The Bishop Paiute Tribal Council proposal to build a 60-room, $20 million hotel with a restaurant and swimming pool was voted down by Paiute Tribe members on Tuesday, July 9. According to the Paiute Tribe office, 287 Tribe members voted “no,” while 258 voted “yes.”
The hotel proposal was an amendment of a prior proposal by the Tribal Council for a $120 million, 20-acre Casino Hotel/Resort that would include a movie theater, bowling alley, steakhouse, outdoor event space, and front and rear parking spaces off U.S. 395 in Bishop. Bishop Paiute Tribe member Ron Napoles and the Napoles family presented the most vocal, public outcry against the project, which the Council put to the Tribe in late May.
In June, Ron Napoles argued that “the scope and scale of this proposed undertaking poses an array of concerns not only for Tribal members, but also for the greater Bishop area.” He went on to note potential environmental impacts to water and sewer capacities, as well as significant changes to the landscape and Bishop skyline.
Napoles also addressed the confusion within the Tribe regarding the placement of the proposed Casino Hotel/Resort, which preliminary maps presented by the Tribal Council and Paiute Palace Casino General Manager Bill Macdonald indicated would sit “atop a dozen tribal member homes and assignments on six additional acres of tribal assignee land,” said Napoles, as well as a quarter-mile section of North Pa Ha Lane.
This rendering suggested that the Tribe, the fifth largest in California and home to about 2,000 members, according to the Bishop Paiute Tribe website, would have to displace some of its people to unspecified locations to accommodate the proposed development. A “yes” vote wouldn’t have meant “that people would be forced to leave their homes,” Napoles clarified; “but the initial maps and renderings showed [the development] on top of homes.”
Of particular concern to the Napoles family was the fact that the Casino Hotel/Resort would sit atop contested land assignments granted to Ron Napoles’ grandmother, Ida Warlie, in 1937, as well as the land assignments of Napoles’ cousin, Gail Vassar-Manuelito. “We are against the building of a Casino Hotel/Resort because it will all but grant the Tribal Council the authority and motivation to continue its assault on our family’s assignments,” Napoles wrote in a Facebook post on his page dedicated to the proposal, “Save North Pa Ha.”
Ida Warlie originally received the land, now directly behind the Paiute Palace Casino, as an assignee for her entire family. The assignment, Block 3, contains multiple lots, including two acres of open pasture, large enough to accommodate any of her family members that might choose to live there. In 1962, a new Ordinance mandated that “Assignments on the Bishop Reservation will be limited to two (2) lots per assignment,” Napoles explained in a June 25 Facebook post. “At the time, the Tribal Council and Tribal Board of Trustees understood and knew ‘the original assignee had the land,’” he wrote. “So, from 1962 the families who had Head of Household cruised along just fine, no one tried to enforce the ordinance and take their land.”
Things changed, Napoles said, when U.S. 395 became a tourist corridor, and assignments became areas for potential economic development for the Tribe. Because of this, Napoles maintains, “Eventually, the assignment was cancelled and the Tribal Council quickly seized the land for Economic Development.”
“We wanted a chance to have due process with that land,” he said. “When it was included in the Casino plan proposal, that became a concern for us.” The defeat of the $20 million Hotel proposal, which was to be phase 1 of the larger $120 million project, doesn’t mean the conclusion of his family’s ongoing struggle with the Tribal Council over their grandmother’s assignments. “The Tribe believes that they have already appropriated the land,” Napoles said. “We’ve got our papers and they’ve got their papers. So we’ll see what happens.”
Nevertheless, Napoles expressed his gratitude for the result of the Tuesday vote. “I’m happy for the Tribe and happy for my family,” he said. “We’re happy with how it turned out.”