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Tribe donates $1 million to Windsor schools

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The Indian tribe planning to build a large housing project on the outskirts of Windsor is offering the school district a $1 million “gift” to offset the effects of the added schoolchildren who would live there.

The Windsor school board appears poised to accept the money, which also comes on the condition that it not oppose the Lytton Rancheria’s plans to build 147 homes and a cultural center just south of Windsor River Road.

“Everyone is excited about the possibility of approving this deal,” school board Vice President George Valenzuela said Friday. “We’re all happy with the relationship with the tribe and we are thankful for the generous donation of $1 million.”

The school board last week reviewed a tentative memorandum of agreement for accepting the tribe’s offer, which is expected to be up for approval at the board’s Aug. 5 meeting.

The $1 million donation, which would be made within 60 days, comes regardless of whether the tribe’s housing project gets approval from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs.

A tribal spokesman could not be reached for comment, but the offer to the school district appears to underscore the tribe’s confidence it eventually will obtain approval on its pending application to have 124 acres in Windsor taken into federal trust and made Indian land.

The Lytton Rancheria owns and operates the San Pablo Casino in the East Bay, which enabled the tribe to buy hundreds of acres on the west side of Windsor, beginning a dozen years ago.

The 270-member tribe has steadfastly denied it has any intent of building a second casino in Windsor, but said it wants the land as a place for its members to live and congregate.

Once the land is accepted into federal trust, the tribe stated it has no legal obligation under state, county, or town laws to pay developer fees, including the ones the school district levies on new homes.

“Once the land is considered Native American land, they can do whatever they want,” said school board member Billy Forrest. “They don’t have to give it to us.”

But in the tentative agreement with the school board, the tribe says it “wishes to be a good neighbor and welcomed community partner.”

The school district calculated that the tribe’s project will generate approximately 103 new students, and if it were subject to developers’ fees would be required to pay $933,000.

“The tribe was generous. They rounded it to $1 million,” Valenzuela said.

The Windsor project underwent a lengthy environmental review by the Bureau of Indian Affairs that gave the town, county and other government agencies the opportunity to weigh in on the impacts, including on traffic, water, wastewater and the removal of trees.

Despite initial opposition, Windsor and Sonoma County officials now are negotiating with the tribe to offset some of the effects, recognizing the project is likely to go forward with or without local governmental approval.

The tribe is seeking to hook into the town’s water and wastewater systems, although it also has the option to develop its own wells and build a small sewer plant and wastewater ponds.

But for the project to access Windsor utilities, voters would need to approve the deal, because the tribal land is outside Windsor’s growth boundary.

As a further inducement to obtain utilities, representatives for the tribe have also offered to build a community swim center, a long-sought amenity for the town.

Windsor officials said a ballot measure likely would include language stipulating no casino be built.

“Language for the pool and ‘no casino’ would be included in the ballot measure,” said Town Manager Linda Kelly, who said maintenance fees for the pool also are part of the ongoing negotiation.

The Lytton Rancheria also has an agreement it struck with the Windsor Fire Protection District two years ago, agreeing to pay the district more than $1 million over a decade to help offset the loss of property tax revenues when its property is converted to Indian land.

The tribe began making those payments in 2012 on top of another $200,000 it gave in previous years for increased staffing.

The tribe also agreed to come up with an additional $800,000 for the fire district if it gets town water and sewer service.

As far as the school district, the tribe previously donated money for two golf carts to help school supervisors patrol the high school campus. And it recently donated $2,000 to Project Grad, an alcohol-free graduation night party at the high school.

“The rancheria has been a good neighbor for Windsor Unified and we are looking forward to a long healthy relationship,” Valenzuela said.

You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or clark. mason@pressdemocrat.com.

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