Rohnert Park casino: friend or foe to Petaluma?

Ongoing efforts to quash the possibility of a tribal gaming casino south of town have Petaluma city officials pondering whether to join a lawsuit against the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria or work with them.

Petaluma — which has long opposed the soon-to-open Graton Resort & Casino in Rohnert Park, run by the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria — recently found an unlikely ally in Graton Tribal Chairman Greg Sarris, when he spoke out against efforts by the Dry Creek Band of Pomo Indians to have a 277-acre parcel of land they own at Kastania Road south of Petaluma taken into federal trust.

Sarris, who does not want to compete with another tribal casino closer to San Francisco along the Highway 101 corridor, called the Dry Creek tribe's federal trust application a blatant attempt to build a casino and warned Petaluma to be vigilant going forward.

Afterward, city leaders — including Mayor David Glass — reached out to Sarris in an effort to collaborate on stopping the Dry Creek tribe's federal trust application. So when a recent proposal by a local anti-casino coalition urging the city to join its lawsuit against the Graton Resort & Casino came up at Monday's City Council meeting, some officials felt conflicted.

"I've been working with county counsel, Supervisor David Rabbit and Greg Sarris, much like a recent Petaluma Argus-Courier editorial suggested," said Glass, referring to a July 29 editorial in the Argus-Courier urging local officials to work with Sarris to stop a Petaluma casino. "I've done all of that — and so has the city — prior to this particular suggestion."

The proposal to join the existing lawsuit against the Graton casino was first brought up by the Stop the Graton Casino Coalition at a meeting it held with Petaluma residents on Oct. 2. Coalition members said Petaluma should join their fight against Graton's massive 3,000-slot machine, Las Vegas-style casino as the best way to stop the Dry Creek Band of Pomo Indians from building a larger casino on land they own south of town.

The coalition's suggestion hinges on the idea that Graton's new casino — scheduled to open Nov. 5 — will pull large amounts of revenue from Dry Creek's existing River Rock Casino in Geyserville.

"It's pure economics" said Stop the Casino 101 Coalition leader Chip Worthington. "If Graton dries up the money at River Rock, Dry Creek will want to put a casino on their land south of the city."

The city council discussed joining the lawsuit in closed session at Monday's meeting, but took no reportable action.

While some council members favor joining the existing litigation — notably Councilmember Mike Healy, who has acted as legal counsel to the Stop the Casino coalition's lawsuit against Graton — not everyone appears interested in joining a suit that has already been struck down by a judge and is now being appealed. He could not discuss what was said in closed session, but Glass said he has been working with Sarris, and joining the coalition's lawsuit could jeopardize the collaboration.

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