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Seeking an edge to stop a casino

The 277-acre property south of town off Highway 101 at Kastania Road owned by the Dry Creek Band of Pomo Indians.

John O'Hara/For the Argus-Courier
Published: Friday, February 8, 2013 at 11:51 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, February 8, 2013 at 11:51 a.m.

In an effort to prevent a gaming casino being built on the 277-acre property owned by the Dry Creek Band of Pomo Indians just south of town, the Petaluma City Council is considering taking over water service to the property and 11 others in the area.

The North Marin Water District currently controls the water on those sites, but has expressed an interest in relinquishing that control. The city has been in talks with North Marin Water District CEO Chris DeGabriele about a potential transfer of service and responsibilities, though both Petaluma officials and DeGabriele admit the discussions are in their infancy.

“It just makes sense for the city of Petaluma, who has the relationship with this area that borders city limits, to have the water responsibility as well,” said DeGabriele.

Sonoma County Water Agency currently has an aqueduct that travels from the Russian River all the way to Novato. According to DeGabriele, the 12 parcels serviced by North Marin Water at the southern end of Petaluma Boulevard South asked for service two decades years ago, and North Marin agreed to supply it to them.

Petaluma's interest in controlling water service to these properties just outside city limits stems from the tribe's application to the Bureau of Indian Affairs to place the land into federal trust, which is considered a first step towards building a casino on the property.

While the Dry Creek tribe already owns the River Rock Casino in Geyserville, the recently approved Rohnert Park casino along Highway 101 has prompted widespread speculation that the newer casino project will siphon profits away from the Dry Creek tribe's smaller and more out-of-the-way casino. The tribe has specified several uses for the land south of Petaluma in its trust application — including a business venture other than a casino and possible housing for tribal members — and has included a gaming casino option as well. According to Petaluma's County Supervisor David Rabbitt, the application is scheduled to be approved by the BIA sometime this spring.

In 2008, the Dry Creek tribe offered to drop all future applications for gaming rights to the property if the city would extend water and sewer services, which the rural property currently does not have. At the time, the council declined to explore the option.

Today, the city would be required to ask voters to extend the city's “urban growth boundary” — approved by voters in 1998 to limit the location of urban development and help protect the green spaces that surround the city — in order to offer city water and sewer services. Several councilmembers are hesitant to do so, especially after the voters approved the growth boundary by a two-thirds majority.

That leaves North Marin Water as the best option for the tribe to secure water service to its property, since the water aqueduct runs adjacent to the parcel.

In 2006, an advisory ballot measure showed that 80 percent of local voters said they did not want to see a casino built in Petaluma. Because of this, Councilmember Mike Healy said that it's very important for the city to control water supply in that area, since Petaluma has a strong interest in stopping a casino on the property.

City Manager John Brown agreed that it makes more sense for the area to be under Petaluma's control rather than North Marin's, but said a transfer of responsibility would depend on the condition of the infrastructure at the site.

“I have asked our department to secure information regarding the age and condition of the system from North Marin, to help the council in its consideration of North Marin's offer,” Brown said.

Even if the city were to take control of water service to the area and arrange a deal with the tribe to avoid a gaming casino, the property would still lack sewer service. While offering water service through what is currently North Marin's aqueduct would not require an annexation of the property and an extension of the “urban growth boundary,” providing sewer service through the city's facilities would, said Councilmember Healy.

The City Council has placed the issue on its list of annual goals to tackle and will be in continuing talks with North Marin Water District in the coming months.

(Contact Janelle Wetzstein at janelle.wetzstein@arguscourier.com)

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