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Document: Tribe 'intends to develop' Petaluma casino

But spokesman denies tribal board's April resolution means gaming hall is in the works for Petaluma site

Published: Wednesday, June 28, 2006 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, June 29, 2006 at 12:32 p.m.

A resolution passed by the Indian tribe that owns 277 acres south of Petaluma's city limits declares that the tribe "intends to develop a class III gaming facility and related amenities in Petaluma, CA."

But is the statement proof of the Dry Creek Pomos' ultimate intent, or part of a standard application to have the federal government take the land into trust?

A tribal spokesman denied that the document means the tribe is reversing its earlier pledge that it only plans to use the land for agriculture.

"You need to make that assertion (about a casino) so your request is viable," said the spokesman, who is only speaking anonymously. "I don't think it guarantees that anything will happen."

The tribe has "very clearly said" that the 277-acre spread of farmland east of Highway 101, across from Kastania Road, will continue to be used for agriculture, the spokesman said.

However, the tribe does intend to speak with the property's neighbors about what they see as the best use of the land in the future, he said.

"There are a lot of things there that would be terrific for the city," he said. "A casino might be one, a hotel might be one, agriculture might be one."

The tribe on April 14 applied to the U.S. Department of the Interior to have the land taken into trust, which if approved, could allow a casino, hotel or resort on the property.

Two days before the application was filed, the five-member board of the Dry Creek Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians voted unanimously to approve a "resolution that land be put into trust for gaming."

The resolution includes the statement about a class III gaming facility, which the spokesman said is "a designation that Indian tribes are allowed to meet. That's what Indian casinos are."

That class of casinos includes slot machines as well as card games such as poker and blackjack. In addition to the requirement that the federal government take land into trust, Class III Indian casinos in California must be approved through a gaming compact with the governor.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has stated he will not grant new gaming compacts unless an advisory vote of "the affected local community" shows support for the project.

The Petaluma City Council is calling for such a vote of city residents in November. The council has unanimously opposed a casino on the property, saying it would increase traffic, harm wildlife and scenic views and conflict with the county's agricultural zoning for the property.

The council will discuss the issue again July 17, when a formal ballot question will be presented and likely scheduled for a November vote.

The council has until Aug. 11 to put the issue on the ballot. At last week's meeting, council members were slated to do so but postponed a final decision until the specific question to be put to voters is written.

The council may also explore whether voters outside city limits -- such as those whose property is near the Pomo land -- could be included in the vote.

Mayor David Glass said the advisory vote "is another arrow in your arsenal to say that the community has strongly expressed an opinion about the casino. One would make the assumption that this community would express a 'no casino' opinion."

The advisory vote "is an integral part of the process," Councilmember Mike Harris said. "If we put it on the ballot and it does fail -- in terms of people being for the casino -- then the governor would probably not approve a compact after going through all those processes."

The tribe is withholding comment on a possible advisory vote and whether it would take a position on such a ballot measure until the council takes formal action, the spokesman said.

(Contact Corey Young at cyoung@arguscourier.com)

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