Tule Lake Committee seeks injunction to stop airport sale

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Tule Lake Committee seeks injunction to stop airport sale

By LEE JUILLERAT For the Herald and News 9 hrs ago

The Tule Lake Committee filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court Tuesday for the Eastern District of California in Sacramento seeking a preliminary injunction to stop the City of Tulelake from selling the Tulelake airport to the Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma.

Following a closed meeting to discuss three purchase offers and a public hearing on July 31, the council sold the ground under the airport, which is “sponsored” by Modoc County, to the Tribe for $17,500. During the hearing, it was explained the $17,500 was the cost of Tulelake’s legal fees for completing the transaction.

After learning the city council had voted to approve the sale at a first reading earlier in July, the Tule Lake Committee offered $40,000 and promised to drop legal action against the city. The committee has filed suits opposing plans to build a three-mile long, eight-foot high fence around the 358-acre airport. Modoc County also made a verbal offer to match the Oklahoma tribe’s offer. Neither offer was discussed during the public session.

Following the public meeting, however, Tulelake Mayor Hank Ebinger said the Tule Lake Committee and Modoc County offers were fully discussed during the half-hour closed session. Ebinger had no comment Wednesday on the injunction request pending discussions with Michael Colantuono, the attorney who is handling the potential sale.

If the Federal Aviation Administration does not oppose the sale or if the district court does not approve the intervention request, the transfer will become final at the end of the 30 days, or about Aug. 30.

The action filed by the Tule Lake Committee challenges the unanimous council decision and claims the council failed to respond to requests it made to discuss the possible sale to the committee made in January and February.

“We expressed our interest several times,” said Barbara Takei, the Committee’s chief financial officer said Wednesday. “A lawsuit is the last thing we wanted to do but when your concerns are dismissed there’s no other recourse. It’s sad it’s come to this.”

In a statement, Takei noted the airport lands occupy two-thirds of the historic World War II Tule Lake Detention-Segregation Center site, where upwards of 18,000 Japanese Americans, two-thirds of them U.S. citizens.

According to her statement, “The City’s secretive closed meetings, its non-responses to the Committee’s inquiries and offers, its negotiations exclusively with the Tribe, its refusal to allow the Committee to have an agenda item to discuss its purchase offer, and its Ordinance that designated the Tribe as the purchaser, suggest that the vote on July 31 was a mere formality for an already-made decision.

“The City of Tulelake gave the Tule Lake Committee scant notice and no meaningful opportunity to be heard. The lawsuit asks the Court to ensure our concerns about the lack of consideration, due process and transparency are addressed.”

Takei also said the Tulelake City Council “wants to sell the lands under the airport to defendant Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma, an entity connected by federal court judgments to repeated criminal frauds and frauds on courts, and an entity in active disregard of state and federal laws.”

The statement also criticizes the Tribe’s legal problems.

According to the request for injunction, the Oklahoma Tribe has been fined $4.2 million dollars for its involvement in payday lending schedule schemes determined as fraudulent.

The suit notes, “Based on the Tribe’s previous statements about the World War II history, abusive business model, and extralegal behavior, one might expect the tribe to push the legal envelope, using tribal sovereignty to try to avoid regulation by the environmental and historic preservations laws that have protected the historic Tule Lake concentration site.”

In her statement, Takei said during the public hearing the “concern about Tule Lake as a nationally significant human and civil rights historic site was not evident, noting attorney Colantuono “repeatedly referred to the historic site as ‘a piece of dirt’ and that Blake Follis, the Tribe’s representative, said the Tribe’s priority would be to do “anything to support aviation.”

In the statement, Takei also said Follis has “repeatedly expressed indifference, even hostility toward preserving the Tule Lake historic site, arguing, ‘Japanese Americans had it much better than we did.’ ”

Email, text messages and phone calls to Follis were not returned.

Takei said a hearing date for the injunction may be announced in the next few days.

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