Fight over casino proposed for Jamul heating up once again

Jamul tribe says it's their right to build casino

JAMUL, Calif. - A years-long fight over a casino proposed to be built on Native American land in Jamul is heating up again. 

The Jamul tribe recently signed an agreement with a major casino operator to build and operate the casino, but residents vow to never let it be built.

"We're hopeful everything's going to go forward now," said Robert Mesa, who is with the Jamul Indian Village tribe. Mesa has led his tribe's fight to build a casino on tribal land for more than 15 years. 

Several casino operators have worked unsuccessfully with the tribe to build a casino, but Mesa said a new agreement signed with Penn National Gaming means the project is moving forward. 

"We're kind of making a plea to the community right now… just work with us and we'll make it the best that it can be for everybody," Mesa said.

Penn National Gaming is proposing to bring one of their Hollywood brand casinos to Jamul. The company operates more than 20 such casinos around the country, but the one proposed for Jamul would not look like any of them. The Jamul property is designed to blend in with the surrounding environment and would cover 4.5 acres with a 203,000-square-foot building. 

Jamul residents who oppose the casino said its design is not the main issue. The main objection is state Route 94. Residents told 10News the road is too narrow and too dangerous as it is. They said the extra traffic the casino would bring would be unacceptable. For them, the fight is all about saving their community.

"When we have somebody proposing a casino that's suggesting 10,000 car trips a day, in addition to what we already have, we're saying no, it's not going to work," said Marcia Spurgeon, who has been fighting plans to build the casino for 20 years. 

Spurgeon said she sees accidents on the 94 through Jamul at least once a week. 

"That's our main road, so it affects everybody using it, but it also affects the safety issues with fire trucks, ambulances and others," she told 10News.

Mesa said the tribe has worked hard over the years to address those concerns. 

"Adding lanes to the 94, adding turning lanes right and left," he said. 

He added that the design of the casino has been scaled way back over the years. 

Spurgeon says that is not good enough. 

"We are taxpayers in this community," she said. "Also we have a voice so we'll continue to voice our objection."

Mesa said he will continue to work to build a casino he says his tribe has every right to build on their land.

The tribe must still get permits from the National Indian Gaming Commission as well as Caltrans. Mesa said he is confident the tribe will get them and move forward.

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