Glendale Mayor Pledged to Work With Tohono O'odham if Feds Gave Nod to West Valley Reservation; City Instead Plans Legal Challenge

Glendale Mayor Elaine Scruggs once pledged to work with the Tohono O'odham Nation if the federal government approved the tribe's application to create a West Valley reservation.

But nearly two months after the feds approved that application, instead of a show of support, the city is preparing to file a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Interior to challenge its decision to allow 54 acres of the Tohono O'odham-owned land to become part of the nation's reservation.

Scruggs has ignored repeated attempts by Tohono O'odham Chairman Ned Norris to meet with her and other city officials.

Did she forget about a pledge she made during an April 7, 2009 City Council meeting?

During that meeting, convened so the City Council could formally declare its opposition to the proposed Indian reservation, Scruggs expressed concern about having a reservation within the city's planning area and then said:

"I respect the right of the Tohono O'odham Nation to make this application, and if their application's approved, I do pledge my support to work with [Norris] and all the members of the Nation's community in a true partnership to achieve the best for everyone."

New Times left a message for Scruggs.

City Attorney Craig Tindall said there are still "legitimate issues that need to be raised with the federal court."

He said the application filed in January was significantly different from the one that the feds just approved.

Tindall noted that the Tribe modified its original application and removed the request for federal approval of gaming on the land. He said it was a "very important modification because they continue to insist that they will game and continue to seek support for their project based on the land being used for a gaming facility." 

And, Tindall says, that since the Tohono O'odham Nation is far from completing the process necessary for gaming to legitimately occur on this land under federal law and, they are also far from completing the application to which Scruggs was referring.

Glendale has been opposed to the Tohono O'odham's proposal to establish an Indian reservation next to Westgate City Center, the city's prized sports-and-entertainment district.

Scruggs and city officials collectively have decided to take whatever legal action necessary to block the tribe's plans to first establish a reservation and then build on it the state's largest resort-style casino.

Glendale's lawsuit probably will be filed before month's end.

The feds accepted the tribe's application on July 23. A notice of the decision was posted in the Federal Register on August 26. There is a 30-day window after the decision is posted for opponents to file challenges.

While Glendale has been a staunch opponent, surrounding cities and area residents have been more accepting of the nation's casino plans.

The mayors of Peoria and Tolleson have said the resort-style casino will be an economic boon as it creates about 9,000 jobs and stimulates the region's economy.

Read "Wanna Bet?" a New Times feature on why the Tohono O'odham ended up in the West Valley and the reasons behind Glendale's opposition.