Petaluma City Councilmember Mike Healy and about a dozen other members of the Stop the Casino 101 Coalition traveled to Sacramento on Tuesday to voice their opposition to the 254-acre, Las Vegas-style casino that the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria plan to build on the outskirts of Rohnert Park.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed a 20-year compact for an up-to-3,000 slot machine casino with the tribe in late March, but the deal still requires approval by the legislature.
The compact went before a State Senate committee Tuesday, much faster than most expected. It was set to go before the Assembly committee on Wednesday. The bill that puts the compact before the legislature calls for it to be passed as an urgency statute, which means that the compact would take effect immediately, rather than in 2013.
Many Petalumans have taken a personal interest in the casino and even joined lawsuits opposing it, believing the project will significantly increase highway traffic through town, worsen Petaluma's shortage of affordable housing, strain underground water supplies, increase crime and air pollution, and heightened demand for mutual aid from Petaluma's fire and police departments.
Advocates of the casino, like county labor groups, argue that the project would bring much-needed jobs to the area.
Opponents saw the Senate and Assembly meetings as an important opportunity to demonstrate to state lawmakers what they say is an "overwhelming" opposition to the casino. They went armed with the results of a poll, conducted by the Stop the Casino 101 Coalition over the weekend, showing that 68 percent of those responding opposed the casino.
Mike Healy was the voice on the automated poll, as one of the most visible opponents of the casino. About 30,000 residents of Petaluma, Rohnert Park, unincorporated Santa Rosa and Penngrove were dialed as a part of the poll, which the coalition created and hired a company to carry out. About 5,400 households actually responded, said Marilee Montgomery, spokesperson for the coalition.
"Supporters always like to claim they have great public support (for the casino). To my perspective, that's just nonsense," Healy said, explaining why he felt the poll was important.
"This pretty much puts to rest the (myth) that the opposition is a small, vocal minority," Montgomery said.
The poll included about a 30-second message, Montgomery said, in which Healy informed listeners of the upcoming vote in the legislature and asked them to participate in a short poll to have their voices heard. Listeners could press 1 if they opposed casino, 2 if they supported it, and 3 if they were undecided.
At the senate meeting, the chairman of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, Greg Sarris, made a rare public appearance to promote the casino, saying that it would benefit both Indians and non-Indians in the area.
Neither the Senate nor the Assembly had voted on the compact by the time the Argus-Courier went to press on Wednesday, but the vote is expected to take place sometime this week.
(Contact Jamie Hansen at jamie.hansen@argus courier.com.)