The Petaluma City Council is unanimously opposed to a bill that would help an Indian tribe develop land near Windsor, saying it could “paint a bull’s eye” on Petaluma for unwanted development including a casino.
The council on Monday sent a letter to Sen. Kamala Harris and Sen. Dianne Feinstein opposing H.R. 597, which would take 124 acres of land into federal trust for the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians. The tribe, which owns a casino in San Pablo, plans to build tribal housing and a winery on its Windsor land.
In its letter, the second in two months, Petaluma argued that the bill would set a precedent for development in rural areas of Sonoma County that voters have protected with urban growth boundaries and community separators. Taking land into trust allows tribes to bypass local zoning regulations and build virtually anything.
“Petaluma views the Lytton proposal and H.R. 597 as a pernicious test case that could serve as a model for frustrated landowners and anti-zoning developers to partner with a tribe and blow up carefully designed regulations limiting sprawl development on lands adjoining cities throughout the region,” the seven-member council wrote.
The bill was passed in the House in July and is now being considered by a Senate committee. The bill prohibits the Lytton tribe from building a casino on future land taken into trust for 20 years, and it permanently prohibits gaming on any land in the county north of Highway 12.
Petaluma City Councilman Mike Healy, who has opposed casino development in Sonoma County, said this provision could make casino development in the south county more attractive. He proposed changing the language in the bill to prohibit gaming on any land in the county that the tribe takes into trust.
“That kind of paints a target on us,” he said. “It looks like a blue print for blowing up urban growth boundaries.”
Larry Stidham, an attorney representing the Lytton tribe, noted that the legislation has been in the works for three years, and he said this is the first time he has heard of Petaluma’s opposition.
“It’s a little late in the game to be objecting to it now,” he said.
The bill is limited to Lytton-owned land. A separate tribe, the Dry Creek Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians, owns a 277-acre parcel just south of Petaluma at Kastania Road. The Dry Creek Tribe in 2002 opened River Rock Casino in Geyserville, at the time the first casino in Sonoma County. In 2013, the Federated Indians of the Graton Rancheria, a rival tribe, opened the $800 million Graton Resort and Casino in Rohnert Park, a development that severely undercut River Rock’s profits.
The Dry Creek tribe missed guaranteed payments to the county and sought to restructure its debt as officials worried that the tribe would attempt to build a casino or other revenue-generating development on the Petaluma land it acquired in 2004. The tribe in 2015 renegotiated its deal with the county, an agreement that prohibits the Petaluma land from being taken into trust until at least 2025.
Supervisor David Rabbitt, who was involved in negotiating deals with the Dry Creek, Graton and Lytton tribes, said the county has received the most benefit it could from Indian lands, which are treated by the federal government essentially as sovereign nations.