Counties to unite on Indian gaming issues 

Sonoma-Napa-Solano partnership could provide more clout with state, federal officials
March 27, 2004


NAPA -- Frustrated with their lack of control over the rapidly growing Indian gaming industry, supervisors from Sonoma, Napa and Solano counties voted Friday to team up to fight for a greater say in what happens on tribal lands.

While specifics remain to be worked out, the supervisors unanimously agreed to explore a tri-county partnership to work on Indian gaming issues.The partnership would allow them to pool manpower, expertise and money to hire lobbyists, and could give them more clout with state and federal officials who can influence tribal gaming, supervisors said. The decision came during a rare joint meeting of elected officials from the three counties. Yolo County Supervisor Mike McGowan, who attended the session in Napa to discuss his county's experience with Cache Creek casino, said Yolo would be interested in joining the effort as well.

"Our best hope really is banding together and working together," McGowan said. "If one county is in trouble, we're all in trouble."No tribal representatives attended the meeting. Indian gaming has become a dominant political issue throughout the state since voters approved Proposition 1A four years ago, giving tribes the right to operate Las Vegas-style casinos.

Some local politicians say casinos burden communities with additional costs for law enforcement, fire protection and road improvements, yet tribes aren't required to pay property taxes or collect sales taxes. Development on Indian land is largely exempt from local land-use laws, so new casinos can undermine efforts to preserve farmland and prevent urban sprawl, local officials say.

SonomaCounty's first casino opened in the AlexanderValley in 2002, sparking an ongoing feud between the county and the Dry Creek band of Pomo Indians. Other casinos are planned near Rohnert Park, Cloverdale and StewartsPoint.Napa and Solano counties don't have casinos but fear they could be on the way.

Sonoma County Supervisor Paul Kelley, whose district includes the River Rock Casino in the AlexanderValley, said Indian gaming is "a cancer that can metastasize through a region."California tribes have to negotiate compacts with the governor to operate casinos, but he said local governments don't have a say in the process."The impacts are local and the controls are afar," Kelley said. "The governor's office doesn't feel the traffic impacts or the law enforcement impacts."

Sonoma County Supervisor Valerie Brown, a former state assemblywoman who led a committee that regulates gambling, suggested the counties work collectively for greater control over Indian gaming. "It's just a good idea, especially with counties the size of ours," she said.Brown also works as executive director of California Cities for Self Reliance, a consortium of Los Angeles-area cities that rely heavily on taxes paid by card rooms. Its main focus is to curb the proliferation of tribal gaming in the area, which competes with the card rooms, some of which are backing an initiative that would allow them to install slot machines.

A big focus of a collective lobbying campaign would be to get local governments greater say in where casinos are allowed, local officials said."Is there any way to limit the land they are looking for?" Brown asked. "The answer is no."

You can reach Staff Writer Spencer Soper at 521-5257 or