Some residents see benefit from jobs, revenue; others cite crime, traffic possibilities
By KERRY BENEFIELD
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Rohnert Park’s Philip Naber lived in Rocklin in 2003 when Thunder Valley Casino opened about 10 miles down the road, so he has seen what happens in a community when a major gambling and entertainment operation emerges.
“I saw it bring more jobs, it brought more people to the area. I think it has been a positive for the area,” he said Saturday in the parking lot of Home Depot, not far from where a Rohnert Park casino could be built.
His observation came a day after Gov. Jerry Brown announced approval of plans by the Indians of the Graton Rancheria for a 3,000-slot machine gaming operation. The $433 million project also would include an unspecified number of roulette wheels and table games, as well as a hotel, nightclub, three bars, restaurants and a 20,000-square foot spa.
“I welcome it,” Naber said. “I think it will bring jobs to the area and more money to the county.”
If built to completion, the complex would become the county’s largest private employer. The compact approved by Brown requires the tribe to funnel $100 million into Sonoma County in its first seven years of operation, with more after that. About $40 million would go to the county and another $60 million would go to Rohnert Park.
But Josh Widick of Rohnert Park isn’t convinced it is a good fit.
“I could see it bringing some revenue into the local economy, but I’m not sure it would outweigh the negatives,” he said.
Traffic on Highway 101 through Rohnert Park and parallel routes along Stony Point Road could become nightmarish when the 534,000-square-foot complex opens its doors, Widick said.
“This is an area people commute to work through,” he said. “If it got blocked up with traffic, it could be devastating.”
Those divergent viewpoints were reflected in conversations with Rohnert Park residents Saturday evening, and in more than 60 online comments on The Press Democrat’s website.
The pro perspective touted jobs and the tourist money coming into the community, as well as the possibility of a new entertainment venue.
But others warned of prostitution, crime, a huge increase in traffic and a Las Vegas-type operation independent of workplace and environmental regulation.
Rohnert Park’s mayor, Jake Mackenzie, said Saturday that the city still has many unanswered questions.
“At some point in time, clearly the tribe is going to contact the city and say, ‘These are our plans and these are thing we expect to discuss with you,’” he said. “I don’t know what to expect.”
Especially important, he said, is a clearer picture of the economic benefits to the city from a casino on land that Rohnert Park had once eyed for commercial development.
Located west of the Scandia Family Fun Center on the west side of Highway 101, the project could create 750 construction jobs when it is under way and 2,250 jobs when it is complete, according to tribe documents.
Tribal Chairman Greg Sarris did not return phone calls or an email seeking comment Friday, and when reached by phone Saturday, he refused to comment.
The state Legislature and the federal Department of the Interior still need to ratify the compact, although such actions are typically routine. The Legislature is believed to have rejected only one similar deal.
For Joyce Elliott of Petaluma, having a casino in Rohnert Park means shortening her monthly trek up to the county’s only other Indian gaming establishment in Geyserville.
“I would love to have it. As seniors, we all go up to River Rock,” she said. “In Sonoma County, we need more entertainment.”
Staff Writer Kerry Benefield writes an education blog at extracredit.blogs. pressdemocrat.com. She can be reached at 526-8671 or kerry.benefield@ pressdemocrat.com.