VALLEJO (KPIX 5) – Casinos usually make a lot of noise. But one planned for a plot of land in Vallejo has barely made a peep.
The proposed casino would go close to where Interstate 80 and Highway 37 meet.
“We were stunned. We were stunned,” said Daniel Keen, Vallejo City Manager. “This is not the first time that there has been proposals to establish casinos in Vallejo or in the Vallejo area. But we didn’t know it had progressed this far.”
It’s the Scotts Valley Band of Pomo Indians $700 million project, and it’s already in the pipeline.
“Our goal is to have a homeland for our tribe,” Crista Ray, tribal council liaison told KPIX 5. “Our tribe has been landless for 150 years, minimum.”
The tribe said they met with the city in January, but city leaders said they just found out about the casino in July.
And now, the city said, there is nothing it- or even the state- can do to stop it. That’s because Indian affairs are between the tribes and the federal government.
“It just strikes us an effort to intentionally exclude the city and any other parties that might have concerns, legitimate concerns, about this,” Keen said.
Here is how such a big project was off Vallejo’s radar. In March of 2015, the Scotts Valley Band of Pomo Indians struck a deal with Integrated Resort Development, LLC a Las Vegas-based casino development company.
By the fall of 2015, the tribe identified the parcel of land. And in January of this year filed a claim with the federal government to have it declared their “native homeland.”
They asked the Bureau of Indian Affairs to decide by September 5th of this year.
In August, the tribe filed paperwork for the most sensitive part of their plan, to build a casino. It’s that paperwork that triggers notification of the local and state governments.
But in the meantime, Integrated Resort Development had already purchased the plot in March of this year, and in July agreed with the tribe to “finance, develop and construct the gaming facility” on it.
KPIX 5 reporter Emily Turner: “Was it ever your intention to mislead the public or to withhold information until the very last minute- about the casino plans, about what was going on that land?”
Ray: “No, there was never any intention to mislead or to do that.”
There is nothing illegal about the way the tribe is handling this, but it is unorthodox. Usually the paper to reclaim lands and the paperwork saying they want to put a casino on it are filed together.
But they were filed separately, and the part that doesn’t require public notification had an eight-month head start on the one that does. In the history of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the Bureau of Indian Affairs said this has only been done four times.
The tribe said it was to avoid unnecessary legal costs, for them and the city, but they say they now recognize that might not have been the best option.
Ray: “You can’t put the genie back in the bottle. To say, if we could, go back in time and say, ‘Hey, we want you to know this is happening.’”
Turner: “So you would have done it differently in retrospect?”
Ray: “Yes, definitely.”
But the applications are in, and the plans are awaiting approval from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
They include a 400,000-square foot casino, with a hotel and spa. A family entertainment center would follow, which could include a movie theater, arcade and bowling alley.
It would also include tribal housing and headquarters for the 128 adult member tribe, currently based in Lake County.
Turner: “Where the office is in Lakeport, to where this piece of property is in Vallejo is 90 miles. How do you justify that distance?”
Ray: “It’s not really a justification to us. We know where we’ve been, where we’re from.”
The tribe argues their claim to the Vallejo land stems from the 1851 Treaty of Lu-pi-yu-ma at Clear Lake, where the tribe’s predecessors ceded their lands “from Clear Lake to San Pablo Bay, including the Vallejo property.”
Keen said this casino is the first time they’ve ever showed any interest in his city.
Turner: “Has this tribe had anything to do with Vallejo at all?”
Keen: “Not to my knowledge. This tribe is not one that appears to have any connection.”
The tribe also has an office in Concord and provided KPIX 5 a map showing 25 tribe members living within a 36-mile radius of the property.
Non-tribal members in that same radius, though, have their concerns.
“I had no until you told me about it,” Saul De Luna told KPIX 5.
De Luna rides his horses next door, where eventually a casino parking lot could border the barn.
“It will affect me big time. I enjoy riding my horses- afternoon, evenings. And with a casino going in that would go away, I don’t want to lose that,” De Luna said.
He’s not alone in his concerns.
Turner: “Three U.S. congressman, Senator Feinstein, the counties of Solano, Napa, Sonoma and the city of Vallejo have all wrote letters to the Bureau of Indian Affairs expressing their concern. They feel like you are pulling a fast one.”
Ray: “If they knew our history they may not be so angry with all the things they are saying.”
In response, the tribe sent its own letter to the bureau, saying “They ask that the city’s request be denied because public comment, including input from local governments, is not part of the restored lands process.”
Ray: “You have people telling you where you’re from, who you are. And being a tribal person in California, it’s been that way for a long time and a lot of our history they we’re taught here isn’t correct.”
So for now, the city of Vallejo’s best hope is for the feds to reject the Pomo tribe’s claim to the land. If the feds approve that land claim, then Vallejo and the public would eventually be able to weigh in on the casino.
This isn’t the first time this tribe has tried to build a casino in the Bay Area. In 2004, the tribe applied to reclaim a plot of land 20 miles away in Richmond and build a casino there.
But the feds denied their claim on that land.