Welcome to Morongo
Set at the foot of the beautiful San Gorgonio and San Jacinto Mountains, the Morongo Indian Reservation spans more than 35,000 acres and overlooks the vistas of the Banning Pass. Resilient and resourceful, the Morongo tribe has had to overcome many adversities.
Tuesday, July 20, 2021
By Amanda Ulrich
The Morongo Band of Mission Indians plans to use existing Southern California Edison power lines, a section of which cross its reservation in Banning, to help connect solar, wind and battery resources to the regional power grid.
Morongo partnered with the utility company to develop and finance part of an upgrade to the transmission lines, the tribe reported in a press release Monday.
Morongo Transmission LLC, a partnership between the tribe as majority owner and a New York-registered investment company called Coachella Partners LLC, will operate the project. SCE was able to gain new rights-of-way across the Banning reservation, according to the tribe, while Morongo Transmission LLC was permitted to lease a percentage of the project’s transfer capability.
In return for financing a portion of the project alongside SCE, the tribe will “share in the proceeds” of the transmission lines, Morongo spokesperson Phil Southard said.
Morongo said in the release that it is the first Native American tribe in the country to be approved as a participating transmission owner, or an entity that owns or operates power lines.
“Morongo is honored to be making history once again as the first tribe in the nation to be a participating transmission owner,” said Charles Martin, the tribe’s chairman.
“Our tribe has a deep connection to the environment, and the agreement by Morongo Transmission to lease capacity on Southern California Edison’s newly upgraded system will further that legacy by delivering green energy resources to the Southern California power grid.”
Morongo’s involvement is part of a broader effort from SCE to deliver more renewable power to the Southern California region.
The partnership falls under Southern California Edison’s West of Devers Upgrade, a project several years in the making that replaced nearly 50 miles of aging power lines between a substation near Palm Springs and San Bernardino.
The project tripled the system’s capacity to transmit power generated by renewable resources to major population centers in Southern California, according to the tribe. Those specific renewable energy projects, like solar farms, are located in more eastern parts of Riverside County, Imperial County and outside the state. Southard added that none of the renewable energy sources are located on the Morongo reservation.
Southard did not have specific figures on Monday for the project’s financial impact on the tribe.
In February, the Board of Governors for the California Independent System Operator approved Morongo Transmission’s application to join the nonprofit, a first for a federally recognized tribe. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission then finalized all necessary approvals to allow operations by Morongo Transmission earlier this month.
Elliot Mainzer, CAISO’s board president and CEO, praised Morongo and SCE in February “for their creativity and flexibility in developing an innovative ownership structure that enables this critical transmission project to proceed,” the press release said.
Monday, July 19, 2021
The tribe’s majority-owned partnership will use newly upgraded Southern California Edison transmission lines to connect solar, wind and battery resources to the regional power grid.
The Morongo Band of Mission Indians near Palm Springs, California, has become the first Native American tribe in the nation to become a participating transmission owner as part of a new project that will help California meet its green energy goals.
In early July, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) finalized all necessary approvals allowing operations by the Morongo Transmission LLC, a partnership between the Morongo Band of Mission Indians as the majority owner and Coachella Partners, LLC, a subsidiary of Axium Infrastructure.
FERC’s action follows a February approval by the California Independent System Operator (Cal-ISO), marking the first time a federally recognized tribe has received a designation as a participating transmission owner.
“Morongo is honored to be making history once again as the first tribe in the nation to be a participating transmission owner,” said Morongo Tribal Chairman Charles Martin. “Our tribe has a deep connection to the environment, and the agreement by Morongo Transmission to lease capacity on Southern California Edison’s newly upgraded system will further that legacy by delivering green energy resources to the Southern California power grid.”
The agreement is part of SCE’s West of Devers Upgrade Project which replaced four circuits of aging high-voltage power lines along a 48-mile existing corridor that stretches from the Devers substation near Palm Springs to Grand Terrace and San Bernardino.
The project, which crosses the Morongo Indian Reservation west of Palm Springs, tripled the system’s capacity to transmit power generated by solar, wind, and battery resources in eastern Riverside County, Imperial County and outside California to population centers in Southern California at no increased cost to ratepayers.
Approved by the CAL-ISO in 2011, the project supports California’s Renewable Portfolio Standard and greenhouse gas emission reduction goals.
Completed in May 2021, SCE spent nearly 24 months the existing transmission lines with high-capacity conductors on new, stronger towers, designed to increase power flow by 3,200 megawatts (MW).
Morongo partnered with SCE to develop and finance the three-fold upgrade (1,600 MW to 4,800 MW) to the transmission lines. As part of that agreement, SCE obtained new rights of way across the Reservation and granted Morongo Transmission, LLC the option to lease a percentage of the project’s transfer capability in return for payment of a pro rata percentage of the project cost, sparing SCE the need to fund the entire project.
FERC’s action follows the February 2021 decision by the Cal-ISO Board of Governors to approve Morongo Transmission, LLC’s application to join the ISO. At that time, Elliot Mainzer, ISO’s Board President and CEO, commended Morongo and SCE “for their creativity and flexibility in developing an innovative ownership structure that enables this critical transmission project to proceed.”
The West of Devers Upgrade Project will help bring more renewable energy to communities in southern California. Photo: Southern California Edison
MORONGO INDIAN RESERVATION – Tribal Chairman Robert Martin, a nationally recognized and respected leader in Indian Country who guided the Morongo Band of Mission Indians near Palm Springs, CA for three decades, will retire from tribal government, effective July 1.
“I have thoroughly enjoyed my journey as I worked with our Tribal Council, our membership and leaders in all branches of governments to advance self-reliance and tribal sovereignty,” said Robert Martin, who decided not to seek reelection in June after six consecutive terms as chairman.
“I’m proud of the great progress our tribe and our Tribal Council have made together during my tenure as we created new economic and educational opportunities for our members, our region, and all of Indian Country,” Robert Martin said. “I am confident that the next generation of tribal leaders will continue the important work of advancing tribal sovereignty.”
Elected to his first term as chairman in 1983, Robert Martin served a total of 18 years as chairman and another 11 years on the Morongo Tribal Council spread across the next four decades.
Charles Martin, no relation to Robert Martin, was elected as the new Morongo Tribal Chairman and will be seated July 1. He has served 12 years on the Morongo Tribal Council. Born and raised on the Morongo Reservation, Charles Martin is deeply committed to service and leadership within the tribe. His career in both tribal leadership and business development has been characterized by a strong work ethic leading to career experience in numerous fields including public safety, entertainment and organizational management.
“Hardworking, engaging, and entrepreneurial, Chairman Robert Martin’s leadership transcended generations and cultures,” said Charles Martin. “He is an inspiration and a role model for tribal leaders everywhere, and we look forward to benefiting from his continuing wisdom and counsel for many years to come.”
During his time in tribal leadership, Robert Martin helped lift Morongo from generations of crushing poverty and neglect into the economic and cultural powerhouse it is today. A consummate diplomat, Robert Martin’s warm nature, deep insights and calming demeanor in the face of challenges were the hallmarks of his steady leadership.
“Chairman Robert Martin has – and will continue to be a pillar in Indian Country,” said California State Assemblymember James Ramos. “Chairman Martin serves as a role model for so many of us and I thank him for his teachings.”
Robert Martin grew up on the Morongo Reservation, helping his family raise cattle. A lifelong resident of the San Gorgonio Pass, he graduated from Banning High School, studied business at Mt. San Jacinto Community College and worked as a contractor and homebuilder before entering tribal government.
A fierce champion of self-reliance, Robert Martin led Morongo when the tribe joined with the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians to block state and county officials from shutting down the desert tribes’ high-stakes bingo and card parlors in 1986.
That struggle led the Morongo and Cabazon tribes to secure the landmark 1987 U.S. Supreme Court decision that confirmed the sovereignty of Indian tribes across the nation, and their right to establish gaming operations. That watershed decision fueled an economic and social renaissance that brought roads, clean water, housing, health care, jobs and education to reservations across the U.S.
“There were some in Indian Country who told us to quit because they thought we were risking too much,” Robert Martin recalled years later. “Some thought we should be content with modest bingo halls and small card rooms. But I felt the issue was too important to give up.”
Robert Martin oversaw construction of the original Casino Morongo in 1994 and, 10 years later, the development of the $250 million Morongo Casino Resort & Spa. The towering 27-story resort remains the tallest building between Los Angeles and the Arizona border, and was expanded in 2020.
Under Robert Martin’s leadership, Morongo also diversified its business portfolio with new ventures in finance, health care, manufacturing and retail. Today, Morongo’s business enterprises generate nearly $3 billion annually in regional economic activity and provide over 2,500 jobs, making the tribe one of Riverside County’s largest employers.
The tribe’s successful businesses fund Morongo’s vital tribal government services for its members, including healthcare, public safety, fire protection, education, and social services.
“Without a doubt, Chairman Robert Martin was instrumental in setting Morongo on a path of financial stability and economic success that will benefit generations of tribal members for years to come,” said Riverside County 5th District Supervisor Jeff Hewitt.
From meetings at the White House to offering testimony before the U.S. Congress, the California State Legislature and the Riverside County Board of Supervisors, Robert Martin worked closely with city, county, state and federal lawmakers on a multitude of issues including economic development, land use, water, energy, education, the environment, transportation and tribal gaming.
Robert Martin’s devotion to protecting tribal sovereignty and Indian culture led him to fight for the rights of Native children, driving Morongo to join other tribes, state attorneys general and child welfare organizations in defending the Indian Child Welfare Act against a 2018 court challenge.
A passionate defender of Morongo’s rich culture and tribal traditions, Robert Martin remains deeply committed to developing future tribal leaders. He helped establish a tuition-free college preparatory academy at the Morongo Reservation – the first of its kind in the nation – and ardently supports college scholarship programs to help tribal youth secure a higher education.
Morongo Thunder & Lightning Pow Wow
Morongo Casino Resort & Spa