Stand Up for California!, a Penryn-based casino watchdog group, and three Elk Grove residents are challenging the federal government’s decision to place land into trust for the proposed, $400 million Wilton Rancheria casino-resort in Elk Grove.
A record of decision approving the taking of 35.9 acres of land by Highway 99 and Kammerer Road into a federal trust for the tribe’s benefit was issued on Jan. 19. But the plaintiffs seek to have that decision reversed, and have the land returned to the authority of the city of Elk Grove and the state.
Elk Grove residents Joe Teixeira, Patty Johnson and Lynn Wheat, and the Stand Up organization on Aug. 10 filed an amendment of their federal complaint against the U.S. Department of Interior, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and Michael Black, acting assistant secretary of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Both Black and Zinke are being sued in their official capacities only.
The group’s previous attempt to block the casino site’s land from being placed into a federal trust through an appeal was denied by Black on July 17. And that denial led to the plaintiffs’ filing of their current amended complaint.
Cheryl Schmit, director of Stand Up for California!, explained the sole purpose of the amended complaint.
“The reason the citizens are filing this (complaint) is because of the irregularities in the federal process,” she said. “All we want to do is make sure that state and federal statutes and regulations and decision making processes are adhered to properly.
“We’re asking the court to unwind all the steps that were taken by the federal officials to change the status of the trust land in Elk Grove. And those steps include transferring the declared trust land back to the authorities, jurisdiction of the city of Elk Grove and the state of California.”
The plaintiffs in this complaint argue that the decision to place land into trust – a requirement for establishing the tribe’s casino – was “made by federal officials who lacked the authority to make final agency decisions under applicable federal regulations and the 1998 Federal Vacancies Reform Act.”
The group claims that then-acting Assistant Secretary Lawrence Roberts did not have the authority to issue the Jan. 19 record of decision for the tribe. And the plaintiffs are seeking a declaration to that effect, and an official statement that the decision is legally invalid.
Also mentioned in the amended claim is that the plaintiffs are seeking a declaration that the defendants violated the Administrative Procedure Act, the Indian Reorganization Act, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act.
Among the details of those claims are that federal officials denied proper notice and the opportunity for Elk Grove residents to review and comment on the proposed casino property, failed to consider significant new information relative to the environmental review, and failed to properly analyze the secretary’s authority under the Indian Reorganization Act.
A statement by the Stand Up organization notes: “In filing this complaint, neither the citizens of Elk Grove nor Stand Up for California! seek to harm the economic viability of any California tribe or any shopping mall project.”
The proposed casino-resort property is located adjacent to the long-awaited Outlet Collection at Elk Grove mall, which is currently scheduled to open next year.
Wilton Rancheria Tribal Chair Raymond “Chuckie” Hitchcock responded to the plaintiffs’ amended complaint. He emphasized that Gov. Jerry Brown signed the state’s gaming compact with Wilton Rancheria last month.
“The land is in trust, we have signed a compact with the state of California (on July 19), and the project continues to progress,” he said. “It’s time for certain card club interests that are writing checks for baseless lawsuits to step aside.
“The project will create thousands of new jobs and new opportunities for businesses, and invest more than $180 million into the city of Elk Grove and Sacramento County over the next 20 years.”