After years of legal wrangling, yet another roadblock has been removed from the Wilton Rancheria‘s plan to build a casino near Kammerer Road and Highway 99’s Grant Line Road exit in Elk Grove, California, after a lawsuit brought by an activist group was thrown out by a federal judge this month, according to the Sacramento Business Journal.
Opposition suit dismissed:
In his January 16, 2019, Memorandum Order, U.S. District Court Judge Trevor N. McFadden denied the motion by the plaintiffs, gambling watchdog Stand Up for California!, for the U.S. Department of the Interior to produce documents, which he deemed to be “protected by the attorney-client and deliberative process privileges,” according to the filing (pdf).
Stand Up alleged that prior to a land-in-trust decision, the tribe and the government had inappropriate contact and based on that, the correspondence between the two should be made available.
Land in trust:
On January 19, 2017, the Department of the Interior issued a Record of Decision to place thirty-six acres of land in Elk Grove into trust on behalf of the Wilton Rancheria, ending nearly 60 years of “landless” status for the federally recognized Native American tribe of Miwok people. Since then, the government’s decision and authority has been challenged by the Penryn-based organization.
A 2017 suit filed by Stand Up questioned the validity of the land in trust agreement approved by Obama administration appointee, Larry Roberts, who was at the time, acting Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs. Judge McFadden dismissed the suit in 2018.
Its latest effort to try and obtain a temporary restraining order against the development of the $500 million casino and to force the Wilton Rancheria and Interior Department to turn over documents has failed.
Privilege log access granted:
In the plaintiff’s first motion seeking a privilege log and additional discovery, the court denied the latter, while the request for the privilege log was granted, with the nonprofit being allowed to assess whether the government wrongly withheld documents from the court record.
However, in the most recent motion, the court found that Stand Up failed to offer “arguments about the documents identified in the privilege log. Nor have they provided an adequate basis for believing that any of these documents would shed light on government misconduct beyond that already alleged based on the existing record.”
“desperate attempt to delay or derail“
In its January 23, 2019 press release, Wilton Rancheria Chairman Raymond C. Hitchcock said…
“The court has already ruled against Stand Up for California and in favor of Interior’s decision to place our Tribal land into federal trust.
“This is Stand Up’s latest desperate attempt to delay or derail a project that will create thousands of jobs, tens of millions of dollars in revenue for the city and give our members a path to self-sufficiency. Our Tribe was landless for nearly six decades and, finally, we have the opportunity to create a brighter future for our children, grandchildren and generations to come.”
Stand Up for California!
In an emailed statement from Stand Up for California! Director Cheryl Schmit, she said that in May last year, two motions were filed by citizens that she communicated forced the government “to log the over 1,000 documents it tried to withhold from the administrative record,” as reported by The Sacramento Bee.
“The Tribe is touting the Court’s denial of the citizens’ extraordinary request to override attorney-client and deliberative privileges as a major victory, when in fact the citizens have succeeded in forcing the production of hundreds of records that document serious problems with the decision,” Schmit reportedly wrote.
The Stand Up director also reportedly said that the documents “show that the Tribe pressured the government to cut corners and the government willingly agreed, working around the clock to issue a decision that normally takes 15 months in less than two days.”
Ghost mall demolition:
The Bee further reports that the city of Elk Grove last week announced that Dallas-based real estate development and management company, Howard Hughes Corporation, would be demolishing the unfinished shopping mall it owns, which is situated next to the site on Highway 99 that Wilton Rancheria and financing partner, Las Vegas-based Boyd Gaming Corp. (NYSE: BYD) purchased for $1 million per acre in February 2017.
On October 31, 2018, National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) Chairman Jonodev Osceola Chaudhuri signed and approved the management agreement between the Tribe and Boyd.
Planned 2019 groundbreaking on track:
According to The Bee, last week Chairman Hitchcock communicated to the news agency that regardless of what happens with the mall, construction of the casino would begin in 2019 sometime.
The planned Elk Grove casino, which will be managed by Boyd, would include 110,000 square feet of gaming floor, a 302-room hotel tower, several restaurants, a spa and a convention center.