"I don't have to talk to you," the developer says to the public official. "I have the right to build whatever I want, wherever I want it."
How many developers, exhausted or hamstrung by local government, have longed to say those words? And how can local government respond, when a developer actually does say those words to them — with the full support of federal law?
As it turns out, at least one group of developers in California actually can say those words, and back them up: Native American tribes that want to develop gambling casinos
Despite those unquestioned powers, Placer County found a way of entering into a dialogue with a local Native American tribe on the ticklish question of casino development, and eventually got the tribe to agree voluntarily to abide by local land-use controls. Both the president of the Placer County Board of Supervisors and an attorney for the tribe praise the pact as a model for future cooperation between Indian tribes and local governments.
Like it or not, casino gambling on Indian reservations is a rapidly growing phenomenon in California, where at least 67 Indian tribes are currently seeking to build or expand casinos, according to the Associated Press. Under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988, Native American tribes that are recognized by the U.S. government have the right to build casinos without regard to local land-use controls; the language of the statute explicitly states that local government regulations do not apply.
Being a pest, or threatening to become one, was the way that a Placer County supervisor brought one tribe to the table.
In 1994, Congress granted official recognition to the United Auburn Indian Community, which gave the tribe the right to acquire land anywhere in the county for the purpose of creating a reservation. (The tribe heretofore has been landless.) In 1997, representatives of the tribe approached then-newly elected Supervisor Robert Weygandt and informed him that the tribe intended to build a 200,000-square-foot casino near Penryn, which is located just off heavily traveled Interstate 80 about 30 miles northeast of Sacramento.
Although a freshman supervisor, Weygandt had just completed four years on the county's Planning Commission and had a better-than-average sense of land-use law. Shortly after tribal officials presented their plans to Weygandt, he drafted a resolution, which the Placer County Board of Supervisors later approved, that essentially said the tribe should respect county land-use planning.
"I was not an opponent of the proliferation of gambling in the state," Weygandt said. "My problem was more the exemption from land-use planning.
The supervisor figured he had nothing to lose by asking the Native Americans to comply with the local rules. He also thought it conceivable that the tribe would want to avoid the sort of bad blood that was brewing between members of the Shingle Springs tribe and residents of nearby El Dorado County, where the tribe wanted to build a 100,000-square-foot casino and 325-room hotel just east of Sacramento.
Weygandt now acknowledges that the resolution was a bit of a bluff. "We all sort of knew that the only real right the county had was to challenge the project on a NEPA issue." If the tribe chose to build on land that was environmentally sensitive and could trigger the federal law, Weygandt reasoned, the county might obtain the leverage it needed to fight the casino. In his view, the Penryn site may have been sensitive enough.
A few months later, Weygandt wrote a letter to the tribal chair to see how receptive the tribe would be to talking. To Weygandt's surprise, tribal officials wrote back and said, in effect, that they were willing to comply with all local land-use standards, including traffic mitigation, design review guidelines and environmental review.
Weygandt is still not sure what convinced the tribe to accept the county's conditions. "I gave them the best possible sales routine, that one player that was not playing by the rules could ruin a whole community," the Placer County supervisor recalled. "Somewhere in the process they genuinely embraced the theory. I tell people that (the Native Americans) became born-again land-use planning advocates."
Eventually, the Auburn tribe agreed to locate the casino on a 58-acre site within a 9,000-acre industrial park in the City of Rocklin, a few miles west of Penryn. The site was already designed for intense traffic impacts, and the location could serve as a buffer between the casino and residential neighborhoods.
Last August, the county and the tribe finalized a memorandum of understanding. The agreement does not require the tribe to submit to either the county building department or CEQA. Instead, the agreement "sets out the standards that are going to apply, as a matter of tribal law, and gives the county certain assurances with which the tribe will meet those standards," said Howard Dickstein, the tribe's attorney. If the county does not agree, it can initiate arbitration procedures. The agreement also establishes a committee to monitor the relations between the county and the tribe, and to propose amendments to their agreement, if and when needed. The committee becomes the forum for doing business and resolving disputes between the county and the tribe.
Dickstein sounded even more impressed with the agreement than was Supervisor Weygandt.
The agreement between the Auburn tribe and Placer County is "the most comprehensive agreement of its kind, not only in the state but in the nation." The pact, he continued, "reflects a kind of maturity on the part of both governments, and a recognition that they are interdependent."
Sovereignty, according to Dickstein, "no longer means drawing a line in the sand."
One irony of the situation is that several other Indian tribes have expressed concern that the Auburn-Placer agreement would become a precedent that could have the ultimate effect of eroding the right of Native Americans to develop free of land-use regulation.
I admire the Auburn tribe for behaving like neighbors, rather than like an imperious sovereign nation, or, even worse, like a neighboring California city. In the state's present climate, it is refreshing to hear someone say, "I can build whatever I want, but I will talk to you about it anyway, because we are neighbors and our mutual well-being is interconnected." With 67 more casinos in the offing, it would be good to hear those words more than once.
Thanks to the recession and various iterations of the dot-com boom and bust, Silicon Valley has a large, stagnant pool of empty office and light industrial space. The same region is woefully underbuilt with housing. Unsurprisingly, homebuilders are making inroads into the underused office parks and industrial sites in Santa Clara County.
Dammit, it's not fair! Residents of affordable housing get all the lucky breaks. Just look at all the money they're getting from all directions: local government, the local power company, the feds, the green-building lobby. Case in point: the Casa Dominguez development in East Dominguez Hills, an unincorporated area of south Los Angeles County, even has a child care center and a medical clinic, on site.
Remember the cliché about "the deal you can't refuse?" The park-for-a-billboard caper in the city of Los Angeles is just such a deal. I'll tell you about it. (Just as soon, that is, as you put that bottle back in the bag where it belongs. I have no desire to add another item to my institutional resume.)
Granted, the billboard story is hard to explain, because at bottom this deal makes so little sense.
When individuals barter, they generally have a firm sense of underlying value, i.e. "What's this thing really worth to me?" A 10-year-old car might be worth $1,000, to judge from the Recycler or Craig's List. At $20,000, a used car is a bargain only if it is a 1949 Ferrari Spider with the original piping on the seats.
Cities, on the other hand, often appear not to have a sense of "beyond this price we will not go." True, they bargain for big things on which it is hard to pin values, such as stadiums for NFL football and professional soccer. Still, the fact that cities are willing to entertain highly aggressive offers suggests to me that some city officials have a hard time drawing a line between a good deal and a bad one.
Why did nobody tell me that market-rate housing had become a NIMBY issue? Did I sleep this momentous event, just as I sawed a log through the Northridge earthquake? Here I am, bumbling through life as if nothing special is happening, while unbeknownst to me The Walt Disney Company is having one of its most creative moments since it released Dumbo.
The scene is a minor-league baseball stadium somewhere in the Inland Empire. The broadcasters are Ralph and Jim, a pair of middle-aged sportscasters, who are calling a Class-A game for local radio listeners.
Remember the frightening things your mother used to tell you in the name of safety when you were a child? If you went running around with scissors in your hand, you could put out an eye. Or if you went back into the swimming pool too quickly after eating, you could double up with cramps and drown.
The experiences of two developers — one a large-scale master plan developer and the other a smaller, apartment developer — are snapshots of the uneasy relationship between home building and environmental policy in North San Diego County at a time when newly minted environmental laws are racing to keep pace with rapid home building.
While it might be hard to convince some of my left-leaning brethren of the case, the forthcoming auction of El Toro will likely benefit the local community, the military and private business, in that order. The City of Irvine, not known to be a pushover on matters relating to the former Marine Corps base, seems just short of ecstatic about the arrangement.
"Your tax dollars at work!" proclaims a sign at the edge of the road, where a public works project is under construction. If we were to see this sign in Calimesa, a city in the San Gorgonio Pass area of western Riverside County, we might be forgiven for pausing and trying to parse its meaning.