Letter alleging Baltimore Ravine 'secret deal' sent to hundreds in Auburn
In the past week, hundreds of Auburn residents received an anonymous letter about the Baltimore Ravine project and an alleged secret land deal involving the United Auburn Indian Community, said Mayor Kevin Hanley.
Hanley raised the topic at Monday’s City Council meeting to address some concerns about the letter, which claims the UAIC owns the land and wants to take it into trust with the federal government, allowing the tribe to use it as they see fit.
He said the council had been getting anonymous emails about it, too, since December, asserting that the UAIC bought the land and “that meant there’s going to be a casino any day now.”
The UAIC did purchase the land after Roseville developer Stephen Des Jardins ran into financial troubles, but there is no plan to take the land into trust, said UAIC spokesman Doug Elmets. The UAIC became involved in Spring 2008, Elmets said, which is also detailed in the letter.
Elmets said it’s “absurd” to suggest that it is a “secret land deal.”
“Who knows what the person’s intent was distributing this letter, other than to stir up some type of misguided anxiety when this is much ado about nothing,” he said. “This is simply an opportunity for the United Auburn Indian Community to buy a piece of investment property near their ancestral land base.”
Phase 1 of the Baltimore Ravine project includes 270 housing units and 54.5 acres of open space. Phase 2 is set to include 455 homes, 90,000 square feet of commercial space and 143 acres of open area.
City Manager Bob Richardson said the ownership of the property has never changed. In a written statement, the city said “Baltimore Ravine Investors LLC still holds title to the land and not UAIC.”
“The tribe owns a number of parcels in town and are probably investors in quite a number of others,” Richardson said. “And simply because they have ownership of property (in general), it really has no impact on land-use powers. The Baltimore Ravine project itself is approved by the City Council and would be amended by the City Council.”
For it to become “tribal land,” the process is neither quick nor quiet and requires congressional action and multiple public hearings, he said. No such process has been initiated, Richardson said.
James and Kim Dahlin said they are controlling partners of 140 acres that encompass Phase 2 of the Baltimore Ravine project, and they were unaware of the UAIC’s involvement with it.
“We understand the title hasn’t changed at all, but who is on the title is what’s important,” James Dahlin said, “who is on the bankroll that controls that LLC.”
The letter claims the UAIC set up the limited liability company so as to “hide” its identity.
Elmets said when a wealthy investor, or in this case one who “happens to own a very successful casino (Thunder Valley Casino Resort),” is interested in buying a property, the price becomes significantly inflated.
“It is not unusual that tribes that have casinos, or for that matter other investors, will establish LLCs, and there is nothing that the tribe has ever intended to hide,” he said. “In fact, the tribe is proud to be able to invest in this property, in particularly to invest in Placer County on land that is close to their ancestral land base and allows them to diversity their portfolio.”
A message left at The Des Jardins Group seeking comment Monday night was not returned. The city released its statement on the issue at its 6 p.m. regular City Council meeting.
Kim Dahlin said she and her husband had met about 25 times with Des Jardins about the Baltimore Ravine project and were never told the tribe was involved.
Elmets said he didn’t know why they wouldn’t have been aware of that.
“Stephen Des Jardins was the development manager and it was initially his project. … He ran into some financial challenges, and he asked the tribe to become a financial partner, which it did,” Elmets said. “And ultimately the tribe became the owner of the entire project.”
Elmets said the UAIC’s plans for what it intends to do with the land are “to be determined.”
“Nothing could be more absurd than to think that the tribe would build a casino on that land,” he said. “In fact, that would be an impossibility, because they already have a very successful casino in the unincorporated industrial area of south Placer County.”
Hanley said it is possible Baltimore Ravine could appear on the council’s agenda for a future meeting.
Jon Schultz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Jon_AJNews