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Governor grants gaming compact for Rohnert Park casino

Looking southwest, the newly proposed Rohnert Park casino site is marked by the plowed field at top with Home Depot to the right in this 2005 photo.


The Indian casino-resort proposed for the outskirts of Rohnert Park cleared a crucial hurdle Friday, securing the state compact it needed before construction can start.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature on a gaming contract was one of the final governmental agreements that the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria needed before moving ahead with the controversial $433 million project.

It could have up to 3,000 slot machines, 5,500 parking spaces, a 200-room hotel and restaurants and bars. If built to completion, it would become Sonoma County’s largest private employer and one of its most costly developments.

The project, to be built just west of the Scandia Family Fun Center, also would be the closest full-service casino to the entire Bay Area. No details were available Friday about a building schedule.

The 274-page compact outlines casino earnings that could rise above $400 million a year, spotlighting how it might transform the lives of the tribe’s roughly 1,300 members.

Tribal chairman Greg Sarris, who called local officials Friday to tell them the news, did not return phone calls or an email seeking comment.

But one of the tribe’s most prominent supporters said that casino profits could revive the longterm prospects of the tribe’s Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo Indians.

“Let’s just hope that this really improves their lives,” said Connie Codding, majority shareholder of one of the county’s biggest development companies. “That’s what we’re all hoping for, that it will enable their children to get a better education and a better life.”

For opponents, including local legislators and community activists who have fought the casino for more than a decade, there was a sense the battle is now likely lost.

“I think we have to honestly say that the odds are pretty long against stopping it,” said Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael.

He and others had sought to block it on the grounds it would spur other regional casinos, bring unwanted traffic and crime and harm the environment.

“We’re all deeply, deeply concerned about our quality of life and how it might be affected by the building of the casino,” said Supervisor Shirlee Zane, whose 3rd District borders the casino property.

The state Legislature and the federal Department of the Interior still need to ratify the compact, although such actions are typically routine. The Legislature has held up approvals before but is believed to have rejected only one, experts said.

Under terms approved by the National Indian Gaming Commission, the project, bordered on the north by Wilfred Avenue, is smaller than that the tribe originally proposed.

Still, the tribe estimates that the project will create 750 construction jobs when it is underway and and 2,250 jobs once it is complete.

“Sonoma County will benefit from the jobs that will be created,” said Lynn Cominsky, a Sonoma State University professor and a member of the Friends of the Federated Indians of the Graton Rancheria.

The compact also requires the tribe to funnel $100 million into Sonoma County in its first seven years of operation, with more after that. The money would offset impacts on the environment, criminal justice and social service systems and traffic, among other areas.

About $40 million would go to the county, and another would $60 million would go to Rohnert Park.

That would be about 15 percent of the casino’s net winnings for “local communities and gambling mitigation and regulation,” Brown’s office said.

That makes the agreement the first in the state to explicitly require such payments to local jurisdictions, said Sonoma County deputy county counsel Jeff Brax.

“That’s to the tribe’s credit and the governor’s credit,” Brax said.

It also would set off a longterm injection of financial assistance for Rohnert Park. City leaders in 2003 negotiated a 20-year pact under which the tribe would, if its revenues met expectations, pay the city and various community groups about $200 million.

“Once this is in place, there will be fiscal benefits to the city,” said Mayor Jake Mackenzie, who first suggested the tribe could set up a casino in Rohnert Park but later cast the sole vote against the financial agreement.

Other Rohnert Park leaders said the council must now make sure the agreement’s terms are met.

“I’m not reassured until I see all the fine print,” said Councilman Amy Ahanotu. “My goal moving forward is to make sure that Rohnert Park is protected.”

Casino opponents, who have seen several lawsuits against it batted down, on Friday fastened on lawmakers as the place for a final stand.

“At this point our first line of defense is public protest to the legislature,” said Chip Worthington, a leader of Stop the Casino 101, a coalition of groups opposing the project.

“We’re not thinking at this point about mobilizing for a lawsuit; it’s about PR” to convince the Legislature to reject the compact, he said.

County officials had asked the governor to delay signing the compact until they’d had a chance to weigh in with their concerns, Zane said.

“So I’m deeply disappointed by the governor’s office’s failure to talk to us,” she said.

Representatives of the governor said there had been ample discussions.

“We worked closely with the county throughout this process and met with them many times over the last eight months,” said Jacob Appelsmith, a senior Brown adviser who negotiated key terms of the compact.

The county in 2008 negotiated its own agreement with the tribe, which said that if the county and the tribe could not agree on how to lessen the casino’s environmental impacts, they would enter into arbitration to resolve the differences.

Should the Legislature ratify the compact, negotiations between the county and the Federated Indians would then resume.

“It’s really about making sure that we’re not going to be out of pocket a dime,” said Supervisor David Rabbitt, whose 2nd District includes the casino property.

The Graton tribe, which is working with Las Vegas-based Station Casinos as a business partner, already is permitted to open a similar Class II gaming facility with bingo slot machines and card tables.

While unwelcome, that would be far preferable, Worthington said.

“It’s the difference between a Santa Rosa Mall and a grocery store shopping center,” he said.

The federal government took the tribe’s 254-acre parcel of land into trust in 2010, effectively making it a reservation exempt from local regulations.

One unknown factor is whether the tribe and its backers have the financial means to undertake a development of such a size. According to the compact, the tribe has already spent more than $200 million on “pre-development costs.”

Also, the tribe last year did not make the $500,000 contribution it had made each year since 2004 to the Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety.

Station Casinos declared bankruptcy in 2009, raising questions about is ability to complete the project. At the same time, though, it is moving ahead with a large Indian casino in Michigan.

The county’s only other Indian gaming establishment, the Dry Creek band of Pomo Indians’ River Rock Casino, opened in 2002 in the hills above Geyserville.

(Staff Writer Brett Wilkison contributed to this story. You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or jeremy.hay@pressdemocrat.com.)


29 Responses to “Governor grants gaming compact for Rohnert Park casino”

  1. Dan W. says:

    “Station Casinos declared bankruptcy in 2009, raising questions about is ability to complete the project. At the same time, though, it is moving ahead with a large Indian casino in Michigan.”-Brett Wilkinson

    If Station Casinos were to have received a massive federal government bail-out, had Obama fire/replace their CEO, avoided restructure, and sold double-subsidized tokens for playing slots, Libs would consider them a successful company.

    Realistically, we all know that Moonbeam signed the gaming contract as a union kickback for campaign contributions. Isn’t organized crime great?

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  2. David Stubblebine says:

    GAJ: You should have quoted the very next sentence as well – “The authors caution against applying their results too generally.”

    The authors also list several positive impacts from regional casinos that were omitted in your cherry-picked quote. However, the report is 10 years old and, therefore, based on our previous economy. This fact alone may render the entire paper irrelevant to Sonoma County’s situation today.

    I am neutral on the casino issue (surprising that I have no opinion on something) but I recognize that it is a significant issue for our region. For that reason, the discussion surrounding the matter deserves to be relevant.

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  3. GAJ says:

    “The negative changes include about a 10 percent increase in auto thefts, larceny, violent crime, and bankruptcy in counties four years after a casino has opened, and an increase in bankruptcies within 50 miles of a new casino.”


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  4. Graeme Wellington says:

    Did Marlee Montgomery sell her hovel that was in the County area near the casino site? She’s usually repeating talking points every time this story is in the paper, but I haven’t seen a peep out of her lately. I wonder how much she made if she sold out?

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  5. Follower says:

    “Millionaire Farmers”

    So that’s a pejorative?

    Let me make sure I’m following this…

    People immigrated LEGALLY to the US to pursue the “American Dream” often with little or nothing.

    Worked hard, saved money, bought land, built farms where there were none before producing food for us all.

    They raised their children on these farms teaching them the skills they developed over generations.

    NOW… that worthless land once way beyond reasonable reach has a freeway running through it and the grandchildren or great grandchildren of those LEGAL immigrants are finally in a position to fulfill the American Dream their ancestors worked so hard to create.

    …and that’s “bad”?!!

    Sounds like an American success story too me, something to be celebrated and admired, not bashed.

    Some of you people are REALLY sick!

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  6. Michael Sheehan says:

    How about they skip this entire farmland fiasco, and simply add on a few casino cars to the $MART “money train” so we only get one likely boondoggle, and not two?

    After all, both gambling and SMART will cost locals millions in unaffordable losses, so it’s a perfect fit. We could call it “The Off-Track Betting Express.”

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  7. Graeme Wellington says:

    The farmers got 10 million, but they aren’t millionaires? Liberal logic I guess. Station Casinos went bankrupt too so didn’t that cause Carnalli’s bankruptcy in a cascade effect? Did the farmers have to give back their 10 million? Carnalli didn’t get the money and he’s dead. We can all be covet his good fortune.

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  8. Kay Tokerud says:

    @ Graeme, regarding “millionaire farmers” that sold the land to the casino, you need to get your facts straight. Real estate tycoon Clem Carnalli (now bankrupt) bought the land for $10million and immediately turned around and sold the land for $100 million to the casino developers. The “farmer” got ripped off obviously. This deal was like insider trading, the former owner didn’t know the land could be used for this development. In fact, the owner believed his land was “wetlands” and was not developable. Mr. Carnalli knew otherwise.

    And after making $90 million in profit on this one deal alone, why did Carnalli go bankrupt? What happened to all that money? This is the kind of corruption we’re seeing with the now popular public/private partnerships. Isn’t this what’s known as fascism?

    I’d love to learn more of the facts around the land acquisition process if anyone can shed more light on this issue. Has anyone talked to the previous land owner?

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  9. BigDogatPlay says:

    I note, somewhat disinterestedly, that the compact signed by the governor mandates a $40M annual payment to the county and a $60M annual payout to the unquestionably honest City of Rohnert Park. That ought to close a budget hole or three, eh?

    Knowing, of course, that the progressive yayhoos in charge of both entities will simply blow all that money on more give away programs to help them hold gullible ‘issue’ voters in line and retain their filthy, hypocritical hands on the levers of power.

    So for all you gamblers out there who will be patronizing the grand wigwam of Chief Get Rich Quick Sarris, how do you feel about the $100M in what will arguably be taxes that you’ll be paying out of your losings? The tribe is going to have to set those poker slots for very few wins to afford that kind of a nut.

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  10. Chucky says:

    I see we’re all blaiming Gov. Brown. So your telling me CEO Meg Whittman would have declined the casino. You got to be kidding me. The whole casino craze started with Gov. Terminator who was a Republican. Any Governor would have approved this casino because they see money, but thats if it ever gets built.

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  11. joey says:

    the casino isnt even built yet and the only problems i see are the words coming out of peoples mouths. maybe they should wait to get their facts straight so they can go ahead and put their heads back up their a$$. id like to see opponents telling 3000 people to find work somewhere else.

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  12. sarkyfish says:

    Read the smoke signals: money plus California democrats equals corruption.

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  13. Frank Matters says:

    lets keep farmlands, framlands
    have you all seen what SWRCB would like to do to farmlands, ranchers
    planting more grapes anyone
    remember the opposition to big boxoutlets
    its amasing how the left is putting rosa parks( business ) to the back of the bus agin
    maybe you all that oppose this casino, would like a solar plant of windmill like Solyndra and Beacon Power — that took $571 million in taxpayer subsidies down with them.

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  14. Follower says:

    At least it won’t be build with Redevelopment Funds!

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  15. Jim says:

    This appears to be another well thought out project. Just like the Target in Petaluma, that will create an absolute traffic disaster, this casino will turn 101 and Stony Point into a parking lot. Stony Point is one lane. 101 has been expanded, but with a carpool lane, which have been proven worthless everywhere in the state they’ve been built.

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  16. Kim says:

    Having read the article this morning, I couldn’t help but to Laugh Out Loud!

    Sonoma County got exactly what they deserved by putting Jerry Brown back in the Governor’s seat. In a way, all you “progressives” voted FOR the casino! Seems your vote came back to bite you in the buttox! LOL

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  17. Beef King says:

    Jerry Brown is, was, and always will be a hypocritical progressive marxist.
    He has put himself squarely in the corner of the wealthy against his brothers and sisters who count on him to beat the ‘man’ into submission.
    When does this mouth-breather run out of time in Sacramento?

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  18. Graeme Wellington says:

    One thing that needs to be pointed out here is once again the complete and total failure of leadership by our elected County officials. All of them knew the legal battles could not be won, but to please the squeaky wheels, they pursued every fruitless angle to delay this rather than negotiate in good faith to mitigate the impacts.

    Only Rohnert Park negotiated and got something instead of nothing. County officials completely ignored legal advice and spent massive amount of taxpayer money so that they could look good. Now, the citizens of Sonoma County will have to absorb the lion’s share of costs associated with the casino and they have no recourse whatsoever to recover any of it. The Tribe can tell them to pound it and no huffing and puffing is going to make any difference.

    There is nothing in the Bible about gambling either. Worthington’s pretextual fight is simply an attempt to foist his sense of “morality” on everyone else. Don’t go to the casino Chip. Put six month’s income into an insured savings account and advise your flock to do the same and just leave us all alone and shut up.

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  19. Graeme Wellington says:

    I’m pretty sure the grazing cows and sheep that were there several years ago when the tribe bought the land at the top of the real estate market were owned by millionaire farmers who got even richer and had stopped farming long ago. The animals were likely just to maintain the pretext of the property being a “farm” to avoid taxes and receive tax subsidies. Oh, I long for the old days of free money from the taxpayers to maintain cows and pasture.

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  20. Frank Matters says:

    According to the compact, the tribe has already spent more than $200 million on “pre-development costs.”

    EPA, EIR, devolpment permits, fees defending,lawyers,proctologist exam

    Thanks to the envirotrash its what the leftwingnuts do its all they know lawsuits and more lawsuits, reduction of state revenue & the private sector

    want to know why the schools have no moneys “Thank a Environmentalist”
    you know them, they go by the names like puffman,Evans,wiggens,chesbro and even Moonbeam, he sign this cuz other bills in the past cause a reduction in the private sector
    what has happen to America?
    hey David
    might want to look into Lawson landing, people live there
    Casino land not being used

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  21. BigDogatPlay says:

    It’s going to be interesting to see where Station Casinos is going to get the money to front to the tribe for the actual construction. The company is in a deep financial hole now and it’s not like money is easy to loan these days.

    $200 million in “pre-development”. Wow. Take out the $3.5M of grease ‘contributed’ to the City of Rohnert Park (and they still owe last year’s $500K according to the article) and one wonders how long it’s going to take for the tribe’s members to wake up and demand an audit of the books. The tribe’s offices on RPX can’t be costing that much, after all.

    Someone is getting really rich out of this deal.

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  22. Missy says:

    According to recent articles Native Americans have been kicking out members of their tribe, including the Dry Creek Indians. They disenrolled 20% of their tribe in 2009 and just yesterday, in the PD it was announced that they were no longer going to have public transparency of their finances.

    I’m not sure which tribe it is that wants RP, but I believe it might be the POMO Indians, not sure. At this point they have not dis-enrolled their members but once they get their casino they will, rest assured, dis-enroll members and throw people out like every single Indian tribe in California has been doing. The LAT just did a huge article about this and there’s a blog called “Original Pechanga” which is documenting this.

    I am against this, I want our farmland to be farmland, and this is another reason that Jerry Brown needs to be recalled/get thrown out.

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  23. Sunny says:

    How many social security checks and welfare checks are going to be poured in the Indian casino by the bus loads from Oakland and San Francisco?

    Hopefully the Indians will prohibit smoking inside the casino so at least the patrons will leave broke and not risking lung cancer.

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  24. Reality Check says:

    The self reliance of the Tribes is long overdue. For sure, though, it won’t come through a contract with a casino operator. Free money from whatever source has not served tribal members well.

    This will further separate tribes from the rest of America. Oh, politicians and businesses that directly benefit will applaud. Not many else. Race-based special rules have no place in America.

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  25. Ricardo Sorentino says:

    Can’t wait to see the long-term burglary statistics once the casino is built. But as long as the RP Public Safety and the State of California has been bought off by way of donations, more overtime and increased tax revenues, what do they care?

    Maybe the casino will pay all the RP homeowners insurance costs.

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  26. John Bly says:

    It is tough to say we need more gambling in our lives, however, a world class destination resort will bring a lot of revenue into a pretty stagnant area. I reluctantly think this is a positive for our community.

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  27. Michael Racho says:

    The development of self reliance in California Tribes is long overdue. The history of Native Americans is not our battle..it is the future we seek!

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  28. Steve Klausner says:


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  29. David J. Spencer says:

    The grazing cows & sheep on Stony Point Rd. are now going to be displaced by a mega-gambling casino.


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