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WatchSonoma
WatchSonoma Watch

Casino fans, foes have their say

By JEREMY HAY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A hearing Tuesday night into the impacts of the Indian casino planned outside Rohnert Park recalled the passions that roiled Sonoma County from 2003 to 2008, before lawsuits, environmental studies and the economy’s slide slowed a project that now appears close to fruition.

“Having a casino here would absolutely destroy Sonoma County,” said Sebastopol resident Peter Walker, who suggested that the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria’s Las Vegas backers, Station Casinos, would bring “dirty money” into the county.

People who support the proposed Indian casino on the outskirts of Rohnert Park waved signs Tuesday night during a packed public hearing held by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors. (Crista Jeremiason / PD)

Out of an audience of perhaps 150 people who crowded the Board of Supervisors’ chambers, Walker was one of many who said their quality of life and the county as a whole would suffer if the casino is built, something officials and experts now believe is virtually assured.

The casino’s strain on public services and its effect on crime, groundwater and traffic were foremost among issues raised Tuesday.

“It cannot be cavalierly mitigated; it has to be worked on,” said Dieter Stroeh, speaking to fears that the casino project will draw down precious groundwater supplies.

“There needs to be a monitoring program set up now,” said Stroeh, who owns property on Wilfred Avenue, which borders the casino site.

Anger was frequently a dominant theme at early hearings on the casino, and vitriol not uncommon, but casino opponents on Tuesday more often articulated a frustrated sense of being powerless to affect one of the largest developments in the county’s history.

“Our property becomes worthless through no fault of our own,” said Loretta Smith, who said she lives two miles north of the planned casino.

Supporters of the tribe spoke back, standing up for the Graton Rancheria and the project.

“These people have been hanging by a thread for a decade; it’s enough,” said Oakmont resident Steve Carroll, referring to the time that has passed since the tribe announced its intentions. He said the casino would pump hundreds of millions of dollars into the local economy.

“The tribe has gone above and beyond to mitigate impacts at every level of this process,” said Jack Buckhorn, secretary-treasurer of Sonoma Lake Mendocino Building Trades, a labor group. He said 43 percent of local jobs lost since 2007 have been among workers he represents.

Graton Rancheria chairman Greg Sarris was in the audience, but did not speak. Afterward, asked for comment, he twice turned away without replying.

An agreement, known as a compact, between the state and tribe that allows the tribe to start work on the project is now under final review by the federal Department of the Interior, which has until July 6 to accept it, reject it or take no action. The latter option would allow it to take effect. Its approval is widely expected.

The 535,000-square-foot project would include a 100,000-square-foot casino, a six-story, 200-room hotel to be built at a later date, three bars, four restaurants and a food court.

Supervisors on Tuesday reiterated their opposition to the 3,000-slot machine casino-resort, and said that they have no control over whether it gets built.

“It’s not our say,” said Supervisor David Rabbitt, whose 2nd District includes the casino site. “We have our frustrations on that as well.”

The purpose of the hearing was solely to gather public input before negotiations start with the Graton Rancheria over how the tribe addresses the project’s impacts. The supervisors took no action.

The county and tribe in 2004 signed a pact to negotiate those measures once other approvals were in place and to go to binding arbitration should they not reach agreement.

“The county now has the opportunity to exploit that opportunity,” County Counsel Bruce Goldstein said Tuesday.

Opponents had excoriated the 2008 agreement when it was announced, saying the county was folding its hand and stopping the fight against the casino.

Officials at Station Casinos, which is to manage the casino for its first seven years, have estimated its cost at more than $700 million, with land purchases.

The project has gone through several layers of negotiations and review. Six years of environmental review led to a 2010 decision by the federal National Indian Gaming Commission to approve it. That decision included 30 pages of measures required of the tribe to address casino impacts.

Those targeted issues range from air quality to traffic and roads and social services — impacts that “we believe will be significant,” said Lori Norton, deputy county administrator.

County officials and opponents still term the study and its requirements inadequate.

For example, the report projects about 14,274 additional vehicle trips a day because of the project; opponents predict 40,000.

The Indian gaming commission environmental report and project approval “is widely recognized as imprecise,” said Ken Roberts of Sebastopol, speaking to issues of groundwater impacts. “In negotiations … you need to wind up with something more specific and actionable.”

“It’s four years out of date and its assumptions are conservative,” Robert O’Dell of Santa Rosa said of the environmental report.

Negotiations with Gov. Jerry Brown’s office led to additional requirements incorporated into in the compact. It orders the tribe to make mitigation payments to the county that officials estimate at $40 million over the first seven years, and more after that.

Indian law gambling experts and officials described the compact as groundbreaking in the ability it gave local governments to negotiate further mitigation measures.

In the case of the Graton Rancheria’s compact, the tribe also was required to have additional agreements with the county and Rohnert Park.

The tribe in 2003 signed a deal with Rohnert Park under which, if revenue meets projected levels, the tribe will pay about $200 million over 20 years to the city for public safety, social services and schools.

“The tribe remains ready and willing to do the right thing and reach an agreement with the county,” said the Graton Rancheria’s attorney, John Maier.

Former Rohnert Park Councilwoman Dawna Gallagher called on the board to urge California’s senators to convince the Interior Department to delay its decision until the mitigation measures are fully established. To do otherwise, she said, would be to “put the cart before the horse.”

“If you’re going to do what they say they’re going to do, she said, referring to the tribe, “it’s going to be a bad state of affairs for the people of Sonoma County. You have power right now.”

Goldstein, the county counsel, said the county had no ability to change the department’s decision-making schedule without a change in federal law.

Afterward, Maier said the meeting “was a constructive evening.”





19 Responses to “Casino fans, foes have their say”

  1. Chuck G says:

    Let’s see what your Bank Accounts have them after this ridiculous Casino is built. Say what you want, but you folks are allowing this to happen and further destroy our once beautiful space we call home.

  2. Chuck G says:

    What happens in Las Vegas, stay’s in Las Vegas….the problems that this creates will stay in Rohnert Park

  3. Paul Oppenheimer says:

    There’s nothing worse than a sore loser like Jean Anderson. When you lack the class and smarts to make an argument you fall back on personal attacks. You were outorganized by the Graton Tribe, who managed to steer a casino/resort project through federal, state and local government bureaucracies and ten years of hearings and regulations and who are bringing over 3000 union jobs (not to mention one thousand construction jobs starting now) and all you can say is “fat and stupid”. What are you, a twelve year old? It’s ok because those kind of attacks only show your lack of intelligence and critical reasoning.Way to stay classy, Jean Anderson

  4. Jean Anderson says:

    @Bob

    I’m just reporting the facts and what’s obvious from the hilarious photo. The fact that you care so little about this area that you think it’s a good idea to put an idiotic casino in RP says plenty about you. Talk about a big NADA.

  5. Shadow says:

    They will not be union; the unions of today are not the unions of 20 plus years ago. If they hire qualified people, people that like their job and take pride in doing their job, it would a good thing. If they did sign a agreement, that would be the death of the casino where we’d all lose. Don’t sign a union agreement to be sure we get a first class operation when we come to visit.

  6. Shadow says:

    Peter Walker:

    Your facts are incorrect, the name is Fertitta, and the family which operates the Station Casino’s for us locals is the preferred place for us goes eat, drink, and gamble. They are a first class operator and take care of us.

    I am excited about the casino and that they were able to get this approved without being held hostage like everyone else who wants to build. When it’s all said and done, the casino will give millions more and all the naysayers who oppose it now will go in front the camera and praise after the money is given.

    What you fail to realize is that is all about the money, not the environment or some of the other dung liberals spew from their lips, they don’t care, if they did, they would be practicing what they preach, they don’t. I believe your term Mafia better describes liberals, give them enough money, they love it, don’t give, they hate it.

  7. Bob Andronice says:

    Jean Anderson your very sour grapes are showing. Calling names “fat and stupid” may make you feel better but it makes you look so much worse. Not to mention that the Graton Indians (fat and stupid or not) are still winners (and you get…Nada!)

  8. Jean Anderson says:

    Fat and stupid is no way to go through life…even with a casino, these people are losers, as is Sonoma County for allowing this to happen.

  9. Peter Walker says:

    The Graton Rancheria has contracted with Station Casinos as managers. Now spend a minute and Google “Station Casinos” and “wiki” and you’ll find that Station Casinos is privately held enterprise out of Las Vegas privately owned by the Fertitti family. Next Google the words “Frank Fertitti Mafia” and you will see a number of articles documenting the Fertitti’s century old history as a Galveston/Las Vegas mafia syndicate. If you are a resident of Sonoma County and care about it’s future I suggest that you demand that our State and County law enforcement officials begin to enforce our State and Federal racketeering statutes. Citizens must demand that any Indian tribe or individual found to consort with known crime syndicates in California be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. The bottom line is that five minutes on the Internet is all anyone needs to establish the fact that Graton Rancheria is nothing but a front for the Mafia. It is high time that the citizens of Sonoma county demand that the development of the Casino be immediately stopped and that a grand jury investigation be launched to uncover the facts behind the Fertitta Crime Syndicate and their activities in Sonoma County.

  10. Grapevines says:

    “Dirty Money” is what our legislature is collecting as wages. Because they sure are not doing any work to earn it.

  11. GAJ says:

    If Lisa thinks the jobs at the Casino will be Union once it’s built she’s delusional.

  12. Follower says:

    “Peter Walker, who suggested that the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria’s Las Vegas backers, Station Casinos, would bring “dirty money” into the county”.

    Reminds me of a guy I worked for years ago who would turn work from Gay customers.

    “dirty money”, “gay money”… must be REALLY nice to be so wealthy that you can pick & choose what money you’ll put in your pocket!

    You want to talk about “Dirty Money”?

    I guess the BILLIONS we have made mining the lands taken from Indians is just fine with Mr. Walker.

    Never mind how many innocent men, woman AND CHILDREN we had to slaughter to get it.

  13. Nicole says:

    Yahoo Graton Rancheria!! Thank you for bringing this project to our county.

  14. rv says:

    We Need to turn RP into Lost Wages, To gain wages

  15. Disgusted says:

    @Jean Anderson, how comical that the person in the front row holding the upside sign is Lisa Maldonado, Ms. North Bay Labor Council herself. Who cares about the traffic and the environment – not Lisa or her pal Michael Allen! Politics is just one dirty game. The people that support Michael Allen are the same people that care deeply about the environment. Why then is this enormous non-environmentally friendly casino okay? Union jobs – that’s it? Give me a break. The progressives should have all been up speaking at the meeting.

  16. 0 Representation says:

    The citizens of Sonoma County need to remember just WHO we can thank for this project:
    Jake MacKenzie

  17. Steveguy says:

    What is with the flags in the photo?

    Italy flag ?

  18. Bob Andronice says:

    Ha! Well “dumb” or not they are getting the casino and the jobs they want and you are getting…..? Nada!

  19. Jean Anderson says:

    How appropriate that the woman in the front row of the photo is holding a pro-casino sign upside down – kind of sums up the type of people who support this dumb project.