Business & Real Estate

Elk Grove casino opponents turn in petitions backed by mystery donor

Opponents of a proposed Indian casino in Elk Grove turned in 14,800 signatures to the city clerk in their effort to block the $400 million project, setting up a potentially nasty and costly ballot fight, city officials said Monday.

The number of signatures is well above the 9,000 signatures needed to qualify the effort for the Elk Grove ballot. But first City Clerk Jason Lindgren has to verify the validity of the signatures, a process that he said will take 30 days.

It’s still a mystery who’s behind the effort, and a group of building contractors supporting the casino filed a complaint with the state’s political watchdog Monday, seeking to uncover the source of the anti-casino petition drive. The complaint, filed by the Sacramento Region Business Association with the Fair Political Practices Commission, accuses the petitioners of “a conspiracy to hide information from” voters.

According to the FPPC, the petitioners must disclose their funding sources within 10 days of having received donations totaling $2,000.

The petitions were submitted by the Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk law firm in Sacramento, but the petitions and accompanying paperwork don’t identify the groups behind the petition drive. A lawyer with the Bell McAndrews firm wasn’t immediately available for comment.

The Wilton Rancheria Indian tribe wants to build a $400 million casino off Highway 99 at the south end of Elk Grove, next to an outlet mall that the Howard Hughes Corp. is planning to build. Hughes is planning to sell a portion of its land to the tribe to make way for the casino.

To buy the land, the tribe needs approval from of U.S. Department of the Interior and the National Indian Gaming Commission, which oversee tribal affairs. The tribe also must sign a gambling compact with the governor.

The petitioners are seeking to overturn an Oct. 12 decision by the Elk Grove City Council that altered the city’s development agreement with Hughes for the outlet mall.

Hughes has called the Indian casino “essential for continuing our leasing momentum” at the outlet mall. The Dallas developer still hasn’t announced a groundbreaking date for the mall.

If enough signatures are verified, the City Council can choose to overturn its earlier decision or call a special election. A special election could cost the city as much as $500,000, according to Lindgren.

It’s hardly certain that the anti-casino referendum will qualify for the ballot. City spokeswoman Kristyn Nelson said 200 people have submitted “recession” documents, saying they no longer want their signatures on the petitions. Those have to be verified as well.

Dale Kasler: 916-321-1066, @dakasler

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