Casino makes a move

Casino makes a move

New spot moves Indian gaming spot away from Gilroy
Gilroy – After weeks of community speculation and closed-door discussions with investors, the California Valley Miwok tribe has disclosed a new location for their proposed casino that would put an additional 15 miles between the gambling site and the City of Gilroy.

The property is a little more than 200 acres, according to Miwok spokeswoman Nicole Ratcliff, and is located between San Felipe Road and Highway 156 near the airport. The tribe had originally proposed a site off of Highway 25 near the Santa Clara County line, but scrapped the plans when locals expressed concern over environmental and traffic issues.

“The further the better,” Gilroy City Councilman Bob Dillon said. “I think Arizona would be nice.”

Dillon is one of many local leaders who has not shied away from criticizing the project. He has argued that any benefits promised by casino investors, who often point to new jobs and additional money for city coffers, are outweighed by the crime, loansharking, prostitution and other negative effects associated with casinos.

“I hope it goes away tomorrow,” he said. “I don’t see us being able to regulate anything because of tribal sovereignty.”

The five-member California Valley Miwok tribe has teamed up with investors from Game Won to build a casino in Hollister similar in size to the 66,000 square foot, 1,762-slot machine Cache Creek casino in Yolo County. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has said he will not grant gaming compacts to tribes without overwhelming local support. A recent Farm Bureau poll of 400 registered voters showed 66 percent opposing a casino in San Benito County near the county line. Project Manager Gary Ramos has said the casino’s location change demonstrates the tribe’s dedication to working with the community.

Casinos Represent A Poor Solution Chairman Steve Merrell couldn’t be reached for comment. In the past, Merrell has stated the group will continue to oppose the casino regardless of its location.

The new location is served by three highways (156, 52, and 25), which will reduce traffic impacts in the area, Ramos said in a statement. The new location is not located near a flood plain or a chemical plant, as the previous site had been.

The new location also will benefit Hollister economically, according to the statement, which claims the new location will bring tourists to Hollister’s shops and restaurants, and the casino’s proximity to the airport will encourage development in the area.

But some local officials said the new location has the potential to create the same problems as the Hwy. 25 site.

“Traffic is still going to be the issue, and I just read the governor’s budget is taking the 152 and 156 interchange out,” said County Supervisor Pat Loe, who is forming a regional planning forum to investigate the possible impacts of a casino. “Unfortunately I don’t think any place in San Benito County is a good place for a casino as far as traffic is concerned.”

The new location is better than the previous site, said Al Martinez, director of economic development. He also doubted the relocation would do much to improve the local economy.

“If you’re going to have your druthers of having it on (Highway 25) or having it over here closer to the city … there’s more benefit in my mind over here,” Martinez said. “But it’s my belief that all casinos want to keep people on site and that’s why they furnish lodging, food, etc.”

Project manager Ramos has confirmed that the tribe intends to eventually add restaurants and entertainment venues once the casino is constructed.

Newly-seated San Benito County Supervisor Anthony Botelho is the only supervisor who has publicly come out against the casino. The relocation will not ease his concerns about the environmental and traffic impacts.

“The three highways they’re talking about have major issues, and the entire length of them probably needs to be improved,” he said. “And (the new location) still doesn’t address the fact that the casino has some tremendous social impacts that affect the community, and I am not moved by this location or the previous one.”

San Benito County Marshal Robert Scattini said he saw some potential benefits to the new site, but he thinks the decision is not his to make.

“The only benefit I see having it there (by the airport) as opposed to the other site (off Hwy. 25) is that it’s next to the airport, so maybe it would encourage more people to fly into the airport,” Scattini said. “But you’ve got people who hate the casino on one side and people who want it on the other side. If I had to make a decision on it right now, I’d put it up to the voters.”

The site near the county airport is not completely wrapped up yet, according to investors. They are in the process of due diligence on the property including conducting an environmental review, according to the statement. Once the review is finished, the investors will sign a final purchase agreement with the landowner.

Serdar Tumgoren contributed to this article.

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