Bill would authorize Lytton tribal homeland near Windsor

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A bill creating a tribal homeland for the Lytton Rancheria is back before Congress, including a provision that perpetually bans gaming on the acreage adjoining Windsor where the Native American tribe intends to build member housing, a resort hotel and winery.

Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, introduced the bill last week that would establish a reservation on more than 500 acres of land owned by the tribe adjacent to Windsor’s southwest flank.

If approved by Congress, the Lytton Rancheria Homelands Act would restore territory to the tribe left homeless nearly 60 years ago but made wealthy by a San Pablo casino in the last two decades.

“We’re looking forward to going through the (legislative) process again,” Lytton attorney and tribal spokesman Larry Stidham said Monday.

The process can be difficult, but Stidham said he expects it to move through the House of Representatives, which approved a similar measure last year. Senate approval of such “parochial bills” can be labored, but Stidham said he is hopeful because last year’s bill was approved by a Senate committee and languished on the floor during the government shutdown.

There are no local government barriers. Sonoma County supervisors signed off in 2015 on an agreement that allows 147 housing units, a 200-room resort and a 200,000-case winery, with the tribe paying millions of dollars in fees and compensation in place of property taxes.

Huffman said the bill “reflects a model for functional, respectful, productive relationships between local governments and tribes” and is the product of “negotiations and collaborations that have brought us to this point.”

The tribe, which has about 300 adult members, has reached agreements with the Windsor Fire Protection District for emergency services and with the Windsor Unified School District to accept students from the housing development, both in exchange for substantial payments.

“This is a situation where they did it right,” Huffman said, referring to the tribe’s collaboration with local entities.

If the land is taken into federal trust, it would be removed from local control and taxes. Windsor Mayor Dominic Foppoli said the bill is a “federal issue” beyond the town’s jurisdiction, but he was pleased to see stronger protections against gaming than were in Huffman’s original 2015 bill.

“I look forward to working with our new neighbors,” Foppoli said.

A citizen’s group, however, remains opposed to the way the agreements were reached and the legislative action by Huffman.

Brad Whitworth, spokesman for Citizens for Windsor, said the county’s agreement with the tribe was negotiated without public involvement.

The federal legislation, he said, amounts to “an end run” around the process by which tribal lands are taken into trust administratively by the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs.

There were no environmental studies on the hotel and winery projects, Whitworth said, and the studies on housing were done before drought, floods and wildfires emerged as concerns.

Whitworth said his group will attempt to express its objections to California Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris.

The Lytton Rancheria lost its homeland north of Healdsburg when its federal recognition was terminated in 1961. Recognition was restored in 1991, but the tribe regained no lands nor means of support.

In 2000, the Pomo Indian tribe’s fortunes turned when Congress allowed it to convert a San Pablo cardroom into a lucrative casino, enabling the tribe to buy the land next to Windsor as well as the 564-acre Salvation Army property near Healdsburg, purchased for $30 million in 2017.

The tribe has also become a major donor to community groups and charities, including more than $2.6 million to the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts and a $1.25 million commitment to local children’s charities.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com.

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