Windsor explores water, sewer service for Lytton band's tribal housing

For the past decade, Windsor has been on record against a proposed Lytton Rancheria housing development on its border, but more recently town officials have quietly cooperated with the tribe to look at potentially providing the project with sewer and water.

Windsor last year conducted a study at tribal expense to determine if the town has the capacity to serve up to 600 residents on the property, concluding it was feasible if the Lytton Pomos pay more than $5.8 million for hook-up fees and infrastructure improvements.

But providing sewer and water also would require the approval of town voters, who in 1998 passed a strict growth-control ordinance that prohibits the extension of utilities outside Windsor's boundaries.

To convince voters to serve the property, the tribe acknowledges it may have to offer something more in return, such as building Windsor a community swimming pool, a goal that has long eluded the town.

And town officials say they also want to ensure the tribe does not build a casino.

"One of the town's foremost concerns is to secure the guarantee of a prohibition on a casino, or gaming activities on the tribal property," said Town Manager Linda Kelly.

Larry Stidham, the attorney who represents the tribe, said Thursday: "We'd be OK with that."

He said the tribe would be willing to enter a service agreement that stipulates the water and sewer service from Windsor could be used only for residential purposes.

Town staff has been in preliminary discussions with tribal representatives regarding the contents of a written report to the Town Council, including the timing of a potential election and the scope of the issue to take to voters, according to Kelly.

She estimated the earliest an election could be held is June, 2014. "Any discussion regarding an election and ballot contents would take place in an open council meeting," she said.

The 270-member Lytton tribe, which operates the San Pablo Casino, began acquiring property along Windsor River Road more than a dozen years ago.

The tribe has steadfastly insisted it has no plans to build a second casino in Windsor, but is looking to the site for some of its members to live and congregate.

When it comes to extending utilities "I don't believe the people of Windsor would vote for (it) without some strong assurance there would be no casino constructed there," said Town Councilman Steve Allen.

Tribal attorney Stidham said Thursday "there's not going to be any casino." With the huge Graton casino set to open in Rohnert Park later this year, he said, it would make no sense to build one in Windsor.

"It wouldn't do very well with Graton coming in," he said. "It would be silly to build anything north of Graton."

The Lytton tribe was made landless in 1961 when the federal government dissolved its 50-acre Alexander Valley rancheria.

As a result of what Congress acknowledged was an illegal termination, the tribe was allowed to take over a cardroom in the East Bay where it established a 10-acre reservation in 2000.

But the tribe is not authorized by the state to conduct Las Vegas-style gaming. Instead it has more than 1,000 electronic "bingo machines" that closely resemble slot machines.

San Pablo Casino revenues — estimated at $182 million annually — enabled the tribe to begin buying and assembling land in Windsor, including 124 acres it has applied to take into federal trust as a reservation, which would not be subject to state and local land use regulations.

A number of adjacent property owners who objected vehemently to the Lytton project ended up selling their land to the tribe. More recently the tribe acquired vineyards on the same side of town to augment its holdings, which now total more than 200 acres in the Windsor area.

The Windsor Town Council has twice — in 2002 and 2009 — expressed formal opposition to the tribe's housing plans.

Residents expressed alarm at 147 homes and a cultural center being built on the thickly-wooded land on Windsor's western periphery. Not only would it involve cutting down 1,700 trees and be more than nine times the housing density allowed under county zoning restrictions, but opponents worried about increased traffic and other impacts.

The likelihood that the tribe eventually will obtain approval from the Bureau of Indian Affairs to transfer its property into federal trust and build its project — regardless of opposition from the county and Windsor — has caused town officials to reconsider their stance.

"The town recognizes that development can go forward with or without the town's approval and without hooking-up to municipal water and sewer," said Town Councilman Allen.

While the tribe's preference is to tie into Windsor's utilities, he noted the alternative calls for it to develop its own wells and sewer treatment plant.

Under that scenario, "you will have a treatment plant run by a small operator and water supply drawn down by a well," Allen said.

"If it's going forward anyway, you'd rather have a say than not having a say in it," he said of Windsor's ability to offset impacts of the project.

"We can't stop it," said Councilwoman Debora Fudge. "No, we don't want an urban development outside the town. (But) they are an Indian tribe. They can do what they want."

Fudge said she is not promoting the idea of the tribe hooking up to Windsor's sewer and water, but recognizes it as superior environmentally.

During a an environmental review the project was required to undergo several years ago, Windsor officials objected to the tribe's plan to send its treated wastewater to a ditch and discharge it into an old gravel pond adjacent to the Russian River, citing its effect on endangered fish and proximity to the town's drinking water wells.

Subsequently, the tribe bought 20 acres of open space north of Windsor River Road and west of the Deer Creek subdivision that it said could hold treated wastewater for irrigation generated by its housing and community center.

The acquisition caused consternation for some nearby residents worried about odors, mosquitoes and other issues.

Brent Guyer, a resident of Deer Creek subdivision, said he and his neighbors did not want to be close to the tribe's sewer plant across the road, nor the effluent ponds closer by.

Guyer, who works as a Santa Rosa utility systems operator, said such operations require chlorine, "a very toxic corrosive," to be trucked in.

And there is possibility of accidental release of the chemical, what he said would create "a big old gas plume" in his own backyard.

He said it makes more sense for the tribal housing project to be connected to Windsor's system to avoid such scenarios.

"I'm in favor of that," he said.

The tribe so far has paid Windsor more than $100,000 to conduct engineering studies to determine the town's capacity to provide sewer and water service. Some of the money has also gone to reimburse the town for staff time spent on the issue, said Kelly, the town manager

The engineering study conducted by consultants hired by Windsor found the volume of water to serve more than 600 people who would live in the tribe's housing would "over commit" the town's supplies. Therefore it recommended the tribe contribute to developing a new town well to provide additional water supply.

It also recommended the tribe shoulder some of the cost of a new, two-million gallon storage tank planned by the town.

The report said the tribe should pay 100 percent of the cost of constructing a sewer trunk line to the property and contribute a proportional share to wastewater treatment facilities and recycled water storage projects.

Separately, the tribe also struck an agreement to reimburse Windsor for, among other things, the costs of a ballot measure for defending potential lawsuits related to servicing the tribe's property.

The tribe also included looking at the possibility of providing a "public benefit" project, which officials said could be a community swimming pool.

The town five years ago completed a master plan for an aquatic facility with an Olympic-size swimming pool at Keiser Park. But the prospect of trying to fund the ongoing operation and maintenance of the pool proved daunting and the council shelved the plan.

(You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or

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