Feds clear land-use hurdle to gambling resort, while City Council remains opposed
By CLARK MASON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Plans for a casino-hotel resort in Cloverdale are back on track with an application by the Cloverdale Rancheria of Pomo Indians to take land into federal trust and clear the way for gambling.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs sent out formal notice last week of the tribe’s trust application for the 65 acres on the southern edge of Cloverdale, adjacent to Highway 101.
“This is a significant step toward gaming,” north county Supervisor Mike McGuire said Thursday, adding that he is opposed to the creation of another casino in Sonoma County.
The Cloverdale Rancheria is proposing up to 2,000 slot machines, 45 card tables, a hotel, convention center and entertainment venue.
It would be bigger than River Rock, the casino operated in nearby Geyserville by the Dry Creek Band of Pomo Indians, but smaller than the 3,000-slot casino resort planned in Rohnert Park by the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria.
“We already see one established casino and another that’s on its way and the county has very serious concerns about a third potential gaming facility,” McGuire said.
Cloverdale City Council members, who are on record opposing the casino, also expressed concern that it is another step closer to reality.
“This does not blend with what we envision for ourselves and what the history of this city has been,” said Councilwoman Carol Russell.
“I just don’t see an economic future for Sonoma County, let alone California that has too many casinos,” she said. “I’ve always felt we’re in the midst of some casino bubble.”
Cloverdale Rancheria tribal leaders could not be reached Thursday and their spokesman declined to comment.
But leaders of the 540-member landless tribe have said that re-establishing a reservation in Cloverdale and allowing the casino will provide economic benefits to both the tribe and the community.
Construction of their project, they said, will generate 280 to 1,065 jobs, depending on the scope of the gambling facility.
“Gaming operations employment would range from approximately 1,610 employees for a hotel and a casino facility to 960 employees for a 168,772-square-foot, casino-only project,” the tribe stated in its application to the Secretary of the Department of Interior.
The Cloverdale Rancheria or individual members have proposed casinos on several sites in the past decade with different backers.
But the current project gained serious traction after the tribe partnered with Sealaska, an Alaskan tribal group, to buy land, finance the casino resort and manage it. Sealaska helped build and manage the 1,750-slot Valley View Casino in San Diego County under a similar arrangement with the San Pasqual Band of Mission Indians.
The proposed Cloverdale casino resort, which could potentially generate up to 9,553 daily vehicle trips, is the subject of an ongoing environmental impact study overseen by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
The tribe four years ago began the process of applying for the land to be placed into federal trust.
Sonoma County Counsel Bruce Goldstein said Thursday that it appears the Bureau of Indians Affairs has deemed the application complete, leading to the formal notice sent out last week.
“This is a critical step for the tribe in their path to open up a casino,” he said. “Maybe the most important step is to get the lands taken into trust for gaming purposes.”
To open up a casino, the Cloverdale tribe also must obtain a compact from the governor, which must be ratified by the Legislature.
The timing of the application could also have been influenced by the Graton Rancheria’s recent signing of a compact with Gov. Jerry Brown, according to some analysts, and perhaps by the possibility of an administration change in Washington, D.C., with the November election.
“Are tribes trying to get as much as they can, as quick as they can?” said Cheryl Schmidt, a casino critic who heads up the gambling watchdog group Stand up for California.
Goldstein said the BIA “works in mysterious ways” and criticized its procedures as “Byzantine” without any objective criteria. He noted that the federal agency generally finds tribes have met the criteria to place land into trust.
Goldstein said the county will request additional time beyond the 30-day period the BIA provides for comment on the tribe’s application.
The land the tribe wants to place in federal trust for its gambling project includes one parcel within the original boundaries of the Cloverdale Rancheria before it was dissolved in the late 1950s.
The Department of the Interior in 2008 determined that if the Secretary of the Interior takes the land into trust, the parcels are eligible for gambling because the property they acquired with Sealaska’s backing constitutes restored Indian lands.
Currently there are barns, horse paddocks, corrals and vineyards on the property, which lies between the freeway and the Russian River.
There are industrial warehouses and storage facilities to the south, off Santana Drive, and the city’s wastewater treatment plant to the north.
County officials said they want to make sure the tribe fully mitigates the impact of the casino.
“There are serious concerns with the impacts to local law enforcement, the health care system, already-stretched infrastructure and the social fabric of northern Sonoma County,” said Supervisor McGuire.
You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or firstname.lastname@example.org.