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Jamul Tribe and Caltrans Dispute Over Road 94

On December 27th, 2008, a tribe's wish to construct a casino facility on a hilly and two-lane road without the interference of the state is going up against a state agency's position that it needs to know what the tribe is constructing or it will block access. The question has reached the federal court in San Diego, where a judge will study the sovereignty claims from both the tribe and the state. Sovereignty is the power of the government to decide on what will happen in their jurisdiction without the interference of others.

Jamul Indian Village leaders stated that California Department of Transportation officials cannot see the details of their casino facility plans. Tribal chairman Kenneth Meza said that it is not the state's business. He added that the state only needs to know who is going in and who is going out. State officials lack power under federal law to interfere on what is happening on the reservation, according to the tribe's lawyer's court filings asking a judge for a restraining order against the state's demands.

Caltrans officials said that they need to make sure that the Route 94 is safe and secure and cannot release an encroachment permit for a casino facility without knowing how the Indian tribe will utilize its land or how much it needs to pay to make the road leading to the tribe's land safer. A Caltrans lawyer wrote in a court filing petitioning the judge to dismiss the lawsuit of the tribe. The lawyer added that it is the state's duty to make sure that its highways are safe and are in good condition.

A decision from U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw could be release anytime. Problems over sovereignty are not a new issue, but there is no clear ruling for Judges to follow in making a decision over them, according to Nancy Carter, a professor at the University of San Diego School of Law who teaches about Indian related issue. She added that A lot of tribes feel that their sovereignty is being questioned unjustly and the states wants to improve their power.

Some state laws apply within Indian country and some do not apply. The driveway issue is important to the Jamul tribe's casino facility plans on the reservation twenty miles east of downtown San Diego. Meza said that efforts have come to a grinding halt since Caltrans asserted on June 2008 that it could block access to the highway if the Indian tribe did not cooperate. The Jamul tribe's business partner, Lakes Entertainment from Minnesota said that it will have to reevaluate the casino project if it cannot solve the access question. Meza said that the problem is about the Jamul tribe's right to decide on what it does on its reservation. He said that the tribe wants to make the highway safer more than anything else because tribal members have been killed on Route 94 before. But it does not means that the tribe would submit to what it views as illegal state regulation of its gaming facility.

The legal issue began after the Jamul tribe submitted an application to place a stop light and turn lanes on Route 94, where the reservation crosses the state highway. The lawsuit is the latest case involving the fifty-five member Jamul Tribe, which has the closest reservation to the downtown area of San Diego and the South Bay.


01 February 2009
News Submitted by:
Lauren Desmond

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