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Neighbors stage protest of Cache Creek expansion

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BROOKS, Calif. ? Neighboring farmers staged a "tractorcade" June 9 to protest the expansion of the Cache Creek Indian Bingo and Casino. The farmers demonstrated by driving their tractors down a rural stretch of Highway 16, the main access road to the Cache Creek casino.

The 50-member Rumsey Band of Wintun Indians which owns Cache Creek calls the protesters urban refugees from the nearby San Francisco Bay area who are trying to prevent a tribe that has resided in the valley for at least 4,000 years from exercising its sovereignty.

The protestors said they wanted to raise awareness among local residents about an environmental evaluation released the week of June 3. Neighbors are allowed a 30-day comment period by California law.

The Rumsey tribe has proposed expanding its facility by a little over 400,000 square feet. Among the additions is a 300-room hotel. The current 2,000-capacity parking lot would expand to around 4,500 places.

Local farmers expressed most concern about potentially increased traffic on Highway 16, a narrow country highway that winds along the foothills of the inner Coast Range.

Demonstration organizer and longtime Capay Valley farmer Dru Rivers charges that she has found many discrepancies and inaccuracies in the environmental evaluation. She believes that the evaluation underestimates the increase in traffic on Highway 16. The evaluation and the tribe say it will increase by 20 percent, a figure that Rivers said is a gross undercount.

Highway 16, said Rivers, is full of farm equipment such as tractors. She said that urban drivers who frequent the casino do not know how to drive in areas with farm equipment on the road.

Rivers expressed horror at the thought of being considered anti-Indian. A self-described political liberal who claims to know several tribal members personally, she insisted that she is not attacking the tribe, who she believes has a right to have a casino.

Furthermore she stated that she is pleased that the tribe is doing well economically and expressed gratitude for the large sums of money donated by the tribe to the local community. She said the problem is that casino expansion is unnecessary.

"Most of the tribal members that I talk to seem to be indifferent to casino expansion and seem to be quite happy with the $20 million that they took in last year," she said.

Calls to the tribal office were referred to Doug Elmets, whose public relations firm also represents the United Auburn Indian Tribe. Elmets disputed many of Rivers' claims, especially on the issues of traffic and local support.

Elmets stuck by the traffic estimate in the environmental evaluation. He said that the tribe hired a firm that does traffic-impact studies for the City of Sacramento and insisted that the numbers were accurate.

Elmets claimed that the protesters represented only a vocal minority of Capay Valley residents. He said that a poll taken by an independent firm earlier this year showed that 64 percent of the local residents support the casino expansion.

The survey done by Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin & Associates, a polling firm hired by the tribe, was obtained by Indian Country Today. It was based on phone calls to 600 Yolo County voters and has a margin of error of a little over four percent. The survey included all of Yolo County, which includes the college town of Davis, and was not limited to the Capay Valley.

Elmets argued that economic expansion is a right and dismissed Rivers' objection to expansion of an already lucrative business.

"It's like telling General Motors that they aren't allowed to expand one of their plants," he said.