Pomos want Windsor land

                 Neighbors oppose plan to buy 50 rural acres,
                  build 50 homes just outside town limits

                  July 2, 2001, The Press Democrat, Empire News

                  By STEVE HART
                  THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

                  The Lytton band of Pomo Indians, who lost its Sonoma County reservation
                  40 years ago, says it's found a new home on 50 oak-studded acres just
                  outside the town of Windsor.

                  But the plan is running into opposition from some Windsor neighbors, who
                  say the proposed Indian community doesn't belong in the semirural enclave.
                  They're also worried the tribe will open a casino on the property.

                  Margie Mejia, leader of the 220-member tribe, said the Lytton Pomos will
                  never build a casino on the land. "Our goal is to be good neighbors," Mejia
                  said. "We never wanted a gaming facility near our homes."
Instead, the tribe has a deal with the East Bay city of San Pablo to open a
                  casino in an existing card club. Congress last year cleared the way for the
                  Lytton Pomos to acquire the San Pablo site, but the tribe still needs
                  approval from Gov. Gray Davis for Nevada-style gambling there.

                  The tribe would use profits from the San Pablo casino to develop 50 homes
                  for Pomo families and a community center on the Windsor property.
                  Philadelphia stadium promoter Sam Katz, the tribe's gambling partner,
                  would put up $2 million to buy the site on Windsor River Road if the federal
                  government agrees to make it an Indian reservation.

                  The tribe has an option to buy the Windsor property from Georgina
                  Funtanellas, a Santa Rosa physician.

                  So far, Windsor and Sonoma County leaders haven't taken positions on the
                  tribe's Windsor plans. The Pomo development conflicts with Sonoma
                  County's land-use regulations, which allow a maximum of 10 homes on the

                  County zoning rules don't apply on Indian land, but local government
                  agencies have a chance to comment when tribes ask the federal government
                  to create reservations for them. Neighbors are pushing local, state and
                  federal representatives to fight the Lytton project, saying the tribe shouldn't
                  be allowed to build five times more homes than the county allows.

                  They said the increased density will lead to traffic, water and sanitation
                  problems. "It will be a completely different environment," neighbor Debbie
                  Bailey said.

                  "This is not the appropriate location for them to do what they want to do,"
                  another neighbor, Bob Crawford, said. The neighborhood is mix of rural
                  homes, small farms, vineyards and grazing land.

                  "We will do all it takes to stop this project," nearby resident Bill
                  McCormick said.

                  Mejia said the tribe's project will protect the environment and Windsor is
                  the right location. She said the homesites will be clustered to save native
                  oaks and a natural buffer will be created between the houses and Windsor
                  River Road.

                  The tribe chose the Windsor location because it has rural character but it's
                  close to town, she said. "This is the closest we could get to our aboriginal
                  home," Mejia said.

                  She said 50 homes would not be out of place because there's a Windsor
                  housing tract just a block away.

                  She said the Lytton Pomos have been looking for a new home since 1961,
                  when an act of Congress officially disbanded the tribe. The Lytton band
                  regained its tribal status in 1991 but its 50-acre Alexander Valley
                  reservation had long since been sold to non-Indian owners.

                  Mejia said the Lytton Pomos were determined to reestablish a reservation in
                  Sonoma County, where most of the tribe's members still live. "It's our way
                  of living together," she said. "We want to live as we did 40 years ago."

                  She said the Windsor development is needed because many tribe members
                  are living in substandard housing. "We're just asking for our 50 acres back,"
                  Mejia said. "I don't think that's unreasonable."

                  Two years ago, the Lytton Pomos asked the U.S. Interior Department's
                  Bureau of Indian Affairs to acquire the San Pablo and Windsor properties
                  as land to be held in trust for the tribe.

                  The tribe did environmental studies on both projects but didn't pursue the
                  Windsor development because federal regulations require gaming projects
                  to be considered first, according to tribal attorney Tony Cohen. Now that
                  Congress has approved the San Pablo acquisition, the tribe will soon
                  reapply for the Windsor land, he said.

                  Carmen Facio, realty officer for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Sacramento,
                  said the review process could take anywhere from 18 months to several
                  years. She said the tribe also must submit a new environmental study of the
                  Windsor project, which will be subject to public review.

                  She said individuals and government agencies have a chance to comment on
                  the project and the tribe must respond to issues that are raised. Facio said
                  the bureau could ask the tribe to provide more information on the
                  environmental impacts if it's deemed necessary.

                  Once the bureau makes a decision, the matter can be appealed to the
                  Interior Department, Facio said. The department's decision can be
                  challenged in federal court.

                  According to Facio, the tribe wouldn't be able to open a casino on the
                  Windsor property without going through a separate approval process.

                  Cohen said the Lytton Pomos welcome a full review.

                  "This is a tribe that has bent over backwards to accommodate public
                  concerns," he said. "We will go out of our way to respond to individuals and
                  government agencies that have concerns."

                  But neighbors said they aren't reassured. Once the land is declared a
                  reservation, Windsor won't have any say over what happens there, said
                  Crawford, a retired attorney. "The basic reason we worry is there is no
                  control," he said. "There is nothing to prevent them from changing their
                  application to do a casino here."

                  Neighbors also note the tribe's original application talks about a need for 97
                  homes for its members.

                  Mejia said the tribe hasn't decided how it will meet the need for additional

                  Neighbors also are worried about how the tribe will provide water to its
                  residents and treat its sewage. Mejia said the tribe wants to talk to Windsor
                  about extending town water and sewer service.

                  But if the tribe can't get service from the town, Mejia said, it will develop
                  water wells and build an on-site sewage treatment system.

                  If that happens, neighbors fear, their wells might be affected and the
                  development could discharge wastewater into nearby streams. They said the
                  50 acres, now used for grazing, contain wetlands and sensitive wildlife

                  Cohen said those issues will be addressed in the tribe's environmental
                  studies. "The tribe is going to go out of its way to mitigate the impacts," he

                  Windsor Mayor Steve Allen said the town is waiting to receive the tribe's
                  formal application before taking a position. He said there could be impacts
                  on traffic, water and schools, "but until we see them come in the door and
                  make a proposal, it's difficult to judge."

                  Even if it agrees with the Lytton band's plan, Windsor could be barred from
                  providing services to the reservation under the town's urban growth
                  boundary law. That law, passed in 1998, says services can't be extended
                  outside the growth boundary without approval from voters. The property is
                  just outside the boundary.

                  Mejia said the tribe successfully negotiated agreements with the city of San
                  Pablo and it can do the same with Windsor.

                  Mejia said she's worried that opponents are motivated by prejudice. But
                  neighbors insist race is not the issue. "I don't care who buys the property as
                  long as they adhere to the zoning," Bailey said.

                  "If they want to follow the county's rules, I'll be the first guy in the
                  welcoming party," McCormick said.

                  You can reach Staff Writer Steve Hart at 521-5212 or e-mail