Whether you agree with Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia's decision to support gaming in West County after all, there is something you should know.
Supervisor Gioia is friends with Eric Zell, the lobbyist for the Scotts Valley Band of Pomo Indians, one of the tribes that would like to build a casino in West County. Supervisor Gioia and Mr. Zell are also colleagues. They sit together on the board of Doctors Medical Center and work together on the Richmond Farm 2 Table Program.
As an attorney, I believe Supervisor Gioia's ongoing relationship with one of the casino lobbyists is a conflict of interest. Supervisor Gioia had a duty to publicly disclose his conflict. He also had a duty to abstain from voting on the expansion of gaming in West County. Supervisor Gioia did neither to my knowledge.
Instead, Supervisor Gioia got the entire Board of Supervisors to vote for more gaming. After Supervisor Gioia cast his vote, he said, "All of our work up until now has also increased our ability to bargain with a greater position of strength," says the Contra Costa Times. The "work up until now" is the Board's initial opposition to more gaming, which Supervisor Gioia led.
Supervisor Gioia's ongoing relationship with one of the casino lobbyists, vote for the expansion of gaming, and boast that his initial opposition increased the county's leverage raise serious doubt he ever really opposed the casinos.
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Candidate for Contra Costa County Supervisor
West County, It's Time
Contra Costa County flips strategy, agrees to support Indian
casino resort project
By John Simerman
Contra Costa Times
MARTINEZ -- After years of fighting to stave off Indian tribes and their casino dreams, Contra Costa County will throw its support behind the most ambitious of them under a deal that would pay the county $12 million a year if a casino resort rises on the Richmond waterfront.
A unanimous Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved an agreement with the Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians that could smooth the way for the urban Bay Area's first Las Vegas-style casino.
The 112-member tribe awaits key federal rulings in its bid for tribal land at the former Point Molate Naval Fuel Depot at the foot of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. Its plans call for a major casino-hotel resort with thousands of slot machines, two hotels, a conference center and 300,000 square feet of retail, along with trails, parks and tribal facilities.
The project still must go before the Richmond City Council, although the city long ago inked a deal to sell the land to the tribe's developer partner, Upstream Point Molate. The city stands to reap as much as $20 million a year if the casino resort opens.
County supervisors took pains to note the tribe's deal with Richmond and the fact the county has no direct power. Ultimately, the Secretary of Interior has discretion to place the land in trust for the tribe. Whether the county's opposition would have swayed that decision is unclear.
"We are in one of the stranger spots I can remember being in. We're being asked to make a judgment call based on probabilities," said Supervisor Gayle Uilkema of Lafayette. "I don't think we have a lot of choice."
The vote came after a pair of animated hearings. Union workers, a group of pastors and some Richmond residents hailed a project that promises thousands of construction and casino-resort jobs. The developer's deal with Richmond pledges 40 percent of the permanent jobs to city residents. The new deal with the county calls for another 30 percent for workers in the county.
"To stand in the way of thousands of potential jobs is not something I would want on my conscience," said board Chairwoman Susan Bonilla of Concord.
Gambling opponents, recovering addicts, environmental activists and others railed against the threat of more crime, a rise in gambling problems, traffic bogs and a missed chance for open space on the scenic site.
The county figures the public safety and health impacts of the project will run around $7 million. The deal would bring the county about $5 million more.
If the actual costs rise above that $12 million, the county can reopen the deal.
If, however, the tribe fails to secure a gaming compact with the state and instead runs electronic bingo machines that require no state oversight, the county would get $6 million under the deal.
Contra Costa has spent nearly $1 million fighting Guidiville and two other tribes with eyes on casinos in West Contra Costa. It funded environmental studies and research challenging the tribes' historic claim to the land.
Supervisor John Gioia, of Richmond, who spearheaded both the county's fight against tribal casinos and its reversal, fired back Tuesday at opponents who labeled him a sellout. Gioia said he feared the county would be left pleading for much less if the tribe won federal approval.
"All of our work up until now has also increased our ability to bargain with a greater position of strength," he said.
Some opponents, however, were miffed at the turnabout.
"The county has served as a model for how to analyze different aspects of this project," said Lech Naumovich of the California Native Plant Society. "Now they turn their backs on that research. It's certainly frustrating."
A lawyer for one Bay Area card club said a Las Vegas-style casino at Point Molate would spark a legal challenge to Proposition 1A, the 2000 ballot measure that authorized Indian gaming in the state.
"They're not going to be allowed to have gambling," predicted Alan Titus, who represents Artichoke Joe's in San Bruno. "But if I'm wrong, then we're entitled to slot machines in card rooms, because this isn't what voters intended."