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Senate votes ratifies Yurok compact

4/19/2007 Eureka Reporter

The California state Senate voted “overwhelmingly” Thursday on a bill to ratify the gaming compact between the state and the Yurok Tribe.

Senate Bill 106, authored by Sen. Pat Wiggins (D-Santa Rosa), was one of a number of bills related to American Indian gaming compacts voted on in the Senate Thursday morning, said David W. Miller, press secretary/consultant for the Committee on Public Employment and Retirement.

“A compact is an agreement between the state and the tribe (on gaming),” Miller said. “... And we’re optimistic that this one will get approved.”

SB 106 was not just approved Thursday, but was “the only measure to pass unanimously (33-0),” Miller reported via e-mail Thursday.

Reweti Wiki, Yurok Tribe deputy executive director, said the bill still needs to pass through the state’s Assembly before it is fully ratified.

“We’re thrilled that it’s through the Senate,” Wiki said Thursday, “but it still needs to go through the Assembly.

“So, we are reserving any comments until after it goes through the Assembly. If it’s successful in the Assembly, then, at that (point), we will have a fully ratified gaming compact.”

Miller provided a copy of Wiggins’ “verbatim” statement that she made on the Senate floor, which included the history of the Yurok Tribe, which she noted, is “the state’s largest federally recognized tribe, with 5,019 members.”

The tribe’s poverty rate, Wiggins said, is at 80 percent.

“They are considered by many to be the state’s poorest tribe,” Wiggins added. “Their reservation is located in both Del Norte and Humboldt counties; the land straddles the Klamath River for a mile on each side of the river for 46 miles.

“The majority of the reservation is without electricity or phone service; (it) has the only public school in California that operates without electricity — the students study with the constant sound of a diesel-powered generator and its fumes; (and) the reservation is lacking in well-maintained roads, water systems, wastewater treatment facilities and housing.”

Wiggins added that contained in the Yuroks’ land are probably the most dangerous state highways in California, including Highway 169, which is a “23-mile-long, one-lane road with steep drop-offs and blind turns.”

“The ratification of (the Yuroks’) compact through SB 106 will give the Yuroks the ability to start down the road to self-sufficiency,” Wiggins said on the Senate floor Thursday morning. “It will allow the tribe to operate 99 gaming devices in two locations.”

One of the facilities, Wiggins said, will be on Yurok lands in Klamath. The other site, Pem-Mey Fuel Mart — a tribal gas station/mini-mart — will house up to 20 slot machines.

Wiggins told the Senate that the tribe “anticipates that these facilities will generate $7 million annually.”

“The tribe will continue to receive the $1.1 million annual payment from the revenue-sharing trust fund,” Wiggins told the Senate Thursday. “... No one will be getting rich from this compact (and) the Yurok compact fulfills the true promise of Proposition 1A (gambling on tribal lands).

“This small compact gives the Yurok Tribe the ability to achieve greater self-reliance in an isolated and economically challenged area of the state.”

Via Miller’s e-mail Thursday, Assemblymember Patty Berg (D-Eureka) issued a statement; Berg was one of the co-authors of the bill.

“We’ve been waiting a long time to get this done,” Berg stated. “This isn’t going to make anyone rich, but I sincerely hope this will help improve the lives of tribal members (and) isn’t that why Californians voted for gaming in the first place?”

How will the gaming compact affect the Yurok Tribe?

Existing federal law, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988, provides for the negotiation and execution of tribal-state gaming compacts for the purpose of authorizing certain types of gaming on American Indian lands within a state.

The California Constitution authorizes the state’s governor to negotiate and conclude compacts, subject to ratification by the state Legislature.

The Yurok Compact provides the tribe, the largest in the state, with up to 99 slot machines on its reservation — up to 20 slot machines may be located at a fuel mart, similar to a gas station with a mini-mart, on the reservation and the remainder at a future on-reservation casino. The reservation is located along the Klamath River in Humboldt and Del Norte counties, with approximately 3,000 acres of land in trust.

The tribe will continue to receive a $1.1 million annual payment from the Revenue Sharing Trust Fund, but cannot use the RSTF monies for payment of any costs arising out of, connected with or relating to any gaming activities.

Any tribe operating less than 350 gaming devices is considered a non-gaming tribe and is eligible for revenue payments from gaming tribes under the 1999 compacts.

The Yurok Tribe has committed to negotiating an agreement with Del Norte and Humboldt counties, as necessary, to mitigate all environmental impacts.

In light of the tribe’s large membership, the basic needs of its members and the very small size of its gaming operations, the tribe will be able to deduct its mitigation payments from the revenue contribution payments to the state.

Other facets of the compacts include:

+ The tribe will prepare an environmental impact report to assess the potential environmental effects of new and expanded gaming facilities, and detail how environmental damages will be mitigated.

+ The compact requires that the tribe resolve all disputes with employees, visitors and surrounding communities through binding arbitration. California tort law will govern any personal injury or third-party property damage claims, and the tribe will provide liability coverage.

+ Any new construction must meet or exceed the building and safety codes of both the county and the city where new construction will occur.

(Background information contributed by David W. Miller, press secretary/consultant for the Committee on Public Employment and Retirement.)

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