicted to be hired locally. The predicted net increase to the region is 1,885 jobs. 


Document available 

The massive document is posted on the Internet (www.analyticalcorp.com), and copies have been placed for public viewing with the Richmond Public Library, 325 Civic Center Plaza, and the San Pablo Branch of the Contra Costa County Library, Suite D, 2300 El Portal Drive.  

Written comments on the project can be mailed to Regional Director Clay Gregory, Pacific Regional Office, Bureau of Indian Affairs, 2800 Cottage Way, Sacramento CA 95825. They must arrive by April 28.