WatchSonoma Watch

State Assembly OKs Rohnert Park casino; opponents vow a fight


SACRAMENTO — The plan to build one of California’s largest casinos just outside Rohnert Park moved to the verge of fruition Thursday when the state Assembly approved a gambling agreement to allow work to start on the project.

The Assembly ratified the agreement between the governor and the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, called a compact, on a 64-3 vote with no discussion. That sends it on the federal government for final approval, which most experts believe is virtually assured.

Site of the newly approved Rohnert Park casino. (PD FILE, 2012)

Greg Sarris, the tribe’s chairman of 20 years, did not respond to a request for comment. But tribe supporters indicated the Legislature’s ratification of the compact had been seen as the key remaining step for one of the county’s most controversial projects in decades.

“Greg Sarris finally delivered what he always promised people,” said Susan Moore, of Santa Rosa, who leads an informal community advisory group to the tribe. “That is, a business that will benefit Indian and non-Indian communities alike.”

Labor leaders, who have been the biggest boosters of a project that could cost more than $700 million, were delighted, hailing the predictions of 900 construction jobs and more than 2,000 permanent union positions the tribe says will be created.

“I’m very happy that we’re near the end of what has been a long and very difficult process,” said Jack Buckhorn, secretary and treasurer of the Building Trades Council of Sonoma, Lake & Mendocino.

“It looks like the final major hurdle has been cleared,” Buckhorn said. “The jobs and prosperity that this project will bring to Sonoma County will be substantial.”

Casino opponents, who have fought the project for nine years, said their efforts would continue, though they were back on their heels.

“We’re certainly not giving up,” said Petaluma Councilman Mike Healy, who spoke against the compact at legislative hearings last week. Attacking the accuracy and completeness of environmental reports done for the project will be one avenue of opposition, Healy said.

Also possible, he said, is the revival of a lawsuit alleging that the federal government’s 2010 decision to take into trust the tribe’s 254 acres outside Rohnert Park improperly exempts the site from state laws.

The tribe on Thursday issued a statement calling the ratification an “important milestone” and highlighting the “much-needed services” that revenues from the 3,000 slot-machines would provide its members. It also called attention to what it described as an “unprecedented level of revenue sharing” with Rohnert Park, Sonoma County and tribes that do not run casinos.

The compact, in a first, requires that a range of financial agreements to address the casino’s impacts be in place between the Federated Indians and Sonoma County and Rohnert Park before work work can begin. The tribe has a 20-year, $200 million agreement with Rohnert Park and an agreement to negotiate a similar type of deal with the county.

The compact also requires the tribe to contribute what eventually will reach $12 million a year into the Revenue Sharing Trust Fund for tribes without gambling operations. That fund, which the Federated Indians once drew from, too, now has a $28 million deficit.

In hearings last week, Jacob Applesmith, a senior advisor to Gov. Brown who negotiated key parts of the compact, called the amount of money the tribe will direct to local agencies and the state fund “unprecedented.”

Voting no on Thursday were Democratic Assemblymembers Michael Allen, who is running for re-election in the newly-formed 10th District and as a labor leader supported the casino; Mariko Yamada, running for re-election in the newly-formed 4th District, which includes Rohnert Park; and Jared Huffman, who is aiming to succeed Lynn Woolsey in the newly-drawn 2nd Congressional District.

Assemblyman Wes Chesbro, D-Arcata, voted yes. His redrawn district will include Santa Rosa.

The compact, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed May 27, was approved 34-4 by the state Senate Monday. It moved speedily and without drama through the Legislature. Experienced Sacramento observers had predicted it could be a six month process for what Huffman once said would be one of the most controversial compacts ever. Instead, it took little more than a month.

The development leaves just one governmental hurdle for the tribe before it can start work on the project. That is the approval of the compact by the federal Department of the Interior, which has 45 days to ratify or reject it.

“I would put the odds at 99 percent” that the Interior Department will approve it, said Santa Rosa attorney Anthony Cohen, an authority on Indian law and tribal gaming.

“The attorneys for the tribe, the state, and the Secretary of the Interior all have the benefit of very recent court decisions clarifying the federal legal standards that gaming compacts have to comply with so it’s unlikely that they will see things differently,” Cohen said.

If the Department of the Interior does not reach a decision on the compact within 45 days, it automatically takes effect, Cohen said.

Station Casinos of Las Vegas company has bankrolled the tribe’s venture so far with more than $200 million and will manage the casino for its first seven years. Company officials declined to comment Thursday.

The company, however, has said it wants to start work this summer. The approval of the project issued in 2010 by the National Indian Gaming Commission requires ground to be broken only between April 15 and October 15, or what is considered the dry season.

Work cannot start until the county and the tribe sign an agreement to address the casino’s impacts, which they have 90 days to do should the Interior Department approve the compact.

Tribal representatives said last week that a six-story, 200-room hotel that is envisioned as part of the project will be built at an unspecified later date.

16 Responses to “State Assembly OKs Rohnert Park casino; opponents vow a fight”

  1. Graeme Wellington says:

    Funny thing is that the crying Indian guy in the commercial was an Italian.

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  2. Follower says:

    I can’t wait to visit the new Casino!

    I’m not a gambler but I spent several years living at the south end of the Las Vegas strip and I love Casinos.

    I think it’s great that the tribe will be getting some extra doe to supliment their welfare checks.

    The best part of all is watching everyone squirm!

    The vitriol is priceless.

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  3. Ricardo Sorentino says:

    RE: Graeme Wellington – “I look forward to shaking Sarris’ hand someday and thanking him for all he has done for his tribe and for the community. I want to also thank him for standing up to the Press Democrat.”

    Make sure to thank him for taking Rohnert Park and Sonoma County another step closer to being flushed down the toilet. The only ‘winners’ here will be Labor Unions, and that’s only while the casino and hotel are being built. After that, their all in the toilet too.

    Remember the commercial from many years ago of the Native American, sitting on his horse, with a tear in his eye? He foresaw the selling out of his ancestors for nothing but casino cash… I only hope that many more casinos are built in the Bay Area, and we can watch all the ones here in Sonoma County go ‘flush’!

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  4. Jim Bennett says:

    RJM: liked your post.
    Until ALL of us understand that the ideology behind all this crap comes from ICLEI, we will continue to shake our head and chase our tail.

    It is fundamentally opposed to our rule book; the Constitution.
    The Rule Book our Public Officials swore to adhere to.
    The verbage and spirit of which was to prevent EXACTLY what we have now.

    A deliberate undermining of our sacred Republic.
    All rooted in a lie contrived as an instrument of our oppression…
    ‘Global Warming’ pseudo science.
    The People are merely an occasional hinderence to the Agenda they have taken the liberty of aligning with.

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  5. Richard James Emory says:

    Michael Allen will be nominated to receive the Sonoma County Fidel Castro Humanitarian Green Award for rising about politics and following his own damp finger in the wind on this one.

    Placing his name in nomination this year at the Marxist Leninist Institute will be non-other that Jake Mackenzie.

    Big casinos can’t be built here or in Havana without big money and Mackenzie and Allen can bring home the green backs.

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  6. Buddy Bear says:

    @ Truth Teller (irony at its best)

    Michael Allen wrote a close to home article about his decision to vote no. in it he laid out several reasons why he supported it in the past and why, if it did in fact pass the legislature the benefits the casino could bring to the community.

    The fact of the matter is this, when he was a labor leader he was doing his job by supporting the casino, but as an elected official you need to take what he called a “global approach”, he had constituents begging him to vote no, he could have thrown it in their face and said “I’m voting yes, deal with it” but he chose to listen to his constituents, environmental leaders and elected officials in the area and cast his vote based upon those opinions. That vote was “No”.

    He has never denied his past support for the casino as a labor leader, but he threw that away to support his constituents requests. That is honorable, was it politically motivated? Sure, part of politics is representing those who put you there in the first place. THIS IS NOT A BAD THING.

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  7. Kim says:

    Not even any discussion! Talk about rubber stamping!

    Take a look at Prop 28, adjustment for term limits. Its by the politicians for the politicians (the same folks that disregarded the no budget no pay Proposition). Send the message vote NO!

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  8. Tom says:

    Many of you have very generalized notions of democrat or republican. It saddens me to see that even this pointless death struggle between parties is now drowning out the real local cries. NO ONE IN SONOMA COUNTY wants this casino.

    As to the gentleman who claims we deserve this casino, please educate yourself. Not all Californians are democrats, or whatever generalized label you cling to.

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  9. Missy says:

    Did anyone expect the Dems in the legislature to go against their picked out constituents? Heck no. They want their votes! The Dems have zero moral turpitude. And people out here keep voting for them, why?

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  10. Grapevines says:

    Makes sense to me. Any place dumb enough to vote for Obama should have a casino. Both are there just to attract losers.

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  11. Robert says:

    Why is someone from the Petaluma city council opposed to this project? Are the mad or jealous that they didn’t get it?

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  12. Graeme Wellington says:

    Greg Sarris has won. The Press Democrat has lost. As if we all didn’t know the Press Democrat can no longer influence public issues.

    I look forward to shaking Sarris’ hand someday and thanking him for all he has done for his tribe and for the community.

    I want to also thank him for standing up to the Press Democrat. Man are they upset. Even after the fat lady has sung, they want to keep up the fight. Pathetic.

    Can the Tribe invest in a competitor newspaper in Sonoma County? I think objective local news coverage would be comercially viable.

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  13. Richard James Emory says:

    Now Mackenzie and the state legislature can really get their palms greased with the new money in town.

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  14. Truth Teller says:

    Michael Allen’s “opposition” to the Graton Casino is one of the most craven political moves I’ve ever seen in politics.

    I used to have respect fir Michael but between this, his conflict-of- interest issue on the Santa Rosa Planning Commission and the fact that his chief of staff has FPPC issues really makes we wonder.

    Shame on him and shame on people like Lisa Maldonado and others in the labor movement who make excuses for this kind of nonsense.

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  15. Hugh Baby's Rose Parade Elephant says:

    A casino? Hooray! Another victory for the CWSSRPEs (Certified West Side Santa Rosa Poverty Experts).

    Want to join the fun? To qualify as a CWSSRPE, one has to…

    - Be a first born male
    - Raised in the affluent McDonald Ave., Town and County area in the 60′s
    - Have a particularly virulent strain of NPD Narcissistic Personality Disorder, recently discovered to be contagious condition.

    Remember the Winston billboards back in the 70′s? I bet Pepper the Town Marshal would if she were alive today. They should prop one up next to the Casino for old times sake.

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  16. GAJ says:

    The Fat Lady has sung.

    Another brilliant decision by the Legislature.

    Thumb up 25 Thumb down 2

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