Windsor wary of tribe's land purchases

Sonoma County?s Lytton Band of Pomo Indians is continuing to add to its land on the outskirts of Windsor, fueling concerns about the tribe?s plans for their property.

The tribe last month completed the purchase of another 21 acres just west of Windsor for $5 million, bringing its holdings there to about 90 acres.

A spokesman for the tribe, which owns the San Pablo Casino in the East Bay, insisted Thursday that it will be developed for housing for tribal members, and the Lytton Band has no intent to build a casino in Windsor.

?I can tell you unequivocally there will be no casino on this property,? said Doug Elmets, a spokesman for the 275-member tribe. ?This property is strictly for a master-planned, community housing development for tribal members.?

But neighbors are not convinced. And Sonoma County and Windsor officials also are seeking more assurance that the tribe will never pursue a casino.

Even without gambling on the property, there is anxiety about the number of homes the tribe plans to build in a rural area and how it will impact neighbors? wells.

?I?m concerned about a casino and I would never support a casino in that area,? said County Supervisor Paul Kelley, whose district includes the site. ?I?m also very concerned about their development plans, since they haven?t revealed those.?

Windsor Town Manager Matt Mullan said he has spoken with tribal representatives as recently as this week. While they reiterated that they plan to use the land for housing, he said they were unwilling to completely rule out a casino.

?What we?d be asking, as a good neighbor, is that the deed restrict the property ? a surety that under no circumstances in the future would they ever develop a casino there,? said Mullan.

Windsor Councilwoman Debora Fudge said that when she met with tribal representatives last year, they would not rule out a casino.

?They said they will never say never, they can never tie the hands of a future tribal council,? she said.

But Elmets said the tribe?s land along Windsor River Road is not an economically viable location for a casino.

?It?s so far-fetched,? he said.

As a practical matter, he said it would be close to impossible to get federal approval for gaming, once the land is taken into trust for a reservation.

The tribe has been landless since 1961, when the federal government dissolved its 50-acre Alexander Valley rancheria.

As a result of what Congress acknowledged was an illegal termination, the Lyttons were allowed to take over a cardroom in the East Bay which they turned into a casino. It has more than 1,100 electronic ?bingo? machines, which are virtually indistinguishable from slot machines.

The casino revenue has enabled the tribe to buy up land in Windsor at premium prices.

One of the tribe?s casino backers initially bought a 50-acre, oak-studded parcel in the 1600 block of Windsor River Road before transferring ownership to the tribe two years ago for $2.4 million, according to county records.

In December 2007, the tribe bought 13 adjacent acres for $1.4 million, followed by another 5 acres for $1.6 million, which extended its properties all the way to Eastside Road.

That was followed by the three parcels bought last month, located to the east of the tribe?s initial acquisition. Neighbors said the tribe also has purchased another 2-acre parcel that is still in escrow.

A handful of residents in a pocket along the south side of Windsor River Road, including Michael and Deborah Bailey, now have tribal land on both sides of them.

?Our main concern is that people who buy property within this area should follow county zoning regulations,? said Michael Bailey, a pharmacist who has lived there for 25 years.

The Baileys said they raised three children along with horses, sheep, pigs and goats on their 2.5-acre parcel.

They fear the loss of their country environment if the tribe builds a rumored 50 to 100 condominiums nearby.

Tribal representatives said they have not decided on the number and type of homes, whether they be single-family detached residences or clustered dwellings.

The lack of detail has frustrated neighbors, county and town officials.

The tribe has approached Windsor for water and sewer service, but it appears unlikely to be granted.

Mullan said Windsor is not interested in extending utilities to the tribe?s properties, which lie outside the town?s voter-approved urban growth boundary.

When concern first arose about the Lytton Band?s intentions in 2002, the Windsor Town Council went on record opposing any plan by the tribe to build more homes than allowed under the county?s regulations, generally one house per 5 acres.

The tribe says it will proceed if necessary using well water and a small sewage treatment plant of its own.

The tribal spokesman insists the homes will be environmentally friendly, fit into the ?pastoral setting? and something for which both the tribe and Windsor will be proud.

Library researcher Teresa Meikle contributed to this story. You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or

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