Sarris defends Rohnert Park casino in Sacramento

SACRAMENTO — The head of the Indian tribe that plans to build a Las Vegas-style casino outside Rohnert Park said Tuesday its agreement with the state allowing the project to start will be good in a "new and novel way" for all involved, including the larger North Bay community.

"We created something that will indeed benefit Indian and non-Indian alike," said Greg Sarris, chairman of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, during a three-hour state Senate committee meeting.

The 20-year compact signed March 27 by Gov. Jerry Brown still requires a two-thirds vote of approval by the Legislature. An Assembly committee is to hold a similar hearing today.

Sarris' comments were the first time in at least three years that he — or any tribal member — has spoken publicly about the proposed casino, which would sit on a 254-acre parcel of land just west of the Scandia entertainment complex.

Seated next a senior Brown administration adviser, Sarris and the tribe's attorney fielded questions from sometimes skeptical lawmakers about the intricate financial details of the compact and the hundreds of millions of dollars committed to Rohnert Park and Sonoma County.

And representatives of Station Casinos, the Las Vegas company that is bankrolling the casino, revealed that they would be seeking more than $700 million in bonds and other financing for the project, a dramatic increase from earlier estimates of $433 million.

They also said that a proposed six-story, 200-room hotel would be built later, at an undetermined time.

Proponents representing a variety of labor unions said the project would bring much-needed jobs to the North Bay.

But more than a dozen opponents voiced environmental and traffic concerns and also touched on gambling addiction and other social impacts of the casino, which would have up to 3,000 slot machines and would be the largest in close proximity to the Bay Area.

"If mitigations are arranged, I believe it would be like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic — it will be a catastrophe ahead," said Elaine Richter of Rohnert Park.

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