The plans envision new homes, a school and a water treatment plant for a growing population, new buildings to house its government and sites to honor its history and culture.
But the Yoche Dehe Wintun Nation’s application to take more than 850 acres near its signature Cache Creek Casino Resort into federal trust has troubled its Capay Valley neighbors and Yolo County leaders. They are demanding a closer look at the tribe’s request.
The tribe owns the land’s 15 parcels, scattered orchards and grasslands along Highway 16 but would relinquish the property to the federal government if the trust application is approved.
In a federal trust, the government holds legal title to the property, but the tribe is the beneficiary. Such an arrangement would give the tribe more freedom to determine land use.
But Yolo leaders say the acreage is far too large – they want the tribe to agree to 100 acres. They have questions about what might be built on the land and suggest its effects on the Capay Valley could be too great.
Yolo supervisors challenge federal jurisdiction over the property. They say it would take away the county’s ability to plan for how the land will be used in the future, limit their ability to protect its agricultural designation and strip neighbors’ ability to plan for any future impacts of tribal development.
“We can’t identify a reasonable purpose for that transfer. … We think there’s a legitimate purpose in transferring the property, just not all of it,” said county Supervisor Don Saylor. “We have to wonder what future use might be anticipated.”
The Yocha Dehe insist their plans for the land extend to housing and community buildings and agriculture.
Yocha Dehe leaders were not available for comment, but in a statement, spokesman Greg Larsen told The Bee that the tribe had hoped for the county’s support.
“Yocha Dehe had nearly two years of good-faith discussions on these issues with county staff and believed we were close to a successful agreement on the key terms,” Larsen said. He said supervisors backed away from an agreement.
Both sides agree that the Yocha Dehe have had a long, collaborative and lucrative relationship with Yolo County. The tribe is the county’s largest private sector employer; its economic and philanthropic impact on Yolo County is in the tens of millions of dollars. It has also launched forays into olive oil production and winemaking.
Thaddeaus Barsotti, an owner of Capay Organic in Brooks, said the Yocha Dehe have been able to keep a focus on agricultural ventures and maintain the rural character of the community. “The casino’s not going anywhere, but I think they’ve done a good job of mitigating that where possible,” Barsotti said.
But two years of talks over the land proposal threaten to fray that bond between county and tribe. Yolo County leaders are skeptical and – after a Bureau of Indian Affairs finding in October that the tribal land plan would have no significant environmental impact on the area – angry.
Saylor was quick to laud the Yocha Dehe’s “amazing contributions” to Yolo County and the tribe’s collaboration with the county over the years, but said the land request “is a blow to that collaboration.”
The Board of Supervisors aired its concerns in a strongly worded letter Jan. 25 to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. “The county’s concern about the Tribe changing its plans in the future is not speculative,” the county’s letter read, adding that agricultural land that is part of the proposal could also be converted to other uses.
“Given the other paths available to the tribe … the county is deeply concerned that in the future these existing agricultural parcels may be converted to some other use.”
Bureau of Indian Affairs officials say the environmental assessment is just a preliminary step.
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