by Dave McKibben
Times Staff Writer
11 October 2004
the media is perpetuating this lie." — Sara Hayes, SENAA West
question has been lurking for years: Do Juaneņo Indians
want to build a casino on land leased by a Roman
Catholic high school in San Juan Capistrano?
would have to negotiate difficult bureaucratic hoops to
develop a casino—assuming they want to get
into the gambling business.
the casino possibility is being raised by boosters of
Junipero Serra High School to call into question
Juaneņo Indians' opposition to the school's expansion
of the tribe are fighting the $75-million plans to build
athletic fields and a performing arts complex on their
ancestors' graves. The 29-acre site, the Indians say, is
better suited for a cultural center.
and other critics of the school's development have
mounted a pair of referendum petition drives to reverse
the city's approval of the school project.
response, Serra supporters are wrapping up a campaign to
get referendum backers to change their minds by
completing signature-withdrawal cards. As part of that
campaign, JSerra boosters sent voters two mailers, one
headlined "Schools Not Casinos."
Juaneņos have long been dogged by suggestions that they
want to build a casino in south Orange County.
member Rebecca Robles, president of a group that
launched the referendum against Serra, said she is
surprised that school boosters played the casino card.
Since the Juaneņo Band of Mission Indians are not a
federally recognized tribe and don't have a reservation,
Robles said they couldn't build a casino even if they
Cheryl Schmit, director of a Sacramento-based gambling
watchdog group, said the Juaneņos may be better poised
now than ever to build a casino.
Juaneņos, she said, are one of several tribes that
could benefit from a proposal in Congress requiring the
Department of the Interior to review within a year a
number of the most long-standing petitions for
recognition. The Juaneņos first petitioned the Bureau
of Indian Affairs for federal recognition in 1982; a
splinter group led by Sonia Johnston applied in 1996.
not far-fetched at all to imagine one of these
full-service, Las Vegas-style casinos in that urban
area," said Schmit, of the Stand Up for California
Shilo, chairman of the tribal faction that first
petitioned for federal recognition, said the referendum
drive suffered after Serra raised the casino issue.
would hope the voters are smarter than that, but people
are scared of casinos," said Shilo. "It's an
out-and-out lie and it's shameful, but it's the biggest
fear tactic they can use to get people not to
conceded Friday, however, that the Juaneņos might one
day pursue a casino in Orange or Riverside counties.
believe in economic development, so we don't want to
give up our rights to a casino," he said. "But
we understand the reality of it. It's a long shot. And
it has to be in a community that's accepting of it and
will help us."
Juan Capistrano Mayor Joe Soto, who voted to approve the
athletic fields in late August, said he isn't sure what
to make of the casino issue.
think both sides are playing each other and kind of
expanding on some truths and telling some little white
lies," said Soto, who wouldn't elaborate.
boosters deny they used scare tactics to keep people
from signing the Juaneņos' petitions.
is no disrespect intended toward the Juaneņos,"
said Marc Spizziri, co-founder of the Roman Catholic
school. "We're trying to expose all the facts. It's
our belief that there is another agenda, to get federal
recognition, to acquire property, then build a
the Juaneņos broke ranks in 1997 over casino
discussions. The tribe, which was already split in two,
split into three groups shortly after then-tribal
chairman David Belardes began negotiating an agreement
with Nevada investors to build a casino. Shilo said his
group pulled out of casino negotiations after learning
the burial grounds might be the site for a gambling
who has since been retained by Serra to monitor
construction of the athletic and arts complex, said the
sacred land was never considered for a casino site. He
said he broke off negotiations with Nevada officials
because he didn't believe the deal benefited the tribe.
Belardes believes Shilo's group is still attempting to
build a casino in San Juan Capistrano because it has
connections to two people in the Indian gaming industry,
Stephen B. Otto and Michael Lombardi.
chairman of the Augustine Casino in the Coachella
Valley, said he advises Shilo on non-gaming issues. Otto
advises several tribes on gaming and non-gaming issues.
do not believe the Juaneņos will ever be in
gaming," Lombardi said. "There will be massive
opposition from the local community and other tribes in
has offered the City Council a binding memorandum to
ensure that no casino would ever come to San Juan
Capistrano. But Schmit said the document would not hold
up if the Juaneņos are granted federal recognition.
they are federally recognized," Schmit said,
"they have more power than the city or the county
and only a little less than the state."
a tribe is federally recognized and acquires land, it
can petition the Department of the Interior to place the
land in trust. If the petition is approved for gaming
purposes by the secretary of Interior, a compact would
have to be negotiated with the governor.
road toward building an Indian casino has been
successfully navigated recently by tribes much smaller
than the Juaneņos, which has a little about 3,000
Lytton Band of Pomo Indians had no land until Rep.
George Miller, a Democrat who represents San Pablo,
pushed legislation in 2000 decreeing that a card room
and parking lot in San Pablo, far from Lytton's original
home in Sonoma County, become reservation land.
year, the tribe struck a deal with Gov. Arnold
Schwarzenegger that would have allowed the first Las
Vegas-style casino in a major urban area, near Oakland.
Legislative leaders later scrapped the deal, but
lawmakers may address the issue when they reconvene.