Estates residents disappointed with lack of response from feds
Complaints from San Diego Country Estates homeowners regarding excessive noise and dust from the Barona Indian Reservation racetrack have been expressed in numerous letters to government officials and elected representatives, but the correspondence has yielded very little response, according to the chairman of the Barona Noise & Pollution Action Committee.
Marshall Kelsay, an Estates resident, has been volunteering his time as chairman of the Barona Noise & Pollution Action Committee (BNPAC). An investigator by occupation, Kelsay said he is no stranger to dealing with the government.
Basically no one is responding, Kelsay said. “It’s not a matter that they tell you that they can’t (do anything). They just don’t respond.”
Having contacted authorities at all levels, from local and county to state and federal, as well as tribal officials, Kelsay said authorities pass the buck. County says it is a state or federal problem while federal says it is a state problem. One answer the BNPAC has been given is that Barona has sovereign nation status and therefore the county and state cannot intervene, and federal agencies refuse to intervene, said Kelsay.
“Basically what the federal government has done is let Indian nations do whatever they want,” Kelsay said, referring to the sovereign nation status.
“This is a regulatory issue—pure and simple—a matter of noise and dust pollution,” he said.
The Environmental Pollution Agency (EPA) is turning its head away from the issue, Kelsay said, adding that he believes 80 percent of the motorcycles at the track do not meet EPA standards.
Kelsay said homeowners are not asking Barona to shut down their racetrack, but instead to move it elsewhere on their 6,000-acre reservation.
Although Edwin “Thorpe” Romero, chairman of the Barona Band of Mission Indians, did not take questions, Sheilla Alvarez, government affairs director for the Barona tribe, responded by sending the Ramona Sentinel a copy of a letter Romero wrote to elected representatives, dated Sept. 11, 2009, in which he addressed the idea of moving the motorcycle track.
According to Romero, proposals to move the track to a neighboring site were made on two separate occasions by tribal members but were rejected by the General Council because the suggested site is culturally sensitive. Romero said there is no other area on the reservation that is zoned for recreational purposes due to the geographic make-up of the reservation, sites designated for current and future tribal homes, and culturally sensitive areas.
Country Estates and the initial racetrack were established about the same time, around 1972. A portion of the 3,250-acre development in southeastern Ramona abuts the reservation. The track has grown from a “pee wee” mini-motorcycle track with limited hours of operation to additional venues with increased hours of operation. While the Barona Oaks MX track has been the major focus, also located on the reservation are the Barona Speedway, the Barona 1/8 mile Drag strip and a paintball park.
Kelsay said the noise on a Saturday, standing on Barona Mesa Road, is unbelievable.
“It about noise and quality of life,” Kelsay said, adding that homeowners are stuck and can’t sell their homes.
Some of the latest correspondence expressing the homeowners’ frustration include a letter from Kelsay to Jerry Gidner, director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C., and a letter from Congressman Duncan Hunter to James Fletcher, superintendent of the Southern California Agency of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) in Riverside.
Kelsay has not received responses from Gidner or Fletcher. He also has not received responses from letters sent to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder; Assistant U.S. Attorney, Southern District, Karen P. Hewitt; San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis; State Senator Dennis Hollingsworth; or State Assemblyman Joel Anderson.
Hunter, county Supervisor Dianne Jacob, and the San Diego Sheriff’s Department are the only officials who have cooperated on the matter, according to Kelsay. Hunter, in his letter to the Southern California agency of BIA, stated that the residents deserve the courtesy of a response from appropriate federal agencies.
Romero, who sought to tell Barona’s side of the story in his correspondence, said reports from various regulatory agencies show the track is not in violation, and that the tribe has applied many of the recommendations from the EPA in good faith, even though they weren’t required. He said the track’s operators have made changes on a voluntary basis to combat the noise, dust and environmental issues.
Two tribal members, Alan Walter Banegas, Sr. and Dayton Banegas have been operating the track for the past three years. Romero said they have installed lower wattage speakers to decrease the volume of the public announcement system, use water trucks to eliminate dust, have planted 43 hybrid-poplar trees around the track to create a natural sound and dust barrier, and redesigned the track to move the starting line facing away from SDCE.
Romero stated: “While we are fully aware that this track has increased in popularity and has required modifications to accommodate new riders, improved bike models and the general growth and acceptance of extreme sports competitions, we are also aware that each SDCE homeowner is presented, prior to purchase, a general disclosure informing them of the track, much like one would receive when moving next to an airport.”
A suggested option to combat the noise is to create a barrier. Romero referred to the trees planted around the track, as well as two 180-degree berms constructed in front of the starting gate. He said a report by the County of San Diego suggested affected residents place sound attenuation barriers at their homes. He added that he was not aware of any efforts on the part of those residents but said each side needs to do its part to achieve maximum results.
Romero noted that the track has attracted people from many areas of San Diego County and is enjoyed mainly by youngsters 18 and under. He said the tribal government and track operators are sympathetic to residents’ concerns, but the limits they are bound by and the efforts they have made and continue to make factor into keeping the operation at its current location.
Kelsay said the tribe does not have the right as a sovereign nation to pollute its neighbors and feels the federal government needs to step in and resolve the issue.
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