The $400 million Hollywood Casino Jamul-San Diego, around 20 miles east of downtown San Diego, drew criticism over traffic concerns in the East County. The grand opening celebration Monday, combined with construction, led to major traffic congestion along state Route 94 between state Route 125 and Honey Springs Road.
At midday Monday, Steele Canyon High School on state Route 94 in nearby Spring Valley tweeted: "Attn: SCHS Community, traffic is currently backed up from the casino to the Campo/Jamacha intersection. Please plan accordingly & drive safe."
The casino's general manager, Richard St. Jean, said in a statement Monday that traffic was "common with grand openings."
Jamul residents Marcia Spurgeon and Eve Nasby say it’s "not common with casino openings" and the traffic gridlock from Monday is just a glimpse of what’s to come.
"I was driving my daughter to school this morning, and some guy went right into the intersection and almost clipped this little 8-year-old on her scooter," said Jamul resident Eve Nasby.
They say with homecoming and other events planned for this weekend, it’s a safety issue.
“It’s open 24 hours a day. There were already people going in this morning when I came to work. It’s the uncertainty of what times and what we can plan for. And the accommodations were that they were to have all of the road mitigation done before they opened. And they have not done anything but put in one signal light in front of their casino," said JAC member and Jamul Dulzura Union School Board President Marcia Spurgeon.
It's the same question San Diego County Supervisor Dianne Jacob is asking. She says the Indian Jamul Village was supposed to complete required state 94 improvements prior to being able to open and operate.
"Caltrans is a state agency. The governor can order Caltrans. Our state legislators have been silent on this issue. Where are they? Where’s the governor? Those are the officials that have control over state highway 94. They are responsible for the safe travel of that highway and they failed,” said County Supervisor Jacob. “I suspect if you follow the money you’ll find the why there were some backroom deals that took place to make this situation far different than any other casino in this county."
Caltrans advised motorists that delays on SR-94 would be possible throughout the remainder of the week.
"Traffic volumes may increase and motorists are urged to give themselves additional time to reach their destinations," state transit officials said in a statement.
Area residents, led by county Supervisor Dianne Jacob, bitterly fought the development because they were concerned about traffic impacts on the semi-rural roadway in the area. She has criticized Caltrans for allowing the project to proceed.
"Caltrans is failing the public by allowing the casino to open without all the badly needed road improvements in place, which was a part of the agreement Caltrans reached with Jamul Indian Village in 2009," Jacob told City News Service.
"The state is permitting it to go forward at the expense of public safety," she said. "I advise motorists to not gamble with their lives and stay away," said Jacob. “Contact Caltrans ask them to rescind the encroachment permit at least until all those road safety improvements are in place on highway 94. Also, stay away, Stay away from Jamul it’s a beautiful community, but stay away from that casino. It’s the only way that you will not be gambling with your life on Highway 94,”
Tribal officials said they expect to pay $23 million for road and transportation improvements in the area.
"The tribe maintains a longstanding commitment to the community," said Erica Pinto, chairwoman of Jamul Indian Village. "We are proud to fund roadway improvements and other essential services to make our community safer. These efforts are meaningful and important for our tribe and our neighbors."
The Hollywood Casino Jamul-San Diego features 1,700 slot machines, 43 table games and seven restaurants. One of the eateries, Tony Gwynn's Sports Pub, features memorabilia from the late Padres icon and an array of televisions for watching athletic contests.
The 200,000-square-foot casino, on the property of the Jamul Indian Village, also includes a nightclub.
A 25-year gaming compact between the state and the tribe was signed in August by Gov. Jerry Brown, setting the operating terms for the three-story facility, which will employ more than 1,000 people.
The casino was built and will be operated by Penn National Gaming, which runs 27 other casinos across the U.S.