Letter cites ‘crooked and backward path’ of casino project

As opponents publish detailed report, casino supporters organize letter drive

Letter cites ‘crooked  and backward path’  of casino projectBy BRIAN COSNER, News Review Staff Writer

“I feel like it is necessary to warn you about the crooked and backward path that [the casino] has taken to get to where it is today so that you can make an informed decision,” said former Councilmember Jim Sanders in a letter to James Cason, Department of the Interior’s associate deputy secretary.

When City Manager Ron Strand met with Cason earlier this month on behalf of the council’s support of the tribal municipal services agreement and land sale, he was preceded by letters from the community in opposition of the casino. One such letter came from Sanders, who served on council from 2012-2016.

“I don’t really have an interest in whether the casino comes to Ridgecrest since I have moved out of town. I do however still care for the community and have a great many friends that are still in Ridgecrest who struggle to have their voices heard and have to deal with the unjust process that has been used to pass it on a local level,” says the letter.

Sanders alleges that his efforts to have an economic assessment of casino impacts performed were “repeatedly blocked” when he tried to have items placed on council agendas.

“Staff and certain councilmembers wanted to delay it going to the public for as long as possible fearing that an opposition would build up against it,” he said. “On several occasions, Mayor Breeden and the city’s administrative staff repeatedly omitted my discussion items and proposals from the agenda, or outright refused to put it on the agenda in the first place...In short, the Mayor was able to delay getting my items on the agenda to be voted on long enough that the council considered the timing for that study to be too late in the hurried process of passing the MSA and land sale.”

Ridgecrest citizen and well-known casino opponent Mike Neel brought up Sanders’s letter during public comment at the most recent Ridgecrest City Council meeting. The letter is included in the “Ridgecrest Citizens Against the Casino” report (full report at noridgecrestcasino.com).

Breeden responded to some of the comments in a later interview.

“I don’t even know how I could have blocked his agenda items,” said Breeden, who said any councilmember could request an agenda item “within reason.”

“There was only one time I remembered,” she said. “He called me at home on a Saturday asking to have something placed on the agenda, I don’t even remember what it was but I think it had to do with the casino. But it wasn’t an emergency and it was after the agenda was posted so we didn’t include it.”

The mayor was asked why Sanders’s account of his exclusion was much more serious than that, Breeden only responded “that is the only incident I recall.”

The letter is also critical of former a former mayor’s potential involvement with the project.

“There were several details that didn’t come to light until later about the former mayor Dan Clark having had discussions and perhaps negotiations with the tribe long before without the rest of council’s knowledge,” he said. “To further add suspicion to the matter, Dan Clark’s wife was half owner of the land that was sold to the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe.”

Meanwhile, casino supporters have set up shop at the local Timbisha Shoshone office to collect and mail letters of support for the casino project. The “Ridgecrest CasiNOW!” letter-writing campaign aims to counter the letters of opposition received by Cason and the Department of the Interior.

Group volunteers clarified that they are not receiving any funds or materials from the tribe or developers, they are only using their office space. Leading the charge is local resident Scott Leahy, a firm supporter since the casino project was brought to the public’s attention in 2014.

“Local casino opponents – led by Lindsey Stephens and Wallace Martin – are working with Stand Up California, a lobbying group from Northern California, to stymie the Timbisha Shoshone casino project here in Ridgecrest,” said Leahy in a casino-advocacy group on social media.

“So now what they are doing is mounting a campaign to try to convince the Department of the Interior that everyone here in Ridgecrest opposes the Timbisha Casino. But I know this is just another lie, just like all their other lies. The truth is that they are simply fundamentalists opposed to gambling. Many of them are racists who do not think the Shoshone People are the sort of neighbors they want.”

Leahy said they don’t have an official figure for how many letters of support they’ve sent, but that he personally sent roughly 150 letters.

“Others are independently mailing theirs,” he said. “We will try to do a roll up of the combined effort next week.”

We are still waiting to hear the DOI’s decision on the land trust acquisition application. Additionally, Cason said the project still has to undergo a National Environmental Policy Act review.

Story First Published: 2018-04-27