Saturday, July 19, 2008
If you build it, they will come, then what?
I remember when I moved to Yolo County after high school. Our family ran cattle in the Capay Valley near Guinda. There was no casino in Brooks at that time, not even the bingo parlor. You could literally set up a folding table, and hold a poker game on the yellow dividing line of Highway 16 at 11:00 PM and not be bothered until the farmers started moving around 5 AM.
Things, as they do, have changed.
The casino has made members of the Rumsey tribe wealthy beyond their imagination, if they had a gold mine when they built the bingo parlor, they now own a diamond mine with the casino/resort. I say good for them, as someone whose wife is a member of a Native American tribe, the American Indian has received the short end of every stick they were ever offered. Now it is they who are wielding the largest club in the County; money, political power and sovereignty. However, with great power comes greater responsibility.
The multi million dollar Nevada style casino the Rumsey tribe has built in Brooks is as out of place as a cattle ranch in downtown San Francisco. The infrastructure needs for the 4 million + patrons flowing into the casino annually simply is not there. While the tribe contributes millions of dollars to try an offset some of the impact the casino has in the local community, the casino is still seen as a bad neighbor to most who live in the Capay Valley.
Now the tribe wants to expand the casino and hotel once again. The project includes 467 additional hotel rooms and 27 new hillside casitas, two new formal restaurants, five small restaurants, an event/conference center, 3-4 new retail shops, six new spa treatment rooms, additional gaming floor and office space, three new swimming pools, and related support facilities and utilities.
I realize that competition from other tribal casinos closer to major population centers is growing, but at some point you have to face the limitations of geography and infrastructure.
The amount of water the casino uses in its day to day operation is tremendous, this is sure to be a contentious issue as the County continues to grow and the available amount of water stays constant or even decreases. The increase in traffic is the issue that impacts most of us who live in or near the valley. The road widening project on Highway 16 has started and while a wider and straighter road will help keep more cars on the road and out of the farmers fields, orchards and front yards, hopefully it will also cut down on the deadly accidents. It will not however make it much easier to pull out from your drive way onto what has become a freeway. From a dead stop, imagine trying to pull out onto I-80 at rush hour and you will get a sense of how the amount of traffic has completely changed the Capay Valley.
Lord help you if you ever have to take a tractor or farm implement down Highway 16 between Capay and Brooks, in a five minute span you could literally have two miles of cars backed up behind you. Some of those on their way to work or on the way to spend their money at the casino do not care about who they endanger as they pass twenty cars at a time on a double yellow line. I have seen it dozens of times as these people pass on blind corners and over hills where they can't see oncoming traffic.
Besides the crazy drivers, if I do have an axe to grind with the tribe, it is the lack of signage along the way to the Casino. I live on Road 23 which is the way Mapquest and other online or GPS devices as well as the casino itself sends you if you are coming from the Bay Area. There have been three people who ran off this straight road into my ditch and one who flipped over into my neighbor's irrigation ditch. In the past four years since the hotel/resort opened, I have had over 100 people drive up to my front door lost and looking for 'the casino'. Several at dinner time, several more after dark, two at midnight and one guy, I'm not kidding, at 3:17 AM. His knock on my front door was answered by me and my Colt 45. When my neighbor was finishing his new house, a lost casino goer drove through their unfinished back yard at midnight, over their septic system, to their bedroom window to get directions.
The tribe has studied the traffic patterns of its patrons, it knows where they come from and how they get to the casino. A responsible neighbor would try to keep them from getting lost and becoming a major nuisance to the local residents. Maybe it's a County ordinance issue, but for an business that attracts millions of patrons a year, a few inexpensive signs along the way and at intersections would go a long way towards keeping the peace.
I have several friends who work at the casino and from all I hear, it is a nice place to work. The tribe gives to charity, and that's great. It also has a community outreach component to help improve its relationship with its neighbors. My daughter plays soccer with some children who are tribal members and their parents are great people. However. trying to be a good neighbor, and being a good employer does not give you carte blanche when it comes to expanding a casino 20 miles from the Interstate.
The Rumsey tribe has become the 800 pound gorilla of the valley, and the county for that matter. Being a capitalist at heart, I am reluctant to restrict business from expanding or improving, but the process needs to slow down. The tribe and the casino management team always want to expand first and deliver the improvements to infrastructure later. This is backwards to my way of thinking. The 'Field of Dreams' mentality that has driven the expansion beyond anything the community once imagined has to be revised. Before you ask for another expansion, you should deal with the problems you have created today. 'If you build it, they will come' has to be replaced by, they are here by the millions right now, how do we handle them?