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Tribe behind Rohnert Park casino blasts county for ‘misleading’ information

By JEREMY HAY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Relations between Sonoma County officials and the Indian tribe that has started work on a 3,000-slot machine casino next to Rohnert Park appear to have soured as the two sides approach negotiations about how the tribe will alleviate the project’s impacts.

Federated Indians of Graton Racheria tribal attorney John Maier, right, and chairman Greg Sarris appear at an informational hearing of the Senate Governmental Organization Committee in the State Capitol on Tuesday, May 1, 2012. (JOHN BURGESS/ PD)

The chairman of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria on Wednesday said county supervisors are “putting out inaccurate and misleading information about our project.”

Greg Sarris, in a statement issued through the tribe’s attorney, also said statements by at “least one supervisor” have “caused the tribe to question whether the county board is serious about negotiating in a respectful manner on a government to government basis.”

The tribe’s attorney, John Maier, declined to identify which supervisor.

The tribe and county officials are expected to begin negotiating within weeks in a process they agreed to in a 2004 contract. Supervisors have scheduled a town hall meeting for Thursday in Rohnert Park to get public comment in advance of those talks.

Sarris on Tuesday in an interview with KGO-TV upped the ante on the negotiations, saying that if they go into arbitration — as provided for in the 2004 contract — the county would lose its chance to get any additional money from the tribe.

Supervisors on Wednesday said they wanted to avoid that eventuality.

“I still strongly believe that we need to (negotiate) in a good faith manner and I think the county as a whole is demonstrating that good faith effort,” said Supervisor Efren Carrillo.

“My hope and desire is that we not end up in baseball-style arbitration because at that point, I fear, we would not be able to fully mitigate or obtain the full mitigations,” he said.

Other supervisors offered varying views on the tribe’s stance.

Supervisor David Rabbitt suggested that on the eve of talks between “what are essentially two sovereign nations,” Sarris’s comments were not unexpected. “I think it’s a prelude to negotiations; I don’t think it’s out of the ordinary.”

Supervisor Valerie Brown said the tribe is reacting to public criticism resurgent since March. That is when the casino began to move definitively toward fruition after nine years of court battles, the bankruptcy of the tribe’s Las Vegas backers and lengthy environmental reports.

“I believe that the tribe feels that they have been more willing to deal with local government than any tribe in the state,” said Brown, referring to the 2004 agreement with the county and a $200 million revenue-sharing deal the tribe struck with Rohnert Park in 2003.

“They are being vilified for it,” Brown said. “I don’t know how as a tribe, that can’t have a reverberating effect.”

Sarris issued his statement through Maier after being asked about remarks he made on the television news report in which he appeared to renege on terms of the 2004 county-tribe contract.

They specify that if negotiations are not successful, both sides will accept the decision of a neutral arbitrator. In the agreement, which Sarris has touted as an example of the tribe’s eagerness to work constructively with the larger community, the tribe waived its sovereign immunity in order to accept the arbitration.

Prior to arbitration, the county and tribe have 90 days to negotiate how the tribe would address, financially and otherwise, casino impacts on areas ranging from traffic to crime.

But on Tuesday, Sarris said: “If it goes to baseball arbitration, this is what I have to say: The second pot of money, the gift money that I have the option of giving the county, they will not get. It will go back to the state,” to be disbursed to other tribes.

In Wednesday’s statement, Sarris also said that supervisors “continue to fight the Tribe every step of the way.”

“My statement simply puts the county on notice” that the tribe “recognizes that it has the option of providing the minimal amount of project mitigation,” he said.

The tribe, he said, would honor an arbitrator’s decision regarding mitigating casino impacts. But if talks reached the point of arbitration, the tribe would not give the county any additional money that came available from casino revenues to minimize casino impacts.

That “gift money…is expected to run in the tens of millions of dollars,” he said, and it would instead go to the state.

Brown, speaking from Brazil where she is attending climate control discussions as part of a U.S. delegation, said, “I would hope that does not happen.”

Both she and Rabbitt said tensions are worsened by the politics of the situation in which as supervisors gather public input ahead of the negotiations, residents often respond with anger about the project and in some cases the belief that the county can do more to halt, delay or shape it.

“The problem is a lot of of other stuff is getting in the way,” Brown said, “People who believe we have a lot more authority than we do, people who believe we can stop the casino.”

Rabbitt said: “I can only imagine on the tribe’s side: They’ve started construction, there’s a certain amount of criticism in the community, there’s a lot of pressures moving forward. Just like there is, believe me, on the county’s side.”

The tribe broke ground on the casino resort just south of Home Depot on Monday. Las Vegas-based Station Casinos, which is bankrolling the $750 million project and will manage it for seven years, has said it hopes to open for business by late next year.

A gambling compact between Gov. Jerry Brown and the tribe allowing it to start work on and run the Las Vegas-style casino is under review at the federal Interior Department, which is expected to approve it.

Critics have questioned whether the tribe has the right to start work prior to either the compact’s approval or the conclusion of a mitigation agreement with the county. County attorneys have said they believe the tribe can move ahead.





8 Responses to “Tribe behind Rohnert Park casino blasts county for ‘misleading’ information”

  1. Laurel says:

    Oh really? I see patch work history which is not deep enough for the real picture. There were only 2 full blood Coast Miwok’s alive in 1900. No matter who “owns” the land, genocide in a high price to pay for being here first.

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  2. Chuck G says:

    Wake up Sonoma County! You’re more concerned about a Casino coming to Rohnert Park than you are about our schools, parks, crime, roads, and most of all protecting our children.

    Your priorities are all wrong, let the Tribes take their Casino somewhere else far away!

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  3. Steve Klausner says:

    Maybe these two lemons could aid each other. What if the Tribe gifted money to SMART to help fund the connection between San Rafael and the ferry station, as well create a Casino Station in Rohnert Park.

    It’s a no brainer, they could have their own high roller’s car, discounted passes, be the reason trains keep running through the night and on weekends.

    Thumb up 6 Thumb down 2

  4. Graeme Wellington says:

    I still want to shake Greg Sarris’ hand, even though he looks more and more like Tom Arnold every day.

    Thumb up 6 Thumb down 8

  5. Thomas Brooks says:

    The Indians don’t own California or Sonoma County and they never have. California has legally been owned for hundreds of years by the Spanish, Mexicans, Russians and the U.S. who won control by settlement or treaty.

    Indians buying land from the current landowners and building Indian casinos on the property verifies the fact they did not have possession before construction.

    Indian casinos need to be regulated not just tolerated. The government needs to insure the tables are honest, the food safe, the building sound and the place is safe and secure from crime and criminals.

    A casino on every corner is not what the Bureau of Indian Affairs had in mind.

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  6. bill says:

    We have come to think that we live in the first person nation wise and that is a myth. Native Americans were here first and agreements have been in place for a long time that acknowledge their sovereignty.

    Yet a lot of folks are angry about their activity without realizing they should be happy the natives are not charging us tax to live on their land.

    Thumb up 10 Thumb down 29

  7. Rick says:

    It’s about time somebody tells the environments to take hike. While we’re sitting at home and not working, they’re all lapping off the taxpayer’s money working or suing people that stop us from working. The liberals don’t have a balance between work and environmental regulations; they don’t want us to work; they’d rather us on welfare, unemployment or some other form of public assistance. I am a proud union operator and my hours under Obama my hours have plunged from 2,490 hours a year to 940, 870, and 785.

    The liberals and environmentalists are destroying us; we want to work and can’t work. We finally have a decent project off the ground and they want to stop it. News flash for you echo-terrorist and liberals, we don’t all work for the government or some environmental group, we work in construction moving dirt and pipe. We don’t suck off the taxpayers nor do we want welfare or unemployment compensation. All we want to do is wake up every day and go to work and feel good about our paychecks and income to support our families. What you’ve been doing is destroying the middle class Americans and I am sick of it.

    Graton, congratulations and I for one would rather see you use the money to create more work and not give to the government where they’re going to use that money to pay themselves or some environmental group that forces us not to work. What they’ve done to you, Target, Lowes, and all others who want to grow is destroying the middle class.

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  8. Fascinating story. David Rabbitt, who I have found to be the sanest of a loony bunch, agrees that the government-mandated Graton Rancheria welfare state is a separate “soverieign nation.”

    At the same time, Valerie Brown is in Rio, receiving orders from UN hacks from The Netherlands, India, France, Kenya, Venezuela, and Korea about how much energy we are permitted to use to light our own homes.

    So if Sarris and Brown want to be citizens of Gratonia and Gaia, respectively, maybe they should renounce their US citizenship and all the rights and privileges that come with it.

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