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Planned Casino in N. Richmond Nears Hurdle

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Planned casino in N. Richmond nears hurdle

By John Simerman


Article Launched: 03/29/2008 07:20:34 PM PDT


After four years of fighting, a decision appears close for an Indian tribe shooting to make unincorporated North Richmond home to the urban Bay Area's first Las Vegas-style casino.

The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs on Friday announced plans to file a final environmental impact statement on the controversial proposal by the Scotts Valley Band of Pomo Indians -- a key step before a decision on the casino plan.

The 219-member tribe aims to build a 225,000-square-foot casino complex and five-tier parking structure on the 30 acres that its investors bought at Richmond Parkway and Parr Boulevard. If the feds approve, the governor must negotiate in good faith with Scotts Valley on a gaming compact.

Friday's announcement in the Federal Register leaves the public 30 days to weigh in on the bulky document, which assesses impacts of various uses for the land on water, air quality, environmental justice, transportation and more. A key federal decision on whether the North Richmond site qualifies as "restored land" for the tribe could come soon after.

For that, Scotts Valley must show historical and modern ties to the land. The tribe claims half of its members live within 50 miles of the Richmond Parkway land, and that historic Pomo villages and trails were near the East Bay shoreline. Contra Costa County, which funded its own study, argues that the tribe is reaching nearly 100 miles south of its ancestral homeland for casino riches.

"We stand by the fact that expansion of urban gaming will have negative consequences for residents in the community," said county Supervisor John Gioia. "It's a federal decision, and the federal process doesn't leave a lot of room for meaningful local input."

Indian gaming law gives local communities no power over such proposals, though a recent tightening of federal policy places more weight on community support.

Eric Zell, a spokesman for the tribe, did not return calls Saturday. For local support, Scotts Valley turned to Richmond, inking a $300 million deal with the city over 20 years if the casino rises.

Gaming lawyers have called the tribe's bid a longshot, noting that Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, who holds the power over such proposals, has sharply criticized them. One Indian gaming watchdog said approval of the Scotts Valley bid would set a troubling precedent.

"This would basically open the door for any tribe in a non-marketable area to move to an urban area," said Cheryl Schmit of Stand Up for California.

In California, where Indian gaming has mushroomed into an $8 billion industry, some 16 tribes seek similar exemptions to a 1988 federal law that prohibits Indian gaming on newly acquired land. Among them, the Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians seeks casino land at Point Molate in Richmond.

Public meetings and a two-month comment period on a draft of the Scotts Valley document were held earlier. The final document can be viewed at the Richmond Public Library in Civic Center Plaza, or at the Contra Costa County Library at 2300 El Portal Drive, Suite D in San Pablo.

For more information, see http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2008/E8-6346.htm.