The agreement to allow the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria to proceed with a 3,000-slot machine casino at Rohnert Park sailed through the state Senate Monday.
The 34-4 vote moved the 1,300 member tribe an important step closer to starting a project that has been in the works for nine years but has raced forward in the past month. Tribal leaders and their Las Vegas backers have said they hope to break ground on the site, south of Wilfred Avenue and west of Highway 101, this summer.
The agreement between the governor's office and the Federated Indians is the "setting of a new bar, a high bar, for future compacts," between the state and its Indian tribes, said state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, who carried the bill in the Senate and whose district currently includes Rohnert Park.
There was no discussion on the Senate floor about the agreement, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed March 27.
Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, who will begin representing Rohnert Park later this year as a result of redistricting, voted. No."
Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, also voted against the bill. She was not available for comment on Monday but said previously she would vote no because financial arrangements between Sonoma County and the tribe have not been finalized.
The agreement, or compact, pushes the relationship between the state and Indian gambling tribes into new territory by requiring that a range of financial agreements to address the casino's impacts be in place between the Federated Indians and Sonoma County and Rohnert Park before work on it could start.
Some large Indian tribes have said that gives local governments too much sway over casino projects. But it won key support from the California Association of Counties and others who said it preserved tribal sovereignty while making it possible for local governments to address a casino's social, environmental and infrastructure impacts.
Leno said the compact was "uncommon" and "reflects nine years worth of negotiation" between the tribe and the surrounding community.
"All the money that will be expended by the tribe (in mitigation) is for local communities," he said, referring to the $200 million revenue-sharing agreement with Rohnert Park the tribe signed in 2005, and an agreement with the county to negotiate financial mitigations for the casino's impacts.
The compact needed 27 votes in the Senate as an urgency statute, which means it would take effect this year rather than next. The two other no votes were cast by Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, and Loni Hancock, D-Oakland.
It goes next to the 80-seat Assembly where it needs 54 votes to move on. Political observers said there's no reason to think it will stall in the Assembly, which could take it up as soon as Thursday.
"It should have smooth sailing," said Dave McCuan, a Sonoma State University political scientist.
"There's no reasons to expect that a bill this high profile wouldn't be coordinated between the two leadership teams" of the Senate and Assembly, McCuan said.
One North Bay legislator whose whose stand on the measure has been closely watched is Assemblyman Michael Allen, D-Santa Rosa, a former organized labor leader who once advocated for the casino. On Monday he reaffirmed a statement last week that he will oppose the compact.
"For economic vitality, from that point of view, it's very good," he said Monday, but "my constituents are saying to vote no."