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Tribes update council on casino plans

Big Lagoon may build back home; land into trust process to continue

BARSTOW — Big Lagoon could be breaking out the bulldozers back at their Northern California home instead of in town.

After Monday night’s expiration of an agreement allowing a casino to be built in Barstow, the tribe will begin site preparation work to possibly build a casino on their Humbolt county reservation, according to a representative for the tribe.

This action does not necessarily mean that the tribe has abandoned its Barstow plans, but Big Lagoon seeks to begin negotiating with the governor’s office for an agreement to build on their reservation, said Lance Boldrey, an attorney with BarWest LLC., speaking for the tribe.

The Big Lagoon tribe along with the Los Coyotes Band of Cahuilla and Cupeno Indians have proposed developing a dual off-reservation casino near the outlet malls in Barstow, but the proposal has stalled in the state legislature.

Representatives from BarWest LLC., developer of the project, as well as the members of the Los Coyotes tribe were at Monday’s City Council meeting to tell the public about their plans to continue with the casino project despite the expiration of the agreements.

Boldrey said that the project’s proponents will focus on securing the future site of the casino into a federal trust, a necessary step before an off-reservation casino is approved, but said the expiration of the compacts, agreements between the tribes and the governor, could complicate the process.

“The process is more difficult today because the compacts have not passed and Federal officials will want to make sure that casino development is in the best interest for the community,” Boldrey said.

Representatives of the Los Coyotes tribe said that despite the defeat, they will still proceed with their plans.

“We intend to make the commitment to move forward,” said Kevin Siva, tribal council member of the Los Coyotes tribe.

His aunt, the tribe’s 87-year-old chairwoman, Catherine Siva Saubel, addressed the council in her native Cahuilla language and then switched to English. She stressed the tribe’s need to continue with the casino’s development.

“We are still in Barstow because we need each other,” she said. “Economically we depend on that. For us I have a home with no running water no electricity. The same things here with people around. We’re both in the same boat.”

Members of the Chemehuevi Indian tribe, which also is proposing to build a casino in Barstow, were also present at the meeting. They stressed the tribe’s local connection to the Barstow area.

“This connection is important, it’s cultural, it’s your tribe,” said Phil Wyman, former state assemblyman and now a lobbyist for the tribe.

Wyman said that those ties to the area will give the tribe more political clout to navigate the lengthy legal process to develop a casino.

“This tribe, the Chemehuevi tribe, can come together get a compact and bring some prosperity here. … I want everybody in Barstow to be the winner, I don’t give a damn about the people in Michigan,” he said.

Some members of the public fed up with the length of the development process have suggested that the council focus on bringing any casino to Barstow rather than picking a particular tribe’s proposal.

“I don’t care what tribe it is, what developer it is. I want a casino. And if you guys can’t produce, you should let somebody else try the job,” said Pat Aleman, speaking to the council.

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