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Soboba Indian tribe proposal to annex 500 acres for new casino-hotel has some San Jacinto residents worried

The Soboba Indian tribe's proposal to annex more than 500 acres and build a new casino-hotel near their existing gambling complex has some San Jacinto residents worried their neighborhoods could be swallowed into a zone devoid of public services. By The Temecula Valley News

SAN JACINTO - The Soboba Indian tribe's proposal to annex more than 500 acres and build a new casino-hotel near their existing gambling complex has some San Jacinto residents worried their neighborhoods could be swallowed into a zone devoid of public services.

And recent shootouts between local sheriff's deputies and alleged criminals hiding on the Soboba reservation have apparently given residents concern. At one point last year, a union representing Riverside County sheriff's deputies declared the reservation and its existing casino unsafe.

"We've done a lot of extensive study on this, and everywhere they put a casino in the crime rate goes up and the community goes downhill,'' David Christian, a member of a group called Save Our Communities, told City News Service today.

"Like the one in San Bernardino. That neighborhood turned into a ghetto, just about. It's not the neighborhood it used to be.''

Tribal leaders and gambling promoters told the Riverside Press-Enterprise that the new complex would create more jobs and boost the local economy. Soboba tribal officials could not immediately be reached for additional comment today.

The Soboba Band of Luiseno Indians already operates the Soboba Casino --with ``2,000 slot machines, over 20 table games, two restaurants, a 12,000-seat entertainment pavilion and one huge sports lounge'' -- on its reservation about a mile from the proposed development, according to information on the

tribe's casino Web site ``Soboba Casino -- Where Winning is Just the Beginning.''

Now the tribe wants to annex non-reservation land that it owns along Soboba Road near Lake Park Drive into federal ``fee to trust'' status, adding to the more than 3,000-acre reservation, the Press-Enterprise reported today.

In trust, the land is held by the U.S. government on behalf of the tribe, while the tribe controls the land's use, the Press-Enterprise reported.

The proposed 729,500-square-foot casino-hotel complex would include a 300-room hotel, casino, restaurants, convention center, events arena, retail establishments and a parking structure, the Press-Enterprise reported.

If the annexation goes through, residents of three neighborhoods --Soboba Springs Mobile Estates, a housing development adjacent to the Country Club at Soboba golf course, and a hillside neighborhood -- would have to travel through the reservation to get to their homes in the city of San Jacinto, the

Press-Enterprise reported.

A Bureau of Indian Affairs public hearing is scheduled Wednesday at the Hemet Public Library. The bureau will accept written comments about the proposed development until Sept. 15.

"The key issue is the ownership transfer of U.S. land to tribal land, which would isolate us,'' Tish Arciniega, another member of Save Our Communities, told CNS. ``It will create islands. We will be embedded in the reservation. We will be surrounded by tribal lands.''

Asked about possible public safety concerns, Arciniega referred the topic to public safety agencies and returned to the issue of land ownership transfer.


The Riverside County Sheriff's Department has had disputes with Soboba leaders about public safety and access on the Soboba reservation in the recent past. The tribe and the Sheriff's Department have also engaged in summit discussions and found ways to cooperate.

A Sheriff's Department spokeswoman today referred questions about the proposed land annex and casino-hotel complex to sheriff's administration officials.

The Soboba tribal response to public concern about the new gambling complex has been restrained, and a tribal lawyer described it as a relocation of the casino with no expansion of gaming, the Press-Enterprise reported.

``The fee to trust application is a government to government transaction, that involves and considers the public through the public comment phase, '' Mike Hiles, Soboba tribal information officer, said in a written statement cited by the Press-Enterprise. ``This critical component of the process provides for all public concerns . . . to be identified so that they may be considered in the Final (environmental impact statement). The tribe remains committed to this process."

Back in the neighborhoods that could be affected by annexation and a new casino-hotel complex, Christian said gambling traffic is already a problem in the area where he and Arciniega live, north of the existing casino and off Soboba Road.

"There are three senior communities up here and when there's functions going on at the casino, an ambulance can't get in. They have to send a helicopter,'' Christian told CNS. ``That's with the existing casino. If they build another one it's going to be worse.''

If the land in question gets deeded to the Soboba tribe, Christian said he and his neighbors should no longer have to pay taxes.

"We should be exempt from all city, state and federal taxes, because they won't be able to service us any more,'' Christian said.

Loren Pratt, another concerned resident, said annexation would remove property from government tax roles, while a resort would lure visitors who would have an impact on roads and services, the Press-Enterprise reported.

Pratt also said visitors may bypass non-Indian businesses and spend their money at the Soboba complex.

But a draft environmental report on the development suggests it would create jobs, and employees would live and spend money in the valley, the Press-Enterprise reported.

Wednesday's hearing and all written comments will be addressed in a federal final environmental impact statement, the Press-Enterprise reported, citing information from Patrick O'Mallan, environmental protection specialist with the Bureau of Indian Affairs' Sacramento regional office. The final

environmental impact statement may not be ready until next year, the Press-Enterprise reported.

A regional BIA director will make a recommendation to Larry Echo Hawk, the U.S. Department of the Interior's assistant secretary of Indian affairs, who will make the decision about the land annexation, according to O'Mallan.