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Work begins on casino site in Rohnert Park

By JEREMY HAY

THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Work began Monday at the site of the planned Indian casino on Rohnert Park’s northwest outskirts.

The modest start, some tilling of the earth, was nevertheless a concrete sign that after nine years of controversy, legal battles and legislative, bureaucratic and regulatory hurdles, a casino resort may rise out of grassy fields in the Santa Rosa Plain.

The “grading of approximately 64 acres … signals the start of the nearly 900 construction jobs that will be created by the tribe’s project,” the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria said in a statement.

Though the tribal chairman, Greg Sarris, did not respond to requests for further comment, the development is a landmark event for the tribe, which reached a nadir in 1958 when its rancheria was terminated by the federal government.

Resurrected from a handful of people, the tribe won restoration of its status in Congress in 2000, at which point it declared it had no interest in gambling. In 2003, saying other economic ventures had proved unfeasible, it announced its casino plans, which ultimately led it to the current site on Wilfred Avenue, a stone’s throw south of Home Depot.

On Monday, questions remained about whether the work was starting ahead of required approvals.

The tribe’s 254-acre Wilfred Avenue property is considered a reservation by the federal government and exempt from virtually all local and state regulations. But some official statements and documents conflict with other accounts of what must happen before work starts.

County officials said they believed the tribe had the ability to move ahead. But they expressed frustration that it had done so before it had entered talks with the county about ways in which the tribe would minimize the impacts of the project.

“We understand that there was not an legal impediment to begin construction,” said Supervisor Shirlee Zane. “But it would have been more responsive to the community concerns to wait until we have a comprehensive agreement in place.”

The commencement of preliminary work “points to the need to get comprehensive mitigations and monitoring in place as quickly as possible,” Zane said.

The large tractor-tiller moving around the site Monday was preparing the site for grading, said David Sawyer, a representative of the tribe’s environmental consulting firm, Sacramento-based Analytical Environmental Services. Sawyer and a biologist were at the site to monitor the work.

The tribe said it had chosen Sylmar-based Tutor Perini Building Corp. as its general contractor. The company, in which Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s husband’s investment firm is a major shareholder, has built several of Station Casinos’ projects, including Thunder Valley Casino near Sacramento.

The agreement, or compact, between the state and the Graton Rancheria allowing the tribe to operate a Class III casino — with slot machines — is awaiting final approval by the federal Department of the Interior, which has not announced a decision.

The compact requires the county and tribe to reach an agreement on how the tribe will financially address the impacts of the planned 3,000-slot machine, 317,750-square-foot casino. A hotel is planned for a later date.

The compact says that “before the commencement of a project” the tribe “shall enter into enforceable agreements” with Rohnert Park, which it has done, and the county — which it hasn’t done.

And at hearings in May in Sacramento, a senior advisor to Gov. Jerry Brown said that work on the project could not start until that county-tribe agreement is in place. County officials have said that negotiations are to begin once the federal government makes its decision.

Monday, they said they still foresee constructive talks leading to measures by the tribe to adequately address issues ranging from the effect on groundwater to the casino’s impact on traffic and crime.

“I’m hopeful that we’re going to be able to negotiate in good faith regardless of this action to make sure we’ve got these mitigations in place,” said 5th District Supervisor Efren Carrillo.

The tribe on Monday said Sonoma County Counsel Bruce Goldstein had confirmed at a public meeting at the county Board of Supervisors last week that “the tribe has the right to start construction of the project prior to that agreement being concluded.

Goldstein did say that. He also said at that meeting that he did not see in the compact anything preventing the tribe from starting work before the agreement was reached.

However, he added that he didn’t know whether the state had a separate requirement of which he wasn’t aware. If it does, Goldstein said on Monday, “That’s up to the state.”

A spokesman for the governor, Evan Westrup, said in an email that “We are not aware of a compact breach.” In response to a question seeking clarification of the statement by senior advisor Jacob Applesmith, he said “We have nothing else to add.”

Casino foes said Monday’s development showed the tribe had broken its word and was ignoring the deals it had agreed to.

“Obviously the compact doesn’t mean anything because they weren’t supposed to break ground until they were done negotiating with the county,” said Chip Worthington, a Rohnert Park pastor who has led the opposition for nearly a decade.





17 Responses to “Work begins on casino site in Rohnert Park”

  1. victor says:

    well next november will be the month the comet will come to pass and the time the casino in rp opens and the prophecy will come to pass

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  2. PHO ! says:

    Think on the bright side, There will be a lot of asian places to eat in all the empty store fronts in RP.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  3. Manuel says:

    Let’s make sure that this Casino gives a percent of their money to the Schools in Sonoma County and not Sonoma County Supervisors.

    Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  4. White Walkers are coming says:

    WoW! only a four block walk to norcal’s largest casino, can’t wait!

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  5. Chuck G says:

    Will this be the beginning of the end for Rohnert Park?…they’ve done just about everything else why not.

    Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  6. Follower says:

    RP is a strange town anyway. No history, no community, no soul… I can’t think of a better place to build a Casino.
    Maybe even a brothel!

    If this were being built by the NAACP or LaRaza, anyone opposing the project would be labeled “Racist”.

    But Indians? Screw’em! …again!

    I only hope they have something to offer beyond gambling & drinking because I don’t like either but I intend to patronize the tribe’s new tee-pee as much as possible.

    Thumb up 6 Thumb down 5

  7. Chuck G says:

    Bring on the Casino,why not? It can’t make it a worse town to live than it already is!

    Thumb up 18 Thumb down 7

  8. Steveguy says:

    Is the Casino punishment for the do-gooder SMART Train fiasco ?

    Maybe the SMART Train can re-route, to drop the Casino workers off while they live in stack and pack apartments.

    A grand plan, think globally, act locally, or something like whatever their mantra is these days.

    Thumb up 19 Thumb down 8

  9. John says:

    Shadow: Yep, I would be one that worked with them in the past, I feel for the poor fools who work with them on the project. They’ll spend more in legal fees dealing with their frivolous claims. I hope that they don’t kill as many workers on that project as they did on MGM City Center project and others.

    Thumb up 15 Thumb down 6

  10. Dan says:

    Chip Worthington doesn’t have his information straight!

    The tribe on Monday said Sonoma County Counsel Bruce Goldstein had confirmed at a public meeting at the county Board of Supervisors last week that “the tribe has the right to start construction of the project prior to that agreement being concluded.

    Goldstein did say that. He also said at that meeting that he did not see in the compact anything preventing the tribe from starting work before the agreement was reached.

    A spokesman for the governor, Evan Westrup, said in an email that “We are not aware of a compact breach.” In response to a question seeking clarification of the statement by senior advisor Jacob Applesmith, he said “We have nothing else to add.”

    Looking forward to the Casino!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Thumb up 16 Thumb down 20

  11. John Lennon says:

    The EPA is on record stating that the climate has been cooling since 1998.

    Global warming has not only been debunked but its also one of the biggest scams in the history of modern society. Even the main global warming scientists have jumped ship.

    The Scam is over. Only the morally corrupt or the ignorant that haven’t keep up up on things, still push the agenda

    Thumb up 13 Thumb down 18

  12. Shadow says:

    Strange that they would use Tutor Perini after the MGM City Center debacle and the issues that surround a company with allegations of filing claims and all the problems they have.

    I was up at Shasta Lake where they’re doing a bridge, Antlers Bridge and the locals there complained about them behind schedule and all the claims they’ve filed on the project. Many subcontractors who have worked for Tutor over the years refuse to work for him anymore. Hope their subcontractors have good lawyers and the tribe has enough lawyers on staff to defend off any claims.

    Thumb up 19 Thumb down 2

  13. Skippy says:

    “Global warming started in 1992 when evil came into the office of Vice President and turned our brains into mush.”
    Fixed it!

    Thumb up 11 Thumb down 17

  14. Hugh Baby's Rose Parade Elephant says:

    The good:

    Per square foot, the casino will bring in far more revenue to Rohnert Park then any of the big box stores that currently ring the city.

    It’s possible Rohnert Park could leverage this new revenue source to say no to more big box development.

    The bad:

    Rohnert Park will continue more big box development anyway.

    The ugly:

    The NPD epidemic (Narcissistic Personality Disorder) ravaging first born males raised in Santa Rosa’s Town & County – McDonald Ave Dist. will likely worsen.

    “Then Pepper the Town Marshal said “Hey kid, you dropped something… your footsteps.”"

    Thumb up 12 Thumb down 21

  15. Skipper says:

    Global warming started in 1492 when evil came across the sea and turned our country into trash.

    Thumb up 7 Thumb down 32

  16. PeterM says:

    At least it will temporarily create some good-paying construction jobs, and then hopefully bring some Marin Co. residents into Sonoma County to gamble, dine and drink. Can’t be good for the card club in Petaluma, though.

    Thumb up 26 Thumb down 16

  17. Skippy says:

    Build it and the desperate fools will come.
    As long as they stop there and stay away from River Rock long enough for RRock to go belly-up, fold their really big tent and get real jobs, I’m for it!
    R. Park can enjoy the inevitable spike in crime and drunk drivers.
    The little old widows from the Bay Area will be saving the planet by not having to ride the big diesel casino bus to Geyserville.
    Fight Global Warming: gamble and lose in Rohnert Park!

    Thumb up 27 Thumb down 10

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