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Tuesday, March 13, 2007 | The man with the mustache and tan uniform standing behind the counter was no assistance to Karen Toggery on Monday afternoon.
With yellow construction equipment flattening her empty home 12 miles away in Jamul, Toggery turned to the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department in a last-ditch attempt for help. They offered none; the casino is being built on a federally recognized reservation — sovereign land.
Toggery spent a frustrating afternoon trying keep the bulldozers from clearing her home away for a $350-million, 12-story casino. She failed. After years of delays, the Jamul tribe followed through on its plans to demolish the homes of Toggery and Walter Rosales, who lived on the reservation but are not members of the legally recognized tribe.
In doing so, the Jamul tribe reversed course on promises its chairman gave to casino protestors over the weekend. At a Saturday standoff where casino opponents were clubbed and pepper sprayed, tribal chairman Leon Acebedo helped resolve the confrontation by assuring opponents that no construction would happen until Friday.
But Monday morning, the Jamul tribe’s executive council unanimously rejected the temporary reprieve offered by Acebedo, who said he warned opponents Saturday that he didn’t have the authority to issue such a delay.
With the dètente canceled, demolition began quickly. Toggery’s home was torn down first; the wood-sided home of Rosales, a life-long resident of the Jamul Indian Village and casino opponent, came down soon after. And with it went a sign that read: Jamul, Love it Or Leave It.
In all, four homes were torn down, Acebedo said.
“They’re all gone,” he said. “They’re all leveled out. They’re being loaded on to a Dumpster.”
Toggery, 52, who was forced out of her house Saturday, relied on updates from neighbors to hear whether her home had been demolished. Prohibited from entering the property where she was lived since her childhood, she began looking elsewhere Monday for someone to help intervene. Her first stop was the county sheriff’s substation in Lemon Grove. She emerged in early afternoon frustrated, talking on her cell phone.
“He said that don’t matter,” she was saying. “He said it’s not their jurisdiction. There’s nothing he can do.”
Toggery and Rosales, 59, have protested that the casino would destroy burial sites they consider sacred. They say their relatives’ ashes are spread around their homes. Eviction notices issued by an intertribal court had been taped to their doors Feb. 24, promising they’d be removed from their homes within five days. Jamul tribal security officers arrived at their homes at 7:15 a.m. Saturday and escorted them out.
Though the homes have been demolished, full construction is not starting yet. Acebedo said planning and architectural work still need to be done. Asked why the homes were torn down if construction wasn’t ready to advance, Acebedo said the demolishing was “an important step we needed to get done.”
“Why now? My tribal members are very tired of the delays, they’re very tired of waiting,” he said. “We’ve been in legal fights for 15 years. Now they’re pressing me to get it done.”
The Jamul tribe has broken off its negotiations with the state, Acebedo said. Those would’ve required the tribe to demonstrate that it had made a “good faith effort” to mitigate the casino’s impacts. Instead, the casino will use a type of gaming machine that replicates bingo games and doesn’t fall under state regulatory control. Games such as blackjack, roulette or typical slot machines would be prohibited.
Acebedo said he expects the machines to be less profitable. “That’s a given,” he said. “It’ll just be a matter of doing the best marketing job we can to get customers in.”
Patrick Webb, the Jamul attorney representing Toggery and Rosales, said he is seeking a temporary restraining order from a federal judge in Washington, D.C., where the duo has a lawsuit pending under the federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. A hearing was also scheduled Tuesday morning in San Diego Superior Court seeking a similar action under California law.
“I think it’s down to the wire for everybody,” Webb said. “We have yet to decide what’s putting the pressure on them to do this. We can only assume it’s coming from Lakes Gaming, which has the money up.”
Lakes Gaming is the Minnesota-based company fronting the money and planning expertise to help the 51-member Jamul tribe build its casino.
Other residents have already moved. At its peak, Toggery estimated 40 people lived in 17 homes on the 6.2-acre Jamul site.
Sitting outside the Lemon Grove sheriff’s substation, Toggery said she is living temporarily with a neighbor, while her belongings sit in storage. She was coming to grips with her home’s destruction, but did not appear distraught. She pledged to continue fighting the casino.
“You can’t sit here and cry, it’s not going to help,” she said. “I’m not going to give up, if that’s what they think. Land is the most precious thing you can have.”
Please contact Rob Davis directly with your thoughts, ideas, personal stories or tips. Or send a letter to the editor.