MADERA COUNTY — A coalition of Madera-area businesses, non-profits, citizens, and elected officials and the North Fork Rancheria met with Congressman Jim Costa this past Saturday, May 14, to provide an update on the status of and ongoing challenges to the planned hotel and casino resort north of the city of Madera.
The coalition, with more than 40 members present, urged the Congressman to publicly support the casino project against continued political attacks.
The meeting was organized jointly by the Madera Business Coalition, an independent group of community leaders formed over a decade ago to promote the project and its economic benefits, and Madera County Supervisor for District 4 Max Rodriguez, whose district is heavily impacted by the lack of employment opportunities in the area.
“I have been a constant backer of the North Fork Rancheria project since its inception and wholeheartedly believe it will bring a much-needed economic boost to our struggling economy,” said Rodriguez. “Unemployment and underemployment is a major problem in Madera County. This project will help remedy this issue by bringing private capital investment, meaningful employment opportunities, and public sector revenues for our residents.”
The North Fork project is expected to create more than a thousand construction jobs as well as several thousand permanent positions and community spin-off jobs once the casino opens.
Saturday’s meeting was well attended, with representation from former and current members of the Madera City Council and Madera County Board of Supervisors, local business, tourism, and chamber leaders, workforce and economic development agencies, civic groups such as Latinas Unidas, NAACP, Friends of the Fairmead Community, and building trade unions, among others.
Supervisor Rodriguez’s office says the urgency for the meeting was underscored by the recent introduction of federal legislation “by congressmen outside the district to change the rules and penalize the North Fork project at this late stage of the game.”
H.R. 5079, which was introduced on Apr. 27 in the U.S. House of Representatives, seeks to “amend the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act to require that, in California, certain off-reservation gaming proposals shall be subject to the full ratification and referendum process established by California State law, and for other purposes.”
The bill is being called the “California Compact Protection Act,” and would require the Tribe to be subject to the referendum process if they wish to operate as a Class III casino. This would allow for the possibility that the voters of California could reject the Mono Tribe’s casino as a Class III facility, forcing them to operate as a Class II casino, greatly impacting revenues and job creation.
Rick Farinelli, a founder of the Madera Business Coalition and current Chairman of the Madera County Board of Supervisors led the gathering, urging Congressman Costa to publicly announce support of the project and oppose the proposed legislation.
“The community has always supported this project,” said Farinelli. “It’s frustrating that outside interests are the ones continuing to fight this. Now they are coming back with H.R. 5079 that changes the rules at the 11th hour and is grossly unfair. We are asking Congressman Costa to join us in stopping this bad bill that ignores local control and the enormous time, money, and energy our community has invested in this project.”
After hearing from the supporters around the room, Congressman Costa shared his background with tribal gaming and thoughts about what was happening with the Madera project. He told the coalition that he would not only support the project, but would meet with the necessary Congressional leaders, including the House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs, where the bill would first be heard.
“I’m very impressed by the diversity around this room and support for the project,” said Costa.
North Fork Rancheria Tribal Chair Maryann McGovran thanked the gathering for their support.
“We are so moved and grateful for how much this community has stood behind us over all these years and in the face of so much negativity and obstruction,” said McGovran. “This kind of mutual respect and support is truly unprecedented in Indian Country.”
About the North Fork Rancheria
The North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians is a federally recognized Native American tribe with nearly 2,000 tribal citizens and government offices in Madera County, California. Since the restoration of its federally recognized status in 1983, the Tribe has established modern tribal governing institutions to improve the lives of its tribal citizens, many of whom have limited access to basic housing, healthcare, business, employment, and educational services and opportunity. The Tribe leverages its limited federal grant funding to operate numerous tribal programs (more information available at www.NorthForkRancheria.com).