Here we go again. Another tribal government in California wants to take land into trust, a lot of land. The Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, owners of the Cache Creek Casino in Yolo County, has asked the federal government to take 850 additional acres of agricultural land it owns near its casino into trust. Tribal leaders say the land, 15 large parcels in the rural Capay Valley, will be used for homes, a school, a water treatment plant, government buildings, a cultural center and agriculture.
As it invariably does, the Bureau of Indian Affairs has declared that the tribe's land-use plans will have no significant environmental impact. The BIA's assessment means the tribe will not have to prepare an environmental impact study. Yolo County supervisors strongly object, and with good reason.
Once land is taken into trust, the state and local governments lose all control. They no longer have land-use, taxing or regulatory authority. And while the tribal government today says it has no plans for major development or to change the rural character of the area, nothing prevents a future tribal government from changing those plans.
It has happened with this tribe in the past. Four years ago, over the objections of the county, the tribe sought to triple the size of its casino, to add 467 hotel rooms, 20,000 square feet of retail, 23,000 square feet of gambling space and 2,410 parking spaces. Ultimately, the bad economy thwarted expansion.
Still, given that history and the fact that the tribe has refused to enter into an agreement to maintain the agricultural designation of the new land it wants to take into trust, Yolo officials have reason for concern. The county has been meeting with tribal leaders for two years about the issue.
The county has offered to support the tribe's bid to place 100 acres into trust, more than enough land to accomplish the tribe's stated purpose. For the tribe to take more, approximately eight times that amount, would leave the future of the Capay Valley in the hands of the Yocha Dehe. Yolo County and the tribe's neighbors are right to oppose that.
Yocha Dehe's bid for more trust land is hardly unique. As of August 2010, BIA reported that tribal governments in California, most of them powerful gambling tribes, had 137 applications pending to place more than 15,000 acres of land into trust. Under the Obama administration, the granting of trust applications has accelerated.
The Wintun tribe has been sensitive to local concerns at times, helping Yolobus expand transit service to mitigate traffic from its casino. The tribe should work with the county on its proposal to put 100 acres into trust, and the federal government should nudge the tribe to work out an agreement with the county.