Governor Brewer needs to STFU

Arizona’s Governor Jan Brewer is injecting herself into a conversation where she has no authority to speak.

At issue – she wants the Tohono O’Odham Nation to back off of its request to the US Department of Interior to take 135 acres near Glendale into trust, effectively making it tribal land. It then would place a casino, hotel, and other sundries on the land.

I’ve written on this at length before, most recently here.

Brewer wants to meet with the Nation (of course), but only if it withdraws its request with the Dept. of Interior. Unsurprisingly, the Nation declined to do so.

“For the past 358 days, we have stood ready to meet and discuss this project with any and all interested parties,” said Chairman Ned Norris Jr.

Now Brewer believes that the Nation has no right to place a casino on the land, assuming that the USDI will approve the request (which it most likely will), because of the 2002 law approving tirbal-gaming was, IN HER MIND, only limited to existing reservation lands.

Myself and countless others disagree with that interpretation. If the voters did not WANT new casinos built, then they should have voted against the law. Alternatively, they should have specified in the law language to prevent new casinos from being built in the way that the Tohono O’Odham Nation is doing.

In other words, THERE’S NOTHING ILLEGAL ABOUT WHAT THE NATION IS DOING. (Brewer gets her first STFU notice.)

Then, Norris reminded Brewer that the Nation signed a gaming compact with the state AFTER the 2002 measure which allows gambling on ANY lands subsequently acquired by the Nation – meaning, either Governor Hull (2002-2003), or Governor Napolitano (2003-2009) signed this compact. That means that Brewer’s hands are tied since her predecessor signed the agreement. (Brewer, that’s notice #2 to STFU.)

Next, Brewer believes that only private lands can only be taken into trust if they lie adjacent to existing reservation lands. But the federal government does not specifically state such, which, given current interpretation by the USDI, means that Brewer is incorrect. (Notice #3 to Brewer to STFU.)

Finally, Brewer believes that only she, as governor, can authorize the taking of non-adjacent land into trust. However, Brewer is an agent for the state, and the Nation is governed under Federal regulations, thus making Brewer’s “blessing” or authorization moot. (STFU #4.)

As it stands, the USDI’s acting director Paula Hart wrote a letter last year to the Nation (Brewer has since received a forwarded copy courtesy of the Nation) confirming that a casino would be permitted on the Glendale location. (Brewer STFU #5.)

The only roadblock left is whether or not the 2001 attempt by Glendale to annex part of the property was actually abandoned or not. If the land is in process of becoming part of Glendale, then the USDI can’t approve the request.

However, as I wrote in the previous post:

Maricopa County and neighboring Peoria filed letters to the contrary with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) stating that the land is in fact unincorporated. Public documents have also confirmed that for the last eight years, Glendale has treated the land as unincorporated, INCLUDING NOT COLLECTING PROPERTY TAX THERE, which directly contradicts the Glendale City Attorney who claims that the city had no authority to repeal the annexation. Even retired US Senator Dennis DeConcini, an original co-sponsor of the bill that allows tribes to take purchased land into trust, said that Glendale’s position is inaccurate.

So, Brewer, with so much else to worry about, like a $3 billion budget shortfall, needs to STFU. She’s wrong every step of the way, and she’s got no authority in the matter.

Keeping the Promise TWISTED

I got an email yesterday from an address called “info [at] keeping the promise”. Inside, it goes on about how dog and horse tracks are trying to add upwards of 10k slot machines, in addition to poker and blackjack tables, to their properties.

That directly contradicts the 2002 vote by Arizonans who killed that measure at the ballot overwhelmingly (80-20 margin).

I’m against this – I voted no in 2002 on this measure, and I would definitely vote in opposition to any horse/dog track attempting to turn itself into a casino, which is exactly what these properties would do if they were allowed to add slot machines and poker/blackjack tables.

However, in that same email, the senders go on to lamblast the Tohono O’Odham tribe for their attempt to place a casino on THEIR OWN PROPERTY in Glendale, which just happens to be north of the Westgate City Center (aka Arena, University of Phoenix Stadium, and all the shops there).

Glendale tried in vain to find a way to oppose the move and has resorted to a last-ditch attempt saying that part of the property is actually not county but was annexed by the city in 2001… EVEN THOUGH THE CITY RETRACTED SAID ANNEXATION IN 2002.

Maricopa County and neighboring Peoria filed letters to the contrary with the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) stating that the land is in fact unincorporated. Public documents have also confirmed that for the last eight years, Glendale has treated the land as unincorporated, INCLUDING NOT COLLECTING PROPERTY TAX THERE, which directly contradicts the Glendale City Attorney who claims that the city had no authority to repeal the annexation. Even retired US Senator Dennis DeConcini, an original co-sponsor of the bill that allows tribes to take purchased land into trust, said that Glendale’s position is inaccurate.

Why does Glendale oppose the tribe’s move? Simple, really. For all of Glendale’s huffing and puffing, it boils down to these facts:

  1. Glendale would not have any say on how the property is developed.
  2. Glendale would not capture any tax revenue from the property, including property tax and sales tax.
  3. Glendale is afraid that a casino on the property would take away revenue from the Westgate Center.

The email also claims that “the mayors of 5 nearby cities, at least 7 Indian tribes and U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl” oppose the Tohono O’Odham nation project. The five cities referenced are Buckeye, Goodyear, Litchfield Park, Surprise, and Youngtown. (Peoria, Tolleson, the NFL, and the Arizona Cardinals support the tribe, though.) However, I have found that only the Gila River Nation opposes the project – which is ABSOLUTELY no surprise, because they are the only nation near the area (in Laveen) and therefore have monopoly on casinos in the area.

(Also, Glendale’s attorney Tindall originally stated int he Phoenix Business Journal on 12/18/09 that Senator John McCain was also opposed to the tribe’s project, but McCain’s office has no comment on the issue. Add that McCain was one of the original co-sponsors of the bill along with DeConcini and you have a situation where Tindall probably jumped ahead of himself.)

Glendale also cites concerns that the proposed casino has “12,000 homes… located within 2 miles of the site.” I call that total BS. Why? Because the Gila River Nation has its own casino just south of the Chandler city border at Kyrene Rd and Loop 202 (Lone Butte Casino), which also has at least 12,000 homes located within a 2 mile radius, and that doesn’t seem to be bothering anyone. So, for the Gila River Nation to oppose the project is patently hypocritical.

Glendale’s “other” concern is of little importance – they claim that a casino on a county island would run up public safety costs for 911 calls and such without paying city taxes. Nevermind that there are numerous examples of tribes paying cities for police and fire service everywhere, including Palm Springs and … *gasp* Tucson! (Oh, and they also forget that if the casino is on reservation land, then the tribe will most lilkely have its OWN police force in place anyway, just like they do at their other casinos. Oh, but that’s too logical for Glendale to figure out…)

Now, the Peoria Unified School District might have valid concerns – the property is across the street (91st Avenue) from Raymond S. Kellis high school. However, the Tohono O’Odham nation has offered several compromises to this effect, namely that the Nation would place casino and resort entrances facing away from the high school, putting up fences and other barriers to buffer it from the school, and even offering community impact studies and scholarships to Kellis students. Predictably, PUSD has not taken a stance on the issue, but in the long run, it could be very beneficial for them to partner with the Tohono O’Odham Nation.

The City of Peoria, on the other hand, is more than willing to help out. They WANT the casino project. If they could annex the land into Peoria, they would. But for the feds to designate the land as tribal (see my previous post here on why this could happen), the land has to NOT be part of an existing city/town (ie. unincorporated county/state land). Peoria has even offered to provide water, sewer, and other services to the casino as well.

What does Peoria get out of it? Well, they border the northern part of the Nation-owned land on Northern Avenue. That means they could place some hotels, restaurants, and other amenities there and get some sales tax, hotel tax, and other revenue dollars in. Also, the Arizona state law that allows casinos also says that the Tohono O’Odham Nation must share up to 12% of the revenues with “neighboring communities”. It doesn’t state WHICH communities, or communities within X miles distance, only “neighboring”. And Peoria, quite frankly, is being very neighborly, unlike Glendale and any of those other “5 nearby cities.”

As of June 4, 2009, the regional BIA office recommended approval of the land-into-trust application (thus turning the purchased land into a tribal reservation and therefore becoming eligible for placing a casino on it), but the final decision in Washington, DC, still awaits.

Once again, Glendale, you rock.. the boat with your stupidity and inane nonsense. You’re wasting your taxpayers’ money with this fight that YOU WILL LOSE. Just partner with the Tohono O’Odham Nation and you will be all the better for it.

So for those that want to “Keep the Promise” in Arizona, maybe you should think back to when your ancestors TOOK AWAY the land from the Native Americans and then promised to make it up to them – like the 1986 federal law authored by DeConcini and McCain that the Tohono O’Odham Nation is taking advantage of! Because that’s WAY more important than some municipality’s greed masquerading as a zoning issue.

Glendale and the Tohono O’odham Nation

Poor Glendale, AZ. They have the arena – home to the Phoenix Coyotes NHL franchise and a hugely popular concert venue. They have University of Phoenix stadium – home to the NFL franchise Arizona Cardinals and another hugely popular indoor/outdoor venue. They have shopping, they have hotels, they have spring training ballparks. All of this in a very small “entertainment district” that is funnelling huge amounts of money into the city coffers.

Poor Glendale, AZ. They forgot about the Tohono O’odham Nation. They forgot about the 134 acres that butts up against this “entertainment district” that the Nation purchased years ago – a long time before this “entertainment district” became an idea in some Glendale City Councilman’s head.

Poor Glendale, AZ. They forgot about the 1986 federal law that allows the Tohono O’odham Nation to purchase replacement land in unincorporated areas and apply to have it designated as a reservation after the federal government’s Painted Rock Dam on the Gila River caused flooding in the Tohono O’odham’s Gila River community, rendering nearly 10,000 acres unusable. The purchase was made in 2003, when the area was unincorporated and not in the city of Glendale’s city limits. Obviously this has changed as this “entertainment district” became a reality and Glendale annexed the surrounding area.

Poor Glendale, AZ. They were hoping that 134 acres would turn into something like a commerce center, which given taxes and what-not, would fill the city’s treasury with about $40 million over 20 years.

Poor Glendale, AZ. They forgot that Native American Nations tend to want big bucks in their own wallets, and measly little commerce centers just don’t get a huge bang for the buck – especially on 134 acres. They forgot that Native American Nations can be just as shrewd businessmen as themselves.

Poor Glendale, AZ. They are facing the very real prospect of the 134 acres becoming tribal land and then having a very large Las Vegas-style resort and casino placed squarely on it. And there’s absolutely nothing they can do about it because it’s a Federal jurisdiction, not the City’s.

Poor Glendale, AZ. They’re facing a round-the-clock operation that could grab visitors that would otherwise spend at existing locations within the “entertainment district” and compete with nearby facilities being planned, AND would net them absolutely ZERO in tax revenue. But if they place nice with the Nation, the Nation could dole them out up to 12 percent of the revenue, IF IT CHOOSES TO.

Poor Glendale, AZ.

Hooray for the Tohono O’odham Nation! Good for you. I hope your resort and casino comes to fruition, and I hope you do well. I will come and visit it when it opens, because I believe you made a smart business decision. And if poor, poor Glendale tries to become a roadblock to your resort and casino, then give your 12% to another nearby community, like Buckeye or Goodyear Peoria or Tolleson. Glendale had ample – six years! – time to discuss what you planned to do with those 134 acres. Tough cookies, Glendale. You’d been winning all sorts of battles for the last couple of years, landing the hockey arena, the football stadium, and spring training. Now you lose.