Mad River Union
TRINIDAD – The Trinidad Rancheria is forging ahead its with plans to build a five-story, 100-room hotel near its casino, despite the City of Trinidad’s reluctance to provide additional water for the facility.
“The hotel project is alive and well and it’s moving forward,” Trinidad Rancheria Chief Executive Officer Jacque Hostler-Carmesin told the Trinidad City Council at a May 21 special meeting.
The council convened in a remote Webex meeting with more than 67 attendees to consider an eight-point memorandum of understanding between the city and the tribe. The MOU would have allowed in-depth discussions between the two entities regarding the water issue.
The MOU, however, was shot down by a divided council, which voted 3-2 against entering into the agreement. That leaves the issue in limbo, although some council members said they wanted to continue talking with the tribal leaders.
The rancheria, a sovereign nation outside the city limits, is requesting an additional 9,500 gallons per day of water to serve the hotel. The city already provides water for the casino, tribal offices and homes on the rancheria.
City residents and council members have expressed concerns that the city may not have an adequate supply of water, specially during the end of summer and during drought years.
Last year, the city commissioned a water study, which was completed by GHD, an engineering company. That reported concluded that the city’s water system has a theoretical surplus of about 48,000 gallons a day.
The report, however, was focused on the plant’s ability to treat water, and did not look at droughts.
The city council has also tasked the Trinidad Planning Commission with coming up with a policy on how to handle new water requests.
Officials with the rancheria have expressed frustration with the city and its failure to provide water for the project.
On May 13, Tribal Chair Garth Sundberg sent a letter to Trinidad Mayor Steve Ladwig accusing the city of not negotiating in good faith. Sundberg said that as result of this, the rancheria would not allow the city to access tribal lands for a stormwater project.
‘Have a dialogue’
That sparked the city to create a draft MOU, which was presented to the council May 20.
“The intent here is to have a dialogue, to have a conversation,” said Trinidad City Manager Eli Naffah, as he explaining the purpose of the MOU at the meeting.
Trinidad Councilmember Tom Davies repeatedly questioned Naffah about the MOU and whether it was created through meetings between the tribe and the city officials.
Tribal member Shirley Laos said that the tribe was never consulted about the creation of the MOU and learned about its contents in a newspaper.
“The illusion being casts that there are backroom deals going on is false,” Hostler-Carmesin said.
Had the MOU been approved, two councilmembers and the city manager would have met with tribal leaders. Some of their discussions would be confidential, such as hotel business details.
Trinidad resident Bryce Kenny raised concerns about these meetings.
“Avoid the government-to-government meetings as much as possible,” said Kenny, who noted that such meetings add to the perception that private deals are being made.
Kenny argued that the city should wait to make decision until the Planning Commission is done making a policy on new water requests.
“You and the rancheria need to be patient while they finish their work,” Kenny said.
Fifth District Supervisor Steve Madrone said he didn’t think the MOU was needed because the city doesn’t have enough water.
“There’s no water to offer,” Madrone said. He suggested that the city look into getting grants, expand its water storage capacity and explore rainwater collection.
Councilmember Dwight Miller said he agreed with Madrone that there was an insufficient water supply and that more storage was needed to capture water during the rainy season.
Councilmember Jack West said he had received an “unbelievable” number of letters from community members opposed to the MOU.
“I feel like I’m going against the community to vote for this,” West said.
‘Path of no return’
Davies made a motion to stop the MOU, stating “Considering the Planning Commission has been directed to finish the Water Policy draft, complete with a Drought Contingency Plan, I move to deny the request to develop an MOU with the Trinidad Rancheria at this time.
“Furthermore, if the in the future the topic of this MOU reappears, all negotiations regarding said MOU will take place in an open public meeting.”
Hostler-Carmesin warned the council that this was the wrong thing to do.
“It’s going down a path of no return,” she said. “That’s not positive.”
Voting in favor of the motion were Ladwig, Davies and Dave Grover. Opposing the motion were Miller and West.
After the vote, Sherri Provolt of the Yurok Tribe urged the council to make a motion to have city representatives meet with the rancheria to continue discussions. “Keeping the relationship is vital,” she said.
No motion was made, although councilmembers said they may discuss it at a future meeting.
Adding to the controversy over supplying water to the tribe for its hotel was a rumor that city officials were considering another hotel within the city limits.
In his May 13 letter, Tribal Chair Garth Sundberg wrote, “Further contradicting the City’s purported concerns about water system capacity, the Trinidad Rancheria has recently learned that the City Manager is working with other parties to develop a hotel and shopping center project on the last remaining vacant land within the city limits.”
One of the vacant parcels is a former horse pasture located near the Trinidad Cemetery and owned by the Trinidad Coastal Land Trust (TCLT).
According to the TCLT Executive Director Ben Morehead, “While City Manager Eli Naffah did present a concept for a boutique hotel to the TCLT board, there are no plans to pursue this idea. TCLT has not even discussed this.
“His hotel idea is just one of the many ideas we have received via informal community input offering recommendations for future use of this pasture property including: a skatepark, public park, public restroom, amphitheater, visitor info center, community garden, community swim pool, keep it as is open space and create a new botanical garden.
“In addition, the TCLT board received a video presentation about a “green cemetery” (eco-friendly/no casket natural burial) during a board retreat meeting.
“TCLT will not make any decisions about the future uses of the pasture property this year 2020, and likely not next year either,” Morehead stated.