Vote no on Measure U, Richmond's bad bet
Thursday, October 28, 2010
For seven years, the hard-luck city of Richmond has toyed with a bayside casino to ease its 18 percent jobless rate and persistent poverty. On Tuesday, voters will have their say on whether a $1 billion project crowned by a 4,000-slot gambling resort is the answer.
The nonbinding referendum, known as Measure U, has significance around the bay. The development at Point Molate north of the eastern end of the Richmond-San Rafael bridge would mark the arrival of Vegas-scale Indian-sponsored gambling in the Bay Area.
It's the latest and biggest instance of casino creep involving a tiny tribe, the Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians with roots in Mendocino County, picking a convenient spot for a new reservation to cash in on the $25 billion Indian gaming industry.
There's no question that Richmond could use an economic shot in the arm. The neglected former Navy base along the shoreline is an inviting opportunity. The tribe and its business partner, the Upstream development firm, have cut a promising deal with environmental groups to set aside land for a trail and restoration alongside the casino, convention center and shops. There are local hiring pledges and yearly payments to Richmond and Contra Costa County.
But the deal comes with significant problems that make it hard to support. The project is a fundamental misuse of voter approvals of past Indian gaming ballot measures which allowed gambling on the expectation it would stay on rural reservations where economic prospects were limited.
This self-help promise was shredded by the land rush that has led tribes to push closer to the Bay Area population with casino plans for southern Sonoma County, San Pablo and even Oakland. Approve this measure, and development games will rev up around the bay.
Proponents argue Richmond needs jobs and taxes from Point Molate. But rejecting the Richmond casino won't doom all development, just this project and its slot machines.
The City Council should rerun bids for the empty acres without a casino, an idea city leaders entertained earlier. It may not have gambling glitz, but it offers a more balanced approach that the cyclical gaming industry can't match.
Richmond doesn't need a new label as the Bay Area's roulette wheel. Voters should vote no on Measure U.