California focus of tribal issues

Aug 30, 2005 3:41 AM

While lawmakers at the state and federal level continue to voice their concerns over off-reservation casinos, much of the controversy is coming out of California.

Last week, State Sen. Dean Florez (D) introduced emergency legislation to require local public approval for off-reservation casinos. The bill was in response to the Madera County Board of Supervisors’ 4-1 vote last week in support of a Class III gaming facility proposed by the North Fork Rancheria of Mono Indians.

"Madera County is going to be the poster child for reform in terms of off-reservation gaming for every tribe in the state of California," Florez said, according to The Fresno Bee.

Senate Bill 1013 lists criteria for off-reservation casino proposals — local government and voters must support the project, and there must be a proven benefit to the community other than monetary gain. The bill also forbids the Legislature from approving compacts with tribes that conduct gaming outside reservation boundaries without meeting the criteria.

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The San Diego Union-Tribune reported last Friday that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) has finalized agreements allowing two tribes to build off-reservation casinos. San Diego County’s Los Coyotes band and the Big Lagoon tribe of Humboldt County are hoping to build a joint gambling complex in Barstow on land that has not been taken into trust for either tribe.

The agreements are already being met with opposition, including U.S. Interior Secretary Gale Norton, who has said she will not consider compacts for casino sites not yet held in trust by the federal government.

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The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that tribal leaders of the Jamul Indian Village announced plans to build a hotel and casino on its six-acre reservation.

Local residents have been fighting a casino since the mid-1990s, when the tribe wanted to open one on non-reservation land near San Diego. Two years ago, the Bureau of Indian Affairs approved placing 81 acres in federal trust for the tribe, but the U.S. Interior Department has failed to render its decision. So Jamul tribal leaders voted to build on their own land, about 20 miles east of downtown San Diego.

Opponents include County Supervisor Dianne Jacob, who lives in Jamul, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Residents are worried about the environmental impact, and the increased traffic. Under the new state gaming compact, the tribe is required to submit an environmental impact assessment, and to address county officials’ concerns.

The $300 million complex would include five restaurants, a parking garage, a wastewater treatment plant and a 30-story hotel — the county’s tallest building outside of downtown San Diego.

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The Hemet, California, city council delayed a vote on a proposed casino agreement with the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians, The Riverside Press-Enterprise reported.

The tribe wants to relocate its on-reservation casino to non-reservation land near Diamond Valley Lake. Plans include a casino, hotel, restaurants and entertainment venues on a 128-acre parcel that the tribe would receive as part of a water rights settlement. Congress has to pass legislation approving the settlement, and Reps. Jerry Lewis, R-Redlands, and Mary Bono, R-Palm Springs, have both said they will not introduce the necessary legislation until all involved parties, including Hemet, come to terms with the tribe.

Jumping on the bandwagon is Temecula, California, Councilman Ron Roberts. Temecula is 25 miles away from the proposed casino site, and home to the Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians, which opposes off-reservation gaming. Roberts told the Press-Enterprise that his city should be consulted because many casino customers would travel through Temecula. Road improvements alone could add $90 million to construction costs.

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It’s official: Hard Rock and the Pauma Band of Luiseño Indians have parted ways, scrapping a $250 million resort-casino deal that was in the works.

"We just couldn’t come to terms on the deal," tribal Chairman Chris Devers told The North County Times. The tribe is now working with a new partner on the project.

The Pauma Band operates a temporary casino, which opened in 2001, but wants to expand. According to John Osuna, the vice chairman of the Pauma Band, the deal fell through because Hard Rock wanted more money than was previously agreed to. Last year, a partnership with Caesars Palace ended when Caesars merged with Harrah’s, who operates a casino on the nearby Rincon reservation.