The missing link: Jamul casino project lacks highway access
Union Tribune (2007-06-03) Editorial
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Brinkmanship continues as the Jamul Indian Village has adopted a stance of “we're going to build our casino and who is going to stop us?”
Not the sheriff, who refused to intervene when forcible evictions of Indians from their life-long homes turned ugly in March. Not the courts – the tribe violated its own written agreement to wait a week on tearing down homes to permit judicial review. Not any government agency as the tribe has begun ripping out trees and grading land without an engineering plan or a building schedule.
Caltrans is the only agency with the means to protect the public interest, and that depends upon District Director Pedro Orso-Delgado showing some backbone.
The 51-member tribe vows to evade state or federal review by erecting a smaller casino with only bingo-style slot machines on its land. The tribe, however, does not have a permit to access state Route 94 with casino-level traffic volumes.
Caltrans' statewide policy is to discourage driveway access to rural highways and instead channel traffic to controlled intersections. The San Diego district's position on the casino project seems to shift with the seasons.
Orso-Delgado, in a phone interview, said Caltrans' current position is that an access permit is required, triggering a thorough state environmental process. This includes studying three alternative highway access points, the tribe's driveway, a nearby fire station driveway and Melody Road.
So far, so good. But Orso-Delgado is looking the other way as heavy construction vehicles are now chewing up public right-of-way and blocking highway-speed traffic without an encroachment permit. Public safety is Orso-Delgado's job; Caltrans must step in.
Tribal Chairman Lee Acebedo, meantime, says the Jamul band will begin construction by year-end without highway access, a completed environmental study or currently even knowing for sure which casino components will be in phase one. An offer of $30 million in tribal-paid highway improvements is now off the table, Acebedo says, because of the project's smaller scale.
The risks here are great. A tribe with an unproven financial backer could wind up with a completed building but no highway access. A semi-rural community could wind up with a high-rise casino travesty in its midst, overshadowing a sacred Indian cemetery. And the public could wind up with the absolute minimum or less in highway safety improvements.
Emotions and distrust are running high but all parties would be doing a public service by taking a stab at mediation with a professional facilitator.
The three options seem to be a casino complex crammed onto the tiny reservation, a variation of the original proposal to put support facilities on adjacent land, and building a gaming hall on another reservation. Get a representative or two for every stakeholder from the neighborhood to Sacramento and Washington and see if compromises are possible.
First, Caltrans needs to step in and protect the public from a runaway project. If high volumes of casino traffic are dangerous, can gargantuan earth movers creeping onto a high-speed highway be any less so?