What role does the City of Elk Grove play in the review and approval of the Wilton Rancheria project?
The proposed Wilton Rancheria casino resort project (Project) and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) are undertakings of the Wilton Rancheria Tribe (Tribe) and the United States Department of Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). The proposed Project and associated land use approvals are being submitted to the federal government through the BIA for approval. The City is not approving, and has not approved, a casino Project. Even if the City objects to the Project and the taking of the land into trust with the federal government, the Project could still be approved and built. However, the City and the Tribe acknowledge that there may be potential impacts to the community associated with the Project. In order to address those potential impacts, the City has negotiated an agreement
called a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), with the Tribe that will provide payments to the City, Elk Grove Unified School District, and local non-profits. The approval of that MOU is not an approval of the casino Project. The approval of the MOU simply provides that if the casino Project is approved by the federal government, and appropriate State of California agencies, and it is ultimately built, that the Tribe will be obligated to make payments to the City to address potential impacts and make up for taxes that would otherwise be paid by a project similar to the casino Project, if the Project were subject to local taxes.
What opportunities have been provided for public comment?
As lead agency, the BIA is responsible for conducting all public outreach associated with the Project and the draft EIS. An initial public hearing on the draft EIS was held on January 29, 2016 in Galt, as part of a 62-day public comment period on the proposed Project. Following the announcement in June 2016 by the Tribe that the Elk Grove location was the preferred site, the Tribe conducted a town-hall styled meeting in Elk Grove on July 6, 2016 at the Falls Event Center to receive community feedback and answer questions about the Project. A copy of the presentation is available on the City’s website. The City Council held a public meeting and received public comment on September 28, 2016 prior to its approval of the MOU. The Final Environmental Impact Statement was released by the BIA on December 14, 2016 and provided a final 30 day public comment period.
What impact would the Elk Grove location have on the Outlet Collection at Elk Grove mall project?
The proposed casino Project location is north of the approved outlet mall site and does not restrict the mall project from moving forward. The Howard Hughes Corporation (HHC) – the developer of the outlet mall – continues to make progress on the development and leasing for The Outlet Collection at Elk Grove. HHC has indicated that the casino Project will help facilitate and expedite the leasing and construction of the mall. Please note: the outlet mall is not included in the trust land request; therefore, it will still be subject to all applicable state and local taxes and capital impact fees.
I am concerned about the impacts of the casino on our community, including loss of future tax revenue, public safety and traffic. What has the City done to address these concerns?
The EIS presents an evaluation of the potential impacts associated with the casino Project including economic, socio-economic, traffic, public safety, natural resources, air quality and noise. The EIS can be found at www.wiltoneis.com
. The Tribe will be obligated to comply with all environmental mitigation measures imposed on it by the federal government through the EIS process. Additionally, in order to mitigate the potential impacts of the Project identified in the EIS, the City and the Tribe have executed an MOU that provides funding to the City of Elk Grove, Elk Grove Unified School District and local non-profit organizations to pay for services such as law enforcement and traffic impacts and compensate for loss of tax revenue. The total cumulative payments from the Tribe to the community over 20 years is approximately $132 million. This amount far exceeds that which the City would expect to receive from tax revenues associated with the mall. A copy of the staff report and MOU
can be found on the City’s website. Sacramento County approved a similar agreement with the Tribe that mitigates impacts to the court system, county roads, and social services including problem gambling, drug and alcohol and domestic violence programs. As explained above, the approval of these agreements with the City and the County of Sacramento do not constitute approvals or disapprovals of the casino Project. Those approvals are subject to federal agency determinations, and the City and County lack jurisdiction to make such approvals.
What is the “Development Agreement Amendment” and what does it do?
A development agreement is an agreement authorized by state law between a developer and a city entitling a developer to construct a certain project. A development agreement does not require the developer to construct a project, but rather gives the developer certain rights to do so, if the developer so chooses, consistent with the terms of the agreement. In October of 2014, Howard Hughes Corporation (HHC), the developer for the mall site, received approvals for a development agreement that would provide for the development of an outlet mall on the southern portion of an approximately 100 acre site in the City. The northern portion of the site remained unplanned and subject to future potential development to be determined. In August of 2016, HHC applied to the City for an amendment to the development agreement to lift the development agreement entitlements from approximately 35 acres of the northern portion of the site. Following public hearings and public comment, the City adopted Ordinance 23-2016 approving that development agreement amendment on October 26, 2016. The approval of that development agreement amendment is not a vote or approval for or against the casino Project. It only amends a development agreement between the City and the HHC – the mall developer. As explained above, the City does not have approval authority over the casino Project. A copy of Ordinance 23-2016 approving the development agreement amendment can be seen here
Is the referendum petition a referendum on the approval or disapproval of the casino?
Under state law, city residents may petition a city council to repeal an ordinance. This is called a “referendum.” Here, the referendum seeks the repeal of Ordinance 23-2016. As explained above, that ordinance amends a development agreement between the City and HHC – the mall developer. The ordinance does not approve or disapprove the casino Project. The City does not have authority to make that decision. That decision is subject to federal government review and approval. If the ordinance is repealed by City Council action or a vote of the people following a call for an election, the development agreement amendment will be repealed. In that case, the development agreement’s entitlements to the developer or landowner would remain on the property. Under that circumstance, the federal government (through the BIA) would still have the ability to take the property into trust for the benefit of the Tribe, and the casino Project could still be constructed whether the ordinance and development agreement are effective or not.
What is the Council’s responsibility on the referendum petition?
The City Council certified the results of the referendum petition on January 11, 2017. Under state law, the ordinance, therefore, becomes suspended and is not effective. The City Council may then either repeal the ordinance or call for an election on the ordinance. The BIA has stated that neither the existence of the ordinance nor the existence of the development agreement on the property would impede the taking of the land into trust by the federal government for the benefit of the Tribe. As stated by the BIA in its Record of Decision issued January 19, 2017, “the Development Agreement does not prohibit the BIA from approving the Tribe’s trust application…”.The City and its residents do not get to directly vote on the approval or disapproval of the casino Project. It is a decision made by the federal government and the State of California. The City’s interest and efforts have been to insure that the potential impacts of the Project are appropriately and effectively addressed, should the casino Project be constructed. This has been achieved through the MOU agreement with the Tribe (see above).
Is there pending litigation over this matter, and, if so, what is the status?
A group called “Stand up California!” as well as some individual citizens have filed two lawsuits related to this matter. One state court lawsuit was filed in the Sacramento Superior Court alleging that the City improperly approved the ordinance amending the development agreement. Stand Up California! sought orders from the state court seeking to restrain the City from taking action related to the ordinance. Those requests have been denied by the state court.
Stand up California! and individual citizens have also filed a federal lawsuit in Washington D.C. against the federal government. The City is not a party to that lawsuit. Similar to the state lawsuit, Stand up California! sought orders from the federal court seeking to restrain the federal government from taking action related to the Project. To date, those requests have also been denied by the federal court.