What is it that you want to do in Contra Costa County?

We’d like to re-establish a homeland for our Tribe here in the county where our ancestral roots run very deep. We’d then like to develop our land so we can become economically self-sufficient — and in the process, provide new economic opportunities for our non-Indian neighbors in Contra Costa County.

Specifically, we’d like to build a casino on 30 acres of commercial land we’ve purchased in an industrial area of the county next to the City of Richmond. Gaming, which has been recognized by Congress as a responsible way for tribes like our own to become self-reliant, will allow us to build a future for ourselves and our families while making a positive contribution to the larger community. This is a winning situation for everybody.

So what’s in it for Richmond and Contra Costa County?

Thousands of jobs for local citizens and millions of dollars in new revenue each year for the city and county — money that can be used for local transportation projects, law enforcement, public safety improvements, schools, health care, affordable housing and other important services.

A recent independent study undertaken for the City of Richmond by Latham & Watkins, LLP, concluded that an Indian casino in the East Bay would generate $366 million in new local revenue annually, and create 4,500 new local jobs, directly and indirectly, with a combined annual payroll of $123 million. Likewise, local merchants, hotels and other businesses would also profit.

Haven’t some counties experienced problems with Indian casinos at the start? Why should we trust that you’ll be different?

At a recent Indian Gaming Workshop sponsored by the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors, officials from other counties where Indian casinos now operate said gaming can be mutually beneficial. By working together, said Sonoma County Supervisor Valerie Brown, "you will have started a path that is good for your community and is good for both governments — tribal and yours." She also called Indian casinos "a viable economic opportunity."

We want to be good neighbors and make sure our casino has a positive impact in this community. To avoid problems, we’re working closely with city and county officials, community groups and the people of this area to shape an agreement that benefits all of us — our Tribe, the city, the county and the people who live here. If this is done right, we’ll all benefit — and we’re committed to doing it right.

Sounds like a lot of "pie in the sky" rhetoric.

This isn’t empty talk. There’s documented evidence that Indian gaming is a powerful economic development tool that provides many benefits for both Tribal members and their non-tribal neighbors.

For example, a recent Harvard University study found that unemployment and welfare dependence decrease in communities with Indian casinos, while local government revenues increase — meaning more money to improve local services. It also found that auto theft and robbery decreased. The study concluded that the mutual benefits of Indian gaming are so positive that Indian gaming tribes and their non-tribal neighbors are "natural allies." Another study by the Rose Institute of State and Local Government examined the impact of Indian gaming in Riverside County, and found that it created 54,000 jobs, pumped $1.1 billion into the local economy, generated $344 million in new income and payroll tax revenue, and reduced the need for public assistance.

Nevertheless, your casino will have a significant impact locally — increasing traffic congestion, overtaxing infrastructure and straining city and county services. Why should you profit at the expense of taxpayers and our quality of life?

Our agreement will be drafted to ensure local taxpayers aren’t paying for the impact of our casino. We intend to pay our fair share and more. We’ll pay for police and fire protection, water, power, lost property tax revenue, road improvements and other infrastructure needs, while providing additional funding for local schools and other community programs. And by providing good-paying jobs and new local revenue, our project will help improve quality of life, not lower it.

What about your casino’s impact on the environment?

Before we break ground, our Tribe must submit what’s called a "fee-to-trust" application to the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs. This application is extremely comprehensive and contains many elements — including exhaustive environmental documentation.

Our project must comply with the National Environmental Policy Act. As part of that process, a portion of our application takes the form of an Environmental Impact Statement, examining our project’s impact on traffic, water, wastewater, wetlands, waterways, cultural resources, coastal zones, endangered species, environmental justice, socioeconomic conditions and other factors.

Even though federal law doesn’t require it, we’ll also consider potential environmental impacts under the California Environmental Quality Act. Naturally, we’ll take action to mitigate and minimize any impact our project has on the environment. Our culture teaches us to respect the earth.

Law enforcement generally opposes urban gaming, warning that it breeds crime and strains already over-stretched police budgets. How can you justify putting a casino in Richmond, where the crime rate is already unacceptably high?

As mentioned earlier, the Harvard University study found that auto theft and robbery have actually gone down in communities with Indian casinos. By providing thousands of good-paying jobs for local workers, we’ll help reduce unemployment and the need for public assistance — which will help reduce crime.

In addition, we’ll have extensive security at the casino and contract for local law enforcement to ensure a safe operation. If needed, we’ll pay for additional officers and equipment, which can be used to expand protection for the entire community, not just our project.

Won’t this be preying on the economically disadvantaged — the people who can least afford to gamble away their money?

In fact, we’ll be helping thousands of local families improve their quality of life with good paying jobs and new economic opportunities. And by providing millions of dollars in new local revenue, we’ll be helping them rebuild and improve their neighborhoods.

According to the Harvard University study mentioned earlier: "Indian gaming is not only a development tool that poorer-than-average tribes have used to pull ahead … it is a tool of development by which tribes have improved the economic lot of their non-Indian neighbors …"

As California Indians, we know what it’s like to be unemployed and on welfare. Our casino will help break that cycle.

What gives you the right to locate your casino in Contra Costa County — why not go somewhere else?

Northern California and the Bay Area have been home to the Pomo Indians for 10,000 years, so our roots run very deep in this area. Mary and Fernando Frese, who were residents of the Rancheria at the time of its creation, are the primary direct lineal ancestors of the Scotts Valley Tribe. They are both from the Carneros Valley of southern Napa Valley, just 15 miles from the current property site.

The Frese-Augustine Family and their descendents represent the core membership of our tribe —  with 91% of our members being direct lineal descendents at the time of the termination. And today, 95% of the Tribal members living in the Bay Area are direct lineal descendents of Victoria Frese-Augustine, the daughter of Mary and Fernando Frese.

Our Tribal Family Tree traces back to very prominent ancestors who were born and lived in the Bay Area during the early 19th century, including the Arnold Family, the Treppa Family and the Colas Family. It is our rightful home.

Which is why the federal government recognizes Contra Costa as our Tribe’s “service population area.” And as a federally recognized “landless” Tribe, we may purchase land in Contra Costa County and put it into trust for the benefit of our Tribal members.

What’s a "landless" tribe?

During the 1950s, several California tribes, including our own, lost their land when the federal government terminated our Tribal status — which the courts later ruled was illegal. As a result, our Tribal status was finally restored in 1992, and we were given the right to secure a land base for our Tribe here in Contra Costa County.

Why a casino? Why not some other business venture?

We’ve looked at other economic development strategies, but none offer the opportunity that gaming provides. Our Tribe is landless, meaning we don’t currently have the economic foundation to become self-sufficient. Gaming will allow us to achieve this by generating the revenue we need to provide our Tribal members with housing, education, health care, vocational training and other basic and essential services. Gaming will also produce the largest return for the community at large. It’s a winning situation for everybody.

What are you doing to ensure the success of your project?

We’ve put together an experienced development team with professional expertise in real estate law, government relations, Native American history, land-into-trust applications, public relations, financing and casino design, construction and operation.

Aren’t non-Indian investors the real beneficiaries of Indian gaming? Do the tribes even benefit?

Under federal law, the tribes must be the primary beneficiaries. The federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act clearly states that the majority of Indian gaming revenue must be used for:

Tribal government operations and programs
The general welfare of the Indian tribe and its members
Promoting tribal economic development
Donations to charitable organizations
Helping to fund the operations of local government agencies

Under the law, developers and non-Indian investors receive only a small percentage of the overall
annual revenues from gaming operations and their involvement is limited to a maximum of seven (7) years.

You talk about paying your fair share — but isn’t it true that Indians don’t even pay taxes?

This is a common misunderstanding. In fact, we do pay taxes. In 2002 alone, Native Americans paid $4 billion in personal federal income taxes. In California, Indian gaming generates nearly $300 million in federal taxes and another $150 million in state and local taxes each year.

Although Indian gaming operations aren’t taxed, individual tribal members pay taxes, as do casino employees. Like everyone else, we’re required to pay state and federal income taxes, with one exception: tribal members living on tribal lands don’t pay state income taxes on the income they earn on the tribal lands. But they still pay federal income taxes.