With a tribal vote concerning a proposed $118-plus-million-dollar, 20-acre casino/hotel/ resort fast approaching, certain tribal members are weighing in with some of the pros and cons of the Bishop Paiute Tribal Council’s plan.
On Tuesday, July 9, tribal members will be asked to vote on Phase 1 of the project, which involves securing funding for a 60-room hotel, swimming pool and additional restaurant.
In recent weeks, the need for economic development versus rights to land assignments has been thrust into the spotlight by a vocal tribal family, and others who are also looking to the tribe’s future.
The Inyo Register made multiple efforts from June 27 to July 3 to speak with members of the Bishop Tribal Council as well as Paiute Palace Casino General Manager Bill Macdonald in an effort to get the Tribe’s input on the matter. On Tuesday, Macdonald then told the Register the Council’s official response is that “they are unavailable for comment at this time.” The Council consists of Chairman Dale Delgado, Vice-Chairman Bill Vega, Secretary/Treasurer Earleen Williams and councilmen Jess Paco and Monty Bengochia.
Tribal members Ron Napoles, brother Rick Napoles, mother Laurine Napoles and aunt Geraldine Pasqua have not been as reticent about expressing their concerns that people may be unaware of the exact nature of certain land assignment dispositions, the entirety of the resort plan and the long-term effects of the resort on the community at large.
On his Facebook page, “Save North Pa Ha,” Ron Napoles annotated a posted casino resort site plan, that sits “right on top of a dozen tribal member homes” in the North Pa Ha area, including his grandmother, Ida Warlie, and cousin, Gail Vassar-Manuelito’s, assignments. The site plan, which he said was distributed at a recent Council meeting, appears to include reservation land assignments/lots 1-11 in block 4, which are currently occupied by residents, the Pow Wow grounds, and block 3’s existing Paiute Palace Casino lots 1-3 and assignments 4-7.
Phase 1 of the expansion, the subject of the upcoming July 9 “Official General Election,” would involve block 3’s lots 1-7. However, the Napoles family contend that lots 4-7 are rightfully theirs; they still graze 15 head of cattle on 6 and 7, pay the irrigation bill and maintain the lots.
In a June 23 interview, Napoles said the sample “Official General Election Ballot” was distributed at a Council meeting earlier that month. It poses the question, “Do you favor the Tribal Council to pursue the establishment of a casino/hotel resort?” Its content was noticeably biased, said Napoles. The ballot states that a “yes” vote would “initially allow” the Council to finalize site plans and secure about $20 million in financing to build a 60-room hotel, second restaurant and swimming pool “only if” the lender confirms the feasibility of the plan – water, sewer, environmental impact and projected revenue.
However, the ballot contains no explanation of what a “no” vote would mean, Napoles said. “They didn’t give any of the risks, the downstream affect on the quality of life” for the community, said Rick Napoles, listing light, noise, traffic and skyline pollution; unsafe conditions for families, especially children; and prostitution and drug trade as “environmental and societal pollution – all the things that come with living behind a little Las Vegas. People need to understand what a ‘yes’ vote would mean. We’re here to give the other side of the economic development coin.”
Ron Napoles added that this area can’t support the success of a resort of this magnitude; working in a casino shouldn’t be a goal for local youth; greenlighting Phase 1 would also greenlight the entire resort project; and “there is no immediate personal or financial sacrifice or risk for tribal community members which makes it tempting to just vote ‘yes.’ The purpose of my (June 15 issue Inyo Register letter to the editor) was to get a conversation going. The silence is not good.”
On “Save North Pa Ha,” Napoles breaks down his family’s land assignment history starting with the original 1937 land assignment to his grandmother, Ida Warlie, when the reservation was established up until the current situation. He includes explanations of the 1962 land ordinance, the head-of-household designation and assignment cancellation due to disuse policy.
The Tribal Council met with the Napoles family, including brother Mark and cousin Debbie Williams, on June 4 and 17. “Each stated their side,” Napoles said, and the Napoleses furnished the Council with documentation it was missing. However, the last meeting ended with no apparent resolution, Napoles said.
According to site plans which Napoles received at the May 28 Council meeting and which were presented by Macdonald and a Las Vegas casino developer, the entire three-phase resort complex will include a new casino/bar/restaurant, meeting halls, a sports bar, movie theaters, bowling alleys, a swimming pool, a steak house, an outdoor events facility and the hotel – and 37 permanent new jobs. Pa Ha Lane would end in a cul de sac at the back of the resort and Winuba Lane would be extended to connect with U.S. 395.
Napoles said he hopes that the resort becomes part of the tribe’s “history of defeats” that include the 1981 shopping center, 2009 Walmart and 2011 second-diesel-aisle proposals. In addition to the “Save North Pa Ha” campaign, which Napoles said is designed to reach out to the community so it can vote its conscience with information about all the pros and all the cons of the resort plan, “Vote No” fliers are being posted around town, on the rez and on Facebook and are available from any Napoles family member.
Not all tribal members are opposed to releasing their land holdings in the name of economic development, however.
Tribal member Val Spoonhunter, the Council secretary, who lives on block 4, east of Pa Ha Lane on U.S. 395, said, “We’re on the reservation. It’s trust land, it doesn’t belong to us. I don’t own it even though I’ve lived there since I was 3 years old. I strongly feel that I would give up my land to help the tribe and share in the progress to provide economic stability. We need more money to acquire more land (for) young families who need homes. I know the Tribal Council will take care of us (during the casino expansion) and give us another home site … Three years ago, something similar happened and other family members said they would be willing to give their land for economic development.”