Article published Aug 19, 2004
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Lytton's casino deal won't derail RP plans
Pomo accord with governor over San Pablo site due to be signed today, seeks Bay Area monopoly
Guy Kovner, Press Democrat


A deal that would make Sonoma County's Lytton Band of Pomo Indians the owner of an East Bay mega-casino would not stop construction of a casino in Rohnert Park, despite a provision that restricts competition within much of the Bay Area.
Lytton's agreement with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, expected to be signed today, includes a condition that could restrict other casino operations within a 35-mile radius of San Pablo, where a tribe-owned card club would be converted to a Nevada-style casino with as many as 5,000 slot machines.
The proposed no-competition zone appears to include Rohnert Park, where the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria plans to develop a 2,000-slot machine casino and 300-room hotel on agricultural land just west of the city.
But the provision will not apply to the Graton Rancheria project, according to sources familiar with the deal.
Rohnert Park City Manager Carl Leivo, who negotiated a $200 million revenue-sharing agreement with the Graton Rancheria, said the condition does not ban casinos within the zone but reduces the Lytton casino's financial obligation to the state, estimated at $125 million a year, if other casinos open in the Bay Area.
"It's not a prohibition," Leivo said.
A source with expertise on Indian gaming issues said the restriction does not apply to the Graton Rancheria because it secured permission for gaming from Congress, not from the state.
Because of that status, the governor essentially "has no choice" but to allow the two tribes to open casinos, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Lytton, which has tribal history in Alexander Valley, currently has no land or reservation, but it gained the right to build a casino through congressional action. The tribe hopes to use casino proceeds to develop a 50-acre reservation west of Windsor.
Tribal sources for Lytton declined comment Wednesday.
Greg Sarris, Graton Rancheria tribal chairman, refused to answer questions concerning the Rohnert Park casino, asserting The Press Democrat's coverage of the tribe's affairs has been unfair.
The Graton Rancheria, whose membership has swollen from 568 members to about 1,060 members in the past year, is still pursuing the Rohnert Park project, Leivo said.
Neither tribe has an agreement, known as a compact, authorizing a casino with slot machines. But the governor, by law, is required to "negotiate in good faith" with any tribe that owns land designated for gaming, Leivo said.
Schwarzenegger has said he opposes urban casinos but has sought negotiations to bring a share of Indian gaming revenue to ease the state's deficit.
A casino with 5,000 slot machines could make $500 million a year by conservative estimates of Indian gaming revenue. Under the proposed agreement, Lytton would pay the state 25 percent of its gaming profits, sources said.
The 259-member Lytton tribe owns 71,000-square-foot Casino San Pablo, a card club. Most gaming compacts limit tribes to 2,000 slot machines, but in a deal struck with five tribes in June, Schwarzenegger allowed as many slots as the tribes want in exchange for hefty annual payments to the state.
The Lytton tribe has filed documents with the federal government describing the San Pablo casino as up to 500,000 to 600,000 square feet in size.
Assemblyman Joe Nation, D-San Rafael, said the Legislature, which must approve the Lytton accord, would take a close look at the plan. Nation, whose district includes Roh- nert Park, said lawmakers might reject the deal if it fails to prevent the proliferation of urban casinos.
For town officials and some residents in Windsor, word of the Lytton casino deal renewed concerns over the tribe's plan to develop a reservation, with 50 homes, tribal offices and a community center, on 50 wooded acres on Windsor River Road west of town.
Mayor Deborah Fudge said the Town Council still opposes the plan because it includes five times as many homes as the Sonoma County General Plan allows on the property.
She said there's also concern the project "could morph into something different," despite the tribe's insistence that no casino will be built there.
Bob Crawford, whose ranch adjoins the reservation site, said the tribe relinquished its right to develop a Sonoma County casino. "I think it's a non-issue," Crawford said.
His concern is that if the tribe built a wastewater treatment plant on the site, it would likely overflow and pollute Windsor Creek, which runs through the town.
Town Manager Paul Berlant said he was uncertain if Lytton still had the right to develop a casino next to the town.
"What we're looking for is consistency with county regulations," he said, acknowledging Indian tribal development is beyond the control of cities and counties.