In the nine years since the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria first proposed building a casino and resort near Rohnert Park, the plan has been the subject of a failed City Council recall, an attempt at a countywide referendum and lengthy legal and political battles. It's also been through the Great Recession, the bankruptcy of its backer, Station Casinos of Las Vegas, and the administrative review of three different governors.
But in the end, given the political realities of Indian sovereignty, the outcome is as clear now as it was in 2003. It's going to happen. A major casino including up to 3,000 slot machines, 5,500 parking spaces and a 200-room hotel is going to be built just west of Highway 101.
This was driven home last week when Gov. Jerry Brown approved a gaming compact, the last major hurdle toward the beginning of construction. According to the compact, earnings from the 534,000-square-foot urban complex could exceed $400 million a year.
We've made no secret about our opposition over the years. We don't believe this massive complex, albeit scaled down recently, <NO1><NO>is in the best interests of the neighboring communities or the environment. Moreover, we don't believe this is what 56 percent of Sonoma County residents — or nearly 65 percent of state voters — had in mind when they approved Proposition 1A in 2000, giving Indian tribes the right to host Nevada-style gambling. Many believed they were voting to support poor tribes desiring to build small casinos on remote reservations. Instead the vote opened the door to large casinos being built in places such as the Alexander Valley, San Pablo and now Rohnert Park.
It's also hard for us to forget that the Graton Rancheria initially pledged not to pursue gaming, only to change its mind after its federal tribal status was restored in 2000.
Nevertheless, as we have acknowledged, members of the Graton Rancheria, through it all, have strived to be good community partners in offering benefits far in excess of anything that's required of them.
In 2003, it donated $1.5 million to endow a chair in Native American studies at Sonoma State University, a position held by novelist and Santa Rosa native Greg Sarris, the chairman of the Graton Rancheria.
In addition, the tribe made a 20-year deal with the city of Rohnert Park worth some $200 million. It includes $5 million a year to the general fund for "enhancement of city services to all residents, including increased police and fire protection." It also includes money for local schools, community benefits and $15 million for transportation improvements.
In 2008, the tribe reached a separate agreement with the county covering the project's environmental impacts. Both sides agreed that any dispute will go to arbitration.
Overall, the complex could bring up to $100 million a year in financial gains to Rohnert Park and Sonoma County.
Whether these pluses will ultimately outweigh the traffic, environmental and social impacts of a major casino remains to be seen. But there's no disputing that what Graton Rancheria has offered in terms of local benefits is unprecedented.
The tribe long ago said it wanted "very strong and positive relations" with its neighbors. It's time for local officials to share that goodwill commitment in moving forward with a project to which we all now appear inextricably linked.