Lawsuit Alleges Shasta County Board of Supervisors’ Casino Sweetheart Deal Cost County Taxpayers Millions

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A lawsuit filed Feb. 13 on behalf of Shasta County taxpayers alleges the 30-year intergovernmental agreement between Shasta County and the Redding Rancheria to provide public services to the Tribe’s proposed casino relocation project in Strawberry Fields is illegal.

The agreement was approved last July by the Shasta County Board of Supervisors on a 4-1 vote and could potentially cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue over the three-decade course of the contract, the lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit requests that the court declare the board’s decision illegal and to rescind it on behalf of county taxpayers. It also seeks an injunction barring the board from spending any public funds on the agreement and reasonable reimbursement for legal fees and costs if the lawsuit prevails.

The plaintiff in the case is the California Land Stewardship Council LLC, a newly formed company that theoretically represents all Shasta County property taxpayers. The Land Stewardship Council is represented by the San Francisco office of white shoe law firm Paul Hastings LLP.

Pop-up LLCs provide an umbrella to cover a class of litigants and are commonly used in civil lawsuits. As for the white shoe law firm, Shasta County-based Sierra Pacific Industries frequently employs Paul Hastings LLP as one of its go-to litigators. SPI founder Red Emmerson, whose mansion sits adjacent to the proposed casino and its nine-story-tall hotel, has opposed the project from the beginning.

Is the lawsuit seeking to undo the board’s casino decision last July a Red Emmerson lawfare operation? That’s impossible to say currently. The California Land Stewardship, Paul Hastings LLP and Emmerson (via Sierra Pacific Industries) did not respond to A News Café’s inquiries.

Supervisors Jones, Crye and Kelstrom comprise the MAGA majority.

The lawsuit alleges the board majority broke county contract law when it bypassed having county counsel and the county risk manager review the agreement. Moreover, the board majority approved the agreement despite robust public objections from staff, the county sheriff, fire chief and district attorney, all of whom argued the contract did not adequately mitigate the proposed casino’s impacts on public safety, fire protection, emergency services and the courts.

The proposed project relocates the Tribe’s Win-River Resort and Casino at the intersection of Highway 273 and Canyon Road to a 232-acre parcel on Strawberry Fields near the South Bonnyview exit on I-5. The proposed casino and hotel will have a total floor space of 1,123,272 square feet with 1200 gaming machines and 250 rooms. Its nine-story hotel will be the tallest building between Portland and Sacramento.

County staff prepared a report comparing the Tribe’s proposal to agreements for similarly sized casinos in Sonoma, Madera and Yuba Counties. The staff report revealed that the Redding Rancheria’s offer compared to similarly sized casinos in those counties was lower by orders of magnitude.

Casino comparison between Shasta, Sonoma and Yuba Counties.

At issue are one-time payments and recurring payments made by the Tribes to their respective counties. According to Shasta County’s agreement, the Redding Rancheria must make a one-time payment of $3.6 million to the county. In Sonoma County, the Graton Rancheria paid one-time payments of $5.1 million to Sonoma County and $9.7 million to the city of Rohnert Park—almost five times the proposed amount paid by the Redding Rancheria to Shasta County.

The North Fork Rancheria made a one-time payment of $6.9 million-$17.5 million to Madera County and $6.3 million-$10.3 million to the city of Madera. That’s five to nine times more than the one-time amount paid to Shasta County by the Redding Rancheria.

The disparities get worse with recurring payments. The Redding Rancheria will pay Shasta County just $50,000 annually for 30 years. The Graton Rancheria will pay Sonoma County $12.3 million and Rohnert Park $12 million annually for 30 years. That’s almost 500 times more than what the Redding Rancheria will pay Shasta County. The smaller Enterprise Rancheria casino in Yuba County will pay the county $5 million in annual recurring fees, 100 times the amount the Redding Rancheria will pay Shasta County.

Over 30 years, the Redding Rancheria will pay Shasta County $1.5 million total in recurring payments. Over that same timespan, the Graton Rancheria will pay Sonoma County $366 million and the city of Rohnert Park $360 million. The Enterprise Rancheria will pay Yuba County $150 million. The Redding Rancheria’s agreement with Shasta County is a sweetheart deal by anyone’s measure.

Casino comparison between Shasta, Sonoma and Yuba Counties after 30 years of payments.

Make that almost anyone. In its Feb. 21 response to the lawsuit the Tribe claimed the intergovernmental agreement provides Shasta County with more money than Tribal gaming operations in nearby Butte, Tehama and Siskiyou Counties. It did not provide figures in its response. The Tribe claims that it provided public safety mitigation estimates to the board and the contract was fairly negotiated.

“This complaint appears to be designed more to impact the upcoming Shasta County elections than seeking any legal remedy,” the Tribe’s response stated. “The complaint does not appear to be a serious tool for litigation. Instead, the complaint is a political stunt and, possibly a misguided attempt to delay our casino relocation project.”

The Redding Rancheria did not return A News Café’s phone calls.

As noted above, the legal remedy sought by the plaintiffs is the court’s declaration that the intergovernmental agreement between Shasta County and the Redding Rancheria is illegal because it ignored contract law and will cost the county millions of dollars in future mitigation fees.

But considering the timing and players involved with the contract, there’s undoubtedly a political element to the litigation.

Vote yes to recall District 1 Supervisor Kevin Crye.

Shasta County District 1 Supervisor Kevin Crye led the effort to bypass normal channels and approve the sweetheart agreement with the Tribe. Crye claimed the Tribe was going to walk away from any deal. Where exactly they’d walk away to was never explained. It’s not the first time Crye has played fast and loose with the county’s money, which is why he is targeted for recall in next week’s primary election.

As we shall see below, no local politician has benefitted more from the Tribe’s largesse than Shasta County District 4 Supervisor Patrick Jones, who also played a pivotal role in shifting the board majority in favor of the Redding Rancheria’s casino relocation project. Jones is running against Matt Plummer for the District 4 seat.

Hey, ho, District 4 Supervisor Patrick Jones has got to go!

It’s safe to say Plummer, a Yale graduate who specializes in teaching critical thinking to nonprofit companies, would have recognized a bad deal when he saw one and voted against the casino agreement as proposed.

Despite unanimous opposition from staff, county counsel, the sheriff, the fire chief, the DA and an outside counsel hired by the board of supervisors who issued a scathing report on the contract, the board voted 4-1 to approve the casino sweetheart deal anyway.

That’s a striking reversal compared to five years ago. As the California Land Stewardship Council’s lawsuit points out, prior to 2020, the Shasta County Board of Supervisors was almost unanimously opposed to the Strawberry Fields casino project.

Since then, the board majority has shifted radically in the opposite direction, 4-1 in favor of the casino relocation, with Crye, Jones, District 2 Supervisor Tim Garman and District 5 Supervisor Chris Kelstrom voting for the agreement last July.

What happened?

Reverge Anselmo and the Tribe: Birds of a feather?

In an acronym, MAGA happened. Former President Donald Trump’s Make America Great Again movement rose during the COVID-19 pandemic and only intensified after Trump lost the 2020 election. Anti-mask, anti-vax, anti-science, anti-intellectual and anti-democratic to the core, MAGA has by now fully fused into a cult that prides itself on making despotic decisions that “own” their opposition no matter how much they screw up all our lives.

In fact, the casino sweetheart deal is the epitome of autocratic 4-1 decision-making that has dominated the Shasta County Board of Supervisors since Jones, heavily financed by libertarian extremist Connecticut multimillionaire Reverge Anselmo and the Redding Rancheria, ascended to the dais in 2021.

According to campaign finance records, Anselmo donated $100,000 to Jones on Aug. 3, 2020. Four days later, Aug. 7, the Redding Rancheria gave Jones $20,000. The board of supervisors voted to reduce the maximum donation to an individual candidate to $4900 after that election, an amount that his since risen to $5500 to keep up with inflation.

When Anselmo helped bankroll the successful recall of former 4-term Shasta County District 2 Supervisor Leonard Moty in the March 2022 primary, the Redding Rancheria donated $4900 to successful replacement candidate Tim Garman. In the general election that year, it donated $4000 to current District 1 Supervisor Kevin Crye’s successful campaign.

This year, the Tribe donated $5500 to both Jones and the Stop Newsom No on Crye Recall campaign.

To be fair, it should be noted the Tribe regularly donates to all sides in local, state and federal elections, including what appears to be a record total of $113,300 this election cycle. Like Shasta County, the Tribe is entitled to act in the best interests of its members.

In 2020 when the Tribe backed Jones with $20,000 in the District 4 race, it gave $25,000 to Yes on Measure A, the 1-cent sales tax for public safety that Jones opposed. Jones won but Measure A failed. In 2022, the Tribe supported both current sheriff Michael Johnson and former deputy John Greene for sheriff.

A cynical person might ask if campaign donations even matter.

In this case, Jones, Garman and Crye have all received Tribal donations, and all voted to approve the casino sweetheart deal. District 5 Supervisor Chris Kelstrom also voted for the deal, but so far hasn’t received any campaign donations from the Tribe. Instead, the Redding Rancheria donated $9400 to Kelstrom’s unsuccessful opponent Baron Browning in the 2022 general election.

Shasta County District 3 Supervisor Mary Rickert, who has opposed the casino relocation project during her seven-year tenure, voted against the agreement last July. As the lawsuit points out, her four male colleagues on the board did not include her in the casino negotiations.

Rickert, who is running for reelection and a third term as District 3 supervisor, is still shaking her head over the backroom dealing.

District 3 Supervisor Mary Rickert.

“I was astonished that the other supervisors disregarded the recommendations of the sheriff, the county fire chief, the DA, County Risk Management, county counsel and the outside counsel hired to analyze the agreement,” Rickert told A News Cafe. “I was also aware of how other similar sized counties received much larger payments from their local casinos than this agreement contained.”

“I knew it was not an agreement that was fair to the county,” the District 3 Supervisor continued. “Our fiduciary responsibility to the residents of Shasta County is to ensure that their basic needs and services are met with the revenue we should be receiving in an agreement with the tribe. The agreement that was voted on and signed left the county short by roughly $200 million over the term of the 30-year contract.”

District 2 Supervisor Tim Garman voted for the casino sweetheart deal.

Supervisor Garman told A News Café he couldn’t comment on the lawsuit. Supervisors Crye, Jones and Kelstrom did not respond to A News Café’s queries.

Despite the Redding Rancheria’s attempt to tamp down the fire, the California Land Stewardship Council appears to have a solid lawsuit with two plausible causes of action.

“The county’s Contracts Manual, Policy No. 6-101, requires non-standard contracts to be reviewed and approved as to form by the County Counsel and the county’s Risk Manager before they are entered into by the county,” the lawsuit states. “The policy does not permit the county or its board to waive this requirement. The board unlawfully purported to waive this requirement and then approved and entered into the agreement on behalf of the county.”

The second cause of action is more creative and based on California Code of Civil Procedure 526a, which allows taxpayers to sue local agencies to prevent illegal or wasteful spending. This includes “actual or threatened expenditures of public funds” in the future, according to the lawsuit.

“The board recklessly committed the county to provide services to a casino on Tribal land for a 30-year-term without any benefit to the public,” the lawsuit states. “In effect, the board gifted tens of millions of dollars of funds to the Tribe.”

“The board claimed the goal of the payments under the agreement was to mitigate the negative impacts of the casino but the evidence at trial will show the payments would not come close to achieving that goal,” the lawsuit concludes. “The board’s decision was intentional and the product of a ‘backroom deal’ that elevated the interests of the Tribe over those of the county.”

Shasta County voters can help end the self-serving MAGA board majority’s bad decision-making by voting in the March 5 primary election.

District 1 voters can vote yes to recall Kevin Crye, a wrecking ball of a supervisor whose short chaotic 1-year tenure on the board has been disastrous for the county.

Tim Garman had to give up his seat due to redistricting, so District 2 voters who want to stop the madness of bad decision-making have a choice between Alan Long and Susanne Baremore.


District 2 Supervisor Candidates Susan Baremore and Alan Long.

The other two candidates for District 2 are nonstarters. In addition to having background issues and promising more of the same MAGA, Daniel Sloan received $5500 from the Redding Rancheria. It’s quite possible Dr. Laura Hobbs, who in her most recent appearance before the board accused Mary Rickert of satanism, is insane.

For District 3 voters, it’s a no-brainer. Now more than ever the Shasta County Board of Supervisors needs experience on the board, and no one has more experience on the current board than 2-term Shasta County District 3 Supervisor Mary Rickert.

The Tribe put $5500 of its money in the District 3 race on stealth State of Jefferson candidate Win Carpenter. Local contractor Corkey Harmon is a more palatable candidate than Carpenter but may have MAGA/Red, White and Blueprint tendencies.

District 4 Supervisor candidate Matt Plummer: Head and shoulder above incumbent Patrick Jones.

Finally, District 4 voters can remove Patrick Jones from office by voting for the vastly more intelligent and honest Matt Plummer.

Jones brags in his campaign materials that he supports the casino relocation, apparently more than he supports the residents of his own district. It’s always about self-interest with Jones, who has received more than $25,000 in total campaign donations from the Tribe since 2020.

Whatever the results of the election, expect this lawsuit to proceed and ultimately succeed in quashing the intergovernmental agreement between Shasta County and the Redding Rancheria.

That’s how bad the deal appears to be.

Vote accordingly.

If you appreciate investigative journalist R.V. Scheide’s reporting, please consider making a donation to A News Cafe.

R.V. Scheide

R.V. Scheide is an award-winning journalist who has covered news, politics, music, arts and culture in Northern California for more than 30 years. His work has appeared in the Tenderloin Times, Sacramento News & Review, Reno News & Review, Chico News & Review, North Bay Bohemian, San Jose Metro, SF Bay Guardian, SF Weekly, Alternet, Boston Phoenix, Creative Loafing and Counterpunch, among many other publications. His honors include winning the California Newspaper Publishers Association’s Freedom of Information Act and best columnist awards as well as best commentary from the Society of Professional Journalists, California chapter. Mr. Scheide welcomes your comments and story tips. Contact him at RVScheide@anewscafe.com..

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