Auburn mayor wants answers from tribe about land
Mayor Kevin Hanley has some questions for the United Auburn Indian Community about its plans for the last major undeveloped land within Auburn’s borders. Does the tribe intend to follow the plan approved by the city?
“It’s just a big question mark,” Hanley said Tuesday, the day he learned the extent the UAIC had been involved with the Baltimore Ravine project, though its Specific Plan was approved by council nearly two years ago.
When contacted by the Journal seeking an answer as to whether the tribe will move forward with the plan, UAIC spokesperson Doug Elmets declined to comment on the Baltimore Ravine project on Tuesday.
The overriding concern among Hanley and some residents is what happens if the tribe were to apply to have the federal government take the land into trust, giving the UAIC sovereignty over its use. On Monday, Elmets said the tribe has no plan to pursue that.
Until December 2012, Hanley said he and the rest of the City Council had no knowledge the UAIC had any ownership related to the project council approved in February 2011.
On Tuesday, Hanley said he learned the extent of that ownership. Elmets told the Journal the UAIC acquired full ownership of the land involved in the Baltimore Ravine project from Roseville developer Stephen Des Jardins.
“I thought that Stephen Des Jardins was still the majority owner,” he said. “That’s been my assumption until recently.”
Des Jardins also declined comment through Elmets.
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.
“If they have a major ownership stake, or the whole thing as what the spokesman said, then they are going to be crucial,” to Auburn’s future, Hanley said. “And if they want to provide housing to their own tribal members according to the approved Specific Plan, I think that would be great.”
After confirming that the tribe owned the land, Elmets said Monday night what the UAIC planned to do with the land is “to be determined.” Hanley said that raises a “great uncertainty.” Adding to that uncertainty is when the tribe doesn’t approach the city to communicate its intentions, he said.
Hanley had not heard from the tribe Tuesday, and did not know whether there had been any communication that day between city staff and UAIC.
“Part of a good neighbor policy would be to communicate with the city on what their intentions are,” Hanley said. “I think that would be helpful to the city and helpful to the residents. What is the future of the Baltimore Ravine area, this huge last developed section of town? What is the future?
“We have an approved plan in place, but if there is a different future, then I think it is better to talk about it sooner rather than later.”
Hanley said residents received hundreds of letters detailing what it calls a “secret land deal” involving the Baltimore Ravine project and the tribe last week. He addressed it at Monday’s City Council meeting.
The unsigned letter claims the tribe set up Baltimore Ravine Investors LLC – which the city confirmed is the name on the title – to hide its identity and that it used Des Jardins as the “face” of the project to Auburn and Placer County officials, as well as community representatives.
Elmets said Des Jardins asked the tribe to partner with him on the project in 2008 when he ran into financial troubles, and the UAIC later took over full ownership of the land. He said it is common for wealthy investors to establish LLCs so the price on a prospective project does not become inflated, and that the tribe has never tried to hide anything.
The idea of a “secret land deal” is “absurd,” Elmets said.
However, both city officials and some Auburn residents involved with the project had been in the dark until now about the UAIC’s involvement.
Hanley was the lone dissenting vote on the Baltimore Ravine Specific Plan at the Feb. 28, 2011 City Council meeting. He said if it had been known the UAIC was involved, discussions about the plan before it was approved may have been different.
“I think council members would have asked additional questions related to the intentions of the tribe, as far as do they intend to go forward with the Specific Plan, or any potential trying to bring it into federal trust,” he said. “I don’t think it would have prejudiced discussion of the project, per se.”
James and Kim Dahlin said they are controlling partners of the land for Phase 2 of the project and they had entered into a three-year optional agreement in 2006 with Des Jardins and during the middle of that deal, ownership switched from Des Jardins to the UAIC without their knowledge.
It is not clear when UAIC took over full ownership of the Phase 1 land.
“The problem is the Indian community can do whatever they want up there if it becomes sovereign land,” James Dahlin said.
The city said any amendments to the Baltimore Ravine Specific Plan would have to go before council for approval, and no process to make the property “tribal land” has been initiated.
In 2008, the Dahlins said Des Jardins told them he is no longer with the Diamond Creek Partners group and he’s now with the Baltimore Ravine Investors LLC. Des Jardins' Diamond Creek Partners also filed for bankruptcy protection that year.
They said they asked who his new partners are, only to be told it’s not important and they would be informed later.
In October 2009, they eventually declined to sell their land to who they thought was Des Jardins, so he moved forward with Phase 1, they said. Only Phase 1 was approved by the council for development, while Phase 2 was limited to having a master plan created.
“The city needs to step up on this,” James Dahlin said. “The city and the city attorney have to get a hold of Stephen and the Indian people and sit down. … The City Council needs to light a fire under them to get to the bottom of what’s going on.”
Jon Schultz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Jon_AJNews