Rincon Tribal Chairman has much on his plate: online poker, roads, and water rights.

Rincon Tribal Chairman Bo Mazzetti.

The Roadrunner recently did a wide ranging interview with Rincon Tribal Chairman Bo Mazzetti, who has served as chairman since 2007.

He recalled the one of the first interviews he ever did was with Van Quackenbush, the founder of The Roadrunner in 1974, shortly after the paper began publishing.

“I was the Indian Affairs Officer for the county,” recalled Mazzetti. “There wasn’t a place to meet so we sat under a pepper tree on the hood of my car between the two churches on the reservation.”

“First of all,” he said, “I’d like to congratulate on The Roadrunner on its new ownership. We’re glad to see it back in local control and looking like the old Roadrunner. I’ve been a reader and participant with The Roadrunner since it started. Every year my dad Max would be in the pages of the paper with the first rattler taken in the New Year. He always looked forward to that picture! It’s good to see the paper back.”

The same sculptor who did this sculpture of a fallen U.S. warrior at the Riverside National Cemetery, A. Thomas Schmoberg, has been commissioned to do the sculpture to honor American Indian and Alaska Native veterans.Internet poker

Much has changed on Rincon since those days where cattle ranged freely and it was very common to read about “cow vs. car” accidents in Bud Pecaro’s column on Pauma Valley news.

Today the reservation is host to one of the largest, most successful casino resorts in the state: Harrah’s Resort Southern

California. But the chairman’s mind today is not on that casino. It’s on efforts by the gaming tribes of the Golden State to persuade the legislature to move on a bill that would legalize online poker.

This has been a cause of gaming tribes for several years, but they aren’t united in the approach they want to take. Last year the sticking point was whether to allow racetracks and “bad actors,” i.e. online providers who had fallen afoul of the U.S. Justice Department several years ago—to participate in the California market. Some tribes are dead set against participation by racetracks because they feel that gaming should be reserved exclusively for tribes. Racetracks argue that they already take part in a form of online gambling: wagering on thoroughbred racing

Rincon supports online poker in some form as it would bring in more money to the reservation.

“We’re neutral on the racetrack issue,” said Mazzetti. “For one thing, when you say ‘racetracks,’ there are several groups. The tracks themselves, the horsemen, the breeders etc. For three years we’ve asked, ‘What do you want’ but we can’t get a unified position from them.”

One approach, says the chairman, would be to create a fund that would be distributed to the racetracks.

As for the “bad actor” clause that some tribes demand, “We are not worried about that,” says Mazzetti. “The California Justice Department will do the vetting of anyone who wants to get an Internet poker license.”

The “bad actor” clause is aimed at PokerStars, which is the largest provider of online poker in the world, but which several years ago was forced to settle with the U.S. Justice Department over allegations that it had allowed U.S. citizens to gamble at its offshore poker sites in violation of U.S. law. The issue was mooted somewhat when PokerStars was purchased by Amaya, the world’s largest online gaming company. Amaya wants a clean company.

Initially Rincon sat on the sidelines in the push for online poker. “We weren’t excited initially,” said Mazzetti. “But more and more the younger generation is on their machines and not so much into the slot machines. They are more into mobile platforms and table games and high tech. That is kind of the future, it appears.

“So, looking down the road it appears to be a good business to look at. This is the difference, we are a government but we are also developing businesses with a lot of high tech,” he said.

“Let’s say you are a young person who games online, you would occasionally want to come into a brick and mortar casino to play and cash in your online points,” he said.

Currently there is a bill before the legislature, AB 431 sponsored by Assemblyman Adam Gray, chairman of the Committee of Governmental Operations (GO), a key committee in the legislature. This bill was introduced last year and is likely to be revived this year.

“We believe the legislature will move on that.” Mazzetti plans to go to Sacramento this week to talk to Gray and other lawmakers about the issue.

Indian Veterans Memorial

Several months ago Mazzetti was asked to serve as chairman of the American Indian Veterans Memorial that is planned for the Riverside National Cemetery.

According to Mazzetti, who is a Vietnam veteran, this memorial has been in the planning stages since 2009. Mazzetti brings many skills to the table of this effort. He is an engineering contractor and well driller and he is also very well known in the Western U.S. among tribes. “They asked me to look at it several months ago and I thought they needed a better plan of attack. So they asked me to become honorary chairman. I want to see this funded by tribes and built by Indian contractors,” he said.

The cost of the memorial is an estimated $4.1 million. “It costs more since it will be built on federal land and has to use prevailing wage labor,” he said.

Water Settlement

After years of litigation over water rights the Indian tribes that sit alongside the San Luis Rey River basin and the City of Escondido and Vista Irrigation District may be on the verge of a settling a lawsuit that will allow them to share in an extra 16,000 acre feet of water a year.

If it had just been up to the tribes and the city and water districts the issues would have been settled many years ago, says Mazzetti. The lawsuit was first filed in 1968 over water rights that were taken from the tribes and given to the city and VID when the Escondido Canal was built in 1914. That canal brings water from Lake Henshaw to Lake Wohlford.

“In this instance the government has been the problem,” said Mazzetti. “It gave the water to Escondido and the Irrigation District. The lawsuit was to get back the water that was diverted, which is about 90% of the water.”

The goal is not to deprive the city or VID of the water, but to get the tribes their own water, which, in Rincon’s case could be used to replenish and clean out the aquifer on the reservation and allow crops to be grown there again.

“The question over the years has been how to make both parties whole. How can you split up the 16,000 acre feet that both feel they are entitled to. The answer is, you can’t.”

What made a settlement possible that left all participants whole was a process that created extra water, and came from lining All American Canal to save water that had been seeping into the ground over the decades.

This solution, the San Luis Rey Settlement Act, was sponsored by the late Congressman Ron Packard and passed by Congress in 1998. It stated that the federal government (which created the initial problem in 1914) would provide the surplus water. In 2008 the lining of the canal was able to save 100,000 AF that used to be lost. The Settlement Act, says Mazzetti stipulated that the first 17% was to go towards the tribes.

It has taken this long for the Settlement Act to be carried out and that required yet another bill, H.R. 1291 by Congressman Duncan Hunter.

Mazzetti spent a lot of time working with Hunter’s staff on this bill. He testified before Congress on it in October. “The bill is supported by both of California’s U.S. senators Boxer and Feinstein,” he said. “We believe that the bill will be approved by consent and forwarded to the Senate where there is no opposition. We are looking at it going to the Senate in February or March.”

Once THAT bill is passed it will be forwarded to U.S. District Court in San Diego where the judge will be able to sign off on the lawsuit that has been active since 1968. Theoretically, the water will be able to flow into the Rincon, La Jolla, San Pasqual, Pauma and Pala reservations.

The additional water will be sold to the Metropolitan Water District, which will “wheel” the water through its facilities so that the tribes will be able to tap into it.

“That has been the most frustrating thing that I’ve ever dealt with,” said Mazzetti.

Highway 76 roundabout

Mazzetti and the tribe have also been providing input to CalTrans on the roundabout that it plans to install at the intersection of Hwy 76 & Valley Center Road.

Although CalTrans has for years said that a roundabout at that intersection is just one of several options being looked at, observers of the process say it is obvious that the roundabout is going to happen there.

“The state wants it and we know that its going to have it,” Mazzetti said. “It says that it needs to be put in because of all of the traffic accidents. They are going to jam this through because they want it. They want a roundabout and they are going to put one in.”

He adds, “but anyone who has lived here knows that there is going to be a problem with big rig trucks coming down the grade with hot brakes.”

“We are interested in persuading them to push it a little further up the hill. We have also suggested a bypass that would allow traffic to move off of Hwy 76 onto Valley Center Road without actually entering the roundabout,” he said.

Escondido Grade

After meeting with the city of Escondido several times, the Rincon tribe has agreed to pay a total of $800,000 towards the completion of the widening of the mile and half stretch of Valley Center Road/East Valley Parkway that has remained unfinished since the Valley Center Road widening of a decade ago.

The tribe had previously agreed to pay $570,000 towards that goal, without which the city wouldn’t have had enough money to start work on the project this year. But it recently decided to pay the difference between that amount and the $800,000 that was needed to jump-start the project: i.e. $230,000.

According to Mazzetti, members of the tribe use that road, just as other Valley Center residents do and they are going to be very happy to see it not backing up every weekend. “This will help the whole community,” said Mazzetti. “We’re going to eliminate the gap for the city and help eliminate that bottleneck. This is one of the band’s high priority projects.”

Park & Ride

The tribe is also contributing $805,000 in so called “fair share” funding to building a park and ride at the intersection of Hwy 76 & I-15. It is making the contribution to CalTrans. “We wanted to make the contribution towards a project that would impact the roads, which we all use,” he said.