Retired junior-high counselor Lynn Pokela two years ago sank $80,000 into her small house overlooking Mission Beach. With one letter this month, she thinks, its value was reduced...

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TULALIP RESERVATION — Retired junior-high counselor Lynn Pokela two years ago sank $80,000 into her small house overlooking Mission Beach.

With one letter this month, she thinks, its value was reduced to zero.

Pokela is one of 343 homeowners on the reservation who learned Dec. 18 that the Tulalip Tribes plan to end their leases on reservation land. The tribes say environmental problems and a need for housing for tribal members led to the decision to stop renting the property, which they have done for 60 years.

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“There are safety reasons and there are major environmental reasons for this,” said Ron Dotzauer, a spokesman for the tribes.

The leasing policy change is the latest in a string of decisions the tribes have made that affect non-Indians who live on the Tulalip Reservation near Marysville.

Two years ago, the tribes enacted a residential building moratorium, and last year they angered some landowners on the reservation’s beaches with proposed shoreline regulations, which are still in dispute.

The proposed regulations would restrict development on tidelands and establish guidelines for the tribes to charge homeowners rent for buoys, docks and decks.

And a 2003 increase of $28 in monthly utility rates — to $93 a month — drew hundreds of homeowners to a meeting to complain.

Some non-Indian residents say that ending the leases is an attempt to kick nontribal members off the reservation. Others say bold moves should be expected from the tribes as they gain financial stability and membership.

The first leases to end will be a strip of 32 small cabins on Mission Beach. Homeowners must move out by 2012.

People with homes on the bluff above Mission Beach will have a chance to renew their leases for another 15 years when their current leases expire. That gives some people as many as 40 more years before they have to move.

But residents say they’ll feel the effects before then.

“I’m paying $766 a month for the land only because I owned something,” said Gary Simeral, whose living- and dining-room windows overlook an expanse of Possession Sound. “Now I own nothing.”

Homeowners probably won’t be able to sell their houses, let alone refinance. Pokela is looking into moving her house to try to retain some of her investment.

Debra West and her daughter, Saoirse, take in the scenery along Mission Beach on Wednesday. West’s parents have owned a home along the beach since she was a child, but the tribes’ leasing change means they must eventually leave.

The tribes have leased land on their 22,000-acre reservation since 1940, when their bleak financial situation forced them to lease their prime real estate. Cheap rent — between $300 and $1,000 a month — made life on the beach accessible to working-class people and retirees.

Now the tribes operate two successful casinos on their reservation, as well as a shopping center with a Wal-Mart and Home Depot. They’re building an outlet shopping mall along Interstate 5, and they have plans for a water park and luxury hotel. But tribal leaders stressed that the decision to end the leases was not economic.

And now homeowners are counting the years they have left.

For Debra West, who grew up spending summers on Mission Beach and taught her daughter to walk on the sand there, eight more years is too short a good-bye.

“I don’t think anybody’s completely shocked,” she said. “The thing that irks the most is that they’re saying it’s for environmental reasons.”

Landslides are a common occurrence behind the row of beach houses. “It’s part of life,” West says.

“We’ve dealt with landslides ever since we moved here,” agreed Jake Dorsey, whose parents own a house on Mission Beach. “It was part of the package.”

Homeowners blame the water pollution in the bay on the tribes. Tribes blame the homeowners. Swimming in Tulalip Bay has been forbidden the past several years because of pollution. Ending the leases is the first step in cleaning up the bay and restoring its marine life, tribal leaders say.

Rumors abound that the tribes want the land back so they can develop it, but Tribal Chairman Stan Jones Sr. says the tribes’ main concerns are environmental.


Jake Dorsey, 22, must use a catwalk to get down the high bank at Mission Beach when he visits his parents’ home on the Tulalip Reservation, near Marysville.

“There’s nothing going to be down there,” Jones said. “It’s going to be open just to walk down the beach and enjoy yourselves.”

Some homeowners are more forgiving than others.

“My opinion — it’s their land. They can do whatever they want to,” said Sheila Gilbert, who bought her 3-bedroom view house for $26,000 nearly 20 years ago and pays $350 a month to the tribes. “If they need to provide for their people, then I’m not an objecting person.”

Even though they know it’s tribal land, families who have lived on Mission Beach for generations feel ownership, too.

The waves crash just a few hundred yards from Dorsey’s parents’ deck. The beach, he said, is his “sanctuary.”

“It’s just kind of like a lot of people love this place, and now they can’t have it anymore.”

Emily Heffter: 425-783-0624 or