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Sonoma County officials gather input on proposed hotel expansion at Graton Resort and Casino

Traffic, crime and groundwater use were among the main concerns raised by residential neighbors of the Graton Resort and Casino during a town hall meeting Tuesday evening to discuss a proposal to double the size of the casino’s new 200-room hotel, which opened last November outside Rohnert Park.

The expansion, proposed by the casino’s owner, the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, would add 211,328 square feet of building space to the existing 300,000-square-foot hotel, according to the draft tribal environmental impact report, released in March.

The casino, opened in November 2013, occupies more than 300,000 square feet.

The town hall, hosted by Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt, drew about 50 people to the Stony Point Christian Fellowship, located a little more than 2 miles north of the casino.

Officials from several county agencies, including the Sheriff’s Office, County Counsel’s Office and the Transportation and Public Works department, attended the meeting to review the 853-page draft environmental impact report and respond to questions from the public.

“Do you have any numbers on what the crime rate has happened in the surrounding neighborhood?” asked Zeke Ortiz, a local resident who lives on Stony Point Road.

Sonoma County Sheriff’s Capt. Mark Essick reported that in 2014, the first full year after the casino opened, there were 29 “offsite” arrests related to the casino and 323 “onsite” arrests at the casino.

The following year, there were 33 offsite and 148 onsite arrests, and in 2016 there were 36 offsite and 206 onsite arrests. The most common arrest was public intoxication, but others included assault and drug possession.

“It’s difficult to say crime is up because of X,” said Essick, but he added, “comparing 2010 to today, yes, the crime in the surrounding area is up.”

But he said the increase was not significant enough to “raise concerns.”

A representative for the Graton tribe attended Tuesday’s meeting but neither she nor other tribal officials could be reached Tuesday evening to offer comment.

A number of residents raised concerns about the effect a hotel expansion would have on the groundwater levels.

Some were concerned that additional use of the area’s aquifer would result in land subsidence, a gradual settling or sudden sinking of land surface.

Groundwater from the casino’s existing water system will be used. The system includes two wells, a treatment plant, and a 900,000-gallon storage tank, according to the environmental impact report.

The hotel expansion could, at its peak, increase daily water usage nearly 40 percent, to 267,000 gallons a day, according to the report.

Sandi Potter, environmental review manager for the county’s Permit and Resource Management Department, said the county has taken a “preliminary look” at water levels and their impact and there is no “documentation of land subsidence.”

The new hotel wing would be located on the southern end of the casino complex, attached to the existing 200-room hotel, which opened six months ago as part of a $175 million expansion to the $850 million casino.

Rabbitt made it clear that because the project is on tribal land, the county did not have the same influence that it would on other developments that go through the normal review process.

“Ultimately, the tribe is the lead agency,” Rabbitt said, adding that the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs will be the public agency that will take into account public concerns about the project.

Greg Sarris, the Graton Rancheria’s tribal chairman, publicly announced the proposed expansion in late February during a discussion at a San Francisco event for LGBT business leaders. Sarris said then that the existing hotel space was fully booked this spring, fueling the tribe’s look at an expansion. The resort’s general manager, Joe Hasson, said at that time the expansion remained in the “study stage,” with “no definitive plan” for development.

The project includes a 25,000-square-foot banquet expansion, 8,804 square feet in hospitality suites, 1,940 square feet of meeting rooms, 12,001 square feet of circulation space, 3,654 square feet of corridor space and 22,328 square feet of “back of house,” which usually contains housekeeping and other hotel operations.

At the town hall, residents also expressed concern about the impact the new hotel wing would have on traffic.

John McCarthy, the county’s deputy director of transportation and public works, reported that the casino design estimates an additional 545 additional daily vehicle trips to and from the site as a result of expansion.

But McCarthy said he had questions about the tribe’s traffic estimates.

The environmental impact report reduced the number of expected daily trips in and out of the casino with an assumption that traffic to nearby businesses such as restaurants would be absorbed by the new offerings at the resort, McCarthy said.

“We’re looking at those estimates,” he said.

Rabbitt said county officials continue to examine the environmental document and will submit their concerns to the tribe in the coming weeks. He said the county will also submit concerns it gathered during the town hall meeting Tuesday.

The public can also submit their questions and concerns about the project by sending them to tribalaffairs@sonoma-county.org.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213.

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