Legal fight stalls Pomo casino plan 


March 8, 2003

Sonoma County Indian tribe's plan to open an East Bay casino was delayed Friday at a federal court hearing.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs agreed not to designate a San Pablo cardroom as tribal land until a federal judge clears the way.
Four Bay Area card clubs asked for an injunction to block the bureau, arguing that the LyttonPomos don't meet the criteria for recognition as a tribe and that the 10-acre parcel in a San Pablo shopping district does not qualify as a reservation. "They're not a tribe, and this ain't a reservation," said Bo Links, one of several lawyers representing the card rooms. The case presents the last significant obstacle the Lytton Pomos must overcome before opening California's first Las Vegas-style casino in an urban area. The tribe also would be the first to establish a reservation outside its historical range solely for commercial purposes.
Locally, the tribe would then be able to proceed with plans to create a 50-acre residential reservation on the edge of Windsor. U.S. District Judge David F. Levi, who is presiding over the case, began Friday's hearing by posing a hypothetical question to lawyers for the LyttonPomos and their co-defendants, Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, who presides over the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the city of San Pablo. If the government can grant tribes a monopoly on gambling and permit them to establish reservations wherever they want casinos, could it also give them similar control over bank machines and allow the proliferation of "Indian country wherever there's an ATM?" he asked. "Where does it end?"
Anthony Cohen, a lawyer for the Lytton Pomos, told the judge that the creation of reservations was the authority of Congress, and that the courts were not at liberty to challenge those decisions. Three years ago, legislation sponsored by Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, gave the Lytton Pomos special authority to place the San Pablo land into trust a prerequisite for Indian reservations and casinos under federal and state law. Lawyers for the four card clubs focused their attention on the history of the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians, which the federal government disbanded in the 1960s and reinstated in 1991.
Attorney David Fried argued the Lytton Pomos are not a real tribe because they are the descendents of two families who fell short of official standards for tribal status. He said the original members of the Lytton Rancheria, which the government created outside Healdsburg in 1934, didn't have the minimum 50 percent "blood quantum" meaning that they were not at least half Indian as required under law. Additionally, Fried said the Lytton Pomos have yet to complete one of the prerequisites for creating a reservation: organizing a government under a constitution. Cohen countered with another interpretation of Lytton Pomo's history. It is a group, he said, that "is not only landless, it has been run out of the 100-square-mile area they used to occupy." He disputed the facts about bloodlines and dismissed as a technicality the claim that the tribe hasn't organized a government. Judge Levi ended the hearing without saying when he would make a ruling.
The Lytton Pomos plan to use profits from the casino to build a reservation on Windsor River Road. The tribe's casino partner, a Philadelphia investment group led by stadium promoter Sam Katz, bought the property last June for $2.2 million. Katz has promised to give the oak-studded land to the Pomos once the San Pablo site a cardroom bought by the investment group for the tribe in 1998 becomes eligible for an Indian casino with slot machines. Tuesday's hearing was the second of two lawsuits by the card clubs.'. In the first, the card clubs argued that Proposition 1A, approved by voters in 2000, created an unfair advantage for Indians by giving them the exclusive right to operate casinos in California. Levi dismissed that case last summer. You can reach Staff Writer Sam Kennedy at 521-5312 or