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Barstow Group to Petition for Casino Initiative

BARSTOW - A committee pushing for an Indian casino plans to start circulating a petition Saturday to place the issue on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Former Councilman Manuel Gurule said the Committee for 2,800 New Jobs will need fewer than 500 signatures of registered voters to place an initiative on the ballot.

''We must get these signatures as soon as possible to meet an Aug.12 deadline to get the measure on the ballot,'' said Gurule, who served on the council from 1988 to 1992.

''The committee will circulate 1,000 copies early Saturday. We expect to have a number of teams with petitions at various locations throughout the day.''

The petition-drive launch follows strong comments by Santa Monica attorney Frederic Woocher, counsel for the committee, who said Interim City Attorney Yvette Abich breached confidential discussions by issuing a public statement about legal issues in the initiative.

''I was dismayed to discover that the city attorney provided a public summary of the confidential settlement discussions that I recently concluded with her partners,'' Woocher said.

In an executive summary to the City Council, Abich said her office and counsel for the committee ''engaged in a series of discussions about the ballot measure,'' including concerns about membership of a gaming oversight committee and a special tax issue.

The summary had a few changes.

It is estimated that a resort casino would bring at least 2,800 new jobs to Barstow and another 500 construction jobs. The resort also would generate about $5 million in new revenue for the city.

The City Council has entered into a municipal services agreement with the Los Coyotes Band of Mission Indians of San Diego County to operate a tribal casino in west Barstow.

Since then, two other tribes have entered the picture. They are the Chemehuevi tribe from San Bernardino County and the Big Lagoon Rancheria tribe from Humboldt County.

''The Chemehuevis have been working on a casino proposal for Barstow since 1994 but have been hindered in their effort by the agreement with Los Coyotes, and now are assisting our committee in placing this initiative on the ballot,'' Gurule said.

The ballot initiative would require a simple majority to pass.

Provisions of the initiative call for dedicating 35 percent of the city's portion of casino revenue, $1.3 million annually, for law enforcement and fire protection. The funds would supplement existing budgets for the two departments.

The initiative also would establish a citizens' gaming oversight commission to take local politics out of the realm of gaming, and it would establish a gaming zone away from schools, churches and neighborhoods.

Challenging some provisions of the proposed initiative, Abich said setting aside 35 percent of the revenues amounted to a special tax.

Therefore, a two-thirds vote would be needed for passage of the initiative under California law, she said.

Not so, committee members said, since Indian tribes are sovereign nations that are exempt from federal, state and local taxes. ''Only a simple majority is needed,'' Gurule said.

When the Committee for 2,800 New Jobs threatened to go to court, reference to the special tax became a moot point.

Abich and Woocher, legal counsel for the committee, then discussed the issue privately.

''Upon being informed that my client (the committee) would be filing a lawsuit challenging the biased and flawed legal conclusions ... of the city attorney, her partners intervened,'' Woocher said.

Woocher said Abich agreed to delete the question of a two-thirds vote as well as the committee's proposal for a citizens' gaming oversight committee made up of the county's 1st District supervisor, the grand jury foreman, the Barstow school board president and representatives of law enforcement and business.

The city attorney earlier said this structuring of the oversight committee violated provisions of California's Constitution by conferring ''a special privilege on specific individuals.''

Woocher said not a word of the initiative has been changed with concessions from the city attorney.

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