Signatures for a new voter initiative for the Gila River Indian Community (GRIC) on the Loop 202 freeway extension will be turned in during a meeting with the tribal elections office at 11 a.m. today.
There was some delay turning the signatures in because the process is unknown. During a Legislative Standing Committee meeting on Wednesday Nadine Shelda from the GRIC elections office said there was no procedure for the ordinance but that they planned to follow what was done for the pet cap, a referendum put forth by the tribe in the past that was eventually sent to the people to vote on. There has never been an initiative put forth by the people.
The GRIC constitution says that any people’s initiative must be turned over to tribal council with a petition signed by at least 10 percent of qualified voters. The council then has 60 days to either accept the initiative as is or put it to a public vote within 120 days of the day the petition was turned in.
GRIC Landowners has the required signatures but there was some confusion about when the clock would start for the council’s 60 days. It was unknown if the clock would begin once the signatures were turned in or once the signatures were verified.
The Landowners asked the tribe’s legislative standing committee for a special council meeting to work out the timeline, but during Wednesday’s meeting it was decided that the Landowners could formally turn in the signatures and the process would be followed as outlined in the constitution. The council will have 60 days to decide what to do with the initiative. If it goes to public vote it will happen within 120 days of when the signatures are turned in.
Many community members and landowners arrived to show support for or against the initiative during the Legislative Standing Committee meeting on Wednesday.
Lori Riddle, a community member and environmental activist, presented her reasons why the initiative should not go to a vote. She said there was no Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the freeway for the community to base its decision on, and that the community had already voted on the freeway in the past. She also encouraged the tribe to seek more sustainable and green development.
Joseph Perez, a partner in Pangea Development, said GRIC Landowners started the initiative to save South Mountain, but the recent development with the Tohono O’Otdham tribe getting one step closer to potentially building a casino in Glendale right off the Loop 101 could mean lost casino revenue for the Gila River community if it doesn’t get better freeway access to Vee Quiva casino.
“When that decision by the ninth circuit court of appeals was done it really made this initiative more than just a landowner initiative to save South Mountain,” Perez said. “The current alignment for the Loop 202 will go right past the new Vee Quiva casino. There is no exit for it. The TO casino is right on the 101 and it has an exit. If the current alignment stays in place and there’s no exit for the casino, the TO’s will get their casino and my estimation, based on my 18 years of gaming experience being a general manager and CEO of Indian casinos, my tribe stands to lose I would estimate from $50 to $125 million a year in casino revenue, which directly affects the per capita distribution to community members.”
Perez said if the initiative goes through it would give the Gila River tribe the opportunity to negotiate a freeway exit near Vee Quiva.
The draft EIS is estimated to be released before the end of the year.
The new initiative being put forth by GRIC Landowners would ask the tribe for a yes or no vote on the freeway going on allotted and tribal lands. GRIC Landowners say they have collected more than 1,500 signatures for the new vote, 871 of which are registered voters. They only needed 643.