According to an email from resident Mike Neel to the Daily Independent, the Ridgecrest City Clerk's office and other media outlets, Neel, Ricky Fielding and Stand Up for California! have issued a formal challenge through attorneys Holch & Erickson, LLP to the Secretary of the Department of the Interior. The challenge asks that the Jan. 19, 2017 memorandum of agreement between the Timbisha Shoshone tribe and the DOI be withdrawn and reinstated as an off-reservation discretionary trust application.
In the email, Neel also requested that City Clerk Ricca Charlon distribute the challenge to city staff and council members “as soon as possible.”
The document, dated Feb. 4, states “via Federal Express” at the top. It is from Niels Holch and addressed to Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. The document requests Zinke to “review, reconsider, and withdraw” from the January 2017 MOA with the tribe.
The document challenges the legitimacy of the MOA on at least two grounds: that the MOA is not in compliance with the Timbisha Shoshone Homeland Act of 2000 and that then-Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Lawrence Roberts was not properly authorized by the Secretary of the Interior to execute the MOA.
The document claims not to object to gaming but rather to circumventing regulatory practices, stating that “the citizens understand and respect the Tribe's goal to seek economic independence and self-determination for its government and its membership.” It further states that “Stand Up and the citizens are not opposed to gaming on eligible Indian lands, they are opposed to any effort to circumvent applicable regulatory processes.”
Despite this language, according to its website Stand Up for California! actively lobbies against “bills that expand the scope and intensity of gambling without comprehensive regulation.” The group's website welcome statement also includes the phrase “Californians are not potted plants in Indian casino negotiations.”
Mike Neel, meanwhile, has a long history of questioning and opposing the casino project prior to the Jan. 17, 2017, MOA regarding the land acquisition process.
Neel submitted a Public Records Act request on April 25, 2016, seeking all communication between representatives of the city, the tribe, the developer Nigel White or the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
His email requesting the information was one of the 720 finally released to him Aug. 29, 2016.
In September 2016, Neel alleged the Ridgecrest City Council violated the Brown Act by improperly noticing closed session discussions relating to the land sale to developers for the Timbisha Shoshone tribe for the casino complex. Neel served a letter to council on Sept. 8, 2016, demanding they withdraw the land sale agreement or he would take further legal action.
City Attorney Keith Lemieux admitted that the items were improperly agendized, but claimed that the omission was a typographical error and not deliberate. Lemieux said the practice would be corrected going forward.
More recently, Neel has also repeatedly spoken out about the possibility of the tribe growing cannabis on the site, despite repeated statements from Tribal Chair George Gholson and developer Nigel White that the tribe has absolutely no intention of doing so.
Neel spoke to the Daily Independent on Tuesday by phone. He said he does not object to the right of the tribe to make a living, but does object to the general procedures he says usually govern the operations of casinos.
“I have a problem with the basic operations of all casinos,” he said. “Particularly the ones with slot machines. They are computer programmed to draw in the player and addict them. Particularly older people.”
In a phone interview with the Daily Independent Tuesday, Gholson characterized Stand Up California! as anti-Indian gaming and said they are sometimes paid by competing tribes or Wall Street money to go after Indian casinos.
“It's sad someone from another city can come in and stop a casino,” he said. “I wonder what the voters think about an outside entity taking away jobs and money from the city?”
Mayor Peggy Breeden had no comment on the document.
The casino will also be an issue at the Ridgecrest City Council meeting tonight. Council will discuss a request from the Timbisha Shoshone tribe for Breeden to travel to Washington DC to meet with the Director of the Interior in support of the casino project in Ridgecrest. The item appears to be unrelated to the filing by Neel, Fielding and Stand Up for California!
The meeting will be held Wednesday, March 7 at 6 p.m., at City Council Chambers at City Hall, 100 W. California Ave in Ridgecrest. It will also be broadcast on Mediacom Channel 6 and streamed online at www.ridgecrest-ca.gov/city-media/rc6-live.