By Dale Kasler
An alliance of construction contractors is fighting back against casino opponents in Elk Grove, challenging technicalities behind a ballot referendum designed to thwart the project.
Region Business filed paperwork Friday with the Elk Grove city attorney, saying the petitions submitted by casino opponents are “clearly defective” and should be thrown out.
While the challenge is on technical grounds, such challenges are sometimes successful. Notably, a Superior Court judge in 2014 threw out petitions submitted by a group seeking a public vote on the city of Sacramento’s $255 million subsidy for the new Kings arena.
In this case, the Wilton Rancheria Indian tribe is proposing to build a $400 million casino on a 40-acre parcel off Highway 99 in southern Elk Grove. The tribe would buy the land from the Howard Hughes Corp., which plans to build an outlet mall on adjacent property. The land deal is subject to approval of federal agencies that oversee tribal affairs, and the tribe also has to sign a gambling compact with the governor.
The referendum is over the Elk Grove City Council’s decision to amend its mall-development agreement with Howard Hughes, which shrinks the size of the outlet center to make room for the casino. Opponents of the casino submitted petitions with 14,800 signatures demanding a ballot referendum that would overturn the City Council’s decision. That’s nearly 6,000 more signatures than necessary, although the city clerk is still verifying the validity of the signatures.
Hughes has called the casino vital to the success of the mall.
In its letter to the city attorney, Region Business said the petitions are faulty because, among other things, they omit the text of the city ordinance that includes the original development agreement with Hughes – the agreement that doesn’t call for a casino.\\The identity of the group bankrolling the anti-casino referendum remains a mystery. Region Business has filed a separate complaint with the state Fair Political Practices Commission, charging that the group should have filed campaign finance disclosures by now. According to the FPPC, disclosure becomes mandatory after a group has spent at least $2,000 on a campaign.
The lawyer for the casino opponents was unavailable for comment.
The proposed casino has come under attack in a separate venue. In late November, the gambling watchdog group Stand Up for California, in concert with two Elk Grove residents, sued the city. The suit says the city ignored potential environmental impacts when it allowed Howard Hughes to sell a portion of its land to the tribe.