Senator Diane Feinstein has gone on record as being opposed to the Twentynine Palms Band of Mission Indians’ proposal to establish a casino in Joshua Tree.
The Twentynine Palms Tribe’s members abandoned previous plans to develop what they hoped to call the Nüwü Casino on 160 acres of tribal land on their reservation south of Baseline Road and west of Adobe Road bordering Joshua Tree National Park in Twentynine Palms in favor of a 130-acre parcel on the north side of Twentynine Palms Highway west of White Feather Road east of downtown Joshua Tree and just east of Desert View Homes’ metal dinosaurs.
Both proposals called or call for a complex with spacious gaming rooms, a buffet, banquet room, shops, bowling lanes, an outdoor amphitheater, RV park, golf course and other resort-oriented improvements.
But the proximity of the Twentynine Palms Marine Corps base and its 8,400 plus service members and dependents, which tribal officials considered a factor that would favor the casino’s success, incited strong resistance from the Department of Defense. When the National Park Service and Twentynine Palms residents registered their opposition, the tribe, led by Darrel Mike, substituted the Joshua Tree site, which is roughly 23 miles away from the reservation.
The 130-acres in Joshua Tree does not lie on what is recognized as the tribe’s ancestral land. To establish an Indian gaming facility there would require filing an application with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to place the land in a public trust. In getting that blessing, the tribe will need to transfer its right from its tribal property to the new site and make a case that the tribe had ancestral roots in the Joshua Tree area, where it had an historical relationship to the property in question by virtue of aboriginal activity, which included hunting, foraging and trading, in particular. This will likely entail an anthropological study to demonstrate the tribe’s ancestors ranged into Joshua Tree.
But even before that filing has been made, the Joshua Tree proposal has met local opposition. Far more Joshua Tree residents oppose the proposal than favor it. Among those opponents is Mark Butler, the superintendent at Joshua Tree National Park, and David Fick, a member of the Joshua Tree Municipal Advisory Council who is a member of the Morongo Basin Conservation Association and a political ally of San Bernardino County Third District Supervisor Neil Derry. Derry to is opposed to the casino locating in Joshua Tree.
That array of opponents was joined this month by the senior senator from California.
On November 10 Feinstein penned a letter to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar registering her opposition to a proposed casino in Joshua Tree. “Placing a casino less than a mile from the (Joshua Tree National) park’s visitor center and park wilderness will forever change the nature of the desert treasure,” she told Salazar in the letter. Feinstein noted Butler’s opposition to the proposed casino being sited so close to the park. She said park officials had expressed concern a high intensity use such as a casino at that location “would impair the Park Service’s ability to preserve natural resources, cause significant noise and light pollution, obstruct scenic viewsheds and adversely impact the desert tortoise population within the park.”
Moreover, Feinstein in the letter to Salazar cited the overwhelming opposition to the casino by Joshua Tree residents, and she said their consensus included a “wide array of concerns about the impacts on regional tourism, crime, poverty, alcoholism and gambling addiction.”
Meanwhile, tribal leader Mike and the band’s chief financial officer, Steve Gralla, insist their proposal makes sense not just to the tribe but to the community as well.
They said local opposition will transform into support once the populace is given to understand the casino will bring in needed economic development to the area, improve and modernize infrastructure near downtown and provide the town with an attraction that will enhance its ambience. Moreover, they point out, the property is near other citified uses and developments and is not hamstrung by the presence of endangered species or flora, such as the desert tortoise.
Mike, Gralla and the tribe are promoting the proposed resort as having, “all the excitement of Las Vegas only minutes away.”