The Jamul Indian band has dropped a lawsuit in which it was accusing state officials of meddling with its casino plans.
Neither side explained what was behind the joint request to dismiss the lawsuit in San Diego federal court.
A spokesman for the California Department of Transportation, or Caltrans, said he couldn't talk about the case until the judge agreed to dismiss it.
Repeated calls to tribal officials and their lawyers were not returned.
However, a lawyer for a group of neighbors opposed to the casino said the tribe agreed to submit its plans to a state environmental review.
“The key result here is that there is no federal court ruling advancing the (tribe's) interest,” said Stephan Volker, lawyer for Jamulians Against the Casino. “Instead, their lawsuit has been dismissed, which, from my perspective, is a complete victory for the public and the environment.”
Whether state officials could review the casino plans was the crux of the case.
“That's not their business,” Jamul tribal Chairman Kenneth Meza said in a December interview. “They just need to know who's going in and going out.”
The lawsuit was setting up as a battle between tribal and state governments to decide what happens within their jurisdictions.
The tribe pointed to federal law and tribal sovereignty as reasons it shouldn't have to submit its casino plans for review.
State officials said they are charged with ensuring highway safety and threatened to block access to the reservation if the tribe builds a casino without making amends for the harmful effect that additional traffic would cause.
The reservation is on a curvy and hilly section of two-lane state Route 94, about 20 miles from downtown San Diego.
Tribal officials say they plan to use the reservation's longtime driveway rather than build a driveway across nonreservation land it owns nearby, as Caltrans prefers. The tribe says local opposition would likely prevent use of a new driveway.
Earlier this year, the tribe's casino partner, Lakes Entertainment, cited the access dispute – along with a dismal credit market – for lowering the odds of the gambling hall opening to 50-50.
The company also wrote off $35 million it had given the tribe.
The dismissal, signed by both sides, may be a sign of a settlement, said Indian gaming expert Kathryn Rand, a law professor at the University of North Dakota.
But Lakes' flagging support may also play a role, Rand said.
“Did they have the resources to continue with the lawsuit?” she asked. “Litigation is extraordinarily expensive.”