The Indian casino-resort proposed for the outskirts of Rohnert Park cleared a crucial hurdle Friday, securing the state compact it needed before construction can start.
Gov. Jerry Brown's signature on a gaming contract was one of the final governmental agreements that the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria needed before moving ahead with the controversial $433 million project.
It could have up to 3,000 slot machines, 5,500 parking spaces, a 200-room hotel and restaurants and bars. If built to completion, it would become Sonoma County's largest private employer and one of its most costly developments.
The project, to be built just west of the Scandia Family Fun Center, also would be the closest full-service casino to the entire Bay Area. No details were available Friday about a building schedule.
The 274-page compact outlines casino earnings that could rise above $400 million a year, spotlighting how it might transform the lives of the tribe's roughly 1,300 members.
Tribal chairman Greg Sarris, who called local officials Friday to tell them the news, did not return phone calls or an email seeking comment.
But one of the tribe's most prominent supporters said that casino profits could revive the longterm prospects of the tribe's Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo Indians.
"Let's just hope that this really improves their lives," said Connie Codding, majority shareholder of one of the county's biggest development companies. "That's what we're all hoping for, that it will enable their children to get a better education and a better life."
For opponents, including local legislators and community activists who have fought the casino for more than a decade, there was a sense the battle is now likely lost.
"I think we have to honestly say that the odds are pretty long against stopping it," said Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael.
He and others had sought to block it on the grounds it would spur other regional casinos, bring unwanted traffic and crime and harm the environment.
"We're all deeply, deeply concerned about our quality of life and how it might be affected by the building of the casino," said Supervisor Shirlee Zane, whose 3rd District borders the casino property.
The state Legislature and the federal Department of the Interior still need to ratify the compact, although such actions are typically routine. The Legislature has held up approvals before but is believed to have rejected only one, experts said.
Under terms approved by the National Indian Gaming Commission, the project, bordered on the north by Wilfred Avenue, is smaller than that the tribe originally proposed.
Still, the tribe estimates that the project will create 750 construction jobs when it is underway and and 2,250 jobs once it is complete.
"Sonoma County will benefit from the jobs that will be created," said Lynn Cominsky, a Sonoma State University professor and a member of the Friends of the Federated Indians of the Graton Rancheria.
The compact also requires the tribe to funnel $100 million into Sonoma County in its first seven years of operation, with more after that. The money would offset impacts on the environment, criminal justice and social service systems and traffic, among other areas.
About $40 million would go to the county, and another would $60 million would go to Rohnert Park.
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