The Arizona Court of Appeals last month ruled for the Tohono O’odham Nation in one of several points of dispute it has with the city of Glendale.
The court ruled that 45 acres the tribe owns, and hopes will be part of its casino property if that land is put into federal trust, was not annexed by Glendale nine years ago. The appeals court decision overturns a lower court ruling that the city had annexed the property.
The tribe has applied to put 54 acres into trust, but the decision by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to proceed with that fee-to-trust process has been challenged in federal court by the city and the state of Arizona.
But at the same time the tribe won that appeal, it lost an issue in federal court when a U.S. district judge ruled that the BIA may not immediately take the final action of putting the land into trust. This gives the plaintiffs the opportunity to appeal the judge’s earlier ruling that the tribe could put the land into trust. The case is under review by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
According to the Arizona Republic, Judge David Campbell wrote, “The public interest is best served by maintaining the status quo” until the appeal is resolved.
However, the city lost an issue too, since the same judge ordered Glendale not to use a recently approved state law that would have allowed it to annex the property the tribe owns into the city, which would prevent it from becoming reservation land.
The 1986 law that the tribe is working under in acquiring land was passed to reimburse the tribe for losing some land under a federal dam project. The law stipulated that the tribe cannot put land that is part of a city into trust.
The main issue that will be decided in federal court is whether the BIA acted correctly in approving the transfer of the land into reservation land.
Meanwhile, Glendale Mayor Elaine Scruggs brusquely turned aside a proposal that the city join with the tribe to keep the Phoenix Coyotes in an arena the city owns.
The city is being sued by the Goldwater Institute to prevent taxpayer money from being used to back $100 million in bonds to refurbish the arena to keep the hockey team by making it attractive to a potential buyer. The city would collect the money back from parking fees over time. If the city doesn’t locate a buyer soon, the National Hockey League may relocate the franchise.
But the city is trying to prevent the tribe from building a casino next to it. The Goldwater Institute last week floated the idea that the city and tribe should work together on keep the sports franchise.
However, according to the Republic, the mayor snapped, “All we have to do is drop our lawsuit against the Tohono O’odham Nation. Does that pass any kind of smell test or anything else? That could be considered blackmail, couldn’t it, by some?”
The tribe denied making the proposal and said that they had been approached by a third party. A spokesman said the tribe would be willing to discuss the idea with the city’s leaders.