Tribe wants to build 230,000-square-foot facility near airport
An article by Jim Herron Zamora, Chronicle Staff Writer
Several East Bay jurisdictions announced Thursday that they would present a unified front in their legal and political fight to prevent a proposed Indian casino near the Oakland International Airport.
The five public agencies -- Oakland, San Leandro, the East Bay Regional Park District and both the city and county of Alameda -- signed an agreement that allows them to pool resources and develop a joint legal strategy to fight a proposal by the Lower Lake Rancheria-Koi Nation on a 35-acre site adjacent to the Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline Park.
"Individually, many of us have been working to stop the casino from being imposed upon our city," said Oakland City Attorney John Russo, who attended a news conference along with elected representatives from each agency. "However, there is often a limit to what an individual can do. Collectively, we have a lot more power."
The Koi Nation, a band of Pomo Indians based in Santa Rosa, announced plans in October for a 230,000-square-foot hotel and casino. Unlike similar urban casinos proposed in Richmond and San Pablo, there is no local jurisdiction supporting the Koi Nation's plan. The decision on the casino will ultimately be made by the federal government.
Koi Nation Chairman Daniel Beltran said in a statement that the public officials who agreed to oppose the casino plan do not have a "clear understanding of the many benefits that Indian gaming has brought to many communities throughout California."
The tribe also offered Oakland an annual payment of $30 million a year that was spurned by the City Council in January.
"Oakland is not for sale," said Council President Ignacio De La Fuente. "The reality is that the benefits do not outweigh the problems." Both Alameda Mayor Beverly Johnson and San Leandro Mayor Shelia Young emphasized that traffic and crime from the proposed casino would spill into their cities without any accompanying benefit. "It's a regional problem," Johnson said.
The opponents held their news conference with a vista of nearby Arrowhead Marsh as a backdrop. In addition to the reasons many people oppose urban casinos, Koi Nation's site is bordered on three sides by the marsh -- a wildlife refuge that is a nesting ground for several endangered bird species, including the California clapper rail and brown pelican.
"We're standing on an international highway" for birds, said Doug Siden, who represents the surrounding area on the East Bay Regional Park Board. "This is an urban oasis."
Arrowhead Marsh, which was once an unused industrial space and illegal dumping ground, was gradually transformed and restored over the past 15 years through the efforts of hundred of students and other volunteers as well as public and private grants. The marsh serves as an environmental education center for students from all over the East Bay.
Park Supervisor Joan Suzio said that the proposed casino would "totally dominate the entrance to the park."
"I'm not sure parents would want to send their kids here with a casino so close," she said.
Russo said his office intended to challenge the process by which the Bureau of Indian Affairs approves the land for trust and warned that a drawn-out legal battle to stop the casino could cost millions.
"This alliance is a smart use of taxpayer dollars," said Russo. "Only by cooperating and sharing resources will we be able to defeat this casino."