Sonoma County Board Of Supervisors Endorse Casino Agreement With Dry Creek Rancheria

On March 1, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors supported an agreement that gave the go-ahead to construct a tribal casino-resort located on the place of the cu ufa365 rrent River Rock Casino close to Greyserville.

The agreement was handed over to them by the owners of the River Rock Casino near Greyserville, the federally recognized Dry Creek Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians.

Hard decision:

After an intense meeting on Tuesday, February 28, that included testimony from many attorneys and infuriated neighbors, the board voted 4-1 to support the agreement.

The only board member who didn’t vote in favor of the agreement was James Gore, a supervisor who represented northern district.

Commenting on the agreement, Chris Wright, president of Dry Creek Rancheria, told the board: “I think we’ve come up with an MOA (memorandum of agreement) that is fair to the tribe and fair to the county.

“I look forward to a government to government relationship going forward.”

Prior to the vote, Supervisor Lynda Hopkins said: “I first ran for supervisor because I was frustrated with how the county handled community input in its negotiations with the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians about a development project in the Windsor area.”

“Learning more about the nuances of tribal law changed the conversation.”

She also added: “We all talk a lot about respecting tribes, we talk about Indigenous Peoples Day, we talk about recognition and land acknowledgment. And part of that work is making the decision when it’s hard and controversial, to have some trust in the relationship.”

Other attorneys at the meeting included Brook Dooley, who represented the Alexander Valley Association, and Simon Gertler, who represented the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria.

Gertler said: “Graton Rancheria supports the agreement but would also support extending the expiration of the provision in which Dry Creek agreed not to pursue gaming rights on the land it owns just south of Petaluma.”

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Layout of the proposed tribal casino-resort project:

The agreement defines a casino-resort project on Dry Creek Rancheria’s Alexander Valley property that would consist of a nearly 300-room hotel, a 60,000-square-foot casino with up to 1,500 slot machines – nearly 300 more compared to the existing gaming hall – a wedding chapel and a spa, among other benefits.

However, this agreement supersedes a 2008 agreement between the county and the tribe that included a bigger project that consisted of a hotel with up to 600 rooms and an 88,000-square-foot casino with up to 3,000 gaming machines.

Terms of agreement:

Under the terms of the new agreement, Dry Creek Rancheria must pay the county $750.000 per year for up to 4 years after the casino-resort is built, at which point a 2% annual increase will show.

However, payouts from year to year will not overstep $1.5 million.

In this regard, Michelle Lee, attorney for Dry Creek Rancheria, said: “The tribe does not yet have a definite timeline, as the project is still under development.”

Also, the tribe can’t construct a casino on the 277 acres it owns close to Petaluma’s southern border until at least 2035.

The promise is a big win for some officials, involving Supervisor David Rabbit, who represents the southern district.

Commenting on this, the district attorneys, Holly Rickett, Jennifer Klein and Dry Creek tribe attorney, Lee, said: “The new agreement cleans up the 2008 deal that was subject to multiple amendments.”

The long-intended casino-resort plan:

The tribe had revealed plans 16 years ago that called for a $300 million construction on what was then a deluxe resort and casino to substitute its primary gaming facility, which officially opened in 2002 overlooking the heart of Alexander Valley.

However, those plans never materialized.

In this regard, Rickett and Klein said: “The 2008 agreement was more of a settlement reached to resolve a number of legal disputes at the time and the language allowing groups like the Alexander Valley Association to communicate directly with the tribe was unusual.”

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Lee added: “There were seven lawsuits and a tremendous amount of pressure on the tribe where they did not feel they had good alternatives.”

Attorney Warnelius-Miller disagreed with Lee’s statement and said: “These stipulations that they have reached (in 2008) were only reached because we worked collaboratively and to actually think the previous document is so convoluted and complicated it’s actually very clear.”

Tough competition:

The Graton Resort and Casino, located just outside Rohnert Park, is San Francisco’s biggest gaming destination and its official opening in 2013 made a big dent in River Rock’s business.

In this regard, it is stated in the report of the county stuff that “the opening of the newer and larger Graton Casino and Resort in Rohnert Park was a significant factor that substantially reduced revenue from Dry Creek’s current casino, River Rock Casino.”

Furthermore, Graton Rancheria is also now setting goals for a major extension of its gaming section and for a second hotel tower and is working very hard to meet them. However, once the aforementioned proposed casino is built, it would pose a serious business threat to Graton’s current dominance of the local gaming market.

On the other hand, another Pomo tribe, the Koi Nation, wants to develop a gaming resort out of Winsdor, a goal strongly objected by the 5 Sonoma County-based tribes and the aforementioned Board of Supervisors.

Major opposition:

Alexander Valley neighbors are strongly opposed to provisions in the new agreement with Dry Creek Rancheria that sideline them in talks to redevelop the River Rock location.

However, the provisions are conditional and would be overturned if Koi Nation triumphs in its bid to construct its proposed casino in Winsdor.

In this regard, Gore’s opposing vote showed a lot of pressure from those neighbors on one side and the potential far-reaching consequences of delaying an agreement with a tribe that has little legal obligation to work closely with the district.

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Gore’s district involves Alexander Valley, where the 75-acre tribal reservation and River Rock Casino are located east of Highway 128.

In this regard, commenting on his vote in an interview after the meeting, he said: “I voted no to allow for more time to hopefully reach a compromise between Dry Creek Rancheria and neighbors.

“I’ve never encountered a project where halving it was not seen as a benefit.”

However, commenting on the board’s vote on the agreement, neighbors said: “The county should have done more to include them in the three years of negotiations that led to Tuesday’s vote.”

The local community expressed their concerns about the project’s potential influence on rime, fire safety and other quality-of-life issues, but the main focus is whether residents should be able to speak directly with the tribe instead of going through the county’s public process and whether the new agreement removed the necessary environmental study provisions.

In this regard, Karin Warnelius-Miller, president of the Alexander Valley Association, which represents families, farmers and businesses in the region and has been part of some of the previous discussions, said: “We are very, very angry and we’re not standing down.”

The association had meetings with Gore and Dry Creek Rancheria last year, but was not directly involved in the discussion.