Oxnard mayor, religious groups oppose Maidu proposed casino

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. - In an otherwise uneventful meeting, Oxnard mayor and the head of a religious coalition testified before the California Gambling Control Commission to oppose a proposed casino in Oxnard.

Those who testified April 16 said they do not oppose tribal gaming as such, but have serious reservations because the tribe planning the casino is based in Northern California, several hundred miles from the city of Oxnard in Ventura County.

Proposal comes from the Plumas County-based Greenville Rancheria of Maidu Indians and is backed by the Las Vegas-based Paragon Gaming. The 250-room hotel, 150,000-square-foot casino would be located next to an outlet shopping center near U.S. 101 in the middle of a densely populated urban area. Oxnard has a population of 175,000. Tribal officials have said they think the city and residents are acting "emotionally and have discounted potential benefits such as 2,000 jobs and millions of potential dollars for local coffers as a result of the increased tourism to the area.

Calls to the Greenville Rancheria and Paragon were not returned.

In his, testimony Oxnard Mayor Manuel Lopez said the proposed casino and the tribe are exploiting recent immigrants. Just how this is the case, Lopez would not say. He cited a proposed high school and chapel in the area as further reasons not to support the casino.

"Local residents are going to be the ones who are most impacted," said Lopez, who also said he is not opposed to tribal gaming in general.

Each speaker mentioned, one way or another, that the Greenville Maidu tribe has no historic or current ties or trust land in Ventura County and are being used as a front for Paragon.

"The tribe has no ancestral ties or trust land in Ventura County," said Rabbi John Sherwood of the 30-member Oxnard and Port Hueneme Ministerial Association.

Sherwood told the commission his organization believes gambling is an evil addiction and likened it to alcoholism. He said that when money is taken out of the hands of poor people, it erodes the tax base for communities.

Sherwood added that he supported Proposition 1A last year and he believes the proposed casino is contrary to the spirit of the initiative.

This is the second attempt by the tribe and Paragon to build a casino in the area. A similar plan for the Oxnard harbor area was derailed earlier this year because of local opposition to increased traffic and other concerns.

It is also the second attempt in California by a tribe to acquire trust land not on or adjacent to its base. Earlier this year the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians began efforts to acquire a card room in San Pablo, some 60 miles from its base.

The issue of buying off-reservation land for gaming has not only raised the usual concerns of anti-gaming advocates but many tribes expressed private concerns such moves such might endanger tribal gaming in California.

They fear many voters who supported Proposition 1 A may feel betrayed by actions proposed by Greenville and Lytton and an ensuing backlash may hurt them all.

Tony Cohen, an attorney working on the Lytton case, said he feels voters should not worry. He points to the many hurdles a tribe must overcome before being allowed to acquire off-reservation trust lands for gaming.

The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and Proposition 1A create several obstacles and safeguards. One is that trust land acquired after 1988 is not eligible for gaming purposes. There are, however, several exceptions.

In Lytton's case, the tribe found a member of congress to take up its cause and slip it into a pending bill. There is an exception for tribes restored since 1988 which applies to both Lytton and Greenville.

"My main comment is that if the tribe can clear all the legal obstacles and have local support like the Lyttons do in San Pablo, then who does it hurt? Why shouldn't they be allowed to create a gaming establishment," Cohen said.

Cohen also says that while the mayor and local religious organizations may oppose the casino, he has heard that the city council may be amenable to the proposal.

Calls to the council were not returned.

The California Gambling Control Commission decided to take no action at present on the proposed casino.