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
"This is not the appropriate location for them to do what they want to
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
Mejia said the tribe's project will protect the environment and Windsor
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
The tribe chose the Windsor location because it has rural character but
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
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
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
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
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
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