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Sides clash over casino project in Yuba County
Emotions running high, about 150 people attended a town hall in Wheatland on Wednesday night to get information, or more probably, confirm how they already felt about the proposed Enterprise Rancheria Indian casino.
With the event presented by local and state groups opposed to the project, most of the pro-casino side came from catcalls by tribal representatives and local union members who wanted to hear more about benefits, not demerits.
But with a speakers' list including Wheatland-area Supervisor Roger Abe, Sutter County Supervisor James Gallagher and Yuba-Sutter Farm Bureau President Matt Conant, the casino's downside was thoroughly detailed.
"The way it works in our political system is if the other side gets more votes, they won and you lost," Abe said, referring to a 2005 advisory ballot measure where 52 percent opposed the casino. "What they have said, very clearly, is they don't want the casino here."
Abe said a memorandum of understanding between Yuba County and the casino's sponsoring tribe has numerous issues in need of a second look, while Conant said developing the casino on acreage near Sleep Train Amphitheatre would impact farming.
"If you drill for local water, you're going to use up the local aquifer," Conant said.
Other speakers pointed out impacts on surrounding roads hadn't been considered. And Cheryl Schmit, director of the casino watchdog group Stand Up for California!, said Enterprise Rancheria would set a bad precedent as an off-reservation casino.
But probably at least half of those attending supported the project, as they marched inside after rallying in front of the community center with signs reading, "CASINO + HOTEL = GROWTH" and "Help Enterprise Rancheria support Yuba County."
Yuba City resident Eric Straatsma said the casino is a potential economic booster.
"It's local jobs, and it's under our control," he said. "These jobs can't be exported to China."
Former Yuba County Supervisor Bill Simmons, who was on the board when the memorandum of understanding was approved, said he saw the casino the same way. "To me, it was just fundamentally correct to pass the MOU at the time," he said.
Some of the rhetoric from casino supporters was more heated. Though the town hall's organizers requested civil discussion, more than once a speaker was interrupted by someone calling out, "What about my people?" or "How do you get paid?"
When audience members submitted questions to the speaker panel, topics included Schmit's background, how many jobs farms create and why the county seemed to favor building houses on ag land, but not a casino.
In response to the last question, Abe said he felt it was a mistake to approve Plumas Lake, the south county community built on both former orchards and highly flood-prone ground.
However, many in the audience complained, loudly, when questions about reducing local unemployment, as supporters assert the casino would do, seemed to be skipped.
"Some of the questions go beyond the sphere of the meeting," said Lou Binninger, a casino opponent who sifted through submissions.
The town hall's organizers encouraged those attending, particularly opponents, to sign a provided letter to be sent to Gov. Jerry Brown, who will decide whether the casino happens.
CONTACT reporter Ben van der Meer at 749-4786.