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California and the West

Governor Vetoes 2 Bills Benefiting Tribes

Legislation: One would have blocked a dump near Indian land. The other would have improved road access to a planned casino.


SACRAMENTO — Dealing blows to Indian tribes in two different regions of the state, Gov. Gray Davis on Tuesday vetoed one bill that would have blocked a dump near tribal land in San Diego and another that would have allowed an overpass leading to a planned Indian casino west of Lake Tahoe.

Davis also vetoed legislation that would have expanded gambling at tribal casinos' competition--card clubs. The bill would have permitted card rooms to offer blackjack, a game now authorized only at Indian casinos.

Davis negotiated landmark agreements with California's tribes last year granting them lucrative monopoly rights to Nevada-style casinos in California. Since then, Davis has taken a dim view of several bills that would have directly benefited tribes.

With the growth of gambling in California, the Capitol increasingly is the scene of major fights over casinos. Tribes have been the largest donors in state politics since 1998, spending more than $110 million on initiatives and other campaigns. Card clubs, though contributing far smaller sums, also are significant donors to legislative races.

The Legislature approved several gambling measures in the closing days of the session last month. In most cases, lawmakers carrying the bills bypassed the normal committee hearing process. And the legislators who carried the two major bills aimed at benefiting tribes come from districts far removed from the centers of controversy.

Dealing with perhaps the highest-profile measure, Davis vetoed legislation pushed by Assemblyman Dennis Cardoza (D-Merced) that would have blocked a dump from being opened in north San Diego County at the base of a mountain that several San Diego-area tribes view as sacred.

Backers of the Gregory Canyon Landfill countered that the tribes are opposing the dump, approved locally six years ago, because it would be near current and planned casinos.

The Pala Band of Mission Indians plan to open a $100-million casino financed by a Las Vegas corporation a few miles from where the dump is planned. However, Stan McGarr, secretary of the Palas, has pointed out that the tribe opposed the dump on religious and other grounds years before tribes won the right to open casinos.

In his veto message on AB 2752, Davis said that although he is "sensitive" to issues raised by tribes, he also is "sensitive to the fact that San Diego County voters approved the siting of the landfill" by a 68%-32% margin in 1994 and that the measure was upheld by trial and appellate courts.

"I'm devastated," said McGarr, whose reservation is closest to the proposed landfill. "If it was next to his church, I don't think he would have vetoed the bill."

A second bill was more directly aimed at boosting a tribe's planned gambling operation. The measure, AB 1066 by Assemblyman Tony Cardenas (D-Sylmar), would have required that Caltrans negotiate with a small band of Indians in Shingle Springs, on the road between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe, to build a highway ramp serving their planned casino.

The Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians had planned to pay for construction. Lawmakers from the area opposed the legislation. But Cardenas' bill passed the Assembly 68 to 1 and the Senate 22 to 6.

Residents of the rural area have been battling the proposed casino for years.

In his veto message, Davis said that the bill was quickly amended and that he dislikes such maneuvers taken "during the waning hours of the legislative session without the benefit of public input."

"Furthermore," Davis said, "while the contractual arrangement specified in this bill may have merit, I believe it is imperative that the greater community be given the opportunity to participate in the issues surrounding the proposed highway improvements."

The blackjack bill Davis rejected, AB 317 by Assemblyman Dick Floyd (D-Wilmington), had created a stir in the hectic final days of the legislative session. Many lawmakers said that only after they had voted for it did they realize it would lift California's 115-year ban on blackjack.

Republicans moved to rescind the decision. Democrats, expecting it to be vetoed, argued that the passage should stand, and used the occasion to preach that their colleagues should pay closer attention before casting votes.

In his veto message, Davis noted that a 1999 California Supreme Court decision found that Nevada-style gambling games such as blackjack are unconstitutional in California--although the compacts that Davis signed with tribes last September and that voters ratified in March specifically grant tribes exclusive rights to such casinos.

"Legislation cannot properly authorize card clubs to offer this game legally," the message stated. "Even if I supported this policy, which I do not . . . a constitutional amendment approved by the voters would be required."

In other action Tuesday, Davis signed legislation requiring that police officers in California receive expanded diversity training as an alternative to collecting racial data on the drivers they stop.

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