The obvious benefit of building a casino near an urbanized area such as Rohnert Park with quick access to a major highway is that it brings gaming closer to more potential customers.
But what should be just as obvious is that the closer you get to an urbanized area — and the larger the project becomes — the more significant the environmental impacts are and the more susceptible the project will be to criticism. Furthermore, the closer you get to starting construction, the higher the volume of that criticism becomes.
Both of those factors were at play this week as relations between the community and the Graton Rancheria appeared to hit a low point — just as construction on the 3,000-slot casino began. But it doesn't appear that Greg Sarris, the chairman of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, and others behind the project were prepared for it. This despite the fact that, when it comes to building this casino, they appear to hold all the cards.
On Wednesday, Sarris claimed that county supervisors, two of whom were hosting hearings to give residents a chance to voice their concerns, were "putting out inaccurate and misleading information" and "continue to fight the tribe every step of the way."
This came just a day after Sarris told KGO-TV that if the Graton tribe and the county end up going to arbitration on the impacts of the casino the county would lose its chance to get any additional "gift money" from the tribe.
On Tuesday, Sarris said: "If it goes to baseball arbitration, this is what I have to say: The second pot of money, the gift money that I have the option of giving the county, they will not get. It will go back to the state," to be disbursed to other tribes.
Supervisors have said they hoped to avoid arbitration as well as the potential loss of funds that have been designated, whether by contractual agreement or not, to mitigate the impacts of the casino. We hope this is the case.
What's clear is that emotions are high as the building begins, and the county and the tribe are set to begin negotiations sometime later this week on mitigations.
The tribe and the county made a deal eight years ago, shortly after this project was proposed, to hold these negotiations once all other hurdles had been overcome. That time has arrived, and it would be in the best interests of everyone if those talks began on a better note than this.
Despite the rhetoric of late, there's no reason to question the tribe's commitment to mitigations at this point. As we've noted before, no tribe in the state has offered more in the way of mitigation than the Graton band. Second, there's no indication that the tribe won't take local environmental concerns seriously, particularly those related to ground water use.
This was driven home in a letter posted last week from Station Casinos, the Las Vegas-based group that's behind the project. The group notes that the casino's use of ground water from on-site wells will be "substantially lower" because the project has been downsized and the tribe plans to depend more on conservation and reclaimed water.
Nonetheless, the group clearly understands its obligations to reimburse any neighboring well owners if their wells suffer.