WatchSonoma Watch

Tribal casino in Rohnert Park clears last hurdle


Nine years after the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria announced plans to open a casino in Sonoma County, inciting opposition and controversy, the tribe has cleared its last governmental hurdle.

Looking southwest, the proposed Rohnert Park casino site is marked by the plowed field at top with Home Depot to the right in this 2005 photo.

In a quiet milestone, the federal government Friday let an agreement between the state and the tribe, known as a compact, take effect by acting neither to reject or approve it.

The compact allows the tribe to operate a Las Vegas-style casino with slot machines and banking card games. It already has the legal ability to run a Class II casino with bingo machines and some card games.

In anticipation of getting the go ahead, the tribe has been holding job fairs and is recruiting executives to run what is to be a 3,000-slot facility just outside Rohnert Park.

Over the next 90 days, Sonoma County officials and the tribe will negotiate how to minimize the impacts of what would be one of the largest developments in North Bay history.

Preliminary talks already have begun over environmental concerns such as the project’s effect on groundwater and private wells. It would grow in size to 534,000 square-feet once a 200-room hotel is built at a later date.

“We must continue to be hyper-focused on mitigating any potential negative impacts and not allow any distractions in that mission,” County Supervisor said Mike McGuire Friday.

Asked about recent tensions — Graton Rancheria Chairman Greg Sarris in June accused supervisors of spreading “misleading” information about the project — McGuire said that so far, “the conversations have been collaborative in tone.”

Sarris did not respond to a request for comment.

Friday’s non-action by the Department of Interior was largely anticlimactic. No announcements came from the government or tribe. Work had begun three weeks ago, with an increasing number of Ghilotti Construction trucks moving over the 64 acres south of Home Depot where the casino is to rise.

And it did little to quell longtime opposition to the project, which continues with a lawsuit brought by the Stop the Casino 101 coalition. It is considering filing another, members said Friday.

Still, Graton Rancheria supporters said it was a notable day.

“It’s great to take a minute and savor the fact that it’s going to happen,” said Lisa Maldonado, a longtime ally of the tribe and a leader of labor activists who have supported the project on the promise of the jobs it would bring.

The Department of the Interior had until Friday, the 45th day since state lawmakers approved the compact, to act, or to do nothing.

Casino opponents said that it was both wrong and telling that Indian Affairs Assistant Secretary Donald Laverdure let the compact take effect through inaction.

“When they let them sit on a desk and let them be approved by default, it’s that the secretary wants clean hands,” said Marilee Montgomery, a Stop the Casino 101 leader. “This is controversial and he didn’t want to get in the middle of it.”

The group had asked Laverdure to reject the compact while its lawsuit challenging the sovereign status of the tribe’s land is still in court.

“They chose to allow it to be approved despite the fact that there’s litigation in the court,” Montgomery said. “It’s extremely disrespectful to the people of Snoma County.”

Opponents were heartened last month by a U.S. Supreme Court decision that affirmed that individuals have the right to sue the federal government over decisions taking land into trust for tribes who want to open casinos.

The ruling also extended to six years the time available to people to sue the government about such decisions.

Petaluma Councilman Mike Healy, who wrote the lawsuit now in state court, said one is now being considered for federal court.

“This was expected and it’s onto the next round,” he said.

11 Responses to “Tribal casino in Rohnert Park clears last hurdle”

  1. Skippy says:

    bear believes white Americans can never be redeemed from the twin sins of black slavery and Indian wars.
    All of us, no matter if we emigrated from Sweden last week will ever be free of those stains on our national past.
    Thusly, all white Americans will always owe the Indians…everything.
    This childish hatred is poisonous and infectious.
    Staying resentful about things that never happened to you or acting out of guilt over a sin you never committed is madness or stupidity. It matters not which is the motive, reparations are like heroin. It feels good until the buzz wears off, and there is never enough to satisfy the hunger.
    Greed, jealousy and self-loathing are the roots of such foolish views.
    Reparations, schmeparations.
    I say it’s generational racial bribery and I say to hell with it.

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  2. Reality Check says:


    Are we responsible for the wrongs of previous generations? There isn’t a single foot of habitable earth that hasn’t change hands by force of some means. Not a single foot. Nope, that doesn’t make any of it right. But the idea that we can right the wrongs of history is a notion well beyond our capacity.

    History is full of examples of forced assimilation. It happens. In most cases, the sooner the better. In the case of Native Americans, we’ve compounded our sins by trying to assuage our guilt by keeping them is a state of permanent welfare.

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  3. bear says:

    Good thing that there was no genocide of Native Americans. You understand – planned murder, just like the Nazis.

    If we give them only casinos as compensation, then they are entitled to

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  4. Penny train says:

    What will the casino look like? is there a floor plan yet?

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  5. Jean Anderson says:

    The new American way – the many suffer so the few can profit from an idiotic and unwanted project.

    Boxer, Brown and the other morons who allowed this to happen are true enemies of the people.

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  6. Manuel says:

    OK, it’s going forward, if these tribes can’t respect mother earth how then they give a percent of the money that they well earn to all the schools in sonoma county.

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  7. Reality Check says:

    Brown may have approved the deal, but he too was cornered by a federal law that passed only because of the actions of Lynn Woolsey and Barbara Boxer.

    It recognized a few hundred Miwok and Pomo Indians under the Graton Rancheria label and included rights to build a casino. A year or so later, Boxer’s son and attorney, Donald Boxer, began working on the casino project. Imagine that!

    Neither California nor Rohnert Park could stop this. They made the best deal they could. I’m afraid the corruption took place at a higher level.

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  8. Missy says:

    Who approved this? Jerry Brown. Most people in the North Bay voted for him and all the Democrats. VOTES HAVE CONSEQUENCES.

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  9. GAJ says:

    Not a project I support in any fashion but the fight, (there never really was one), is over…move on.

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  10. 20/20 vision says:

    @Reality Check – You are completely right.

    But you have to remember that Mike Healy just loooves to see his name in the paper, regardless of the reason. He will tell the people that this is some sort of noble cause, when in fact, it’s a done deal like you said. Healy certainly can’t get his name in the paper for doing something actually good for the people. He doesn’t ever do anything to deserve that sort of accolade.

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  11. Reality Check says:

    Further legal appeals are a waste of money. This deal is done. If cities or counties want to fight this kind of imposition from the federal government, their fight is with the politicians responsible.

    But they won’t take them on. Rather, they launch a pretend fight against the law, ignoring the local and state politicians responsible. Voters need to see what’s going on, and act.

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