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New casino compacts officially address county's land-use concerns

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Eastern areas of the county will soon see a growing number of new casinos on Indian reservations.

The La Posta Band of Mission Indians and the Santa Ysabel of Diegueno Mission Indians are the most recent tribes to join the gaming industry. Their respective casinos are scheduled to open within a year.

The new casinos will add to the eight large casinos on Indian reservations throughout San Diego County.

This is the first time, however, that the compacts between the tribes and the state of California include a provision requiring the tribes to enter into a written agreement with the county of San Diego before construction begins.

The provision states, in part, that the parties must agree how to mitigate significant off-reservation impacts that stem from the casino.

Many of these impacts concern land-use issues, such as increased traffic, road maintenance, water and sewage management.

La Posta

The La Posta Band of Mission Indians plans to develop a 20,000-square-foot casino on eight of its 3,500 acres. La Posta is in the county's southeastern region, off Interstate 8 and a few miles east of Lake Morena.

The La Posta Band of Mission Indians plans to develop a 20,000-square-foot facility on its eight acres off Interstate 8 and a few miles east of Lake Morena. Plans for the gaming area include a facility with 350 slot machines, sections for eating, offices, parking for 300 cars and a wastewater treatment plant.

Plans for the gaming area include a facility with 350 slot machines, restaurants, offices, parking for 300 cars and a wastewater treatment plant.

The casino will be accessible via Interstate 8 and Crestwood Road.

Current traffic volumes in that area range from 200 to 1,500 vehicles per day, according to John Snyder, director of public works for the county of San Diego.

With the proposed casino, traffic volumes are estimated to increase to 1,200 to 2,350 vehicles per day.

Although the traffic increase could be significant, Snyder noted that the capacity for a two-lane road is approximately 10,900 vehicles per day.

Part of the mitigation measures include requiring the tribe to consult with the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) to complete road improvements, such as dedicating turn lanes at the intersection of I-8 and Crestwood Road.

Improvements also include fixing drainage in that area and maintaining all roadway signs, pavements and surfaces. The tribe also will construct an on-reservation wastewater treatment plant.

The agreement between the county and the La Posta tribe was decided through arbitration on June 25 of this year.

James Hill, the tribe's business manager, said negotiating with county officials was arduous, and the process delayed casino construction for almost two years.

Yet the tribe wanted to find terms agreeable to the county to offset significant off-reservation impacts, Hill said.

Hill added that he is pleased with the final agreement, and wants to continue a good relationship with the county.

Santa Ysabel

The Santa Ysabel tribe, located 35 miles east of Escondido, near the junction of highways 78 and 79, reached an agreement with the county in January of this year without arbitration.

The Santa Ysabel of Diegueno Mission Indians is planning a 70,000-square-foot casino approximately 35 miles east of Escondido. The facility will include 349 slot machines, a poker room and a blackjack area.

The tribe plans to develop a 70,000-square-foot gaming casino on six of its 15,527 acres. The casino, accessible via state Route 79, will have 349 slot machines, a six-table poker room and an eight-table blackjack games pit.

The facility also will include support offices, restaurants, parking for approximately 600 cars, and three outbuildings of 2,000 to 3,500 square feet each for service and support, including a wastewater treatment plant.

Existing traffic volumes range from 1,950 to 6,000 vehicles per day on the two-lane roads near the Santa Ysabel casino site, according to Snyder.

With the proposed casino, the range of traffic volumes are estimated to increase to 2,600 to 7,670 vehicles per day, Snyder said. But this will not exceed the 10,900-vehicle capacity for a two-lane road.

To mitigate the impacts brought on by a new casino, the tribe has agreed, in part, to complete construction from SR 79 to the casino; improve shoulders and other road improvements; take groundwater only from the Carrista Creek Basin aquifer; and implement a groundwater monitoring and mitigation plan so the safe-yield for the basin is not exceeded.

"This has never been done before," said Santa Ysabel Chairman Johnny Hernandez about the written agreement with the county. "It was a long haul. We each have our own rules and regulations, but the goal was to make the majority of both groups happy."

"We're all part of this community," Hernandez added.

District 2 County Supervisor Dianne Jacob said the compacts with the La Posta and Santa Ysabel tribes are a model for the future.

"As long as the county can have a seat at the table and work with the tribes and mitigate the impacts, that's fine -- as long as the off-reservation people are not adversely affected by the development," Jacob said.

Past compacts

Jacob said older compacts negotiated between the state of California and other tribes did not consider the county's needs in the form of a written agreement.

"(The old compacts) basically gave the county government no seat at the table, and a tribal government could do pretty much what they chose to do," Jacob said. "Some of the problems that have been created off-reservation are traffic, groundwater and sewage issues."

For example, the county continues to work with the Barona Indian band about the off-reservation shortage of water near the casino, said Chantal Saipe, the tribal liaison for the county of San Diego.

When the tribe began irrigating a new golf course five years ago, the well water used by off-reservation residents went dry, Supervisor Jacob said. Since then, the residents use groundwater.

A solution may involve transferring water from the San Vicente Reservoir to the reservation, Saipe said.

"The residents want potable water, but the water piped would not be treated water. So that issue is still on the table," Saipe said.

Previous tribal-state compacts required tribes to pay into the Special Distribution Fund, which covers regulatory costs of the casinos and provides, in part, grants to local governments to assist in mitigating traffic and other off-reservation impacts resulting from casino gaming.

The county, however, has seen only a small percentage of that revenue, Jacob said.

Voluntary efforts

Some of the tribes have offered to mitigate impacts without any requirement from the state to enter into a written agreement.

The Sycuan tribe has worked with the county and the county school district to provide road safety improvements in front of Dehesa Elementary School, widen the streets at Dehesa and Sycuan roads and extend water and gas lines into that area.

Barona entered into a new cooperative agreement with the county this past June that will, in part, help fund widening and realigning an approximately 1-mile segment of Wildcat Canyon Road, north of Muth Valley Road to south of Blue Sky Ranch Road. Turning lanes at Muth Valley Road and three turnouts also will be constructed.

Of the approximately 11,000 to 15,000 vehicles per day on Wildcat Canyon Road south of the casino, about half are associated with the Barona casino/resort, according to Snyder.

The county is also in negotiations with the tribe to minimize traffic at the entrance and exit of the casino, Jacob said.

"Those efforts ... have happened by the good grace of the tribe coming to the table and saying, hey we'll put up a substantial number of dollars in order to improve the safety conditions," Jacob said.

Casino consolidation

In addition to these efforts, Jacob has been advocating casino consolidation.

"It's the idea of trying to reduce the impact of the scattering of casinos throughout our back country to consolidate with existing casinos that were already there with appropriate locations, such as Viejas," she said.

Viejas expansion

The Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians is making plans for a small expansion to its existing casino, according to Saipe, the county's tribal liaison. However, a spokeswoman for Viejas declined to comment about the tribe's future plans.

Viejas is located off Interstate 8 East at the Willows Road/Alpine Boulevard exit.


Horton is a San Diego-based freelance writer.

SIDEBAR

Santa Ysabel Resort and Casino

Developer: Santa Ysabel Tribe

Architect: Leo A. Daly

Funding: JP Morgan

La Posta Casino

Architects: KGA of Las Vegas

Contractor: UIC of Alaska

Investors: Lender Development Agreement

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