GeoCarta Has Moved

Dec 11, 2005

Drafting Error Leaves Tribe's Casino High And Dry

A drafting error may stall plans by the Barona Indian tribe to build a pipeline to bring water to its controversial casino development, and give local governments a greater say in the project, the San Diego Union Tribune reported recently.

The Barona Indian tribe purchased an 85 acre tract to make way for a 1-1/4 mile water pipeline. The pipeline would alleviate chronic water shortages that have plagued the tribe's casino and resort development.

Then, the tribe shocked and angered local officials by persuading congress to quietly pass legislation to take the property into trust. Normally placing property in trust is a lengthy and laborious process. But the tribe's allies in congress were able to get it done in short order, without alerting local officials. Land held in trust is technically owned by the federal government and is not subject to property taxes. It is also exempt from most regulation by local governments.

But the staff at the San Diego assessor's office plotted out the property described in the legislation and found that it covered only a small part of the 85 acre tract. David Butler, chief deputy assessor told the Tribune, "Our staff did an overlay on a map and said, 'Here's what you purchased and here's what you described in the law, trying to put it into trust.' They were not even close to matching up." Because the two descriptions don't match up, the county has refused to change the title on the land. "I guess somebody blew it in Washington . . . maybe to the benefit of the residents," county Supervisor Dianne Jacob told the Tribune.

This leaves the tribe with the choice of either seeking federal legislation to correct the matter, legislation county officials have promised to vigorously oppose, or deal with the local governments. The county has also sent the tribe a tax bill for more than $25,000.