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Sonoma County approves sweeping agreement with Windsor-based Lytton Pomo tribe

Sonoma County supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved a deal with the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians, finalizing a long-sought agreement by the tribe that clears the way for a new housing development and, potentially, a resort and winery west of Windsor.

“This tribe has not had a homeland, ever,” said Larry Stidham, a lawyer representing the Lytton Pomo tribe. “This will create their homeland for their first time in history, and it will allow its tribal members to pursue non-gaming economic development.”

The deal, reached after eight years of negotiations, prohibits the tribe from developing a casino, but would allow development of a 200,000-case winery and a 200-room resort. Stidham said the tribe, which at present owns 530 acres of property in the county, could purchase an additional 800 acres in the future if adjacent properties go up for sale.

With profits from the tribe’s San Pablo Lytton Casino in the East Bay, the Lytton Pomos have steadily been acquiring land in Windsor for more than a dozen years with the intent of re-establishing a homeland in Sonoma County.

“It’s a progression,” Stidham said. “The tribe right now is focusing on homes, but after it goes into trust, there could be more land acquired in the future.”

North County Supervisor James Gore, whose district includes the property in question, applauded the agreement, which is to remain in place for 22 years and calls for the tribe to pay the county $6.1 million for one-time impacts, such as to county roads, parks and woodlands.

The tribe also would pay the county its share of property taxes and hotel-bed taxes that would otherwise be required if the lands were not in federal trust.

Gore said Tuesday’s vote helps ensure that the Lyttons’ tribal homeland and their ancestral footprint are preserved, while requiring mitigation of environmental impacts the development could have on surrounding lands.

“This is a big deal,” Gore said. “It’s also important to realize who has authority over what. The tribe has a sovereign right to work those lands.”

Tuesday’s action signed off on an agreement reached behind closed doors between Sonoma County and the tribe. For all the wrangling that went into it over the past decade, the deal was unveiled with no fanfare in the Board of Supervisors agenda and just three people from the audience spoke to the board about it Tuesday.

Two were neighbors who said they live next to the property being eyed for the resort. They spoke against the project, voicing concerns about traffic, noise and other potential impacts on the neighborhood. They also said they were blindsided by the deal, having heard about it only late Monday in a news report.

“This type of development in a quiet, rural, agricultural area would have a major environmental impact,” said Whitney Hopkins, who lives on Eastside Road west of Windsor. “We’re concerned about the 100-plus houses and the new resort and winery.”

Gore apologized to the residents and said he would work with neighbors to address concerns about impacts from the tribe’s future developments.

The Lyttons’ current plans call for development of 147 homes on 124 acres south of Windsor River Road, along with a community center, round house and tribal retreat. Stidham said future plans could also involve building 214 additional houses.

Stidham said the plans are on hold until the tribe’s application to have the land taken into federal trust is approved. It has been pending with the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs since 2007. He said the development could begin sooner, pending legislation that could transfer the land into federal trust through an act of Congress rather than waiting on the bureaucratic approval through the bureau .

Stidham said he is in talks with Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, to introduce the legislation.

Huffman on Tuesday said he intends to sponsor a bill that would require the Department of the Interior to take the Lytton land into trust, consistent with the conditions in the agreement struck with the county.

He views the deal between the tribe and county as a model for functional relationships between local municipal governments and tribes that will provide certainty for both sides as to what the tribes can develop.

“It’s the way these tribal land issues should be addressed, in collaboration with local communities,” he said. “This agreement is far preferable than sort of waiting for what may come out of the BIA process, which is hard to predict.”

Huffman said there is no guarantee his bill will pass, but “the fact there is a prohibition on gaming is very important.”

The 270-member Lytton is one of five federally recognized Indian tribes in Sonoma County.

In a separate matter, the tribe is negotiating with city officials in Windsor, hoping to convince them to sign off on an agreement to provide future water and sewer service. The issue is expected to go before Windsor voters in November.

“We’re discussing possible terms to provide sewer and water,” said Windsor Mayor Bruce Okrepkie. “We look forward to working with our neighbors to the west.”

Staff Writer Clark Mason contributed to this story. You can reach Staff Writer Angela Hart at 526-8503 or angela.hart@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ahartreports.

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