The Board of Supervisors Tuesday approved a policy change that formally recognizes Riverside County’s jurisdiction over privately owned parcels that are within sovereign Native American reservations.

“These `fee lands’ are under the jurisdiction of the county,” Transportation & Land Management Agency Principal Planner Robert Flores said. “This (policy) change will help create robust coordination and collaboration between the county and tribes in regulating these privately owned lands.”

The board unanimously agreed to implement a general plan amendment that places an agricultural land-use designation on fee lands, paving the way for what Flores said, ideally, will be a less cumbersome process of managing development requests connected to the properties.

He said it is not currently known how many fee lands there may be on the dozen Indian reservations established within the county. The private parcels can be almost any size, and some may not be in the middle of reservations, but on the perimeter and were likely sold off by tribes in the past. In some cases, tribal public safety agencies may service the locations.

According to Flores, the general plan amendment will not hinder tribes’ authority to review proposed changes to the fee lands, especially when they impact reservation soil and members.

“This allows somebody to build a house or continue to conduct harvesting with simple agricultural elements,” he said.

However, TLMA will now be able to streamline the permitting process for each development request, thanks to the board-approved change.

“Before, when we were processing projects on fee lands, it was getting stuck,” Flores said. “Nothing should slow the process down now.”

Eliminating confusion over jurisdictional boundaries might mean that someone wishing to convert a single lot into a subdivision encompassing four separate lots can get through the county review a little faster, according to Flores.

He acknowledged that cannabis grows might be considered on fee lands, but they would still require the rigorous scrutiny that goes along with board oversight of conditional use permits.

The Morongo Band of Mission Indians, the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians and the Soboba Band of Luiseno Indians initially expressed concerns about the proposed general plan amendment. But according to Flores, all were ultimately satisfied that sovereign powers would not be impeded by the change.

“I feel very confident and comfortable that we did our due diligence,” Supervisor Manuel Perez said before casting his vote in favor of the modification to county policy.

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