Pomos' homes on hold

Ownership of 50-acre site west of town hinges on East Bay casino approval
   August 4, 2002

The Lytton band of Pomo Indians is still a long way from establishing a reservation next to Windsor even though the tribe's casino partner recently bought the land and the tribe cleared a significant legal hurdle last week.  The tribe -- which plans to build 50 homes, tribal administration offices and a community center on 50 acres west of town -- faces significant opposition from local officials and neighboring landowners.
Before the Lytton Pomos can break ground, they must get a proposed East Bay casino up and running, the tribe's lawyer, Anthony Cohen, said.  The landless tribe, which the federal government disbanded in the 1960s and reinstated in 1991, plans to use profits from the casino in San Pablo 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 Windsor River Road property in mid-June. It was sold for $2.2 million by the family of Santa Rosa physician Georgina Funtanellas.

Katz has promised to give the oak-studded land to the Pomos once the San Pablo site -- a former card club bought by the investment group for the tribe in 1998 -- becomes eligible for Las Vegas-style gambling, Cohen said.  "That's the trigger that causes the Lytton band of Pomos to become the owner of the Windsor property," Cohen said.  If the casino opens, the Lytton Pomos will still have to wait for the Bureau of Indian Affairs to approve the tribe's application to turn its Sonoma County property into an Indian reservation, Cohen said.  "It's impossible to predict the timing of how courts and governmental agencies function," he said.

The process can't go slowly enough for county and town officials, along with some neighbors of the Windsor property.  Though they have no authority over Indian reservations, county supervisors and Windsor Town Council members have asked the tribe to limit construction to 10 homes to comply with county land-use restrictions in the area.  Their requests came at the urging of angry neighbors.  One neighbor, Bob Crawford, said he wouldn't be opposed to the project if the Lytton Pomos had to comply with county development regulations.  "They get to play by different rules than we do," he said.  The property is outside town limits and would be subject to the county's rural building regulations if its developer were anyone but an Indian tribe.  To the west and south of the property lie rural tracts spotted with ranch houses, while east along Windsor River Road are medium-density housing developments inside town limits.  But Windsor Mayor Sam Salmon said the main concern for many neighbors isn't the housing -- it's the fear that the Pomos would someday build a casino on the property, though tribal leaders have promised not to do that.  "I would want to know how solid that covenant is," Salmon said.  Tribal leader Margie Mejia couldn't be reached for comment.

The San Pablo card club, on 10 acres in a shopping district, is far from the Lytton Pomos' historical territory. But legislation sponsored by Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, in 2000 gave the tribe special dispensation to place the land into the trust of the federal government -- a prerequisite for Indian casinos and reservations under federal and state law.  The Bureau of Indian Affairs had shelved the Lytton Pomos' application to place the San Pablo property into trust while a federal judge considered two related lawsuits.  On Monday, U.S. District Judge David F. Levi of Sacramento dismissed the first and more significant of those legal challenges.  His decision was in response to a lawsuit filed last year by owners of four Bay Area card clubs, who said Proposition 1A, approved by voters in 2000, gives unfair advantage to American Indians by allowing them the exclusive right to operate Las Vegas-style casinos.  Lawyers for the card clubs filed a notice appealing the judge's decision Thursday.  Cohen said the Lytton Pomos are still awaiting resolution of the second lawsuit, which directly targets the San Pablo proposal.  Because that suit hinges in part on some of the issues decided Monday, Cohen said he expects the judge to rule in favor of the Lytton Pomos again.

You can reach Staff Writer Sam Kennedy at 521-5312 or skennedy@pressdemocrat.com.