As officials in Ridgemont, Calirofnia meet today (5/18/2016) for the fifth time in as many weeks to discuss the proposed casino with the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe, there is still no hint whether or not a final decision will be made.
The municipal services agreement, the first step towards constructing a casino within the city limits. The tribe has proposed a one time payment of $80,000 in addition to $400,000 a year for the next twenty years for municipal services.
The proposed land for the casino is a 26 acre plot close to the front gate of the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake. The plot, marked exhibit A in official documents would be taken into trust by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. While the tribe does own a reservation in Death Valley National Park, restrictions prevent them from developing this land. The Timbisha Shoshone Homeland Act requires the Bureau of Indian Affairs to hold certain lands in trust on behalf of the tribe, but in the event that a suitable parcel of land cannot be found in Nevada, “another parcel mutually agreed upon” by the tribe and the federal government can be placed acquired.
A website built by a city consultant at the request of the City Council to pool facts and update information about the proposed project states that the project would represent a $29 million investment and provide 144 local hires. The proposed 20K square foot building would host upwards of 67,000 visitors annually, bringing much needed revenue to the city. While these numbers are primarily provided by the developers, they are the best projections available.
While the project has many supporters, opposition has been vocal and present since the first meeting. Both sides have launched a visual campaign, printing buttons and t-shirts regarding the issue. Supporters of the casino plan have even launched a Facebook group with over 2,000 members at last count.
Local Council meetings have been packed occasions since first announcing the proposed casino would be on the agenda. Last week’s meeting ran for over five hours, with local residents expressing concern about the casino and also about the seemingly endless hours spent discussing it.
Local concerns about the noise, safety and traffic have all been addressed by the tribe and the developers in the previous meetings and in written statements to the public. Chief Strand has testified that the casino poses no greater threat to public safety than any other establishment that serves alcohol. And while the casino and concert facility would be located close to the Naval base, sound attenuation measures are already being recommended. The Navy itself has voiced no official opinion on the matter.
As the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe seeks greater support from allied forces in the Ridgemont community, Tribal Chairman George Gholson has expressed an eagerness to participate in community life. The tribe has built into the Municipal Services Agreement a commitment to participate in community outreach programs as well as to pay their share to offset the additional strain on local services caused by the casino. The proposed casino would, in fact, operate much like any large scale business with the Tribal Council being responsive to the community like any other business owner.
The Timbisha Tribe is continuing to seek community support for their project. While it is unclear if the Council will make a decision regarding the Municipal Services Agreement, the Council assures the community that no vote will be taken unless of until all parties have had a chance to voice their concerns and ask questions of the appropriate parties. It is important to note that no vote is on the agenda for today’s meeting.