BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — It has been years in the making and the Tejon Tribe has the green light to bring a resort and casino to Kern that will hopefully catapult the tribe’s economic prosperity. The Tejon tribe is one of more than 500 federally recognized Indian tribes in the U.S., but it is the only one in Kern County.

Socioeconomic inequities don’t escape Tejon tribe members.

“Health and housing support,” said Sandra Hernandez, Treasurer of the Tejon Indian Tribe. “Those are two of the biggest that we are seeing our tribal members deal with.”

Under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, one of the core policies is to promote economic development, tribal self-sufficiency, and strong tribal governments. More than a year ago, Former Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs Tara Sweeny proposed to Governor Gavin Newsom that such a project would be in the best interest of the Tejon tribe.

“When we heard the governor was ready to concur on the gaming compact, I was holding my breath for ten years,” said Hernandez.

After several months of roadblocks, Newsom signed a tribal-state gaming compact. Around 320 acres are to be entrusted to the federal government for the benefit of the Tejon tribe.  

The tribe counts more than 1,200 members. A third of the tribe is under the age of 18, and over half of the tribe lives under the federal poverty line. One-third of tribal households receive support from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for needy families.

Of the more than 300 acres, 52 acres will be designated for the long-awaited Hard Rock Tejon Casino and Resort. It will put Bakersfield on the map for tourists looking to get away from it all.

“Outside of the actual venue is the opportunity for Bakersfield to be recognized within California,” said Hernandez.

The Tejon tribe says the remaining acreage will be used for administrative offices, a healthcare facility, housing and supporting infrastructure for the tribe.

“I can go to Cabo, I can go to Lake Tahoe,” said Kern County’s Chief Administrative Officer Ryan Alsop. “All these destinations that are associated with vacationing, Kern County is now going to be on that list.”

The $600-million project will reside along Highway 99 near Mettler, bringing about 2,000 jobs during construction.  After its grand opening, about 3,000 jobs will be available for tribe members and Kern County residents.

 “We have a great local development agreement with Hard Rock International and the Tejon tribe,” said Alsop. “That is about a $200-million value to Kern County over the next 20 years.”

The casino and resort will also come with a joint Sheriff and Fire Department sub-station that will bring necessary public safety to the area.

“It is a tremendous opportunity,” said Alsop. “Not only for their people but they have created a project that is really meaningful for us all.”

The compact is now headed to the state legislature for ratification. Once approved, Hard Rock says the entire process from ground-breaking to grand opening will take about 18 months. Further from the economic benefits Kern residents and tribe members will reap, this is also an opportunity to recognize the original stewards of the land amid the inability to correct historical wrongs.

It is not so much a correction,” said Hernandez. “We’ve lost too many people waiting for this, I can’t see this as a correction any more than I can see it as something as finally coming thru that the community sees as right, that the governor sees as right.”