California congressman withdraws proposed San Pablo casino support

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. Congressman George Miller, D-Calif., seemed to regret
his previous action that paved the way for the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians
to create the first urban casino in California.

Lytton gained the right to take the San Pablo site, about a 15-minute
freeway drive north of Oakland, into trust in a rider slipped in by Rep.
Miller in an omnibus bill in 2000. Miller reversed his support for the plan
in a letter sent to California legislative leaders Senate President Pro Tem
Don Perata, D-Oakland, and Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles.

Miller stated in the letter that while he still believed Lytton has the
right to take the San Pablo land into trust, he urged lawmakers to not
approve a gaming compact with the tribe.

"But somewhere between when Congress approved the land transfer and today,
the project that was originally brought to me and to the Congress by the
city and the [Lytton] tribe changed dramatically," Miller wrote.

Miller had cooled to the project over the past year. Gov. Arnold
Schwarzenegger agreed last year to a compact with the tribe that called for
as many as 5,000 slot machines, far more than the 2,000 allotted in the
original compacts that still govern most tribes.

Miller then urged legislative leaders to not approve the compact. Several
prominent Bay Area political leaders joined Miller in his opposition and
the deal was sunk in the Legislature.

Though Schwarzenegger had been on record as opposing urban casinos, he
softened his stance when it was apparent the tribe was willing to give
nearly a quarter of its revenue to the state.

A new, scaled-back compact would allow for 2,500 machines and Lytton claims
it would also reduce the overall size of the original proposed project by
about 40 percent. In his letter, Miller claimed that the original proposal
that he had heard was as few as 1,000 machines.

San Pablo Mayor Joseph Gomes disputed this, saying that to the best of his
recollection there was no number of slot machines in the original proposal.
He said that if the project was scaled back that far, the revenues to the
city would be seriously reduced and he questioned whether it would be
enough for city projects surrounding the casino.

While Gomes said he believes Miller "has a right to express his opinions,"
he disagrees with his conclusions.

"I'm fairly disappointed in the situation as it stands," said Gomes.

Gomes also expressed his personal support of the casino deal and contended
that many of the reasons for apprehension surrounding opposition to the
site were also employed against the card club, site of the Lytton project,
when it first opened over a decade ago.

"They said [the card club] would bring in all sorts of traffic on 1-80 and
that it would bring in crime and prostitution. In general, none of these
things has happened," said Gomes.

Not surprisingly, the tribe also disagrees. Lytton issued a press statement
in response to the letter claiming that the scaled-back compact calls for
extensive reviews that would include two separate environmental reviews,
one done under the National Environmental Quality Act and another that
would include city, county and state reviews.

The final outcome is fairly uncertain, though Miller's opposition last year
to the larger compact had its intended effect. Gomes alluded to the
"intense pressure" by Bay Area politicians that surround even the smaller
deal.

Nick DeLuca, a tribal spokesman, said the tribe has not yet decided on a
course of action. "We're taking some time to figure out what to do."

The San Pablo casino has been something of an odyssey for the tribe.
Previously Lytton had attempted to develop a base closer to their ancestral
home in Sonoma County's Alexander Valley, almost 80 miles north of the San
Pablo site, but faced stiff opposition from a local homeowners association.
The tribe later decided to look elsewhere and eventually settled on the San
Pablo card club site.