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Article published Jan 25, 2005

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Casino issue unites 4 counties
Sonoma joins Napa, Solano, Yolo in coalition to lobby for limits on gaming proliferation in area

Sonoma County is teaming up with three other Northern California counties to create an unprecedented coalition aimed at restricting the development of Indian casinos.
The agreement between Sonoma, Napa, Solano and Yolo counties will likely be copied in other areas, said Cheryl Schmit, director of Stand Up for California, a gambling watchdog group based in Placer County. It is expected to be ratified by all four counties today.
Local governments have formed coalitions before, but never to address the growth of casinos in California, Schmit said.
"This is the first one to do so on tribal gaming issues -- it is very cutting edge," she said. "By grouping together, they are going to conserve their resources and can approach many of these issues in a more uniform manner. They are going to have clout."
Members of the coalition will share information and lobby federal and state lawmakers to require tribes to comply with local zoning requirements. The coalition also will ask lawmakers to force tribes to mitigate environmental impacts created by Indian casinos.
The coalition opposes all developments by tribes without long-term ties to a location.
The group is expected to meet intermittently, as needed, and evenly share costs that could include legal and lobbying fees.
Coalition leaders are scheduled to gather in Washington, D.C., in March to press lawmakers to consider local concerns before granting any tribe's request to establish a reservation.
"The problem is, once the land is put into trust by the federal government, the land is no longer subject to any local control, so Indian tribes have the ability to build whatever they want without having to mitigate that kind of development," Sonoma County Supervisor Mike Kerns said.
Supervisor Valerie Brown, who earns $180,000 annually in a side job protecting Southern California card clubs from competition by Indian casinos, is expected to be appointed Sonoma County's representative on the panel. Brown serves as executive director of California Cities for Self Reliance, a consortium of Los Angeles-area cities that rely heavily on taxes paid by card rooms. Its main focus is to curb the proliferation of tribal gaming in the area, which competes with the card rooms.
The formation of the coalition of four Northern California counties is a logical response to the emergence of Indian gaming following the approval of Proposition 1A in 2000, said Solano County Supervisor Duane Kromm. The law gave tribes the right to operate Vegas-style casinos in California.
"This, in some ways, is a kind of onslaught of gambling in California," he said. "It didn't seem like a big deal when there were one or two (casinos), but I think it has become a really big deal to a lot of people."
Sonoma County's first casino opened in the Alexander Valley in 2002, sparking an ongoing feud between the county and the Dry Creek Band of Pomo Indians. Casinos are also planned near Rohnert Park, Cloverdale and Stewarts Point.
Yolo County is home to the Cache Creek casino, but Napa and Solano do not have casinos.
"The whole point is to be proactive, rather than reactive -- being able to get a seat at the table whenever something is going to be happening," said Andrew Carey, management analyst for Napa County.
On Monday, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, introduced legislation that would rescind congressional approval of a plan by Sonoma County's Lytton Band of Pomo Indians to build a casino in the East Bay -- the first in a major metropolitan area.
"I have serious concerns about the expansion of Nevada-style gaming, with its slot machines and in-house banking, into urban areas," Feinstein said in a statement.
Brown praised the move. "I think the willingness of Senator Feinstein to look at what is actually asked for in the Lytton plan is certainly a step in the right direction," she said.
A multicounty, united front will merit more attention in Sacramento and Washington -- before key decisions are made, said Mike McGowan, Yolo County supervisor.
"It's one thing for one or two supervisors to ask for some help from the governor's office. It's quite another when you see this mob of counties have gotten together on this issue," he said. "That's pretty potent stuff."
You can reach Staff Writer
Kerry Benefield at 526-8671 or