By LENORE RUTHERFORD
Nearly 100 people attended a public hearing yesterday on Black Oak Casino's liquor license application, but only a few spoke on each side of the issue.
Opponents attending the hearing at the Mother Lode Fairgrounds said granting a license would increase the number of drunken drivers on the narrow, winding rural roads leading to and from the Tuolumne-area casino.
Speaking in favor of the license were an investigator with the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, casino General Manager Ron Patel and one county businessman, Jeff Kerns.
Patel cited security measures that will be taken, and Kerns told a judge presiding at the hearing that the Me-Wuk are responsible business owners and have been generous with the county since opening the casino in May 2001.
Kerns is president of Yosemite Title Company, a member of the Tuolumne County Chamber of Commerce and a member of the board of directors of the Tuolumne County Economic Development Company.
EDC Executive Vice President Elizabeth Jones on Tuesday sent an e-mail to EDC members asking that they "stand up and support" the Me-Wuk tribe's efforts to obtain a liquor license by attending the hearing.
No EDC representative spoke at the hearing, though. Kerns said he spoke at the hearing as an individual.
"I have dealt with the tribe, and they have been very responsible and ethical," he testified, "and they are very involved in the community."
He said the casino is applying to transfer an existing license that was used for many years at The Club, a former bar in downtown Tuolumne.
The Club was closer to residences and schools than the casino is, he said.
After Administrative Law Judge Jerry Mitchell asked opponents to consider selecting a few representatives to speak for all of them, four stepped up: Frances Connolly, Peter Jelito and Edith Leslie, all of Tuolumne, and Stephen Durgin of Sierra Village.