Sonoma County has managed to ward off casino development once more.
This past week, the county announced that the Dry Creek Band of Pomo Indians chose to postpone until 2032 its plans to build a second casino in Petaluma. Also, the county decided to waive the tribe’s $750,000 annual mitigation payment in fiscal years 2020-2021 and 2021-2021.
Proposed casino’s strategic location would’ve helped tribe
The Pomo Indians run River Rock Casino, a 62,000-square-foot casino in Geyserville, California. The Sonoma County property is about 45 minutes away from Petaluma, where the tribe had hoped to build a second casino on 277 acres of land it owns.
A Petaluma casino would give the Pomo a distinct competitive advantage. Highway 101 feeds traffic into Sonoma County from the highly populated Bay Area. Until 2013, River Rock was the only casino on Highway 101 in Sonoma.
But in 2013, the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria opened Graton Resort & Casino on Highway 101 about 35 minutes south of River Rock, effectively capturing business that would’ve continued up the highway to River Rock.
Moratorium in second casino goes back to 2008
Though the casino would be a big win for the Pomo, Sonoma County residents envision the property as a big loss for the community. The beef between the two groups goes back at least 13 years to a 2008 memorandum of agreement.
In the original memorandum of agreement (MOA), the county said it opposed “the Tribe’s application to take 277 acres of land into trust for gaming purposes near Petaluma.”
At the time, the tribe had submitted an application to the federal government that would’ve allowed it to build a casino on the Petaluma property. As a result of the MOA, the tribe chose to suspend the “gaming purposes of the application” for at least eight years.
In 2015, the tribe agreed to delay its casino pursuits until 2025. Now, the moratorium extends to 2032.
County leaders say they’re willing to work with tribe…on non-gaming options
Petaluma City Councilmember Mike Healy spoke with local newspaper Argus-Courier about the extension of the casino moratorium.
“It wouldn’t be a bad idea for the city to reach out to the tribe to see if there’s a mutually agreeable outcome for non-gaming uses of the property, but that hasn’t happened,” Healy said. “But it’s always good to talk.”
Healy’s platitudes may be music to the ears of some of his constituents, but rings somewhat hollow based on an earlier quote of his in which he said the county prefers “not to see growth beyond the city’s urban growth boundary.”
$1.5 million fee waiver steadies tribe’s pandemic-battered finances
The $1.5 million fee break included in the Pomo’s agreement with the county result’s from the tribe’s “force Majuere” request, a legal term for unforeseen circumstances that prevent a party from fulfilling its contract. The tribe argued the financial loss from its four-month closure amid the pandemic prevented them from paying their $750,000 fee.