Artist's rendering of the Wilton Rancheria's resort project in Elk Grove, Caifornia. Image by Wilton Rancheria

Wilton Rancheria continues to see litigation over casino project in California

The Wilton Rancheria continues to make progress on a long-awaited casino in northern California but opponents are still trying to tie the project up in court.

A group called Stand Up for California and three residents of Elk Grove are fighting the tribe's land-into-trust application in federal court. The same group and additional residents have another lawsuit pending in state court as well.

The federal lawsuit claims the tribe's 35-acre site was not properly placed in trust by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The record of decision was signed on January 19, the last full day of the Obama administration, by an official whose title at the time was "Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs."

According to the lawsuit, only the "Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs" -- or an "acting" designate -- can acquire land in trust. The plaintiffs claim Larry Roberts, a citizen of the Oneida Nation who was the "Principal Deputy" at the time, does not qualify.

The Trump administration, though, has confirmed that the land is indeed in trust. The plaintiffs filed an amended complaint on August 10 in hopes of "unwinding" all of the actions affecting the 35-acre site.

The move came after Stand Up and five residents saw their state court lawsuit dismissed on August 1. They challenged the city's rezoning of the land for the casino but a judge said there were no causes of action, The Elk Grove Citizen reported.

An appeal is being planned, an attorney for the plaintiffs told the paper. The case is Stand Up California! vs. City of Elk Grove, No. 34-2016-80002493.

The tribe, meanwhile, is waiting on the California Legislature to ratify a Class III gaming compact for the casino. Once it's approved at the state level, it can be sent to the BIA for review.

“The land is in trust, we have signed a compact with the state of California (on July 19), and the project continues to progress,” Chairman Raymond “Chuckie” Hitchcock told The Citizen. “It’s time for certain card club interests that are writing checks for baseless lawsuits to step aside."

At one point, a firm that provides gaming services to non-Indian card clubs in California admitted it has tried to derail the casino. But Stand Up's secretive leader won't disclose who is behind the lawsuits.

The tribe was restored to federal recognition in 2009 after being illegally terminated in the 1950s.

Read More on the Story:
Activists challenge federal officials over proposed Elk Grove casino (The Elk Grove Citizen August 15, 2017)
Superior Court judge rules city properly handled casino land case (The Elk Grove Citizen August 15, 2017)

Federal Register Notices:
Final Environmental Impact Statement and a Revised Draft Conformity Determination for the Proposed Wilton Rancheria Fee-to-Trust and Casino Project, Sacramento County, California (December 14, 2016)
Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Proposed Wilton Rancheria Fee-to-Trust and Casino Project, Sacramento County, California (December 29, 2015)
Notice of Intent To Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for the Proposed Wilton Rancheria Fee-to-Trust and Casino Project, Sacramento County, California (December 4, 2013)

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