The Glendale City Council on Tuesday directed city staff to communicate with the Tohono O’odham Nation and gather information as part of a fact-finding mission on the tribe’s proposal for a casino resort next to the city.
Council member Norma Alvarez said the council needed to make a decision on “what the community wants,” as she added: “We want to hear what the TO has to offer. The Nation wants to bring jobs.”
During the afternoon workshop on whether to open the dialogue, the council sparred with each other and questioned City Attorney Michael Bailey.
Addressing the council, Bailey said, “The case is over. We are no longer in litigation,” as he referred to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals sending the matter back to the Department of Interior to make a decision on the land.
Nothing is pending before the state in regards to legislation to block the casino other than Trent Franks’ HB 1410 — Keep the Promise Act which passed the U.S. House and still needs to be taken up by the U.S. Senate.
Bailey recommended the Council have patience and wait on making a decision to open dialogue, because “we are very close to the end,” after the five-year effort to stop the casino.
Council member Manny Martinez said it wasn’t time to have dialogue, that it would send a signal to the Department of Interior. “If we start this, it makes it a lot easier for them to make a decision,” and the council should “sit back and wait for the decision.”
Bailey also talked about preserving the relationships the city has forged during the process.
“There’s no problem. We’re not doing this because of friendship,” said Alvarez. “We represent people. We represent our district,” adding that it is the jobs that are needed in Glendale.
“I’m not saying that the Gila is not our friend; they are. But it doesn’t mean that you’re limited to that friendship,” she said. “I make friends all the time. I make enemies, too.”
Martinez has always been opposed to the casino and doesn’t believe there is community support for it. He said the casinos attract their customers with “cheap booze, cheap food and hotel rooms,” plus, he’s concerned the casino will not be paying taxes.
“When we planned for the west area, very little residential. We wanted the businesses out there,” he said. “If you look at economies of this, the economics is not in our favor.”
“They’re going to give the people here ‘cheap food, cheap liquor.’ Those are things that are only accusations,” Alvarez replied. “We need to get to business.
“We can’t be too proud, because we made big mistakes, Councilman Martinez,” said Alvarez. “We made big mistakes. That’s why our city is in the position that it is.”
She said the city is hurting for money, and “we’re the ones that sued them.”
Alvarez said she is interested in economic development and the public needs to know that the Nation wants to bring in jobs to Glendale.
Vice Mayor Yvonne Knaack’s concern is a sovereign nation in the middle of the city. “I’m not against casinos. In fact, if it gets built, I’ll probably go there. It’s the bigger picture of this sovereign nation.”
Even though she’s still opposed to the casino, Knaack would like for city staff to do an assessment and what the impact would be on the fire and police departments and water service.
Councilman Sam Chavira agreed with Knaack on the assessment and said the dialogue is a “fact-finding mission.”
But, a potential concern for Knaack is, “What if the sovereign nation, they drill a well and get their own water and it affects our ground water. That may be ludicrous, but these are questions that should be answered.”
“I think it’s criminal that we’ve only had 45 minutes of conversation on this on the past five years with the Nation; or with anyone,” said Councilmember Gary Sherwood, a casino opponent, but someone who is open to talks.
Mayor Jerry Weiers said he was in the state Legislature and pushed for legislation against the casino, but has since then visited a casino in Southern Arizona. “I did that a long time ago because I felt fact-finding was important to me,” but it still hasn’t altered his position to the casino.
Weiers’ concern is the fact is the casino will be competing with businesses that are paying taxes.
“That’s very very concerning to me, that the people that have been hanging on by their toenails, have been trying to keep their business open for years, and yet all the requirements that the city requires them to do is pay taxes and all those issues, all of a sudden they will have someone competing with them that I think has unfair advantage,” he said.