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Auburn tribe seeks putting Rancheria land into federal trust

City to meet with UAIC ‘very soon’
By: Jon Schultz, Journal Staff Writer
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Weeks after an anonymous letter sent to hundreds of Auburn residents led to the revelation of the local tribe’s ownership of a major development project, an unnamed messenger delivered another note – again with some truth and some apparent misinformation.

The letter claimed the United Auburn Indian Community applied to have land within the Auburn Rancheria, where its members currently live, taken into federal trust in order to connect it with the Baltimore Ravine – a planned residential community approved for 270 homes – and then have that entrusted as well.

The truth is that the UAIC has within the past year submitted five applications to have lands within the Auburn Rancheria taken into federal trust, which would give the tribe sovereign control over its use – but would not connect it with the last significant undeveloped area within Auburn.

A swath of land separates the two tribe-owned properties, and neither the city nor the landowner said they are aware of any intention of the UAIC to purchase it. Furthermore, a UAIC spokesperson has said it has no plan to federally entrust the Baltimore Ravine.

Still, the letters have been raising concern with some homeowners around the area who are fearful that the speculation about the tribe’s intentions is true. After all, the UAIC and project manager Stephen Des Jardins had not been forthright with the city about its involvement with the Baltimore Ravine, something highlighted in the letter sent in late January.

Will Wong, Auburn’s Community Development director, said the truthful parts of the letters “seem to unfortunately have made people unnecessarily concerned.”

Auburn Mayor Kevin Hanley said the city anticipates meeting with the UAIC “very soon.” Hanley had been seeking to learn whether they intend to continue with the Baltimore Ravine Specific Plan approved by City Council in February 2011.

The UAIC’s five applications propose to have about 11 acres taken into federal trust within the boundaries of the Auburn Rancheria at the crossing of Indian Hill and Auburn Folsom roads. Some parcels within the Rancheria are already in federal trust, UAIC spokesperson Doug Elmets said.

“For over a half century, we have hoped to regain some of our ancestral land,” UAIC Chairman Gene Whitehouse said in a written statement, “land that has significant historical meaning to our members and a place where many of them grew up.”

In the early 1950s, all 40 acres of the Auburn Rancheria had been in federal trust, but in 1958, the U.S. Congress enacted the Rancheria Act, authorizing the termination of federal trust responsibilities to a number of California Indian tribes including the Auburn Band, according to the tribe’s current applications.

The move to eventually take the Auburn Rancheria’s lands back into trust is detailed in the tribe’s memorandum of understanding, or MOU, with Placer County that was signed off on in 2000, Wong said.

The applications cover 11 parcels of land, nine in unincorporated Placer County that are currently used for tribal housing, a community center, a church and a park, and two undeveloped lots in Auburn. The tribe wrote that it has no plans to further develop or change the land use for any of the proposed areas.

Some of the parcels have been assessed property taxes by the county, and if the trust application is approved, the tribe said it will pay a fee in-lieu of property taxes equivalent to the assessed value.

The applications say the move is supported by the county, and Hanley said city staff has expressed no concerns with the proposed parcels.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs said the Rancheria applications are the only ones it has for the Auburn tribe. Those applications are currently in the early stages of the process, which includes finalizing an environmental assessment, said Kevin Bearquiver, deputy regional director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The tribe’s White Oak Ridge Association owns the 40-acre Rancheria, which is bordered to the east and west by housing developments and to the north by a 6-acre open space area owned by the Sierra Vista del Valle Homeowners Association.

That strip of land separates the Rancheria from the land encompassing the first phase of the Baltimore Ravine Project Specific Plan that includes 270 housing units and 54.5 acres of open space.

The anonymous letters have speculated the tribe plans to purchase that land buffering the two UAIC-owned properties, making them contiguous to strengthen the tribe’s resume for the federal government to take the Baltimore Ravine into trust.

Norm Chavez, former president of the homeowners association that owns that land, said the only time he is aware someone expressed interest in purchasing that property happened about three years ago.

Chavez served as president when Des Jardins approached him about either purchasing that property or making some sort of trade for it, he said, because Des Jardins wanted to make it a scenic park-like entrance to the Baltimore Ravine.

A message left for Heather Watkins, current Sierra Vista del Valle Homeowners Association president, was not immediately returned Thursday.

Even if the tribe were to purchase Sierra Vista del Valle’s open space, it would still have to navigate the issue of the Union Pacific railroad that separates it from the Baltimore Ravine, Wong said.

Jack Farless is president of the Grand Oaks Homeowners Association that encompasses 88 homes near the Baltimore Ravine and Auburn Rancheria. Farless said homeowners’ first reaction to the UAIC’s involvement with the project was “surprise.”

“The next reaction was, ‘I hope it’s not going to be another casino,’” Farless said.

The UAIC owns Thunder Valley Casino in south Placer County, and Elmets called the idea of opening a second one “absurd.”

Farless isn’t entirely sold on the tribe’s statements.

“They’ve said things in the past, so you can’t really go by what a spokesperson says for the tribe,” he said.

Phase 2 of the Baltimore Ravine Specific Plan is set to include 455 homes, 90,000 square feet of commercial space and 143 acres of open area, but it has not received final approval.

 

Jon Schultz can be reached at jons@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jon_AJNews