|Marin Weighs in on Casino
October 12, 2004
Marin Independent Journal
Richmond casino project has few fans in Marin
Monday, October 11, 2004 - Increased traffic cited as officials' main concern
Marin officials are concerned that a sprawling Indian casino and multi-hotel resort proposed for a site near the east side of the Richmond-San Rafael bridge would add to the congestion on local roads.
Emeryville developer Upstream Development - working on behalf of the Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians and backed by Harrah's - is seeking permission to build a resort and casino with 3,000 slot machines near the bridge, at Point Molate. The resort would feature four hotels with a total of 1,100 rooms, 85 stores and 15 restaurants.
"It's a threat to our already fragile traffic system without question," San Rafael City Manager Rod Gould said.
"A casino of the size and scale that is being discussed would put a ton of traffic on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, which then further ties up access into San Rafael on Interstate 580 and East Francisco Boulevard," Gould said.
Fairfax Councilman Frank Egger said he believes the effect on traffic could extend beyond the San Rafael area. He envisions casino customers from San Francisco and the Peninsula passing through Marin to get to the casino.
"The Golden Gate Bridge is free northbound and the Richmond bridge is free eastbound to get to the casino - so they'll come in with no tolls this way," Egger said. "It's going to have a tremendous impact on Marin, a significant traffic impact."
Egger said he and San Anselmo Mayor Paul Chignell met recently with other North Bay officials - upset about a casino set for Rohnert Park - to discuss limiting the proliferation of casinos.
A 105-room hotel and casino with 2,000 slots built outside of Solvang generates 7,200 daily car trips, Solvang City Manager Marlene Demery said. The casino, on Highway 246, has significantly increased traffic there.
"Oh, it's dramatic," said Demery, who said she has been unable to get funds to help reduce traffic impacts from the tribe that built the casino. Once the Department of the Interior agrees to enter land into trust on behalf of an Indian tribe, local zoning regulations no longer apply.
Regarding the Point Molate proposal, Assemblyman Joe Nation, D-San Rafael, said, "I think it is symptomatic of the fact that we don't have an overall strategy to deal with this expansion of gaming that we're seeing across California.
"I would hope that the governor and other legislative leaders would be willing to put the brakes on, step back, and ask if we want California to look like Las Vegas - because that's the direction we're heading," Nation said.
"The whole issue seems to me to be out of control," said Carolyn Patrick, the Republican candidate challenging Nation in the Nov. 2 election. If elected, Patrick said she would work with the governor to place tighter controls on the tribes, requiring them to work closer with the communities in which they are located.
Chip Worthington, a Rohnert Park pastor who has helped lead the fight against the casino there, said traffic isn't the only negative effect a casino at Point Molate would have on Marin. Casino operators have become experts at marketing gambling to people in the community, he said.
"It breeds addiction," Worthington said. "For instance in Sacramento where Station Casinos markets, they have a lot of housewives, a lot of local people, so they give away sets of dishes."
"It's not a wealth-creating industry; it's a wealth redistributing industry," Nation said. "In that sense, it's not really something the state ought to be promoting."
In an effort to head off the Point Molate proposal, Chevron has submitted an $80 million counter-offer for the 300 acres. Chevron has a refinery adjacent to the former naval depot, and has security and safety concerns about having a casino close by.
Upstream Development has offered to pay the cash-strapped city of Richmond $50 million for the land and another $15 million to $18 million a year for the next 20 years to pay for roads and other services and police and fire protection.
Rich McCoy, Richmond's assistant city manager, said Chevron specified that $25 million of its offer had to be spent to maintain the property over the next 25 years. But Dean O'Hair, a Chevron spokesman, said Chevron never meant to impose such a restriction, and that Richmond would be free to spend all $80 million any way it chooses.
The Richmond City Council was slated to vote on the casino proposal last week but postponed the decision indefinitely. Because five of the council's nine seats are up for grabs on Nov. 2, McCoy said it's likely another vote won't be taken until after the election.
If approved, there are no guarantees Upstream would be able to clear the legal hurdles blocking final approval of the Point Molate casino.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has negotiated an agreement with the Lytton Band of Pomos to build a casino with 2,500 slot machines in the city of San Pablo. That agreement includes a ban on slot machines within a 35-mile radius of the San Pablo casino, which encompasses Point Molate.
Upstream spokesman Jim Levine said the Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians, which he represents, would be exempt from that ban. Levine said Upstream's proposal would generate more than 6,000 local jobs.
"It's the biggest economic advancement opportunity for the Richmond area since World War II," Levine said.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has also sponsored a bill that would block the San Pablo casino's creation. Feinstein's one-sentence bill would reverse legislation passed by Congress in 2000 at the behest of Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez. Miller's bill allowed the San Pablo site to be taken into trust even though it had missed a 1988 deadline.
Feinstein's legislation is pending, and she has not taken a position on the Point Molate proposal, aide Howard Gantman said.
In June, Schwarzenegger signed an agreement with five Indian tribes, allowing them to exceed the previous 2,000-slot cap, in return for an estimated $150 million to $250 million in payments to the state. The agreements also contained new requirements for the tribes to prepare environmental impact reports for new projects, and to meet or exceed state building and safety rules on new projects.
Worthington predicts the casino issue will endure for Marin even if the Point Molate proposal fails.
"There will be one in Marin - just mark my word," Worthington said. "It's just a matter of time."
Contact Richard Halstead via e-mail at rhalstead@marinij .com