County: Alexander Valley tribe wants authority to build casino

Sonoma County would face "Las Vegas-style casino gaming" on restored Indian land if the Alexander Valley Wappo tribe wins a lawsuit in U.S. District Court, county attorneys have told a federal judge.

The Wappo case was scheduled for a conference Monday in federal court in San Jose, but Judge James Ware continued it until April 19 to give the tribe and the U.S. Interior Department more time to reach a settlement.

The Mishewal Wappo tribe filed suit last year to regain the federal recognition it lost in 1959, after Congress passed a law aimed at privatizing the state's small reservations. The suit asks the Interior Department to restore the Wappos' tribal status, benefits and historic lands.

Sonoma County filed a motion Friday seeking to intervene in the case, arguing that land shouldn't be taken out of the county's jurisdiction.

The county wants the court's approval to take part in settlement talks, Deputy County Counsel Jeffrey Brax said Monday.

"The county has significant interests at stake in terms of land-use authority, health and safety regulations and sovereign jurisdiction," he said.

In the motion, the county said the Wappos want authority to build a casino on their restored lands. Only federally-recognized tribes are allowed to operate casinos in California.

Such a project would threaten the environment and "impose massive new obligations" on county services, while removing land from its tax base, according to the county's brief.

In January, Wappo chairman Scott Gabaldon said the tribe won't decide on future plans until it regains its federal status. "We are trying to get back what was taken from us," he said.

But the county said the tribe's lawsuit, if successful, would allow casino-style gambling "with no review by the county or other affected parties."

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