By Michael Casinelli – from September 2013
Some of you might know me, as I am in my second term as one of your elected members of the Jamul Dulzura Community Planning Group. However, this communiqué is strictly my personal comments and views. I am writing this article because I believe that many residents cannot visualize how a casino in their midst will change our rural community in a permanent and very negative way. The lack of understanding could be consequential to the future way of life and public safety in Jamul.
If the citizens and government entities allow the construction of a gambling facility on the land of the Jamul Indian Village (JIV), all of us who live and raise families in this quiet, rural bedroom community will be forced to adjust to the many negative impacts or move out of the area. In addition to the increase in crime, loss of night skies, increased noise levels day and night, and significantly decreased property values, all of which would occur, it would require each of you more than twice the amount of time it now takes to drive from your home to Rancho San Diego. If it takes you 10 to 15 minutes to drive down the hill currently, count on 30+ minutes due to casino traffic. This negative impact on our commute time will be a direct result of casino construction and casino operation.
All of you have experienced the traffic impacts at Steele Canyon High School on SR 94, which is an approximate 700-car congestion, and a similar traffic jam at the Jamacha Elementary School on Jamul Drive and Steele Canyon Road, which attracts an additional 200 to 300 cars to this intersection. These traffic overcapacities occur morning and afternoon on every school day. Luckily, there is relief from this traffic burden on evenings, weekends, holidays, and summer recess.
To put this in perspective, the JIV casino developers have (conservatively) estimated an average of an additional 9,000+ cars per day. This is based on 7 days per week, 365 days per year, and does not include casino patron transport buses, employees’ cars, delivery trucks, and maintenance vehicles (not to mention the plethora of slow-moving construction vehicles hauling dirt and construction materials for months, or the destruction of highway asphalt in the process). To help you visualize this impact, an additional 9,000 cars per day, if traveling in one lane, would be a continuous stretch of cars from Jamul to the City of Long Beach in Los Angeles County.
The hired JIV traffic consultants state that this additional traffic can be mitigated by adding a couple of turn lanes and a few traffic-light signals, in addition to the three that already exist between the JIV property and the high school. Imagine being caught by most, if not all, of these red traffic lights and/or having to wait more than one rotation from red to green to red to green, before crossing an intersection. This does not take into account the more serious negative traffic impacts. That is, this significant increase in vehicles (especially when alcohol is involved) will cause an exponential increase in traffic accidents and traffic accident-related fatalities, as well as an unacceptable increase in emergency response times for fire trucks and ambulances. Significantly more people will die due to the increased traffic caused by casino construction and operation, compared to no casino.
Furthermore, the hired JIV traffic consultants only suggested (ineffective) mitigation to the negative traffic impact that flows east and west on SR 94. While those residents whose homes feed into SR 94 at one of the proposed traffic lights might have a better chance of entering the traffic bog, by waiting through one or more traffic-light rotations, the rest will have to take their chances by darting into traffic. As you know, many of our streets and roads are cul-de-sacs, some that extend for miles with as many as 65 to 100 households. There will be many of these non-signal intersections where drivers might not have a chance to cross one lane in order to enter SR 94 in their desired direction; and therefore will be forced to travel in the opposite direction and either go around the congestion, or travel until they can turn around. Heaven help these residents if they have to evacuate due to a wildfire while thousands and thousands of the casino’s non-residents also try to evacuate.
If 9,000+ additional average daily vehicle trips seems scary to you, then think what traffic and accidents would be like if there were 15,000 to 20,000 additional average daily trips instead of 9,000. If casino construction is allowed in Jamul, as soon as possible there will be casino facility expansion. The JIV’s management team has exercised this business model before, both in San Diego County and elsewhere in California. One example near Santa Barbara started with a one-story casino (size of a large bingo hall) then added on to the casino, built a hotel, and added a convention center.
When the current JIV casino construction management team first approached our local community with its architectural rendering, they presented it as being more responsive to the wishes of the people. They presented a casino and parking structure that was not as tall or obtrusive as previous plans, and with a flat roof design. The visual rendering suggested a more limited view of the facility from SR 94 (although not necessarily from the elevated surrounding homes). This business model is reinforced by comments made by one of the representatives of the current financial backer, Penn National, at the June 5th community meeting held at the Jamul Primary School. He stated that they plan to add shopping and entertainment on the four-acre parcel.
Furthermore, in order for the casino structure to have a lower height profile, they must start at a lower grade. Ask yourself why the new casino plans require 200,000 cubic yards of earth removal compared to 22,000 cubic yards of the previously proposed high- rise structure. That equates to more than 14,000 truckloads compared to 1,600 truckloads. Ask yourself why the JIV and Penn National would want to incur this tremendous construction expense. It is not because they have suddenly become caring about the local citizens. This design allows them to expand square footage by constructing upward.
Please know that Indian Tribes are allowed to build whatever they want on their “land into trust.” The County and State cannot interfere with what is constructed. The Indians only have to answer to negative impacts that they cause outside of their property. That is why Caltrans adhering to its mission statement, i.e., “Caltrans’ top priority is public traffic safety on the State Highway System,” is so crucial to this casino project.
Unfortunately, the local citizens and politicians have seen several indications that Sacramento wants Caltrans to turn a blind eye to historic procedures and regulations in order to treat the JIV differently and more favorably than Caltrans would any other private developer. JAC has a current lawsuit against Caltrans to make it enforce California public protection regulations, not ignore them.
There has long been opposition to the Jamul casino project, spanning decades, from citizens, many local, state, and federal politicians, the CHP, SD County Sheriffs, local school districts, and fire agencies. These efforts were, and still are, spearheaded by local volunteers who formed a not-for-profit organization, Jamul Action Committee (JAC). JAC has been successful thus far blocking the casino due to diligent volunteers, attorneys, and politicians. Three other financial backers have abandoned the Jamul casino project. Penn National is the fourth financial backer to emerge; however, it is more aggressive in pursuing the casino construction than previous “casino partners.”
Penn National is the first to apply for a gaming management permit. If it obtains the permit and Caltrans does not enforce effective mitigation for the negative traffic impacts, there will be a casino in Jamul, adjacent to an additional approximately 80 acres. Look at what has happened with Sycuan’s real estate expansions that still continue.
Once a casino is constructed and the residents are inundated with traffic delays, accidents and deaths, and the casino continues to expand and further add to the significant negative impacts, it will be too late to do anything about it. It would be like trying to put toothpaste back in the tube.
Please do not assume that because JAC and the community have been successful in the past, that success in the future is a given. Do not be complacent and think that others will volunteer and therefore your help is not needed. Do not think that a casino is inevitable and that the JIV has a right to build a casino, or that it is only a matter of time before they succeed. The JIV does not have a clear path to building a casino on its particular piece of land; and there is a current lawsuit that has the potential to stop this casino madness now and forever. (The JIV’s legal restrictions to building a casino is a topic for another article.) (jacjamul edit: More information next week on a Federal Court filing.)
So I conclude with the request that all of you who will be negatively affected by a casino in Jamul, please do whatever you can to help. For example, help JAC with its letter writing campaign to politicians and Caltrans, attend fundraisers, volunteer to help at fundraisers, make your neighbors and fellow church members aware and discuss the negatives impacts, and donate to JAC’s legal efforts. JAC has hired very experienced and competent attorneys who are working at a discounted rate, including some tasks performed at no charge; however, litigation still cost a considerable amount of money.
Think of a donation as a type of insurance. That is, insurance against traffic congestion, accidents, and deaths, as well as insurance against diminished property values.
So please wake up, if you have not already done so, and smell the potential future of car exhaust fumes. Express your concerns, pitch in, and get involved before it is too late.