Casino Birthing Pains

by Lou Binninger

Yuba County Supervisors voted to affirm the Estom Yumeka Maidu Tribe’s (Enterprise Rancheria) agreement with Olivehurst Public Utility District for Olivehurst Fire (OFD) to provide fire and medical services to the Tribe’s Class II gaming facility off Forty Mile Road between Olivehurst and Wheatland. Supervisors Gary Bradford, Doug Lofton and Mike Leahy voted for the agreement. Andy Vasquez opposed while Randy Fletcher was absent.

The agreement may appear legit and straight-forward but the Yuba County Supervisors and the Rancheria wrangling continues to be complicated. The move to shoehorn the Butte County Tribe into a Yuba County “reservation” took both groups deceiving voters and using money and legal maneuvers to skirt laws against reservation shopping.

In fact, Yuba County voters are still confused as to how they voted three times to reject the casino and reservation shopping and still got a sovereign Tribal Nation residing in South Yuba County. The current 5 Supervisors had nothing to do with bringing the Tribe here but former Supervisor Mary Jane Griego who is now an Olivehurst Public Utility District (OPUD) Director has been a key proponent for the Tribe.

The 2002 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Tribe and the County specified that the Tribe make an agreement for fire and emergency medical services with Plumas-Brophy Fire (now called Wheatland Fire Authority WFA), choose another fire department in the county or make private fire protection arrangements.

Since 2002, the Tribe has been conversing with and reviewing proposals from WFA. The Tribe’s 40 acres are in WFA’s jurisdiction or service area and the property is currently served by that agency.

Written communications between the Tribe and WFA acknowledged this fact until about 9-months ago when Tribal communications ceased with WFA. Supervisors say WFA did not have the equipment necessary to serve the casino.

Now, OPUD says they have been in discussions with the Tribe for years about serving the casino. County Supervisors contend their board has no say as to whom the Tribe chooses to serve them.

What’s going on? Maybe the Tribe is fire service shopping for the best price since it doesn’t have to follow the same rules as the Toyota Amphitheater next door. Is there anything wrong with that? Not according to the MOU or when the consumer is a sovereign nation.

Will OPUD be able to nullify Public Utility Commission (PUC) codes and LAFCo (Local Agency Formation Commission) principles that outline public service areas? Following standard procedures would point to WFA as the serving agency but again this is a sovereign nation and Supervisors Mary Jane Griego, Bill Simmons and Al Amaro voted in 2002 to approve an MOU giving the Tribe a wide berth to do their business as they wish in Yuba County.

(In 1963, due to post WW II explosive and often chaotic growth, the legislature created LAFCos in every county to prevent the misuse of resources, overlapping of jurisdictions, urban sprawl, preserve ag land and open spaces and ensure the orderly formation of government agencies.)

If OFD serves the Fire Mountain Casino they would have to leave their Olivehurst station 3.6 – 4.9 miles away depending on the route taken and travel into the WFA jurisdiction. WFA would continue to respond to everything surrounding the casino, including the Toyota Amphitheatre next door.

Supervisors say if the Tribe’s fire and emergency medical funding were split evenly between Linda Fire Department (LFD), OFD and WFD then all would benefit since all will experience impacts from the casino traffic and the operation itself.

OPUD / OFD say they have been in discussions with LFD to merge the two fire agencies. If that occurred then the closest fire crew to the casino would be LFD’s Plumas Lake Station. The subject of a regional fire agency merging more departments has also surfaced again.

Sutter County has Yuba City Fire and then a Sutter County Fire Department with 7 stations that cover most of the remainder of the county. In 2001, the Walton Fire Department merger with Yuba City Fire was politically nasty, but it eventually worked out. Yuba County has many separate fire agencies with one or two stations each, all with their own boards and chiefs.

With the Tribe wanting to start construction next month this should get interesting. Will it be OFD, WFD, a regional approach or a private entity serving the casino? Knowing government, creating a Yuba County regional fire agency would take years.

Will the Tribe’s action get the fire agencies into court against one another? Lawyers are already exchanging letters. With existing casinos costing communities $3 for every $1 of income a good court fight will put taxpayers in the red before the first bingo game is called.

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