Pala Band may buy ranch

North County Times 2.28.11



PALA ---- The Pala Band of Mission Indians, which operates a casino, avocado groves and manages other real estate investments, is hoping to close on a long-standing effort to buy Warner Springs Ranch for $20.5 million in coming months, according to spokesmen for the two sides.

Warner Springs Ranch has laid off roughly half of its 150 workers in recent months as the deal has come closer to finalization, said Dave Lowe, general manager of Warner Springs.

The Pala Band plans to make extensive renovations to Warner Springs Ranch once the deal is closed, thus the reason for the layoffs as the ranch will be closed "temporarily" during the upgrade, said Doug Elmets, a spokesman for the Pala Band.

Pala's unsolicited offer to buy the 2,500-acre Warner Springs Ranch, a private club established in 1844, has been hung up by legal challenges from equity owners in the resort who have disputed everything from boundaries to property titles passed down by families, Lowe said.

The challenges to the sale have come from some of the 1,400 owners of 2,000 deeds held on the ranch property, he added. Still, more than 66.67 percent of the owners voted in favor of the land sale, making it a sure thing based on covenants governing the property's sale. The covenants are structured similar to those equity holders have in a country club.

"The tribe is hopeful these issues will be resolved," Elmets said. "There appears to be a fair amount of deferred maintenance, and the tribe is eager to address this once it owns the property."

Warner Springs, which has a 250-room resort, mineral hot springs, horse stables, a glider port and an 18-hole golf course, is situated in the foothills and grasslands between Palomar and Hot Springs mountains.

The Pala Band, which operates a casino on its 12,273-acre reservation nearby, views the acquisition as important toward restoring its "aboriginal, or ancestral land" to the Pala Band, according to Elmets. The Cupeno Indians, which was a related band to the Palas, lived in the villages of Cupa, now known as Warner's Hot Springs, 40 miles east of Pala. The Cupeno were forced to move to the Luiseno village of Pala in 1903 from their homeland of Cupa, according to the Pala Band's history.

The Pala Band operates a casino and spa, 1,000-seat entertainment venue and a 507-room hotel.

Call staff writer Pat Maio at 760-740-352

Pala Band of Mission Indians

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