By LORI A. CARTER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Petaluma City Council members will be asked Monday whether the city should urge North Bay legislators to reject the governor’s gaming agreement with the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, who plan a huge casino near Rohnert Park.
Councilman Mike Healy, an attorney who has opposed this and other casino proposals in Sonoma County, argues the recently signed compact doesn’t require the mitigation of impacts to surrounding communities.
“Even if Rohnert Park is happy and the county ends up being happy,” he said, “that still doesn’t take care of all the impacts.”
The city of Rohnert Park 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.
The state compact requires the tribe to funnel $100 million into Sonoma County in its first seven years of operation and more after that. About $40 million would go to the county and $60 million to Rohnert Park.
The money is supposed to offset impacts on the environment, criminal justice and social service systems and traffic, among other areas.
But Petaluma Councilmen Gabe Kearney and Healy said that wasn’t good enough. They have asked the council to consider sending a letter drafted by Healy urging state lawmakers to oppose the casino.
“The feelings are pretty strong,” Healy said.
The state Legislature and the federal Department of the Interior still need to ratify the compact, although such actions are considered routine. The Legislature has held up approvals before but is believed to have rejected only one.
Casino opponents, including Assemblyman Jared Huffman, have acknowledged the odds against stopping the project now are slim.
The casino is approved for 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, at $433 million, one of its most costly developments.
The 274-page compact outlines possible earnings of more than $400 million annually.
The 534,000-square-foot project, planned for just west of the Scandia Family Fun Center, would be the closest full-service casino to the Bay Area.
Healy’s letter argues that the underlying data used to approve the casino plan is inadequate, particularly with regard to traffic and water.
“I’ve not spent six years on the country transportation authority to get Highway 101 widened just to see these guys clog it up again,” he said.
An environmental study projected a smaller casino, with only 2,000 slot machines, would result in 18,000 additional vehicle trips a day, boosting traffic through the Petaluma-Novato area by 10 percent.
But with the compact’s approval of 3,000 slots, that estimate would be increased dramatically, Healy said.
“The casino’s traffic plume will extend all through Marin,” the letter states. “No compact should be approved until the casino is required to pay its full fair share of completed and future highway widening in Marin and Sonoma.”
The letter also states the study “inexplicably … fails to identify a water source” for the resort.
“It is not appropriate for this casino either to negate the sterling conservation efforts of our citizens, or to increase the risk of water supply shortages in the region,” the letter states.
The letter will be addressed to state Sens. Noreen Evans, Mark Leno, Lois Wolk and Assembly members Michael Allen, Wesley Chesbro, Mariko Yamada and Huffman.
A majority vote of state legislators is needed for ratification of the governor’s compact. No date has been set for a vote.
Monday’s council meeting begins at 7 p.m. at City Hall, 11 English St.