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Jamul Casino EIS: Feared traffic problem can be mitigated with improvements

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The Jamul Band of Mission Indians has released a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) on its proposal to develop a large casino and hotel complex on its tiny reservation in east San Diego County. Though the document says there is the potential for significant traffic impacts, they can be alleviated.

The Jamul Band, which has only a six-acre reservation, plans to develop a 567,000-square-foot gaming facility and hotel complex that includes a 400-room, 12-story hotel in 361,900 square feet and a 205,194-square-foot casino building, of which 73,469 square feet will be for gaming.

Along with gaming, the casino building will have a bank, administrative facilities, a food and beverage service, a 12,000-square-foot Kid's Quest child care facility, an arcade area, some retail, a tribal center, a human resources facility and an 11-story parking garage with 2,550 spaces. Four of these levels will be below grade.

The casino, which will have 2,000 slots along with assorted table games, is projected to employ about 1,800 people. The casino itself will occupy the first two floors of the building.

The hotel will include a swimming pool, deck area, and most likely a ballroom and meeting space as well.

The development, which is being master planned by Urban Design Group, will also house a new fire station, a wastewater treatment plan and a catch basin system for storm water.

The casino will be developed first with the hotel planned for about three years later.

Noting that it can't even house its members on the tiny reservation, the Jamul Band says the casino and hotel are necessary because its 56 members, with an unemployment rate of more than 44 percent, lack economic opportunities.

The loss of state and federal dollars that have helped reservation members over the years is another reason the Jamul Band says it is important to develop the casino and hotel complex.

"The casino will allow the tribe to upgrade equipment, hire additional staff and expand environmental, health and safety programs," the EIS document states.

The EIS, required to list a range of alternatives including no project at all, says that a 568,520-square-foot outlet center, such as the one that Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians has on its reservation in Alpine, may be another option.

There would be no casino under this plan -- an choice that the Jamul Band members would rather not consider because they believe a casino is the best idea.

Ever since casinos began appearing on reservations, their neighbors have complained about the traffic they generate. This has been a major issue in areas such as Highway 76, where five casinos are contributing to the traffic.

Highway 94, which would the major access to the Jamul Casing, also provides access to Sycuan Casino.

On the weekdays, the average daily trips for the casino have been projected at 7,714 for the casino and 1,200 for the 400-room hotel.

For Saturdays, the projections are an average of 232 trips per hour for the casino and 38 per hour for the hotel.

The report raises the specter that without improvements, many of the intersections and streets would be operating at complete gridlock.

According to a supplemental traffic study by MRO Engineers, significant impacts could occur along Highway 94 in the vicinity of Jamacha Road, Melody Canyon Road, Lyons Valley Road, Cougar Canyon Road and where the highway hits Via Mercado.

The report also states, however, that here are remedies that could help alleviate the impacts.

First, a determination must be made to ascertain the Jamul Band's fair share of the traffic improvements. These improvements would include widening Highway 94 to four lanes between Melody Road and the band's property line and perhaps installing a traffic signal at the Highway 94/Lyons Valley Road junction.

New turn lanes would be added at Highway 94 and Jamacha Boulevard.

Emergency vehicle signs warning of the nearby fire station also would be erected along Campo and Lyons Valley roads.

Traffic isn't the only issue that the environmental document raises.

The EIS also indicates the tribe will need an extensive groundwater monitoring effort and an erosion control plan. As the site already has been highly disturbed, the issue of biological resources is not expected to be a problem.

Calls to Jamul tribal officials were not returned.

A workshop on the plan will be held at the tribe's Jamul headquarters on Sept. 13. The public will have the opportunity to comment on the draft EIS document until Oct. 9.

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