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Rohnert Park signs new casino revenue-sharing deal, gets $40 million more

Artist's rendering of Graton Resort & Casino.

COURTESY IMAGE
Published: Tuesday, March 26, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 at 7:15 a.m.

Rohnert Park and the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria have agreed to a new revenue-sharing deal worth $40 million more than one they signed in 2003. The agreement is intended to more fully address the impacts of the casino the tribe is now building.

The City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved the new agreement. Should the casino's earnings meet projections, the tribe is to pay $251 million to the city over 20 years for public safety, education, traffic improvements and other services.

"We have to hope it will be successful," Councilman Amy Ahanotu said of the 3,000-slot machine casino, projected to open late this year. "The city will also benefit."

The most significant new addition to the agreement is an annual $2,369,000 payment to the city "to mitigate potential impacts" from the casino.

The document says the city intends to use the money in part for staffing to cope with impacts on public safety and other unspecified city services.

It also says the tribe will pay $3.75 million for a new public safety building west of Highway 101; the previous deal was for $2.25 million.

Council members who long have opposed the casino lauded both the new agreement and the tribe.

"This is even better than the last one, and I thought the last one was outstanding," Vice-Mayor Joe Callinan said, referring to the 2003 agreement, which promised the city $211 million over 20 years.

"I never thought I'd say this," Mayor Pam Stafford said, "but the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria could not have been more responsible . . . I really, really appreciate this."

Officials from the tribe were not present at Tuesday's meeting.

The impetus for renegotiating the deal was twofold, city officials said: First, the original agreement envisioned the casino being at Stony Point Road and Rohnert Park Expressway, rather than its current 66-acre site on Wilfred Avenue. Also, the new site is on land the city once planned to annex, which means it will lose tax revenue it had banked on.

The revised agreement "was going to have to be done, at the very least to amend the project site location, but along with that there were obviously other issues we needed to address," City Manager Gabe Gonzalez said.

He said that the old agreement would have been binding despite being built around a different casino site. But opponents of the project, who continue to challenge it in court, suggested the tribe had a pressing interest in renegotiating a new deal.

"A valid (agreement), which the 2003 one is not, is an essential precondition to the casino opening. It is required by the compact," said attorney Mike Healy, who filed a lawsuit to stop the project.

"If the council voted this down, it would be a huge problem for the casino," said Healy, who is also a Petaluma councilman and was not at the meeting.

The state and the Graton Rancheria last year signed an agreement, or compact, that allows the tribe to operate a Las Vegas-style casino on its reservation. But a condition of the compact stipulated the tribe and Rohnert Park have a revenue-sharing mitigation deal in place.

As part of the lawsuit, in which the Stop the Casino 101 coalition is a plaintiff, Healy argued that because the 2003 agreement described a different site, it was invalid, and therefore the tribe should not be allowed to open the casino.

The council's Tuesday action appears to render moot that piece of the lawsuit, which goes to trial Aug. 2 and also challenges the tribe's sovereignty over its 254-acre reservation.

The tribe and its Las Vegas partner, Station Casinos, have appeared to hopscotch other requirements without sanction. They started construction before the federal government approved the compact, and also before the tribe and Sonoma County reached a revenue-sharing agreement, which the compact also mandated.

Callinan cautioned that the influx of money -- the city expects a $2.66 million payment by this summer -- is to address casino impacts, not bolster Rohnert Park's overall and still-precarious fiscal condition.

"This is not for that," he said sternly.

You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or jeremy.hay@pressdemocrat.com.

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