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July 28, 2005

The Weekly Wrap

Big Lagoon Rancheria's casino dream awakens


The Weekly Wrap

MINIMUM FUSS: Attention, everyone. No, not you, little sparrow, hopping around on the floor nibbling up muffin crumbs -- you don't have credit nor, we expect, debit. But all of you others, the ones with plastic: If it's a Discover card, then a business does in fact have the go-ahead to require a minimum purchase charge before you can collect your goodies. That's the latest crumb to spill from the "Credit card commotion" we reported on last week. However, some credit card companies -- VISA and MasterCard -- do indeed forbid businesses to require minimums on purchases. That means you, delicious new pizza joint down by the ballpark with your "$5 minimum purchase on credit card" sign still posted at the counter; and you, tasty pit-stop inside the cheerful market, where an employee was overheard earlier this week telling a customer she had to spend at least $3 to use her credit card ("You can require a minimum purchase price," she told a nosy bystander when called on it, "it just depends on where you got your [credit] machine." Huh?); and any others trying to push a minimum onto unsuspecting customers. American Express doesn't exactly encourage a minimum charge, either, but leaves it to interpretation -- as in, if a business takes VISA and MasterCard, and therefore can't demand a minimum purchase of those cardholders, then the business darned well better not require an American Express card holder to meet a minimum. That's discrimination. But if a business only takes American Express, and maybe the minimum-encouraging Discover card, why, then, it's O.K., albeit not smiled upon. Confused? Here's some advice: Go to the ATM before the coffee house/pizza place/muffin stop, and save yourself a penny-pincher's headache and local businesses some precious coin (because it costs them to process your plastic). Also, check out the helpful site, which is where we flew in for a nibble.

THOMPSON BIG DEM DONOR: It's apparently been a busy few weeks for Rep. Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena). Last week he joined the failed revolt against the reauthorization of the Patriot Act; on Monday, he joined an overwhelming majority of his colleagues in scolding Rockstar Games, maker of the smash hit video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, for its gleefully pornographic game play. But it seems Thompson has been busier in the corridors of Capitol Hill than on the floor. On Tuesday, The Hill, a newspaper aimed at D.C. insiders, reported that Thompson has raised around $2 million for an initiative to help defend Democratic congressional seats in the upcoming 2006 elections, more than any other member of the Democratic caucus. The intiative, which The Hill reported was code-named "Frontline," will focus on seats currently held by Democrats that party leaders deem to be most at risk of falling to Republican challengers. A related program, "Red-to-Blue," will send resources to Democratic challengers that may have a chance at stealing a seat from the Republicans.

BORDER BLOCK: Andy Lundberg of the Redwood Peace and Justice Center sent out a distress signal last week from the Hidalgo/Reynosa border crossing between Texas and Mexico. He said he and the rest of the Pastors for Peace Caravan, en route to Cuba "to deliver 150 tons of humanitarian aid to hurricane victims and people with special needs," were being held at the border by U.S. Customs officials. "We are calling attention to this unjust blockade by the U.S. Government of a peaceful country," Lundberg wrote in his e-mail. "At this point in time the Commerce Department, in line with Homeland Security, has threatened to confiscate ALL of our aid and detain the members of the caravan." Lundberg urged recipients of his e-mail to "flood" the commerce department's phone line and to call their local representatives. On Friday, another e-mail came in, this time from fellow caravaner Taleigh Smith, who announced "a huge victory" for the caravan: Customs officials had allowed "a tired but excited group of 130 U.S. citizens" to cross into Mexico "just before daybreak" with all of the "non-contested aid" (which they had consolidated in several buses). That left one bus, loaded with all of the computer and technical gear, still hung up at the border. On Saturday, Smith sent this update: "[T]he gov't has done it again -- they held the 16th caravan at the border for over 20 hours as they seized computer and technical equipment and threatened to `storm' the vehicles and remove everything -- even the caravanista's personal gear." Smith also urged people to contact their representatives, and to phone up Michael D. Turner, director of the Office of Export Enforcement in the Commerce Department (202-482-5036) and "demand that the computers be allowed to go to Cuba."

HCAR TURNS 50: In 1955 it started as a small, local group of parents who wanted their developmentally disabled children to have a chance to go to school, rather than face institutionalization -- a common fate for the mentally challenged at the time. Fifty years later, the Humboldt Community Access and Resource Center, or HCAR, has grown to serve more than 500 disabled people, from children to seniors. On Saturday, July 30, the nonprofit celebrates a half-century of work at a banquet and auction at the Samoa Cookhouse. Humboldt State President Rollin Richmond presents a keynote address and the Outstanding Bills barbershop quartet performs. Silent auction at 6 p.m., dinner at 6:30 p.m. Auction items include picture frames from Swanlund's Camera, a Carhartt jacket from Picky Picky Picky, stained glass, quilts and gift certificates. Call for reservations by Friday. $10. 443-7077.

ADA TURNS 15: The party for people with disabilities got an early jump this week with the 15th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. On Tuesday, July 26, which marks a sort of Independence Day for disabled Americans, Tri-County Independent Living sponsored a workshop entitled "Taking the ADA to the Next Level" to help businesses avoid litigation for non-compliance with federal rules. Kevin O'Keefe, Outreach and Resource Development Coordinator for Tri-County Independent Living, said that the organization's aim is to reach out to businesses that must make modifications for disabled accessibility so they never have to face a lawsuit. The ADA was signed by George Bush Sr. in 1990. Many area businesses still have not met ADA accessibility standards and a number have been sued in the past.

RUN FOR SCHOOL BOARD: Aspiring school board members have until August 12 to turn in their candidacy papers. Since the filing period opened on July 18, 36 people have submitted applications, according to the Humboldt County Elections office. More than 100 seats are available for the Nov. 8 election. Historically, school board races have not been much of a contest. That's why eyebrows were raised in 2003, when a scuffle over seats on the Northern Humboldt Unified School District board came to pass when conservative and liberal contenders clashed over how Arcata High School should carry out sex ed in the school. Perhaps the politicized trend will continue in 2005. A resource page for candidates is available at the Humboldt County Office of Education website at Also, a Eureka political action committee Local Solutions is has offered to help progressive candidates make bids for public office. Visit for information.

WORD NERDS: This weekend, 30 competitors holed up in the Hotel Arcata for two grueling days will apply special meaning to that favorite parental advisory: "Use your words, darling." They're the contestants in Arcata's first-ever open Scrabble® tournament, hosted by local scrabblers Terry Marlow and Rich Baker, who also are co-directors of the McKinleyville Scrabble® Club (which meets every Sunday night at 6 at the McKinleyville Senior Center). The tournament is sanctioned by the National Scrabble® Association and will see the likes of Jerry Lerman, of Foster City and second-highest ranked player in California, getting all smartyboots with folks like Baker, of Humboldt County, who happens to be one of the nation's top 30 players. Should be some nasty alphabetizing going on up in the old hotel. Also to be hoped for is some action among the novice players, maybe some is-that-a-word tiffs that crumble into weak fisticuffs or something. Nah, just kidding. Jeez. The thing is, Scrabble® is not for wimps. You gotta train. Marlow, no slouch of a player himself, says some people hit the word lists, starting with memorizing the two- and three-letter words as novices and then getting all heavy with the four-letter words (which must come in handy under pressure). "But, I'd say our local club members just train by playing in the club," Marlow says. You also have to keep up your energy, because in tourneys like this you're pulling some serious tick-tock at the board -- about eight hours on Saturday and five hours on Sunday plus some "informal games" afterwards to, uh, wind down. What's a Scrabble®-battle power food? "I'm a trail mix kinda guy, myself," says Marlow. Play starts at 9 a.m. both days. Registration has closed, but you're free to come watch and to join in the after-tourney games on Sunday afternoon.

NO DESSERT EVER AGAIN: The Arcata Educational Farm suffered around $5,000 in damages during a bizarre series of vandalism incidents last week. Farm Manager Kevin Cunningham said two local boys -- a 9- and 10-year-old -- broke nearly all of the dishes in the farm's outdoor kitchen, littered the farm with food, dumped paints and gasoline from a storage area and overturned every flat of seedlings in the greenhouse Monday and Tuesday nights. A shareholder of the farm, which provides members weekly with fresh, seasonal organic vegetables, herbs and flowers, caught the boys at about 8:30 p.m. Tuesday night while picking up a share, Cunningham said. The boys fled, but police apprehended them when they returned for their bicycles. While the farm will not cancel its season, the damage has taken its toll. "It's going to set us back severely on several of our fall crops," Cunningham said. "It's a big setback, but it's not going to ruin our season." The Arcata Police Department said the vandals would likely be placed in a juvenile diversion program. To donate or otherwise help the farm, call 825-1777.

THE CHP'S BITCHIN' CAMARO: Seen from a rear view mirror, the shape of a Ford Crown Victoria, a typical cop car, has undoubtedly made the knuckles of countless motorists pale and summoned pulse-quickening attacks of paranoia. The foreboding familiarity of those rectangular headlights, the hefty, oblong side mirrors and that humdrum four-door contour tells us, "Slow down; use your blinker; put on your seatbelt; stay cool." So naturally, some North Coasters were a little freaked when they finally realized that the vehicle creeping behind them wasn't any hooptie, but a California Highway Patrol car disguised as a Camaro. If you spot this car, don't bug out -- the officer is probably just on his way to the Humboldt County Fair to make friends. For the past couple of weeks, the CHP has been driving a Chevy Camaro, painted like a traditional cop car, to local parades and auto shows so folks can check out their ride. "It's something different. It gets people asking questions," said CHP Public Affairs Officer Paul Dahlen. "They see how friendly we are so they start asking us law questions and they get a better feel for the Highway Patrol" See, they're not so scary. The cruiser is shared by other counties in Northern California. Earlier this week it was taken to Crescent City for a festival. It'll come back for most of the month of August before returning to its permanent home in Redding.

CORRECTIONS: Last week's cover story, "Divided Land," mistakenly used an obsolete name to refer to a county-wide coalition of real estate professionals. In fact, the Humboldt Association of Realtors stopped calling itself the "Humboldt County Board of Realtors" a few years ago. [The online version has been corrected.] Also, a representative from the Jitter Bean Coffee Co. called to inform us that contrary to what we reported in last week's "Credit card commotion" story, the sign at the front of its Arcata store that reads "Three dollar minimum, please" is, in fact, a request, not a demand. [The online version has been revised.] The Journal regrets the errors.

Big Lagoon Rancheria's casino dream awakens


For 10 years the Big Lagoon Rancheria has battled with the state of California over the tribe's plans to build a casino at Big Lagoon. The main sticking point has been the state's contention that a casino at Big Lagoon would be an environmentally unsound endeavor, given that the lagoon is an ecological preserve and home to three species listed under the federal Endangered Species Act. The tribe disagrees with the state's assessment, and in 1999 sued the state for "bad faith" negotiating. Under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the state is required to negotiate a compact with a tribe seeking to build a casino, said rancheria Chairperson Virgil Moorehead Monday at his office in the Hotel Arcata. [photo below right]

[Virgil Moorehead]But now it looks as if the lawsuit could go away and the rancheria might get to build its casino -- 700 miles south, in the desert town of Barstow. But don't cry for the rancheria. The deal, which would be part of a settlement agreement in which the tribe agrees to not build anything commercial on its Big Lagoon tribal lands, could yield profits for the 18 family members of the rancheria that are far above those anticipated from the original Big Lagoon project. After all, 60 million people a year drive through Barstow, many already primed for gambling as they travel I-15 to Las Vegas.

"So we're pleased about the potential of the market," said Moorehead, whose tribe also owns the Hotel Arcata. He said the proposed casino at Big Lagoon would have cost up to $14 million to build. The tribe's Barstow hotel-casino, if approved and all steps proceed smoothly, is expected to be nearly four times bigger and cost up to $85 million to construct. "Sure, I'd prefer to stay home. We're from Humboldt County and we're not leaving Humboldt County. But it's just a business transaction."

The transaction came about circuitously, and involves an unprecedented partnership with another tribe, the Los Coyotes Band of Mission Indians from San Diego County. They will be the first tribes to build off-reservation casinos in California. Both tribes are working with the city of Barstow, which courted the project, and the investment firm BarWest Gaming LLC (run by Marian Ilitch of Michigan, owner of the Little Caesars pizza enterprise and the Detroit Redwings hockey team). Tom Shields, BarWest Gaming spokesperson, said the city of Barstow and BarWest started talking with the Los Coyotes band in 2002, during Gov. Gray Davis' administration. Then Davis ended up in a recall and lost. Enter Arnold Schwarzenegger.

On May 18, 2005, Schwarzenegger made a proclamation governing off-reservation casinos. Among the mandates: Off-reservation casinos can't be built in urban areas, and an off-reservation casino has to be beneficial to the state, tribe and community in which it's to be built. "Los Coyotes has virtually no income, and [its] land in San Diego County is unbuildable," said Shields. The band's reservation is remote, with no paved roads, he said, and "only got electricity 10 years ago. And there's no traffic. So it was really sort of a perfect match."

The state also saw a chance to solve Big Lagoon's casino dilemma with the governor's new policy. "The Schwarzenegger administration asked us if we would sit down and talk with BarWest and Los Coyotes," said Moorehead.

On July 18, the tribes and BarWest presented a plan to the Barstow City Council: The Los Coyotes Band and Big Lagoon Rancheria will each build a hotel-casino on 47 acres which they'll split and have placed into trust as reservation lands. Each hotel-casino will have 100 rooms, a restaurant, food court, coffee shop, entertainment lounge, pool and spa, and 50,000 square feet of gambling space each (for a total of 2,546 slot machines, 48 table games and 20 poker tables combined). On an adjacent 60 acres they'll build an RV park, truck parking and possibly an entertainment complex. The project will be designed by Joel Bergman, who designed casino magnate Steve Wynn's Mirage and Treasure Island resorts in Las Vegas. Shields said BarWest will bring in casino management experts to get the project rolling, and after seven years the investment company will turn the operation over to the tribes. They'll manage their properties separately but they'll be known collectively in Las Vegas-ese as "The Barstow Casinos and Resort: one extraordinary resort, two exciting casinos." The projects are expected to provide 1,500 jobs, plus about a thousand more "spinoff" jobs in the community, some related to construction.

"This is truly a one-of-a-kind proposal," said Shields. "There'll be revenues for the tribes and revenues for the city, and, from the state's standpoint, you end up with one location instead of two."

City of Barstow spokesperson John Rader * said the project is expected to bring in $200 million a year, and is going to make the 18 Big Lagoon Rancheria members and the roughly 300* Los Coyotes band members "instant millionaires." The city of Barstow (pop. 23,000) could get $6.5 million a year in direct revenues from the two tribes, through municipal services agreements in which the tribes agree to fund a slew of programs to alleviate impacts to the community from the gambling establishments. *[Corrected on Aug. 4 from the print edition.]

Rader said the city considers the project a lifeline thrown to the 33 percent of its residents who rely on some form of government assistance. He said the potential for harm to residents caused by having a casino in their backyard -- gambling addiction, debt, crime, etc. -- pales next to the potential for good. The casino-hotel complex could generate jobs that don't require college degrees and with salaries averaging $30,000 plus health and retirement benefits, he said.

"The basic philosophy is, Barstow already has a significant number of people on drugs, or with alcohol addiction, or subject to spousal abuse -- we already have that," Rader said. "And all that's generated by poverty. If we can get them back into financial security and basically feeling good about themselves, the benefits of the casinos would far outweigh the detriments."

The project isn't a done deal, though. Los Coyotes has a compact, but the governor still has to sign Big Lagoon's compact -- Moorehead said that could happen "any day." The Legislature has to approve it, then the Department of Interior has to approve the tribes' application to take the Barstow land into trust as reservation lands. And then there's the matter of a third tribe, the somewhat dissed Chemehuevi of San Bernardino County, which actually had this whole Barstow casino idea long before Los Coyotes and Big Lagoon entered the picture. Rader said the Chemehuevi -- who can point to ancestral connections to the Barstow area, unlike the other two tribes -- "didn't get the investors" and "didn't make themselves known" to new people on the City Council. The council has since agreed to work with the Chemehuevi, but in the meantime Chemehuevi supporters have circulated a petition to get an initiative on the fall ballot asking voters to support a casino in Barstow -- but only on land owned by the Chemehuevi and only run by "a tribe from San Bernardino County."

"So, it's not entirely honest," Rader said. And if it passes? Wouldn't that throw a monkey wrench in the Los Coyotes/Big Lagoon plans? Hard to say, said Rader, although he suspects a state compact and federal approval for the Los Coyotes/Big Lagoon project might trump a local vote. Still, the whole deal "could be tied up in courts."

Moorehead said he's not worried about the Chemehuevi-centric initiative.

"The Chemehuevi don't have a compact [for Barstow] and they've never negotiated with the governor," he said. [Corrected on Aug. 4 from the print edition.]


MAY 1996: COVER STORY: "Gamble on Big Lagoon"

[For more history of Big Lagoon Rancheria's casino plans,
search "Big lagoon" casino and choose "Find ALL words"]


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