On July 9, 2020, the Buena Vista Rancheria filed federal litigation challenging the various mitigation payments to the County and other agencies that the Tribe was required to make pursuant to a 2008 Intergovernmental Services Agreement (“ISA”). The payments and other obligations in the ISA were intended as mitigation for the offsite impacts of the Tribe’s casino, Harrah’s Northern California, which opened in April of 2019. The Tribe alleged that the ISA was invalid, in part because it required payments and other mitigation in excess of the actual impacts of the casino. The Tribe also sought damages from the County in excess of $250 Million.
A settlement was negotiated between the Tribe and the County, which was originally approved by the Board of Supervisors at its meeting on August 31, 2021; however, the settlement was not yet final as the Tribe had not yet approved. The Tribe subsequently approved the settlement, and the documents were formally signed by Chairman Frank Axe earlier today.
The settlement requires the Tribe to dismiss its lawsuit against the County, and requires the Tribe to make a payment of approximately $1.8 Million to the County as reimbursement for costs incurred in implementing the initial ISA. The settlement also includes a replacement Intergovernmental Agreement (“IGA”) between the Tribe and the County regarding ongoing mitigation. The IGA retains mitigation for the major impacts, similar to the ISA, but to levels that better reflect the impacts of the current casino, which is smaller than envisioned in 2008. Unfortunately, a few of the commitments made by the Tribe in the ISA were not carried over to the IGA because the Tribe would not agree and the County had no ability to compel them.
The Board, after consulting the County departments that are most impacted by the casino, determined that the settlement was in the County’s best interests. The settlement ends the risks associated with costly litigation that could drag on for years, and ensures that the Tribe immediately begins making necessary mitigation payments. After many years of legal disputes with the Buena Vista Rancheria, the County is hopeful for better relations with the Tribe moving forward.