Casinos, wells that never were

WORRIES about gambling addiction may have scuttled plans for casinos on Harbor Boulevard

Second of two “alternate local history” accounts.

Almost any area of Orange County can point to “might-have-been” scenarios. Few have quite as many, with potential huge impacts, as those that bypassed Garden Grove.

Admittedly, they may not have turned out to be the life-changers they might have been, but it’s always fun to speculate – in history as in romance – on the “ones that got away.” Here are two.

Willing to gamble on Garden Grove

This story isn’t so old, but it’s probably based on the age-old phrase of “too good to be true.”

In 2007, a developer proposed the construction of a $1 billion casino-entertainment complex at Garden Grove Boulevard and Harbor Boulevard. That area had been the focus of several never-realized plans, but this one sounded pretty tempting.

The Gabrielino-Tongva tribe of Native Americans, fronted by Jonathan Stein, wanted to change all our lives and make a lot of money for themselves. Tribes have a special legal status under federal law as “domestic dependent nations” and can skip many state laws and are able to sponsor projects such as casinos that are otherwise illegal in California.

What were proposed were two casinos with up to 7,500 slot machines and 200 game tables, as well as two luxury hotels with 1,000 rooms. Also promised were a stadium, theaters, restaurants, a movie complex and more.

In exchange for the right to build this Taj Majal just a few miles from Disneyland, Garden Grove was promised $100 million up front and annual tax payments of $124 million or more. On top of that, the Garden Grove Unified School District would get an annual fee of $10 million and college scholarships for every graduate.

All that glitter, however was defeated by the pleas of the Vietnamese community, fearing an explosion of the already serious problem of gambling addiction. Others worried that crime would skyrocket.

The city council rejected the offer and instead backed a proposal to build an indoor water park called “Great Wolf” in its stead.

It was an oily proposition

The cities of Brea and Huntington Beach derive some of their affluence from the presence of petroleum pumped from underground. Although the ugly derricks and smelly byproducts of the early days marked those cities as being “in the sticks” they delayed residential development long enough to capitalize on the trend toward larger, more expensive homes and a more well-heeled citizenry.

PUMP JACKat the Lost Hills Oil Field in Central California (Wikipedia/Richard Masoner.Cycleicious)

In 1988, Chevron decided – after some geological research – that Garden Grove might be sitting on top of a big pool of dinosaur juice. The firm went around the central part of the city buying up oil and gas rights from citizens for a modest amount.

A proposal to drill an exploratory well at Nelson Street and Stanford Avenue made it all the way to the city council. As good – or bad – luck would have it, a few days before the council was going to decide, there was a gas and oil line explosion in San Bernardino that killed several people.

In light of that, the councilmember who had been “sitting on the fence” cast the deciding “no” vote and the dream of “black gold” passed Garden Grove by.

Jim Tortolano’s “Retorts” is posted every other Wednesday, alternating with “Usually Reliable Sources.” For those interested in more information about Garden Grove’s history, Jim’s book “Garden Grove: A History of the Big Strawberry,” is available in e-book, paperback and hard cover formats through Amazon.com and area booksellers.

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