The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted Wednesday to hold off on action that would allow expansion of local Indian reservations.
By a 4-1 vote, supervisors delayed a proposed repeal of a policy that basically stops any expansion of Native American tribal governments, along with strict criteria to obtain a liquor license.
The board will now take up the issue at its May 5 meeting, based on a request by Supervisor Nora Vargas, who made the repeal proposal along with her colleague Jim Desmond.
Desmond and Vargas, in cooperation with numerous tribal leaders, also want a liaison to strengthen the relationship with each of the county’s 18 tribes.
Based on federal policy, tribal governments must secure land that they own for their reservations under a fee-to-trust (FTT) process. In turn, tribes are allowed to build housing and energy projects on the land, and also access natural resources.
In March 1994, the Board of Supervisors approved a blanket opposition policy, known Resolution No. 94-115, to all FTT applications proposed by tribes with the county. Since then, the board has opposed all FTT applications regardless of the merits.
Nearly 20 years ago, supervisors also passed Resolution No. 01-162, which adopted strict criteria for tribes to obtain liquor licenses on their lands.
Vargas, the board’s vice chair, said she wanted more time to resolve some issues that had come to her attention “at the last minute,” but didn’t say what those issues were.
“We met until 11:30 p.m. last night,” Vargas said, referring to the regular Tuesday board meeting. “I just wanted more time for a conversation.”
Vargas said that tribal communities have “been fighting for sovereignty for years. With our rich Native American history, it’s vital to establish a relationship with the community.”
San Diego County “has more tribal governments than any other county in the nation, creating 10,000 jobs generating $1 billion,” Desmond said. “We’re trying to remove that blanket opposition, but this proposal doesn’t give blanket approval.”
Tribes would still need approval from other regulating agencies such as the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Desmond said, adding projects would be continue to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
“It’s time we recognized our tribal governments as equals, and the good neighbors that they are,” he said.
Desmond cast the lone dissenting vote on a delay, saying Vargas’ continuance request was news to him.
“I think this is a slap in the face to our tribal nations,” Desmond said. “Hopefully, we get it down on May 5. But this is embarrassing.”
Erica Pinto, chairwoman of Jamul Indian Village, urged supervisors to move forward with the policy repeal.
“I strongly support withdrawal from an outdated policy that does nothing but discriminate against the tribes,” Pinto said during a public comment period. “This new direction is something that’s beneficial to San Diego County.”
Bo Mazzetti, chairman of the Rincon Band of Luiseno Indians, reminded the board that any policy repeal would not apply to gaming regulations.
Mazzetti added that his tribe has paid its own way on fire services, and also pays $600,000 for two county Sheriff’s Department deputies to patrol the reservation.
Joely Proudfit, chair of the American Indian Studies Department at Cal State San Marcos, also asked for a repeal.
“Tribal growth is good for education and our (college) campuses,” she said.
Tishmall Turner, a Rincon Tribal councilwoman, said tribal members live in every district in the county and asked, “When is it our turn to be treated equally like every resident?”