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Ukiah tribe pushes $1.5 billion Richmond casino resort


Plans are inching forward for a massive hotel and casino resort on the shores of San Pablo Bay, one of two proposed in Richmond by North Coast Indian tribes.

A draft environmental report has been released for the Ukiah-based Guidiville Band of Pomo?s $1.5 billion, ?vibrant, five-star entertainment district and destination resort? planned at Point Molate, just north of the foot of the San Rafael?Richmond bridge.

The 266-acre project on the site of a former U.S. Navy fueling depot and old winery complex was unveiled five years ago. But the release of the 5,284-page environmental document has rekindled debate between supporters, who say it will bring jobs and economic vitality, and opponents worried about traffic, noise and air pollution.

It also has revived charges of ?reservation shopping,? in which tribes are criticized for seeking urban land far from their rural base for a casino.

?This is an off-reservation gaming facility about 117 miles from the original Rancheria,? said Cheryl Schmit, casino critic and director of Stand up for California, a gambling watchdog group. ?A casino operation in this location is much more market-friendly to gaming than out in the sticks in Mendocino County.?

She called it a ?blatant and self-serving scheme? that benefits the tribe?s investors.

The project is likely years away from breaking ground, assuming it can overcome numerous objections and legal challenges. The land still needs to be taken into trust for a reservation by the federal government. And the governor and State Legislature need to approve a gaming compact.

The tribe, which has the backing of the City of Richmond, wants to build a 1,100-room hotel, a casino with up to 3000 slot machines, a 2,500-seat theater and a ?retail village? with 30 to 75 retail shops. There could also be almost 400 housing units with some set aside for tribal members.

About 5,000 parking spaces would be built in a subterranean parking structure, along with an additional 2,500 parking spaces in a seven-level garage.

A ferry terminal with service to San Francisco and other points also is proposed.

Tribal officials say the project will transform the economics of an impoverished city and at the same time establish a sustainable economy and land base for the tribe. The Guidiville Band of Pomos was restored in 1991 after its Rancheria was ?illegally terminated? by the federal government decades earlier.

The 126-member tribe is described as largely impoverished, but has partnered with developers and the Rumsey Band of Wintun Indians, which owns Cache Creek Casino in Yolo County.

Upstream Point Molate is the limited liability corporation that includes the tribe and Berkeley developer James Levine. According to their Web site, PointMolateResort.com, one of Upstream?s principals is former U.S. Senator William Cohen, R-Maine, who served as Secretary of Defense under President Bill Clinton.

While the project is supported by the City of Richmond, it is opposed by the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors.

Marin County officials also have expressed concern about the traffic that will be generated on their side of the bridge by the 15,000 visitors a day that would visit the Las Vegas-style casino resort.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is on record against the Point Molate Resort as well as another smaller casino project proposed in North Richmond by the Lake County-based Scotts Valley Band of Pomo Indians.

Conceivably, there could be three casinos within a four-mile radius. The two proposals would join the existing San Pablo Casino, which is operated by the Sonoma County-based Lytton Band of Pomo.

The San Pablo Casino has electronic bingo games that closely resemble slot machines, but do not require approval from the state.

The Contra Costa Board of Supervisors said the new casinos do not belong in a low-income minority area with high unemployment and crime rates and considerable traffic congestion.

But the City of Richmond supports the project because of a multi-million-dollar revenue sharing agreement with the tribe and the thousands of jobs the casino resort is expected to bring to Richmond and other nearby communities.

The public has until Sept. 23 to comment on the draft environmental report. Public hearings are scheduled Aug. 12 and Sept. 17 at Richmond Memorial Auditorium.

A copy of the draft environmental impact statement is available online at www.pointmolateeis-eir.com.