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Supervisors Repeal Tribal Policies That Stop Reservation Expansion

The San Diego County Administration Building in this file photo taken on Dec....

Photo by Alexander Nguyen

Above: The San Diego County Administration Building in this file photo taken on Dec. 13, 2020.

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For over two decades, a single piece of San Diego County land law has prohibited 18 federally recognized tribes from expanding their own reservation. That changed last week when the ... Read more →

Aired: May 10, 2021 | Transcript

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 Wednesday to repeal policies that basically stopped any expansion by Native American tribal governments, along with strict criteria to obtain a liquor license.

Proposed by Supervisor Jim Desmond and board Vice Chairwoman Nora Vargas, the repeal also includes adding a tribal liaison, which will be covered in the fiscal year 2021-22 budget.

The board first discussed repealing the policies on April 7, but Vargas said she wanted more time to resolve some issues that had come to her attention "at the last minute," but didn't say what they were.

Based on federal policy, tribal governments must secure land they own for their reservations under a fee-to-trust process. In turn, tribes are allowed to build housing and energy projects on the land and also access natural resources.

In March 1994, the Board of Supervisors approved a blanket opposition policy, known Resolution No. 94-115, to all fee-to-trust applications proposed by tribes within the county, meaning the board opposed all applications regardless of the merits.

In 2001, the board passed Resolution No. 01-162, which adopted strict criteria for tribes to obtain liquor licenses on their lands.

Although the board voided those two policies, tribes will still need approval from other regulating agencies such as the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Any projects within the county will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis and -- based on an amendment from Vargas -- include notifying affected property owners, residents and businesses consistent with zoning laws.

Desmond said he appreciated Vargas' concern, but objected to any more conditions, saying the repeal was "a long time coming," and wanted to make sure that tribes are fairly treated.

"They are our equals as sovereign governments," Desmond said. "Let's vote on (the item) as presented." Vargas stressed that her amendment was friendly. "I want to make sure that everybody understands I absolutely am supportive" of the original request, she added.

Fletcher seconded her request, but added the board was "having a big debate about nothing."

"It's just notification that's already required by law," Fletcher added.

Desmond voted yes on the minor proposal change.

"It's better than nothing, but it's disrespectful and I hate it," he added.

Supervisor Joel Anderson cast the lone no vote on Wednesday but offered no formal reason why.

During a public call-in period before the vote, tribal leaders urged the repeal. Marcus Cuero, chairman of the Campo Kumeyaay Nation, reminded supervisors that lands "are where each of you sit today ... I hope you'll remove this impediment, and we'll start down a new path for our native people."

Erica Pinto, chairwoman of the Jamul Indian Village, said she was glad that after 30 years, the board was ending two unfair policies.

"We evolve, we change policies, we remove statues, we don't name buildings in honor of people who commit atrocities," Pinto said.

Bo Mazzetti, chairman of the Rincon Band of Luseño Indians, said it was "time to get rid of this outright racist law. Let's do what's right."

Mazzetti added that "generation after generation, our people have had land taken from them. We're just asking for the opportunity to buy back our own land."

Also, "no one in this county can point to an example where tribes purchased land and didn't improve it," Mazzetti said.

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