Tom Bond: “I hear people accuse me of being a Nimby...we all have a right to not have our brains scattered by continual buzzing sounds.”
  • Tom Bond: “I hear people accuse me of being a Nimby...we all have a right to not have our brains scattered by continual buzzing sounds.”
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"It’s starting now. Do you hear it?” Henry asks. The raspy chirp of a motorcycle engine intrudes upon the morning’s stillness, muffling songbirds in the avocado grove on the slope below Henry’s house in Rainbow. Five miles away, the day’s first rider has entered a dirt track at the Pala Raceway.

The sound of motorcycles is all too familiar to area residents.

Located off Highway 76 on the Pala Reservation, the raceway was built by Ryan Oullette on 200 acres that he leases from the Pala Band of Mission Indians. Since opening in April 2009, the raceway has been popular with motocross riders. It now has 13 tracks, according to a map on the raceway’s website.

The raceway is not, however, popular with the hundreds of residents who live within ten miles of it. Since it opened, neighbors have complained about the noise to the tribal council, to Ryan Oullette, and to county supervisor Bill Horn.

Neighbors say that because the track is located on the reservation, Oullette does not have to comply with county or state laws. In fact, the Pala Band, a sovereign nation, is not subject to county noise ordinances. During the past two years, nearby residents say, Oullette and the tribal leaders have failed to mitigate the noise impact, and neighbors have discussed filing a lawsuit. One resident has even moved out of his home.

“I couldn’t stand hearing that buzzing sound every afternoon,” says Tom Bond, in a phone interview. Bond built his home in a mountain meadow, just below a 2230-foot peak that’s north of the raceway. He retired to the 11.5-acre property almost a decade ago, after his doctor told him to find a warm, dry climate. “I hear people accuse me of being a Nimby,” he says. “Bullshit, we all have a right to not have our brains scattered by continual buzzing sounds.”

Before the track was built, says Bond, “I would walk around my property, and all I heard was the wind and the birds and the sound of my heart. All that changed on opening day.”

Sitting outside on his patio, Henry (not his real name) talks over the low, snarling sound of a bike engine. His voice rises as his emotions surface. “For us, living on the hills surrounding the track, well, noise travels up. It bounces off the hills and into our face. Maybe they hope that we can get used to it, but I can never get used to that noise.”

Like Tom Bond, Henry moved to Rainbow in 2002 to retire. “On a warm spring morning, I’d like to come out here and read a book, not have the sound of a motorcycle revving in my face. It’s a constant irritation. How dare they do that? How dare they invade my world?

“The problem,” Henry explains, “is the low-frequency, guttural roar, and it fluctuates. That’s the most annoying part. If you lived on the freeway and the noise was constant, then you would get used to it, and you probably wouldn’t know it was there.”

Henry’s emotions are high today, April 1, because tailpipe restrictions are being implemented at the raceway today to cut down on noise. The restrictions don’t seem to be making much difference in the sound level.

In April 2010, Pala’s tribal council hired an acoustical consultant, Medlin and Associates, based in Carlsbad, to conduct a noise study. Neighbors were pleased to hear that the tribe had hired the firm, but they weren’t pleased with the findings.

Medlin and Associates determined that the sound coming from the raceway did not exceed the county sound level limit, which is an average of 50 decibels per hour in rural areas. So even if the tribe did have to comply with county noise ordinances, Oullette would be allowed to operate as is.

The Medlin study also found that the noise from the track — which it referred to as a low, continuous snarl — did not create a significant impact to area residents. Noise levels peaked at 50 to 55 decibels in the middle of the afternoon, and the study suggested that motorcycles ridden in the hills around Rainbow, vehicles used by avocado growers, and possibly chainsaws and weed whackers were responsible for some of the noise.

Despite finding that noise from the track did not exceed county limits, the consultant recommended limiting the sound from tailpipes to 96 decibels (measured from a distance of 20 inches), the level required by the State of California at vehicular recreation areas. Other recommendations included building sound barriers and reconfiguring the track.

Residents discount the study, pointing out that the acoustical consultants were working for the tribe and not for area residents.

Representatives from Medlin and Associates measured noise levels at Henry’s house one day. “They set up their noise meters during a Wednesday afternoon,” Henry says, pointing out that track usage is higher on weekends. “No way was that a true representation. I know what a weed whacker sounds like. It’s totally bogus.”

Dee DiPietro, who lives five miles from the track, also questions the accuracy of the study.

“There is a distinct difference between a motorcycle on the track and a random motorcycle or a nearby wood chipper,” she says. “When there’s a random motorcycle, it comes and goes and it is not a constant noise for five hours.

“It’s disappointing that there is so little regard,” she continues. “They think if they ignore us long enough, then we will get used to the noise and we will go away, instead of being responsible for it. I go home on the weekends from traveling, and I want to relax. They have ruined it.”

DiPietro exchanged city living for country living in 2005, when she and her husband purchased their place in Rainbow and began growing organic avocados. “This is supposed to be our retirement home, but who the heck wants to live near a racetrack?” she asks.

DiPietro echoes others’ complaints that the sound of bikes circling a raceway is hard to get used to.

Sharo Sanavi, principal for acoustical engineering firm ABC Acoustics, agrees. “There are some studies that show intermittent noise, such as dirt bikes, is more annoying than constant noise.

“The measurements might be under the limit,” he adds, “but they can still be considered nuisance noise because of the type of noise. Noise ordinances state that residents should enjoy their property.”

Shasta Gaughen

Shasta Gaughen

Shasta Gaughen is the Pala Band’s environmental director. She thinks that the neighbors may be exaggerating the noise level.

“In my opinion, the noise is very faint,” says Gaughen. “These folks moved into these rural neighborhoods where it is extremely quiet, so even a faint change in background noise is going to be noticeable.

“There might be some people that would hear the level of noise and say, ‘Come on, I live next to a freeway or train tracks.’ But when you’ve gone from silence to a buzzing background it can be annoying, and we certainly want to address that,” says Gaughen.

Gaughen disagrees that the tribe is not being compliant with local noise ordinances.

“People seem to hear the word ‘sovereign’ and think that [tribal members] can do whatever they want, but nothing could be further from the truth,” she says, during a phone interview. “We have to abide by all federal regulations. Obviously, we want to be good neighbors, and we don’t want to upset the people who live around us who expect the peace and quiet of rural life. But any contention by them that the tribe doesn’t have to follow the rules is not true.

“As the study indicates, the raceway is in compliance with local ordinances for noise levels. We want to do the right thing by our neighbors. We want to find the best and most efficient way to address the noise.

“The only way to completely solve the problem is to close down the raceway, and as far as I know at this point, that isn’t an option. There are some people who will not be satisfied unless the track is shut down.”

What’s the next step for nearby residents?

“Going to go get legal counsel,” says DiPietro. “They are creating an adversarial relationship with the community. We’ve tried to work with them, and they aren’t responding. There’s not much else we can do.”

Ryan Oullette declined to comment.

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Arborigine May 25, 2011 @ 1:39 p.m.

Easy solution. take away "Soveriegn Nation" status and close the casinos. Make them earn a living like the rest of us, instead of being leaches upon society.


SurfPuppy619 May 25, 2011 @ 10:23 p.m.

Easy solution. take away "Soveriegn Nation" status and close the casinos. Make them earn a living like the rest of us, instead of being leaches upon society.

======================= They are indeed soveriegn, but they do not have a constitutional right to gaming, that was given by the Congress in a statute in the late 1980's, and can be taken away by the Congress just as fast(although from a practical stand point that will never happen with all the $$$$$ The Indians bribe the Congress with today). I am sure the Federal gov could do something to bring pressure to the Indians to make/force them get with the program, and male/force them to be a good neighbor.

The Indian gambling in San Diego County was non existant in 1990, and today there is more Indian gaming in this county than any other county in CA, and most likely the nation.

Gaming is great for the Indians, who pay no income, property or any other taxes on that gaming money. Take away their monopoly or take away their gaming and it is game over for their life styles of the rich and famous.

As for the noise, I think the options ar elimited, but I do think there could be some legal issues that could be raised. I also think the Indians in this case are NOT the good neighbors they like to promote in TV ads.

As for the noise study, since the Inidans PAID for it, I would not put much value or credibility into it.


tomjohnston May 25, 2011 @ 11:44 p.m.

The Indian Gaming act, I forget the whole name, is a Federal law. It's been close to 40 yrs since I took a government class, but if I remember right, short of the Supreme Court ruling the law as unconstitutional or an Executive Order, the only way to change it is to write new legislation making parts of the old law null and void. It would still have to go thru the House and Senate and then to the President. And you are correct, it will never happen. I think if you did a little research, you'd be suprized. I believe it was last year that I read Riverside and SD counties both had the same amount of casinos. I think Pechanga is still the largest in the state. The counties in NorCal are alot smaller, but i think from Marin up to Mendicino, there are probably as many casinos as in SD or Riv. counties. More counties but a smaller geographical area. We have been to what is supposed to be the second largest casino in the world. It's an Indian Casino in Ct. about halfway between Boston and NYC. It's supposedly more profitable than any casino in Vegas or AC.


SurfPuppy619 May 26, 2011 @ 10:07 a.m.

We have been to what is supposed to be the second largest casino in the world. It's an Indian Casino in Ct.

Yes, I know the Indian casino you are referrign to, HUGE.

Indian gaming in CA, last I checked about 5 years ago, was nearly at the same level as Las Vegas (I thought around $10 billion-but don't recall the exact numbers) , which is amazing considering they just started building the Indain casino's in the early 1990's, less than 20 years ago, while Vegas has been there for decades.


Anthrogirl May 26, 2011 @ 11:14 a.m.

You are wrong about the constitutional right. SCOTUS ruled in 1987 that Indians have a right to operate gaming facilities; the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act came a year later and placed tight restrictions on what was already a legal enterprise.

You are also wrong that Indians do not pay taxes. I have friends from casino tribes, and I have seen their tax returns. Believe me, they pay; and the casinos themselves contribute significantly to the local economy by providing jobs; and those workers all pay taxes. Gaming is an economic benefit to the states. And let's not forget the millions that many tribes pay to states through their gaming agreements, not to mention the millions for local services and improvements.

And finally, SOMEBODY has to pay for these studies! Were the people in Rainbow supposed to pay for the study? If they had, and the study came back saying the noise was indeed as loud as they claim, would it lose credibility because it was paid for by those who are complaining? That's an inconsistent conclusion at best.


tomjohnston May 26, 2011 @ 12:20 p.m.

Let me correct you on a couple thing. As I said above. Indian Gaming Regulatory Act was enacted as a Federal law. And ANY Federal can be changed, though it's highly unlikely. SCOTUS did not rule that the Indians had a constitutional right for gambling. What it did was reaffirm tribal sovereignty. The case was California v. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians. I know it fairly well. My parents had moved to PS by that time and on occasion made their way to the casino so my dad could play a little poker. The state sued, arguing that the bingo and poker games violated state law and wanted the Court to recognize the States authority to regulate gambling on reservations. The Cabazon band argued that its status as a sovereign government prevented state interference in its affairs. The court found because California permitted gambling, its laws regulated gambling, rather than prohibiting it, so the state could not use its gambling laws to regulate the tribe's gaming operations. About 10 yrs ago SCOUTS ruled that Indian Casinos had to pay both federal wagering excise and occupational taxes. but in the treaties the government entered into with the Native Americans, they agreed any the federal government can't tax tribal government revenues and commercial enterprises established on the reservations would not be taxed. Their Sovereign status exempts them from paying state income tax if they live and work on the reservation, but they still must pay federal income tax. Every welfare check, Social Security check, or a retirement check issued to a Native American has all of the usual taxes taken from it. Every time they pull into a gas station, grocery store or department store, they pay a sales tax. If they purchase these items off of the reservation the taxes they pay goes to that particular community, not back to the reservation the live on. Tribal members who don't live on a reservation pay all the same taxes as everyone else


Anthrogirl May 26, 2011 @ 12:39 p.m.

I'm not sure if you are responding to me or to surfpuppy, but either way, I appreciate the clarifications. My response was to surfpuppy, for what its worth.


tomjohnston May 26, 2011 @ 12:55 p.m.

You may have intended to respond to surfpuppy619, buy you'll notice your comment is not indented under his post as mine is to yours, it's under my comment. Really makes no difference, just trying to add info to the discussion.


SurfPuppy619 May 27, 2011 @ 2:16 p.m.

Gaming is an economic benefit to the states. And let's not forget the millions that many tribes pay to states through their gaming agreements, not to mention the millions for local services and improvements.

It is no economic benefit, none whatsoever. The social costs FAR outweight the small amounts the tribes pay under their compacts.

They do not pay "millions" in local services either-that is a flat out whopper lie. They pay no income taxes, no sales tax, no property taxes. I am referring to the reservations, not a home in la jolla or a TV purchase at costco.

Anthrogirl, you're either a tribe member parroting the talking points, or related to one.


Anthrogirl May 26, 2011 @ 11:09 a.m.

They ARE earning a living. Why is it wrong for tribes to operate businesses for which there is clearly a market? The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 actually put restrictions on gaming, which the SCOTUS determined was a legal activity in the Cabazon case in 1987.


tomjohnston May 25, 2011 @ 3:42 p.m.

The basis for Native American's Sovereign Nation status is rooted in the Constitution. Over the years, there have been several challenges to it on various grounds, some making all the way to SCOTUS. All of the challenges were defeated. It would take an amendment to the U.S. Constitution.


Arborigine May 26, 2011 @ 8:01 p.m.

yes, they ARE earning a living, but they produce nothing. They create nothing, and therefore contribute nothing to society. They are living off the earnings of others, just like welfare. Seriously, how can they earn self-esteem if they won't earn respect?.


SurfPuppy619 May 27, 2011 @ 2:22 p.m.

yes, they ARE earning a living, but they produce nothing. They create nothing, and therefore contribute nothing to society. They are living off the earnings of others, just like welfare.

My point exactly.

But it is actually far worse, because they also provide the vice for which parents gamble away their childrens rent money, school money, lunch money and everything else under the sun.

They provide NOTHING for problem gamblers, exept for funding a toll free hotline which is around $3 million per year, peanuts compared tot he billions in profits. The tribes fund no clinics or other rehabilitation services for problem gamblers.


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