Tribe seeks to develop Petaluma land
Leaders of Pomo tribe meet with local officials to discuss future of 277-acre site of possible casino project
Published: Wednesday, March 7, 2007 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, March 6, 2007 at 5:07 p.m.
Meeting face to face for the first time since Petalumans voted their displeasure at the thought of a casino south of town, elected officials and leaders of the Dry Creek Band of Pomo Indians sat down at City Hall in February to talk about what might be built at the tribe’s 277-acre south county property.
Petaluma Mayor Pamela Torliatt, who attended the meeting with Supervisor Mike Kerns, City Manager Mike Bierman and other city and county staff, described the discussion as a “meet and greet” initiated by the tribe to begin talking about the future use of the land.
“They just wanted to meet us — their neighbors — and see what the potential opportunities are,” said Torliatt, who announced that she had attended the meeting during the Feb. 26 City Council session.
The tribe has no development plans at this point, a spokesman said, and Kerns and Torliatt said new tribal chairman Harvey Hopkins repeated the tribe’s assertion that it does not plan to construct a casino on the site.
“It was kind of a cordial, get-acquainted opportunity to meet government-to-government,” tribal spokesman Dave Hyams said. “This was a very preliminary discussion.”
Kerns said county staff described the current state of the land — stretching between Highway 101 and the Petaluma River east of Kastania Road — and what uses would be allowed under the two zoning designations for the site.
Most of the land is zoned for agriculture, but about 25 acres in the central portion of the site is slated for “limited commercial” use, Kerns said.
Under county regulations, permitted uses for “limited commercial” include offices, restaurants, gas stations, car dealerships and a variety of other businesses.
Though the tribe — which currently operates River Rock Casino in Geyserville — doesn’t have a specific development in mind, Hopkins said that the Pomos wanted whatever they might build there to have community support.
“One of the things they’re looking for is housing for the tribe, as well as trying to increase their revenues,” Torliatt said.
“I really don’t think they know at this point what they want to do there,” Kerns said. “They’re trying to determine what kind of a project would be economically feasible and generate some revenue.”
Tribal leaders brought along some “very rough schematics” of a hotel and golf course that had been prepared in past years but said those ideas hadn’t gotten off the drawing boards, Kerns said.
Torliatt said the tribe also inquired as to whether the city would extend water and sewer service to the property, which is outside of the urban growth boundary.
She told tribal leaders “it is heavily frowned upon in this community to provide those services outside of the urban growth boundary.”
As to possible development on the site, “more than the majority is in agriculture and I think this community would like to see it remain that way,” she said.
She asked the tribe to consider holding community meetings to hear public comment if any development moves forward.
“I think our community would be very interested in commenting and being part of that process,” she said.
Though the tribe says it isn’t planning a casino, last year it applied for the federal government to grant “trust” status to the land, which is a first step in planning future development — and which critics said opens the door to a possible casino if approved.
In November, Petaluma voters passed Measure H — urging city leaders to take “all lawful steps” to oppose a casino on the site — with 80 percent approval.
Torliatt said she told the tribe of the anti-casino vote and informed it that a letter highlighting the results would be sent to Gov. Arnold Schwarz-enegger, who must approve gaming compacts with tribes.
Kerns said Petaluma’s opposition to a casino was “made very clear” at the meeting.
“We all said we don’t want a casino there,” he said.
“I was very upfront with Harvey (Hopkins). I said, ‘I know that if a casino gets up and running in Rohnert Park, there’s going to be tremendous pressure from your tribal members to open a casino on this site — and that’s what we fear.’”
Kerns said he was encouraged by the tribe’s willingness to talk with local leaders about the future use of the site.
(Contact Corey Young at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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