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Tribe Files Lawsuit to End Illegal County Taxation in California

The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians filed a lawsuit January 2 against Riverside County for unlawfully collecting taxes on the reservation.
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The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians are taking the fight to Riverside County, arguing that the County’s possessory interest tax imposed on the reservation is unlawful and infringes on tribal sovereign rights.

The latest step in the fight came January 2 when the tribe filed a lawsuit “asking a federal judge to stop Riverside County from unlawfully imposing and collecting a possessory interest tax on the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation,” according to a tribal press release.

The tribe’s basis for its lawsuit falls on federal law and a 2013 ruling by the Department of Interior that confirmed that possessory interest taxes imposed on Indian lands are unlawful and infringe on tribal sovereign rights.

The tribe states that Riverside County presently assesses and collects the tax on residents of the reservation, then uses a substantial portion of the revenues collected outside of the Coachella Valley. If the lawsuit is successful and the county is forced to stop collecting the tax, the tribe said it would impose and collect its own possessory interest tax that would benefit the local area.

According to the press release, the tribe recently adopted a comprehensive taxation code that could be transitioned to smoothly. The tax would apply prospectively to possessory interest holders on tribal lands.

"Riverside County uses the money collected on the Reservation to benefit people living in other cities and areas far away from where the taxes are collected," Chairman Jeff L. Grubbe said. "The tribe’s desire is to keep tax money within our community to service the Coachella Valley.”

Named in the lawsuit with Riverside County are County Assessor Larry Ward, County Auditor-Controller Paul Angulo; and County Treasurer-Tax Collector Don Kent, in their official capacities only.

“The tribe remains committed to working collaboratively with all of our neighbors, including Riverside County, now and while the lawsuit is pending, to find the best path forward,” Grubbe said.