Shooting range draws fire

by Chris Daley, February 28, 2015, Mountain Democrat

Jackie Neau said she didn't mind the noise so much. She's more concerned with getting shot. Neau, a representative of the Friends of El Dorado Trail, shared her concerns with El Dorado County Supervisors Tuesday regarding a proposed outdoor shooting range on tribal land just off Shingle Springs Drive in Shingle Springs. She was one of more than 200 in attendance when the Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians presented its proposal to the board and the community.

At issue is the tribe's decision to move forward with a 29-lane shooting range on its land immediately south of the interchange with Highway 50. And because of its status as a "sovereign nation," the tribe is not bound by law to get the county's permission for anything it does on land it holds in trust. Speaking for the tribe, Kim Stoll said her group wants to be a good neighbor and good community partner by making its intention public, open and transparent. While emphasizing that the plans are "very preliminary," she said the facility could be open by mid to late-summer.

Responding to District 2 Supervisor Shiva Frentzen's question, County Counsel Robyn Drivon told the board that the "county has no direct control" over the tribe's activities other than "diplomacy and human relations." However, the county does have control over access to the site from Shingle Springs Drive, she added.

The proposed facility is in Supervisorial District 4, and Supervisor Michael Ranalli opened the session noting that there are "a lot of homes" near the proposed range and that the "noise (factor is) unknown but significant." He also expressed concern for stray bullets as a hazard to the nearby El Dorado Trail, the railroad and animals.

Stoll made a slide presentation detailing a number of features the range would have to reduce noise and the possibility of stray bullets. The tribe's Website shows various models and perspectives of the project. She said tribe members conducted tests with decibel meters at just under a mile away from the location by firing a large-caliber handgun and rifle. The noise did not register at that distance, she said. The test locations are significant because they are the Blue Oak Elementary School, Blue Oak Montessori School and a local church. The schools share a campus approximately two-thirds of a mile from the proposed project.

Stoll assured that there currently are no plans for the range to be open and in use during school hours.

Several residents expressed grave concern for their children's safety both at home and at school as well as the nuisance factor of the noise. Others said their horses have been frightened by gunshots.

James Williams described the current quality of life in the neighborhood as likely to be "substantially degraded" by the shooting range. Williams was representing the South Buckeye Rancheros Homeowners Association. He said the facility would be "inconsistent with the county's General Plan" and would have "ingress and egress issues."

Ken Greenwood, a firearms instructor and former county planner, told the board that given the small size of the property, the noise would be "non-mitigable." He also enlightened the audience noting that the industry term for stray bullets is "projectile escapement."

Land use policy and General Plan veteran activist Art Marinaccio told supervisors that over the years three other projects have been proposed on the property and were denied as being not suitable. Citing its proximity to the Highway 50-Shingle Springs Drive interchange, he complained that the county has no comprehensive policy regarding interchanges.

Stoll's presentation noted that the tribe had communicated its plans with area residents and schools, however, several residents challenged that statement saying they had not been contacted either individually or as groups.

Sue Taylor, with the Save Our County organization, said, "We called around to see who has jurisdiction, and they all said, 'Go talk to the tribe.'" Taylor further accused the tribe of "terrorizing the neighborhood" and demanded that supervisors "represent us to make sure of the health and safety (of the community)."

Several speakers described possible psychological effects such as Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome from the noise or fear of stray bullets. Frentzen then shared a generally private detail of her own life as a teenager and young adult growing up in Iran during the long Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s. And she acknowledged still being frightened by the sound of gunfire. "Take the high road and do something the neighbors will like," Frentzen urged. Earlier she asked Stoll and tribal attorney Amy Ann Taylor what prompted the tribe to build a gun range.
"Is this for the revenue or a hobby?" Frentzen asked.

Amy Ann Taylor said it is a response to interest expressed by some tribe members, but not all, she added. Those in favor want it for "gun safety" and for gun-related training. She noted that the tribe already has "a really intensive safety plan" in place.

Not all the comments were negative. Doug Erickson from Rescue and Gerald Hayden both felt the tribe had done a good job with its plans and preparations. No one spoke from a gun-control or "anti-gun" perspective, and several noted their own National Rifle Association membership but did not feel the location was right for a shooting facility.

Ranalli challenged the tribe, saying, "suppose we demand they submit a project application" and "please follow the normal process the county uses (for development projects)."

County Counsel Drivon responding to Ranalli's challenge advised that dealing with a federal land trust case, "at federal court would be very expensive and (the county) unlikely to prevail."
Ranalli then offered a motion to direct county staff  "to do what they can do and look at issues in our jurisdiction." District 1 Supervisor Ron Mikulaco eventually supported the motion as did the whole board, but he said he did not want to "encumber our staff with no jurisdiction."

Frentzen also questioned the action, asking prior to the vote, "Is this just a 'pretty please' motion?"