Agran on the Warpath

Indians are the new bogeyman in the war against an already defeated airport

An Indian group seeking land in Irvine would have to be a federally recognized tribe. The Orange County-based Juañeno Band of Mission Indians is not a recognized tribe, but is on the "Ready List" according to a federal document posted on the Juañeno website. A final determination won't be issued until at least March 2007, according to the document. The Mesa Grande Band is a federally recognized tribe.

A tribe seeking to build an Irvine casino would have to somehow first obtain the land, then convince the federal government to accept the land in trust. If the tribe is declared "impoverished" by the federal government, then it would have to acquire the land on behalf of the tribe. The likely sellers would be the city itself, a private developer such as The Irvine Co. or Lennar, or the federal government.

The Federal Aviation Administration owns about 900 acres of the 4,700 acres that was once the El Toro Marine base. The rest is in the hands of the City of Irvine for the Great Park project, and Lennar to build the adjacent Heritage Fields residential/commercial development.

According to FAA Media Relations Manager Donn Walker, 200 acres of their land is used by the FAA for navigation and communication equipment. The remaining 700 acres is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a home to several endangered species and therefore designated as a wildlife habitat.

Walker said that Gentry met with the FAA on Sept. 22 to inquire about land for her Indian cultural center, but was told the FAA has no intention of releasing their land. It would take an act of Congress and a presidential signature to force the FAA to do so.

Gentry was accompanied by Tom and Cynthia Coad. El Toro Airport watchers will recall that Ms. Coad was a north county supervisor who was one of the leaders in the pro-airport movement, along with her husband. Conspiracy theorists have leaped to the conclusion that this was some sort of desperate effort by the Coads to resurrect the airport. But this defies logic: if the Indians could claim land that would stop a Great Park, they could just as easily stop a commercial airport.

Indeed, any Indian claims to land sound much more innocent. In recent years, Juañenos leaders have only tried to protect sacred sites that stand in the way of developers' earth movers. And the Garden Grove official familiar with Gentry said her presentation to the FAA sounded similar to the Indian educational center she proposed to their city back in 2003.

Gentry did not return a message seeking comment.

Agran's depiction of "salivating" and "relentless" Indian tribal gaming interests -- a threat that could pay dividends when it comes to raising money for future city elections and the Great Park political machine -- may still come as a shock to longtime Agran observers. Agran used to be a friend of Indian tribes. During his 1992 presidential campaign, Agran called for the next president to come to the Midwest with his Secretary of State and negotiate a binding treaty with Indian tribes to resolve disputes over sovereignty, land, and mineral rights. He also called for the president to apologize to the tribes for mistreatment over the centuries.

The new Agran Doctrine demands hard-nosed opposition to any claim by an Indian tribe for land that "could" become a casino one day. Without apology.

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