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Yuba County casino earns governor's OK
Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday approved a tribal compact for Enterprise Rancheria, clearing a big hurdle for a hotel and casino in Yuba County.
In a letter to the US secretary of the Interior, Brown said the thorough nature of the determination process, combined with the benefits for both the tribe and the region, convinced him the casino should get his approval.
"While I am reluctant to agree to the expansion of gaming on land currently ineligible for it, I concur in your determination in this case because of several unique considerations," Brown wrote.
The governor noted the casino would not be in a major metropolitan area, and the tribe had a historical connection with the land.
"I expect there will be few requests from other tribes that will present the same kind of exceptional circumstances to support a similar expansion of tribal gaming land," he concluded.
Under the compact, the Estom Yumeka Maidu can operate a casino with 2,000 slot machines and card games, though not roulette or craps tables. The casino would be built on 40 acres in the county's sports and entertainment zone, between highways 65 and 70 near Sleep Train Amphitheatre.
A federal environmental impact statement for the project estimated it would produce 4,300 jobs and $230 million a year in economic activity. Eventually, Marysville will receive $250,000 annually from the tribe, while Yuba County will receive $5 million a year.
Charles Altekruse, a spokesman for the Estom Yumeka Maidu, said the tribe was gratified with Brown's decision.
"The governor recognized this was a special circumstance, and we've always said that," he said. "We're pleased he took the time and care and had the courage to follow through."
Yuba County Supervisor Mary Jane Griego, who supported the project and whose district includes the casino, said Brown's decision is one worth celebrating for county residents.
"This is a project like any large corporation coming here," she said, adding the county's memorandum of understanding with the tribe gives first preference to county residents for jobs at the casino and guarantees the county annual revenue from the tribe. "There's going to be a whole lot of opportunities."
Griego, who said Brown called her personally to tell her of his decision, said the decision is also encouraging because it will boost other development in the 900-acre sports and entertainment zone.
Supervisor Roger Abe, who raised concerns about the project, said the county will live with the decision and abide by the memorandum, but he still has reservations.
County residents rejected the casino in a 2005 advisory vote, but it apparently had little effect on the governor's thinking, Abe said. Potential rival casinos poured in money to support the measure.
"We have a vote, people weighed in, and apparently it doesn't matter whatsoever," he said.
Abe said he was also concerned the governor's office has already approved a compact with the tribe, without getting any input from the county.
Casino opponents said the last word on the venue's future may still come.
Sandra Gilbert, a Wheatland-area resident affiliated with the casino watchdog group Stand Up For California!, said she and other opponents haven't given up.
"I'm extremely disappointed with the governor," she said. "We will have to explore what we do from here. We have options."
A US Supreme Court ruling earlier this year gave private citizens the ability to challenge court rulings by the US Department of the Interior on tribal matters. And a spokesman for the United Auburn Indian Community, which runs the Thunder Valley Casino in Placer County, said he expects a legal challenge.
"It's clear that this issue is now going to move from the governor's desk to the courtroom," said Doug Elmets, whose client casino had opposed Enterprise Rancheria.
Because Brown's approval gave the go-ahead for what's known as off-reservation gaming, Elmets said, it also opens the floodgates for other tribes to try to open casinos away from their reservations, including in urban areas.
Estom Yumeka Maidu tribal members said their ancestral lands included Yuba County, while critics said the tribe didn't want to establish a casino near its main office in Oroville because of two other Indian casinos nearby.
But with the governor's approval now in hand, Altekruse said, the tribe feels it's time to focus on economic benefits rather than legal challenges.
The tribe first broached the idea of a Yuba County casino a decade ago, needing what's known as two-step determination from the state and federal government to proceed.
Federal approval from the Department of the Interior came a year ago. Brown had a calendar year to either concur with or reject the department's findings.
Before the tribe can break ground, the land must be taken into trust and the compact must be approved by the Legislature and the Department of the Interior.
Altekruse said he couldn't guess how soon those steps would be completed, but hoped it might take about six months.