Legislation creating Lytton tribal homeland near Windsor clears big hurdle

The U.S. House of Representatives approved a new Indian reservation near Windsor but Senate OK is still needed.|

Legislation to create a tribal homeland next to Windsor for the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians has cleared a significant hurdle, gaining approval in the U.S. House of Representatives last week and moving on to the Senate.

Known as the Lytton Rancheria Homelands Act, the bill would create reservation lands totaling more than 500 acres adjoining and southwest of Windsor, enabling the Lyttons to go ahead with a tribal housing project and pursue plans for a resort hotel and large winery.

“It’s a big step for the tribe,” said Lytton attorney and spokesman Larry Stidham, who noted it cleared the Committee on Natural Resources and passed without opposition on a routine floor vote.

But Windsor residents opposed to the Bill - H.R. 597 - said they were not permitted to testify against it and vowed to fight on.

“It’s far from over,” said Eric Wee, a founder of Citizens for Windsor, which adamantly opposes the Lytton project. “We are hoping our senators look at this and take in the strong opposition against this.”

Wee said his group has collected nearly 3,500 signatures in opposition to the Lyttons’ plans.

The bill moves to the Senate’s Indian Affairs Committee to consider for a hearing.

The legislation was originally proposed in virtually identical form two years ago, introduced by Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, and co-sponsored by Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena. But it expired at the end of last year before it could be voted on. Huffman attributed it to politics and Republicans freezing bills sponsored by Democrats.

This year, the Lytton Rancheria Homelands Act was sponsored by Rep. Jeff Denham, a Republican from Turlock, who had co-sponsored Huffman’s bill.

The legislation grants the tribe the Windsor area reservation, but on the condition it not build a casino.

Denham’s involvement as a Central Valley politician roughly 150 miles from Windsor drew some criticism, especially from Wee, who questioned whether the congressman was influenced by the $68,000 in contributions he received over the previous year from the Lytton tribe and its San Pablo Casino.

A spokesman for Denham responded, stating the representative has a long history of supporting California tribes seeking to improve their self-determination and better their homelands.

Denham’s involvement as an out-of-area sponsor of the legislation, and contributions he received from the tribe, were also criticized by Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore, who said it is “poor practice and only builds further mistrust and alienation into the process.”

Gore, however, said he supported the legislation to put the land into trust, like the rest of the Board of Supervisors, which signed an agreement with the tribe in 2015 to back its pursuit of a reservation, so long as no gaming took place.

The Lyttons’ original homeland north of Healdsburg was dissolved by the federal government more than 50 years ago along with a number of other Indian rancherias.

Around 2000, through a Congressional Act, the tribe was allowed to convert a San Pablo card room and some surrounding property into Indian lands.

The lucrative casino they built there enabled some 280 adult members of the tribe to steadily acquire land around Windsor with the intent to have it placed into federal trust for a tribal housing project.

The tribe has a separate longstanding application with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to approve a 124-acre reservation along Windsor River Road to build 147 homes, a community center and retreat. It would not prevent a casino if done through an administrative action by the BIA.

After initially opposing the tribe’s plans, both the county and town of Windsor tried to forge cooperative agreements with the Lyttons on the condition no gaming facilities be built.

The county agreed to support the tribe taking more than 500 acres into federal trust and building more than twice as many homes as the original BIA application, along with a 200-room resort hotel and 200,000 case winery. The tribe also agreed to millions of dollars in payments and to undergo environmental reviews to offset impacts.

In February the Lyttons bought the Salvation Army Lytton Springs rehabilitation center for $30 million, after the nonprofit agency decided to consolidate some of its operations. The 564-acre Lytton facility just north of Healdsburg shared a name and some of the tribe’s traditional homelands.

Lytton critic Wee questioned why the tribe doesn’t build its housing there.

Tribal attorney Stidham said most of the property is zoned for agriculture and would not allow for that many homes.

He said things are in “a holding pattern” at the former Salvation Army property and the tribe is still evaluating what to do.

Most likely, Stidham said, it will be vineyards and commercial uses that “haven’t been decided upon.”

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story cited an incorrect year for when the tribe signed an agreement with Sonoma County.

You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 707-521-5214 or clark.mason@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter@clarkmas.

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:

  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.