Agran on the Warpath

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

Photo by Matt CokerWith all the cultural sensitivity of a John Ford western, Irvine City Council members Larry Agran and Beth Krom appear intent on resurrecting the 19th century doctrine of Manifest Destiny.

It began with a Sept. 27 council agenda item titled, "Citywide Restrictions on Commercial Gambling." Mayor Krom declared her intent to "create an anti-gambling ordinance for the City of Irvine," apparently clueless that such an ordinance has existed since 1972. After Councilwoman Christina Shea read it aloud, a bewildered Krom asked, "Is this in our existing code?!"

Indeed it is, and it already prohibits any gaming interest from operating a casino or card club within Irvine.

With Krom flailing on the hook of a 33-year old law, Councilman Agran came to the rescue by invoking the specter of a Redskin Menace.
Agran creates red menace.
Photo by Jack Gould

 

"The Indian gaming interests, which started in the remote areas of the state, are salivating at the opportunity to bring large-scale, commercial gambling into the highly populated areas," Agran claimed. "We have to have a strategy to deal with tribal claims in Washington, D.C. We have to have a strategy to deal with claims and negotiations for compacts that may be coming by way of Sacramento. The Indian gaming interests are hard at work in Sacramento all the time."

Agran directed city staff to report "whether it's advisable for us, in the next 30 to 60 days, to be in Washington with representation opposing any Indian tribal claims that could give rise to commercial gambling here in Irvine. If there's a pending claim, we need to get on top of it right away."

Call it the Agran Doctrine.

The Agran Doctrine hinges on the word "could." There's no way of knowing what the land use "could" be one day, so Agran apparently intends to avoid the whole problem by simply opposing any tribal claims for land.

Agran's gambling bogeyman first appeared in the 2004 municipal election. The Agran slate falsely charged that Mike Ward, Krom's opponent for mayor, supported bringing racetrack gambling to Irvine. Agran repeated the baseless charge at the Sept. 27 council meeting.

This was just one of many facts they got wrong.

Agran and Krom cited the City of Garden Grove as the target of Indian gambling interests, but that also turned out to be untrue. According to a Garden Grove city official, in April 2003 a representative from the Southern California Indian Center, Dr. Jane Gentry, approached the city seeking land for an Indian cultural center. The city declined, but included Gentry months later as part of a city-inspired idea to build a resort-casino. Gentry introduced city leaders to the San Diego-based Mesa Grande Band of Mission Indians, but they didn't have the resources to build or operate a resort. So Garden Grove sought out Las Vegas mogul Steve Wynn as an investor for their project. Neither Gentry nor the Indians had any connection with Wynn. The discussions ended in August 2004 when county supervisor Chris Norby exposed the negotiations, which were conducted under a confidentiality agreement between Wynn and Garden Grove.


Krom rests her forked tongue.
Photo by Jack Gould

 

Krom claimed that the Garden Grove City Council then enacted an anti-gambling ordinance. Wrong again. The council simply directed staff to cease discussions with any casino interest. They lifted that restriction last Aug. 30, voting 3-2 to permit staff to "hold meetings pertaining to a world class destination resort and gaming complex in Garden Grove."

Agran alleged, "There are Indian tribes seeking to establish certain claims to tribal lands in the City of Irvine and throughout Orange County. We see what's going on in Garden Grove. This is a relentless effort on the part of gaming interests to prevail."

But no one has contacted Garden Grove since the restriction was lifted, either "salivating" Indian tribes or "relentless" gaming interests.

Shawn Pensoneau, the director of Congressional and Public Affairs for the National Indian Gaming Commission, said they're not aware of any such claims in Orange County. Further, the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act makes it very difficult for tribes to establish a claim for casino gambling in an urban area. The Act requires the Secretary of the Interior take into consideration the impact of any such proposal on local communities. The federal government would have to accept the land in trust. The tribe would also have to negotiate a compact with the State of California.

The 1988 act requires any net revenues from Indian gaming be used to fund essential tribal services such as education, health care, law enforcement and fire protection, water and sewer services, and elderly and child care, according to a NIGC press release.

Krom claimed that, "There are precedents for lands being dedicated for one use by the Indians and then made available for other uses," implying that a forked-tongue Indian tribe might obtain the land under false pretenses and convert it to casino use. Pensoneau said that while Indian lands in federal trust have been converted to other uses, this could not happen with a casino unless the tribe went through the same difficult approval process that requires consideration of local communities and a State compact.

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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