The Petaluma City Council will send a letter to North Bay legislators urging them to reject the recently signed by Gov. Jerry Brown that would allow a 3,000 slot machine casino near Rohnert Park on the grounds that it does not adequately address traffic and other negative impacts of the project that will be felt throughout the region.
Monday night, council voted 6-0 to submit a letter arguing that there is nothing in the agreement between the state and the Federated Indians of the Graton Rancheria that would require the 1,300-member tribe to spend money on improving Highway 101. An estimated 18,000 vehicle trips are day are expected once the Las Vegas-style casino is built.
There is also concern about where the 535,000 square foot casino would obtain its water from since it has no legal right to purchase water from the city of Rohnert Park or the Sonoma County Water Agency. The tribe proposes to drill 1,000-foot wells on its site, but critics say that would further deplete aquifer an already overdrawn aquifer.
The compact, signed March 30, is opposed by numerous California tribes because unlike prior compacts, it requires more agreements between Rohnert Park, Sonoma County and the tribe. This includes everything from traffic mitigation to public safety and open space, as well as funds for gambling addiction and public health programs.
That, say some tribes, takes away Native American nations’ sovereign rights.
But this opposition is precisely what creates a new opportunity to defeat the casino, said Petaluma Councilman Mike Healy, the main author of the letter.
“Folks think that the casino is inevitable, there is nothing we can do to stop it, but what we have seen (with the new gaming contract) is that the gaming tribes who are extremely active and influential in Sacramento are opposed to it for their own reasons… (That means) there is a very real chance that this compact will not be ratified by the state legislature...this is a critical juncture and a letter from us is going to be very influential at this time.”
Councilwoman Teresa Barrett agreed but said that she found it strange that Healy was concerned about traffic created by an out of town project, while approving both the Target and Friedman’s developments which opponents say with make Petaluma traffic significantly worse.
“I find it amazingly ironic that we are being asked to take a stand on something outside the jurisdiction of this city that has an affect on a city 10 miles away, while the majority of the council voted to support the problem of traffic in this city,” Barrett said.
But Healy said he was “comfortable” supporting the Target and Friedman’s shopping centers because of assurances that they would pay their full share to alleviate the traffic they create.
“What I’m asking for in the letter is an assurance that the casino would do the same thing (on Highway 101) because at this point that doesn’t exist,” Healy said.
Vice Mayor Tiffany Renee said she had concerns about the negative impacts of the casino, but believed that there were more “diplomatic” alternatives than sending a letter opposing the project.
“This prevents us from doing outreach to the tribes,” Renee said. “Just because they aren’t required to negotiate with other agencies (like the city of Petaluma) doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t. There are always opportunities to reach out and speak with these sovereign nations and encourage them to work with us on our concerns.”
In a recent poll, 55 percent of Petaluma Patch readers said that the casino project should go forward because the economic benefits--$200 million for Sonoma County over 20 years—outweighed the negatives. Meanwhile, 42 percent the casino should not be allowed to open.