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.
The county-tribe talks will set the terms for how much money the county is to get over the next 20 years from the Graton Rancheria to address a range of local impacts. Other measures, such as design and well-monitoring programs, also may be on the table.
County administrators and lawyers will handle the negotiations, joined by an attorney they have hired for the job, Guy Miller, of the Seattle-based Perkins Coie law firm.
A hearing is set for 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Board of Supervisors' chambers for the public to speak about concerns they want the county to focus on in the talks.
The tribe's Oakland-based attorney, John Maier, and its chairman, Greg Sarris, a Sonoma State University English professor, declined to comment.
Supervisors say areas to be addressed include:
Environmental concerns such as the strain on groundwater supplies and an estimated 14,724 total vehicle trips a day.
The casino's impact on police and fire services.
Social concerns such as gambling addiction and the cost to the county of providing services to people whose health and/or finances and families may suffer as a result.
"It is very much the goal of the board to offset all of those impacts . . . and make sure they are being fully mitigated," said Supervisor Shirlee Zane, whose 3rd District borders the casino site's east side.
They also want to get as many concessions as possible.
"We are going to try and capture as much as we can, obviously working constructively with the tribe," said Supervisor Efren Carrillo, whose 5th District also abuts the site.
But negotiators face the problem that some of the impacts, especially in the case of groundwater supplies and the social service system, can only be estimated.
"There is really no guarantee that the amount will be sufficient to address all of these impacts," Carrillo said. "The challenge will be to really quantify, because no one can predict what can really occur."