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Appellate Court Justice Cynthia Aaron

Hesperia casino remains in limbo despite appellate court decision

Staff Writer

The proposed High Desert casino projects both received a new lease on life last week, although it remains unclear whether either will ever break ground.

In Barstow, the deadline for the federal government to take land into trust for Big Lagoon Rancheria's proposed joint casino project with the Los Coyotes Band of Cahuilla and Cupeno Indians came and went on Wednesday and got a three month extension until September. But Big Lagoon Rancheria Chairman Virgil Moorehead expressed skepticism that the project would ever come to pass.

"The land into trust isn't going to happen, we know that," Moorehead told the Barstow Desert-Dispatch, a sister paper of the Hesperia Star. His tribe was offered the Barstow location for a casino because the tribe is based around an environmentally sensitive Humboldt County lagoon. Government officials and environmentalists fear building a casino there would damage the local wildlife. If the new September 17 deadline passes, Moorehead said he will turn his focus back to building his casino closer to home.

On the same day in San Diego, the Fourth District Court of Appeal supported a 2005 Victorville court decision, when Judge Stanford Reichert ruled against the Hesperia Citizens for Responsible Development.

The citizens' group had contended the city's August 2003 signing of a Municipal Services Agreement with the Timbisha Shoshone tribe was a violation of state law. Reichert agreed with city attorneys that the MSA was legal and that the city had not violated state law in entering into the agreement.

Last Wednesday, Appellate Court Judge Cynthia Aaron agreed, rejecting each of the three arguments raised by the Hesperia Citizens for Responsible Development: that the city violated state law by naming the Hesperia Redevelopment Agency as a participant in the MSA; that the MSA violates the state's Community Redevelopment Law; and that the city unlawfully relinquished its sovereign authority by adopting the MSA.

"We reject this argument," Aaron wrote in part, regarding the last argument made by the citizens' group. "As Citizens' argument implicitly acknowledges, any preemption of state law and local ordinances on land that comes to be held in trust for the tribe is a function of federal law, not the MSA."

In theory, this would mean a clear road for the Timbisha-Shoshone Casino. But three years after almost 60 percent of voters signaled their approval for their project in a highly contentious referendum, the ground across from the Big Boy Restaurant on Main Street near Interstate 15 remains unbroken.

The Timbisha-Shoshone have dealt with numerous internal political struggles, wrestled with (and apparently ousted) their original developer and have been silent for nearly a year about the status of the project.

"It's to a point that nobody knows," Councilman Ed Pack said Friday. In August 2003, he was one of the 3-2 city council majority that voted to approve the MSA. "I am really, really in the dark on the casino now."

Timbisha Shoshone tribal council Vice-President Ed Beaman, who had been heading up the tribe's efforts in Sacramento and Washington, could not be reached for comment and has not been available for comment in months. On the tribe's Web page (http://www.Timbisha.org), the Casino Committee no longer appears on the site's Government page and tribe members are advised to "contact the tribal office or Tribal Council for more information."

Pack said he can't understand the tribe not pushing forward with the project.

"I personally think they have the best site in all of Southern California, unless you go right downtown in LA or San Diego."

Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com.

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