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City pushing for casino impact fees

December 23, 2006

The conflict between Rancho Mirage and the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians intensified Friday as the city released the text of a letter it has sent to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger requesting changes in the gaming tribe's compact.

"(Mayor Pro Tem) Dana Hobart has publicly said that the governor, his negotiating team, and his staff, were inept in their work on the compact, and the city is now trying to work around the governor's authority to change the compact," Agua Caliente spokeswoman Nancy Conrad said Friday on behalf of the tribe.

The city, which is adjacent to the site of the new 15-story Agua Caliente Casino Hotel, in its letter is asking for the compact language to allow "adjacent" cities to compel the tribe to provide financial offsets of the impact of the casino on communities. Impact can include traffic or public safety needs.

Palm Springs, the city argues, is allowed to compel the tribe to help with offsets because the tribe's Spa Resort Casino is located "in" the city of Palm Springs.

Rancho Mirage, the letter argues, is not covered by the compact's language because the Agua Caliente Casino is adjacent to the city.

Hobart fired back at the tribe's comment about the letter.

"Neither the city of Rancho Mirage nor I have called the governor or his team inept. The tribe and its superb negotiating team have knowingly left cities 'adjacent' to casinos impotent, with no ability to compel the tribe to pay for the damage it causes such cities," he said on Friday night.

"When a casino is not 'within' a city, no city in the valley can qualify under the compact's definition as an 'Impacted City.' Rancho Mirage abuts the casino and hotel; the Tribe advertises that it is 'in' Rancho Mirage.

"What is fair about our city being denied the same right of negotiation given to Palm Springs?" Hobart said. He noted that the city and the tribe have tried to negotiate and are about $400,000 away from what he considers fair.

In the letter, dated Dec. 15, the city also addresses the possibility that the third casino site the Agua Caliente is guaranteed under the compact would be on land in either Palm Springs, Cathedral City or Rancho Mirage. It says that the city should be able to work with the tribe on impact offset fees from that planned casino, as well.

The compact, signed late in the last legislative session by the Agua Caliente and the governor, would allow the tribe to increase the number of slot machines at its two existing casinos and build a third casino with at least 1,000 slots. In return, the tribe would provide billions of dollars to state coffers.

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