Opponents of Lytton tribe’s plans swarm Windsor meeting

Resistance is mounting in Windsor to the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians’ plans to build a housing project on the outskirts of town and the tribe’s proposal to add even more land to potentially construct a 200-room resort and winery.

About 100 residents packed the Windsor Town Council meeting Wednesday night to implore council members to oppose a pending congressional bill introduced in May by Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, which would place more than 500 acres into federal trust for the tribe to build more than 360 homes, a community center, roundhouse and retreat off Windsor River Road.

They said the tribe’s projects threaten the rural nature of their community; disregard the town and county general plans and urban growth boundaries; and will increase traffic and use up scarce water supplies.

Bryan St. Amant, who lives on Wellington Circle, close to the proposed housing project, said residents are going through a combination of shock, anger and sadness - the classic stages of grief - because they are losing something they love.

“Protect the town we love. Stand by our side,” he told the Town Council in urging them to reject Huffman’s bill.

The tribe’s intention of building a housing project has been known for more than a dozen years. But as the Lyttons steadily started acquiring land in west Windsor, the size of their housing project increased and only this spring did their plans become known to also pursue a 200-room resort and a large, 200,000-case winery.

“The people of Windsor are waking up and realizing what’s happening,” said Eric Wee, a four-year resident of Windsor who has helped gather more than 700 signatures urging Huffman to withdraw his legislation. “People are outraged about this.”

“It’s not a good project. There will be ramifications for decades if this goes through,” said attorney Steve Pabros, another Wellington Circle resident.

Council members did not reply to the approximately 20 speakers who addressed them because the comments were delivered under a non-agendized portion of the meeting. That restricts their ability to respond under state meeting law.

But City Manager Linda Kelly said the town will be holding an informational meeting Aug. 10 at a yet-to-be determined location to answer questions on the Lytton project and the town’s involvement.

She referenced an opinion piece she wrote in this week’s Windsor Times, in which she defended closed-door talks the town has had with tribal representatives. Kelly said the Town Council has been concerned all along that the tribe’s development plans and their impact to the town be mitigated to the greatest degree possible, and that there be no gaming or casino.

Though some residents have blasted town officials for “secretive” talks and negotiations with the tribe, she said the town has a right to the closed sessions because it’s a matter that could result in potential litigation.

Kristyn Byrne, the tribe’s community liaison, told the council that residents may be paying more attention, “but to say the process has been secret, or quick, is just untrue.”

For years there has been concern that the tribe, which owns a casino in the East Bay community of San Pablo, might want to add another one in Windsor, though it has said it has no intent to build another gaming facility.

The tribe in 2009 applied to the Bureau of Indian Affairs to have 124 acres along Windsor Road taken into federal trust and pave the way for their housing project, but the application stalled following an extensive environmental review and community meetings.

Huffman said he proposed to create the Indian lands through an act of Congress instead because it will forbid a casino anytime in the future, and bring more certainty over what can be built and how the impacts will be offset.

He said an important condition for introducing his bill was that the tribe negotiate an agreement with its governmental neighbors to address their potential concerns, including the strong opposition to new casinos in Sonoma County.

Gov. Jerry Brown wrote to Congress supporting Huffman’s legislation, affirming that the act provides “the framework for mutually beneficial cooperative efforts that protect the tribe’s sovereignty as well as the vital interests of Sonoma County residents.”

The county also negotiated an extensive agreement with the tribe in exchange for not opposing its trust application.

The county and Lytton Rancheria signed a memorandum of agreement in March that details the development and management of its lands and calls for the tribe to pay the county $6.1 million for one-time impacts, such as to county roads, parks and woodlands.

North county Supervisor James Gore on Wednesday defended the pact with the tribe and also supports Huffman’s bill.

“We feel we negotiated a good deal for the county and residents in the area,” he said.

The town is finalizing an agreement with the tribe over a long-sought municipal aquatic center the tribe would build in exchange for getting water and sewer service to its housing project.

But the extension of city utilities outside the urban boundary is something Windsor voters will need to approve, perhaps as early as June 2016, once signatures are gathered to place it on the ballot.

The tribe said even if it doesn’t get town utilities, it can drill wells, and if necessary build its own waste treatment facility.

Even when it was only housing and smaller acreage, the Town of Windsor twice went on record opposing the Lyttons’ plans - in 2002 and 2009 - and county officials also expressed opposition to having land in Windsor placed into federal trust. That process makes it exempt from most local land use and zoning guidelines.

But based on a growing consensus that the tribe was likely to get its application with the Bureau of Indian Affairs eventually approved, county and Windsor officials began negotiating with the tribe to offset impacts of the housing project and get a guarantee of no casino.

Opponents of the tribe have questioned the assumption that the Lyttons inevitably would get their homeland approved through a Bureau of Indian Affairs process. They questioned Huffman’s willingness to make it Indian land, removing it from local land use and zoning restrictions.

“Huffman is trying to slam this through Congress,” said Wee, a leader in Citizens for Windsor, organized to oppose the Lytton project. “He’s taking away our choice by moving (land) into trust.”

The Lytton Pomos say passage of Huffman’s bill will enable them to establish a home base after their historic rancheria north of Healdsburg was illegally terminated in 1958.

They say they want to be good neighbors and have donated more than $1 million to the school district, for example, to offset the impact of the schoolchildren who will come from the housing project. The tribe has donated even more to the Windsor fire district.

Opponents have seized on the fact that more than 1,500 trees - mostly blue oaks - would be cleared to make way for the tribal housing project, a move they say will have a disastrous environmental impact.

But a review by the Bureau of Indian Affairs determined there were no environmental impacts that couldn’t be mitigated. For example, new trees would be planted.

You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or On Twitter@clarkmas.

EDITOR’S NOTE: North County Supervisor James Gore said: “We feel we negotiated a good deal for the county and residents in the area.” An earlier version of this story did not accurately convey his quote.

The Lytton Band of Pomo Indians could potentially build more than 360 homes if legislation authored by Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, is approved to place land into federal trust for the tribe. An earlier version of the story had an incorrect number of homes.

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