Skip to comments.California: Governor drops rule on Indian casinos [Davis sells out CA one last time]
Posted on 11/15/2003 6:39:04 PM PST by John Jorsett
SACRAMENTO In a stunning move hailed by tribal attorneys, Gov. Gray Davis yesterday waived a mandate to shore up weak environmental protections in the state's Indian gambling agreements.
The last-minute decision by the outgoing governor means the state has voluntarily given up a major piece of leverage in a broader effort to renegotiate the tribal compacts.
Davis, a Democrat who was recalled on Oct. 7, will leave office Monday, when Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger is sworn in. Schwarzenegger has vowed to renegotiate all 65 compacts that Davis signed during the past four years.
Davis said Schwarzenegger was consulted and "does not object" to his decision on the environmental guidelines. A Schwarzenegger aide confirmed that, but sources in the new administration said Schwarzenegger did not support the action.
In a letter sent to tribes yesterday, Davis said the state was rescinding its request to renegotiate the environmental language in compacts signed in late 1999.
"As a practical matter, if there is no agreement by Dec. 31, litigation is likely to result about whether the state bargained in good faith," the governor wrote.
"I do not believe it is fair to the new administration or the tribes to artificially impose a six-week deadline to renegotiate the environmental provisions of the 1999 compacts."
With that, Davis said he was withdrawing his formal request for negotiations sent to 61 tribes on Feb. 28.
That request triggered a complicated process that could have imposed a moratorium on casino and related construction if the state and tribes could not agree on new environmental rules.
By withdrawing the formal request, Davis scrapped the process outlined in the compacts and the threat of any interruption in tribal development plans, an administration spokeswoman confirmed.
"I'm shocked," San Diego County Supervisor Dianne Jacob said late yesterday. "It's just one more thing that Davis has done. The people of the state recalled him because he failed to lead and do the right thing. I shouldn't be shocked."
Jacob, whose East County district includes several large Indian casinos and tribes hoping to build still more, said the compact's environmental protections have been "a huge failure."
"They haven't worked . . . and the constituency that I serve off reservation is left holding the bag in this case, out of water, with traffic jams and law enforcement impacts."
Davis said as much in February, when he conceded that the environmental rules had "proven to be inadequate."
"Tribal gaming facilities have created significant adverse impacts" on traffic, water, air quality, sewage treatment and wildlife habitat, Davis said.
The Dec. 31 deadline the governor mentioned yesterday is the date when tribes may sue the state for failing to conduct meaningful negotiations on the matter.
If a legal challenge failed, there would still be up to a year, until January 2005, before the state could impose any building moratorium.
Tribal attorneys said the state was legally vulnerable because it had declined to meet with many tribes on the subject, or even respond to proposals.
"Our tribes have proposed draft language to the governor without response," attorney Rob Rosette said. "They have sent several letters to the governor's office without any response."
Rosette said his firm, Monteau & Peebles, had just started drafting lawsuits that it planned to file on behalf of four tribes.
Likewise, tribal attorney Howard Dickstein said the Davis administration had not even acknowledged proposed language that had been endorsed by the statewide county counsels' association.
"They essentially just blew the tribes off and that's bad faith," said Dickstein, who had a close relationship with the Davis administration.
Both Rosette and Dickstein, who represent a large share of the state's gaming tribes, said they were pleasantly surprised by Davis' letter.
"My clients will be very pleased," Rosette said.
In four new compacts negotiated this year, the Davis administration had persuaded tribes including the La Posta and Santa Ysabel bands of San Diego County to accept stronger environmental language.
Those agreements required tribes to reach agreements with local governments on off-reservation impacts.
Tribes have been generous supporters of Davis. Even though they contributed about $12 million to other candidates in the recall campaign, they still gave him more than $1 million in campaign contributions.
Schwarzenegger has said that tribes should share more of their gambling wealth with the state and has vowed to renegotiate all of California's Indian gambling compacts.
But, with nearly 17 years to run on the existing agreements, there appears to be little he can do to force reluctant tribes to the table. The environmental provisions appeared to be the lone exception.
"This was the only way Schwarzenegger could force the large tribes to the table," said a knowledgeable tribal source. "Now I think tribes can all breathe a sigh of relief and continue with large expansions and load up their casinos with Class 2 machines."
The National Indian Gambling Commission recently approved two Class 2 machines, electronic versions of games such as bingo that are not considered slot machines, or Class 3 machines, under federal law.
States can regulate and limit Class 3 machines. They have no control over Class 2 machines.
Schwarzenegger has suggested that he will offer tribes more slots in exchange for a larger slice of their winnings. The existing compacts limit tribes to 2,000 slots each.
"The governor-elect does not believe the letter sent today precludes his administration from renegotiating the compacts," said spokeswoman Karen Hanretty. "He's very sensitive to environmental issues and he will address those issues with the tribes on his own timetable."
With a single statewide initiative, we can put the casinos out of business unless they agree to pay gaming taxes. Arnold has all the leverage he needs.
The way California has been growing, the indian reservations are no longer out of play for new homes.
Sgt...I hear by promote you to Five Star General
What are you talking about?