After years of supporting the casino in Rohnert Park as a labor leader, Assemblyman Michael Allen says he will vote “no” on a compact with the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria when the document comes up for a vote, possibly on Thursday. The compact passed throught the state Senate with ease on Monday on a 34-4 vote.
The reason for Allen’s change of heart?
“In my discussions with leaders and residents of those other cities, a common thread running through the talks was a shared concern about the potential consequences of building a project of this magnitude,” he wrote in a statement he sent us. “The development phase alone will likely have multiple significant environmental impacts on the region’s water supply and air quality. And the cumulative years of construction, along with expected future expansions of the casino, would compound those problems in ways that may be very difficult to mitigate.”
(To see his full explanation, I’ve posted it below.)
But San Rafael City Councilman Marc Levine, one of Allen’s opponents in his June 5 race for the 10th Assembly District, says it’s a “farce.” Allen knows that continuing his support for the casino would risk losing the election, Levine says.
Here’s Levine’s statement:
“This is beyond a flip flop – it’s a farce. Lobbying for this casino and promoting it for eight years is not the way to stop it. This casino was brought to you by Michael Allen. He’s just trying to confuse the issue now that he has ensured that the casino legislation will pass. Why doesn’t Allen show leadership and build a coalition to stop the casino? Because his position is just political posturing.”
Of course there’s political posturing going on – by opponents and supporters of the casino. And, yes, these votes are heavily orchestrated. The Legislature wouldn’t be pushing this through on an “urgency” basis if it wasn’t clear that the votes were there to get the compact through.
My guess is the only local legislator who will end up voting yes on this compact is Sen. Mark Leno who represents Rohnert Park and carried the legislation Monday. But he has nothing to lose. He’s not running this year and with redistricting he won’t be representing that part of the North Bay anymore any way.
- Paul Gullixson
Here is Allen’s full opinion piece:
A Question of Balance
By Assemblymember Michael Allen
This week, the Legislature held informational hearings on the proposed tribal gaming compact between the state and the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria. If the compact is approved by the legislature, signed by the Governor, and received by the Federal government, it would authorize a large, Las Vegas-sized gambling casino and hotel complex with 3,000 slot machines.
The hearings in both the Senate and the Assembly were lively and informative, with supporters and opponents presenting their arguments on a wide array of the issues surrounding the agreement. After listening carefully to the hearings, reading the compact, and engaging in lengthy discussions with members of our community on both sides of this issue, I have decided to oppose this proposed project.
Granted, it’s never an easy choice to vote against a project with the potential to bring many quality jobs to our community. As a former labor leader in the North Bay prior to my election to the Assembly in 2010, I fought hard for projects designed to spur economic activity and create good local jobs.
The Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria have made strong commitments to generous revenue sharing with the City of Rohnert Park, Sonoma County, and disadvantaged California tribes, beyond what is contained in any of the 65 existing compacts between the state and other federally recognized tribes. And the tribe, with their commitment to working men and women – in the form of union card check recognition, the use of union construction labor, and the promise of living wage jobs with health care benefits – is to be commended for seeking to take the high road as an employer.
But as an Assemblymember, I must take a more global approach when matters come before the Legislature with major implications for our communities. Just because a project has many positive components and benefits, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is a good thing for the larger community. And to my mind, there are too many unknowns, not to mention downsides, which outweigh the benefits of allowing the proposed casino to go forward.
First, traffic in Marin and Sonoma Counties on Highway 101 is already a serious problem. Adding thousands of additional car trips a day to the large casino will make that problem worse.
Casino supporters have highlighted the fact that the compact includes mitigations for the City of Rohnert Park, but I have serious reservations about whether those mitigations will have the desired effect.
I have reached out to city council members and leaders of communities that are near where the casino would be located, and that would be forced to take on the impacts of the project casino while reaping few, if any, of the benefits. I am concerned that Cotati, Petaluma, Santa Rosa and other cities in Marin and Sonoma Counties are offered no protections in the compact – a problem which may stem from the fact that they were not included in the negotiations.
In my discussions with leaders and residents of those other cities, a common thread running through the talks was a shared concern about the potential consequences of building a project of this magnitude. The development phase alone will likely have multiple significant environmental impacts on the region’s water supply and air quality. And the cumulative years of construction, along with expected future expansions of the casino, would compound those problems in ways that may be very difficult to mitigate.
On balance, the choice between supporting and not supporting this compact could prove difficult for many members of the Legislature. We’re all mindful of the fact that the people of this state voted for ballot measures authorizing California governors to negotiate compacts with federally recognized Indian tribes. But when the voters approved those measures, they didn’t know they were voting for a large, Las Vegas-style casino near cities the size of Santa Rosa.
I am sensitive to the fact that the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria seek to support themselves with dignity and independence. But I am equally sensitive to the needs and concerns of the communities that would suffer the consequences of this project, absent pre-existing mitigation agreements with Sonoma County and other cities outside Rohnert Park.