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Casino Money Goes To Protecting Indian Sacred Sites

The Pechanga Band, which owns the largest casino on the west coast, has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to lobby for a state bill, AB 742, to block the Liberty Quarry. The band argues the project in the hills south of Temecula is on sacred ground where their original ancestors lived.

AB 742 is making its way through the state legislature. In the mean time, Riverside’s Planning Board rejected the project 4 to 1 this week, after several heated hearings.

Meanwhile, a bill (SB 833) to block a proposed landfill in Gregory Canyon passed the legislature this week. SB 833’s author, State Senator Juan Vargas, said one reason he opposes it is because it is close to Pala Indian sacred land.

“There are people that lived here for hundreds of thousands of years,” Vargas said. "Some areas are sacred and should be respected. Not all land is fungible. There has to be some meaning, and respect for people's tradition.”

Vargas says he has received campaign funding from the Pala Band.

He said voters who voted for the project in two separate initiatives over the past 20 years were misled into thinking the landfill would not be near the river. He said he has visited the site and it is right on the river.

Nancy Chase of Gregory Canyon Inc., the developer of the landfill, accused Vargas of lying. She said the proposed landfill is not on the river. She said the Pala Casino is.

According to a database managed by California Watch, the Pala Band has not declared it is lobbying against SB 833. However, the Pechanga Band has contributed more than $100,000 to lobbying firms in connection with the bill.

The fate of the bill to block the landfill is now in the governor’s hands. The quarry’s developer, Granite Construction, will appeal this week’s “no” vote to Riverside’s Board of Supervisors.

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