Sonoma County supervisors Tuesday unanimously approved a multimillion-dollar revenue-sharing agreement with the tribe that is building a casino next to Rohnert Park.
"What we have before us is certainly a really good outcome of negotiations for the county," said Supervisor David Rabbitt, whose 2nd District includes the 254-acre Wilfred Avenue casino site.
The vote came at a meeting that was as close to being celebratory as any to occur in public between a local government body and the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria.
"This is historic," 5th District Supervisor Efren Carrillo said of a deal that guarantees Sonoma County at least $9 million annually to offset the project's impacts, plus up to $38 million more a year if the casino makes enough money.
Addressing the board, Graton Rancheria Vice Chairwoman Lorelle Ross said: "Thank you for working with our tribe nation-to-nation on an unprecedented agreement."
Ross said the deal established new ground from which she hoped the tribe and county could move forward "beyond the legacy of hurt and pain."
The casino, with a maximum of 3,000 slot machines, is projected to open next year. The tribe, which started work on the project in June, secured $850 million in new financing for it in August.
The negotiations stemmed from a deal that the county reached with Graton Rancheria in 2008 to negotiate payments to address its impacts. That agreement was struck by county officials who had concluded they could not legally stop the casino.
The tribe is to pay, for the first seven years of operation, 15 percent of its net earnings from gambling into a state fund. After seven years, that drops to 12 percent. Each year, the state will distribute money it collects to the county and Rohnert Park, which has its own 20-year, $200 million revenue-sharing contract with the tribe.
"This agreement we are seeing today sets a new standard in addressing local impacts from a casino," said 4th District Supervisor Mike McGuire.
There was a brief moment just before negotiations opened that put in question how amicable the talks would be. Tribal Chairman Greg Sarris accused a supervisor whom he would not name of putting out "misleading . . . inaccurate" information about the casino resort project and said he might not give more than the minimum required amount in mitigation money to the county.
That appears not to have happened. Instead, the deal foresees millions in additional payments that go beyond alleviating the casino's direct impacts.
For example, after required payments are made to Rohnert Park, the county and two state funds for other Indian tribes, the Graton Rancheria is to give up to $30 million a year more to the county for open space and parks projects, conservation and farming-related purposes.
After that, the deal says, up to $8 million a year is to go to the county's Indian Health Project and also other Sonoma County Indian tribes that do not have gambling operations.
Those eventualities are not guaranteed, of course, depending as they do entirely on the casino's earnings. Projections disclosed in June, in the state-tribal compact that gives the tribe the right to run a Las Vegas-style casino, were that it would net $418 million in gambling revenue by its seventh year.
However, the deal also includes unexpected protections. For example it includes a clause under which, if the state does not give money sent it by the tribe back to the county in a timely manner, the tribe will advance the county that money, up to $5.1 million a year for public safety, social services and and key transportation-related mitigations.