Local officials say sovereign status limits their leverage in bargaining with tribe

County officials hold most of the cards when negotiating conditions for new developments. But they now have a weak hand in confronting a project they roundly oppose, the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria's plan to open a casino outside Rohnert Park.

It would be one of the county's largest-ever developments, yet it is is planned for land the federal government deems sovereign Indian territory -- free of zoning and other local regulations, and property and most sales taxes.

One of the few things in local officials' favor is the fact that they will be at the bargaining table at all.

"The county usually has in negotiations some sort of leverage. In this case, the leverage is, the tribe has agreed to negotiate with us," said Supervisor David Rabbit, whose 2nd District includes the Wilfred Avenue casino site just south of Home Depot.

The high-stakes discussions would follow the expected U.S. Department of the Interior approval of a state-tribal agreement allowing the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria to start the project. The department has until July 6 to make a decision or the agreement takes effect.

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