Elk Grove City Council members voted Tuesday night to repeal an ordinance from October that allowed Howard Hughes Corp. to sell 35 acres to the Wilton Rancheria Indian tribe for a casino.
The council’s 4-0 decision eliminated the need for a costly voter referendum on whether the October ordinance, which altered the city’s development agreement with Hughes, should stand. Casino opponents had submitted 14,900 signatures in support of a referendum that would overturn the council’s decision, nearly 6,000 more than necessary to place it on the ballot.
“I’ve … heard loud and clear” the public’s opposition to the October change, Mayor Steve Ly said before casting his vote to repeal the ordinance. Ly said he was torn between public sentiment and the casino’s promise of jobs, but “I’m just tired of seeing our community be divided, and I’m prepared to vote tonight to set it aside.”
He was joined by the three other council members who voted: Steven Detrick, Stephanie Nguyen and Darren Suen. Councilman Patrick Hume removed himself from the decision.
Whether the council’s action will forestall the casino development remains unclear because federal authorities likely will have final say.
Tribal members want to build a $400 million casino, hotel and convention center on the land and asked the federal government to take it into trust for the tribe. The 35 acres is part of 100 acres that, under the original development agreement, was to be part of a shopping mall on Highway 99 at the south edge of the city. The Hughes corporation has argued that the casino is needed to drive traffic to the mall.
In January, under former President Barack Obama’s administration, the U.S. Interior Department announced its intention to place the land in trust but did not complete the process. What might happen under President Donald Trump, a casino owner who opposed Indian gambling in the past, is uncertain.
After the vote, tribal chairman Raymond Hitchcock said he’s confident the land will be taken into trust by the Trump administration. The Interior Department has already given the tribe its decision, Hitchcock said. He characterized the final steps to place the land in trust as an administrative matter.
Wednesday’s meeting drew a standing-room-only crowd, with a majority of those who spoke voicing opposition to the casino. Many argued that a casino would be a magnet for crime and would alter the character of the Elk Grove community.
While other area casinos like Thunder Valley in Placer County and Red Hawk in El Dorado County are in semi-rural areas, the proposed Elk Grove casino site is in a city and would be close to residential neighborhoods, they said.
Some urged the council to call an election so residents could make clear whether they wanted a casino, while others called for rescinding the ordinance and avoiding the expense of an election.
“Fiscal responsibility has stood in the way of even voting for council people,” said Suzanne Pecci, citing the council’s decisions in recent years to fill vacant council seats by appointment. “So I can’t see you putting this on the ballot.”
Randy Bekker said many of his fellow speakers misunderstood the council’s action regarding the development agreement and what a referendum would accomplish.
“There is no vote on a casino,” he said. “Repeal the development agreement and stop it. There is no reason to continue this mess. They don’t understand what they are voting on.”