Skip to main content

Surplus land returned to San Manuel Band

PALA, Calif. -- Eighteen acres of ancestral land that have been returned to
the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians by the BIA will be transformed into
a development project that will include an international airport.

The land transfer took place in a ceremony Nov. 29 at the tribe's Pala
reservation, about five miles from the 18-acre property that is part of the
former Norton Air Force Base, which closed more than 10 years ago.

San Manuel Vice Chairman Henry Duro and other tribal officials attended the
celebration, during which the deed was signed over to the tribe by Interior
Department Associate Deputy Secretary James Cason. Other Interior officials
also attended the event at the reservation, which is located in an area
known as the Inland Empire.

"This is a joyous day for the San Manuel people. We have waited a long time
to reclaim these parts of our ancestral lands so that we can develop our
tribal economy and participate in the revitalization of the Inland Empire,"
Duro said.

Cason congratulated the U.S. Air Force, the BIA and the tribe for their
efforts in completing the land transfer.

"Through consultation, cooperation and communication, they have effectively
brought the long and complicated process of transferring these surplus
federal lands to a successful conclusion," Cason said.

The rest of the air base property was acquired by other local governmental
entities, including the cities of Highland and San Bernardino, and San
Bernardino County. The tribe will work on a government-to-government basis
with the other land owners to develop the property.

Scroll to Continue

Read More

Although the area fell into an economic slump when the base was closed, the
existing airport has a runway system and towers, and continues to be used
on a limited basis for small cargo and private jets.

Discussions are under way among all stakeholders to create a comprehensive
plan for the future, tribal spokesman Jason Coin said.

"I think the prospects for growth in the area are great enough that another
international airport will be justified. What's especially important is the
San Manuel tribe is at the table with these other governmental entities,
trying to map out what this region will look like 10 and 20 years from now.
As a recognized tribal government with a stake in the property, we'll be
able to help shape the environmental, economic and social future; and it's
a good example of how these projects can be put together cooperatively,"
Coin said.

The land transfer process began when the tribe sought to acquire portions
of Norton Air Force Base under the Federal Property and Administrative
Services Act of 1949 after the base closed in 1994. The Air Force agreed to
transfer three parcels of the surplus federal property at no cost, as
stipulated in the act. The property includes the Air Combat Camera Services
facility and other smaller buildings. Although the land was transferred
with a waiver of fair market value, the tribe has already spent money to
renovate one building to use as a training facility for tribal and local
fire and safety personnel.

The 200-member tribe has an 800-acre reservation in southern California
that has been home to the Serrano people for centuries before European
contact. The area's first non-indigenous populations came from Spain and,
later, Mexico.

The tribe has been hugely successful in its economic development projects,
which include San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino; Four Fires, an economic
coalition between the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, the Forest County
Potawatomi Community of Wisconsin, the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin
and the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians of California that developed a $43
million Marriott hotel project in Washington, D.C.; a cooperative ownership
of the Twin Palms Restaurant; the San Manuel Bottled Water Group; and San
Manuel Village, a real estate investment project to develop land near the
San Manuel reservation into a property that will include a hotel and
conference center, restaurants, retail space and offices.

In 1891, Congress authorized a 25-acre reservation for the tribe at the
base of the McKinley Mountain in the San Bernardino Mountain Range. An
intricate network of fault lines, including the San Andreas Fault, runs
through the reservation and extends under the tribe's administrative
offices. The new land is better suited for the tribe's needs and will
support its effort to contribute to the local economy, according to the