Legislation Allowing Indian Reservation Expansions Raises Concerns among Counties
California County News, June 13, 2012In 2009, the Pala Band of Mission Indians in San Diego County erected a Las Vegas-style sign on tribe-owned property, which didn’t sit too well with residents in the area. Since the sign violated the county’s zoning ordinances, county code enforcement officials were able to force the tribe to take the billboard down. However, under proposed legislation, SB 162, county codes would no longer apply to the land because tribes would be able to place property under a trust and state agencies would not be able to oppose tribes that want to enlarge their reservations under a process called fee to trust transfers.
Tribes say they want to add private property to their sovereign reservations for such purposes as housing, environmental protection or cultural preservation. Critics of the bill have their doubts about the intent of the legislation and suggest tribes are less concerned with preservation of cultural resources/sites because once the land is under a trust arrangement the land could be used for casinos or other commercial purposes. In addition, the NC Times notes that “Once the land is in federal trust for a tribe, county officials can no longer collect property taxes and local land regulations no longer apply.”
The Department of Interior is responsible for approving these land transfers and concerns have been raised that once land is annexed into a tribe’s reservation, federal regulatory agencies will pay little attention to whether or not the newly annexed property will be used for other purposes. This hands-off approach would leave local residents and counties with few options. One expert on land-use policies told the San Diego Board of Supervisors that once a transfer has taken place, the tribes can technically do as they please.
There is a financial cost to counties as well; take San Diego County, which studied the matter. The NC Times reports: “San Diego County could lose millions in property taxes if the proposed transfers are approved, according to the county's analysis. In total, the county stands to lose more than $1.3 million in property tax revenue a year. But the potential loss is even greater because businesses that are built on tribal land cannot be taxed the same way they are on nontribal land.”
The Santa Ynez Valley News wrote a blistering editorial against the bill here: http://syvnews.com/opinion/editorial/put-shameful-bill-back-into-the-grinder/article_83cde12a-af88-11e1-a299-0019bb2963f4.html