Swell of support for Hard Rock casino heard at virtual public hearing

A new casino development slated for south of Bakersfield received a flood of support during a public hearing the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs held Wednesday evening.

During the meeting, a parade of Kern County’s government and business leaders expressed full-throated endorsements for the $600 million casino and hotel development. Several Kern County residents also voiced their desire for the casino, along with at least one person from outside the region.

“Today is important because it is a step toward reestablishing a tribal homeland for the Tejon Indian Tribe,” Tejon Tribe Chairman Octavio Escobedo said at the beginning of the meeting. He mentioned the tribe’s long efforts to not only gain federal recognition, but also to establish a homeland, noting the tribe hasn’t had a home for generations.

The hearing comes after the Bureau of Indian Affairs released a draft environmental impact statement studying the impacts the 306-acre project would have on all aspects of life in the area around the casino. After reading the final version of the report, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior will make a determination on whether the casino can move forward.

If successful, the Tejon Indian Tribe will use the land as its new homeland. The 1,045-member tribe has no designated reservation.

In the environmental report, the bureau found the hotel and casino wouldn’t significantly impact the surrounding area as long as mitigation measures were taken. The most extensive option under consideration allows the tribe to develop a sprawling casino resort that includes an organic farming area, 102 acres reserved for residential housing, a community park, as well as fire and sheriff’s stations.

Hard Rock reports the casino will generate a $59 million annual payroll, supporting over 2,000 permanent jobs in addition to 1,000 construction jobs, and 2,000 indirect jobs.

A timeline of when the casino could open hasn’t been established.

In the past, Kern County leaders have been fully supportive of the casino development, citing the enticing financial implications and jobs prospects. On Wednesday, it was no different.

“This is really a game changer. We’ve all heard about the $600 million impact of the project, but that does not count the future, new money coming into our economy,” said Kern Economic Development Corp. President and CEO Richard Chapman. “This is going to create much needed economic parity.”

Other officials said the casino would allow the county to begin being less dependent on oil and agriculture industries, which are subject to a boom and bust cycle.

Longtime Kern County resident Dick Taylor said he never thought the area would see anything like a casino.

“If somebody would have told me 20 years ago that a Hard Rock casino was going to be built near here, I would have told them that they had rocks in their head,” he said. “But it is exciting to see that this is going to be a reality.”

The Bureau of Indian Affairs will address all substantive comments in the final environmental impact statement. Public comments can be submitted to the bureau until July 27. Emailed comments can be sent to [email protected] Verbal comments can be submitted to 916-755-0181.

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