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County likely to set public meeting on Rohnert Park casino; critics file lawsuit

Sonoma County supervisors today will consider giving the public a chance to weigh in on the impacts of an Indian casino next to Rohnert Park that is in the final approval stages.

In an effort to thwart the project, casino opponents on Monday revived a previously rejected lawsuit that says the property where the 3,000-slot machine casino is to be built is not sovereign territory and is subject to state laws that prohibit gambling.

"This has not been Indian land since California came into the union; it's always been subject to California law," said Petaluma Councilman Mike Healy who wrote the legal argument.

The attorney for the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria said the suit was ill-founded.

"The arguments in this lawsuit ignore basic constitutional principles of federal Indian law and have been soundly rejected by the courts," attorney John Maier said in an email.

"Like the others, this lawsuit will be addressed in accordance with the law, leaving no doubt that the tribe's compact with the state complies fully with all aspects of state and federal law," he said.

The casino, to be built south of Home Depot and projected to cost more than $700 million, including land purchases, has been in the works for nine years.

Gov. Jerry Brown in March signed an agreement, or compact, that would allow the tribe to start work. The Legislature ratified it this month. Now, the federal Interior Department has 45 days to approve or reject the compact or allow it to take effect automatically.

If the project gets the go-ahead, as expected, the county and tribe are to negotiate how the tribe will financially address a broad range of the casino's impacts, from environmental to social.

A county-tribe deal to negotiate those terms was reached in 2004, and although it does not require additional public comment, supervisors value it, said Lori Norton, Sonoma County deputy administrator.

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