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.
The 247-page compact outlines the conditions required for the tribe to build and operate the casino and breaks new ground by requiring agreements to be in place between the tribe and surrounding jurisdictions to address a range of casino impacts.
It requires the tribe to finalize understandings with the county and Rohnert Park about how the tribe will financially offset effects on traffic, the environment and criminal justice and social service systems. The tribe would have to funnel about $100 million in casino profits into Sonoma County in its first seven years of operation and more after that.
Comments by the committee chairman, Sen. Roderick Wright, D-Los Angeles, indicated some of the lawmaker concerns the compact may have to surmount.
"The promises are great," Wright said, "but there seem to be a lot of people counting on dollars that may not materialize. What happens if those dollars fail?"
"The ultimate test," replied Jacob Applesmith a senior adviser to the governor, "is that now the tribe has to go out and sell bonds to build this casino." The bond market for casino financing is "incredibly sophisticated," he said, and would be a good gauge of the project's feasibility.
In response to other questions from lawmakers, Applesmith, who negotiated key parts of the compact, said: "We do have the ability to shut them down if they are not living up to their responsibilities" regarding payments to the county, Rohnert Park and the state. That, he said, would be an "extreme" and unfavorable last resort.
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