Diametrically opposing viewpoints underscore intertribal discord over the Ewiiaapaayp band of Kumeyaay Indians' desire to build a casino within a mile of the successful Viejas casino and shopping outlet in Alpine.
Federal decisions, and perhaps even litigation, will ultimately determine the fate of that plan. But debates over whether the Ewiiaapaayp effort defies established protocol in building casinos on reservations, or whether Viejas' resistance to that plan is unfair and puts a new twist on the concept of NIMBY-ism, may prove more difficult to resolve for those passionately involved in the imbroglio.
Will Micklin, executive director for the Ewiiaapaayp tribal government, explained that inaccessibility to the tribe's 4,102-acre reservation in the Laguna Mountains renders economic development on the land impossible. "There's no electricity, telephone, radio, water, sewer-there's nothing there," he said. The Ewiiaapaayp (also known as the Cuyapaipe) currently has only eight members.
However, 10 acres of Indian land, for which Ewiiaapaayp is trust beneficiary, sit approximately one-quarter mile east of the Willow's Road exit off Interstate 8 in Alpine. The land was put into trust (8.5 acres in 1986 and 1.5 acres in 1997) in order to provide a health clinic, now used by seven East County tribes and operated by the Southern Indian Health Council (SIHC), a California chartered nonprofit corporation. Seven federally recognized San Diego County tribes comprise SIHC's membership and board. The clinic also serves non-Indian East County residents.
After a series of location changes during the 1980s, the clinic moved to its current site in 1987, when the Ewiiaapaayp leased the Alpine trust land to the SIHC.
In 1994, the Ewiiaapaayp entered into negotiations with its tenant to amend the 50-year lease. An agreement was reached in 2000 to move forward with a project through which the SIHC would eventually receive $11.5 million worth of additional clinics and a continuing revenue stream of up to 8 percent of Ewiiaapaayp's future gaming revenues-an estimated $100 million over the first 15 years of a 36-year agreement. "Of course, the consideration is that the tenant returns a portion of the tribe's land to its use so it can develop a casino," Micklin said.
For Ewiiaapaayp, that development represents self-reliance and upward economic mobility. Micklin said Ewiiaapaayp "made the decision, with the consent of the [SIHC] board of directors, that the best and highest use of that property is for improving health care"-and an ideal way to fund that: gaming.
To that end, the Ewiiaapaayp are currently awaiting federal approval of several requests: to amend the SIHC lease; to proclaim the land currently in trust a reservation; and to accept into trust several other small parcels in the Alpine area. Micklin added the Ewiiaapaayp "has committed to mitigate the impact of the [proposed] casino on the environment [and] the local community."
Both tribes accuse the other of masking their true motives behind a feigned concern for health care.
Nikki Symington, a public-relations consultant for Viejas, discussed why her employer contests the Ewiiaapaayp plans, citing concerns that the Ewiiaapaayp Band application for approval for reservation status and moving the clinic to build a casino violates the concept of reservation, laws relative to tribal-state compacts in California and state laws of incorporation.
Viejas has filed a lawsuit in Superior Court against five directors of the SIHC. In part, the suit charges that California state corporation rules weren't followed. Symington said the court denied a motion, based on an assertion of sovereign immunity, to dismiss the lawsuit, and trial preparation is under way.
The two tribes are also sharply divided as to whether the Alpine community would welcome a new casino or not.
Responding to accusations that Viejas is using its big-tribe muscle to block the small tribe's efforts, Symington pointed out that although Viejas has 250 members to Ewiiaapaayp's eight, Ewiiaapaayp has received $1.1 million from California state tribal revenue sharing and has an investor (identified as Tom Celani, part-owner of Detroit's MotorCity Casino), who pays for the right to be involved with them on a yearly basis and exercises significant power of his own.
Symington said the current rancor between the two tribes is regrettable, but all tribes "have the responsibility to manifest as much integrity as they possibly can when it comes to any laws and rules about how, when and why you can build casinos."However, Micklin, calling Ewiiaapaayp's approach the model way for tribes to pursue casino development, criticized Viejas for "attack[ing] us for doing just what they've done and what they salute every other tribe in the state for doing: pull themselves out of poverty and need. [Viejas] shouldn't attempt to crush a small, neighbor tribe because they're unhappy they have to share the gaming market.