A Santa Rosa based Indian tribe is on a land-buying spree, acquiring vineyards, rural homes and even a large redwood-dotted chunk of property near the coast.
Bolstered by revenues from its San Pablo Casino in the East Bay, the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians has made more than a dozen purchases in the past two years in Sonoma County totalling more than $47 million.
County property records detail transactions involving more than 1,300 acres since early 2012, including vineyards and pasture in the Alexander and Russian River Valleys, as well as rugged woodland between Jenner and Cazadero.
A spokesman for the tribe said the acquisitions are mostly investments, or "economic diversification" for the 270-member tribe, although he said the approximate 650 acres of redwood-studded property near the coast represent something more.
"It's a cultural area for the tribe. It's for cultural protection," said Larry Stidham, the attorney who acts as tribal spokesman.
He noted that many of the original settlers of the Lytton Rancheria came from the Kashia Pomo area of the coast.
"For the tribe it's significant. It's near its homeland," he said of the "very rugged, and very steep, mostly ridgeline" land the tribe bought for $1.5 million, according to county records.
He said the tribe's holdings now total "probably close to 2,000 acres" in Sonoma County.
Systematic property acquisitions are nothing new for the tribe, at least in the Windsor area where the Lytton Pomos have acquired "400 acres give or take," according to Stidham's estimates.
The tribe about a dozen years ago began buying up land — much of it densely wooded oak just west of town limits — for a tribal housing project. Its holdings now extend for almost a mile along Windsor River Road to Eastside Road.
The purchases alarmed nearby residents and town officials who feared the possibility of a casino being built, although the tribe has steadfastly maintained it has no plans to build another gaming facility there.
Instead the tribe has a pending application with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to place 124 acres of its Windsor land into federal trust for a reservation, to build 147 homes and a cultural center.
The Lytton tribe was made landless in 1961 when the federal government dissolved its 50-acre Alexander Valley rancheria.
In 2000, Congress authorized a 10-acre reservation for the tribe in San Pablo, where it was allowed to take over a cardroom and convert it to a casino. It generates an estimated $182 million annually, according to estimates from the labor union representing most of the casino employees.
Windsor residents, town and county officials have raised concerns over a myriad of environmental impacts from the housing project. That includes the tribe's intent to build a sewer plant and wastewater treatment plant if Windsor won't allow the preferred option of hooking up to the town municipal utilities.
The tribe's continuing acquisition of more properties in the Windsor area farther away from its planned housing site has at times puzzled observers and worried nearby residents.
The mystery has been deepened by the routine confidentiality agreements the tribe requires of sellers not to disclose the buyers' identity, nor other terms of the purchase.
Tribal spokesman Stidham has explained some of the real estate acquisitions as a way to create more of a buffer around the tribal housing project, or in the case of some vineyard acquisitions as a way to diversify into grape growing.