A Bay Area Assembly member and local activists are claiming the Schwarzenegger administration is in compact talks for an urban casino. The tribe in question, the Federation Indians of Graton Rancheria, has been seeking a casino for several years–over the objections of critics who charge they don’t have eligible private land.
“I intend to engage in this and find out what’s going on,” said Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-Marin, whose district encompasses the proposed Rohnert Park casino site. “I’ll be very concerned if the administration is in compact talks with a tribe that isn’t even close to having a federally recognized land.”
When asked whether such talks were underway with the Gratons, the governor’s press secretary, Aaron McClear, said: “We don’t comment on pending negotiations. But we always negotiate in good faith with any tribe that has federally eligible land.”
The tribe–made up of descendants of Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo, according to their Web site–lost federal recognition along with 40 others in 1958. They regained it late in 2000, just as tribal gaming was becoming a reality in California.
The tribe’s critics have focused on their land and connections. They hired a Las Vegas-based management company Stations Casinos in 2003. Stations, in turn, has a long-term relationship with Platinum Advisors. This lobbying firm is run by Darius Anderson, who served as finance chairman for former Governor Gray Davis’ successful runs in 1998 and 2002. Anderson is widely rumored to be close with another former member of the Davis camp, Schwarzenegger chief of staff Susan Kennedy.
According to the tribe’s Web site, it lost all but one acre of its 15.5 acre federal allotment when the government pulled their recognition–leaving it without sufficient land for a casino project. This Rancheria land is in Graton, about 45 miles from the Sears Point plot it first bought with Stations.
In 2005, Stations bought hundreds of acres in Rohnert Park under the name of a holding company, SC Sonoma Management LLC. Graton and stations have proposed building a casino and hotel covering three-quarters of a million square feet. They estimated the facility would cost $450 million to build, take in $500 million each year and employee 2,400 people, according to numerous published reports.
Last year, a staff attorney with the National Indian Gaming Commission asked the Schwarzenegger administration whether the Rohnert Park land was eligible for gaming. In her May 1, 2006, response, the governor’s legal affair secretary, Andrea Lynn Hoch, sounded skeptical. She brought up whether the land the tribe wanted to use for environmental mitigation was subject to Williamson Act protections for crop lands.
“The subject land does not appear to be immediately eligible for mandatory trust acquisition under the Act,” Hoch said near the end of the letter.
When asked about the letter, administration spokeswoman Sabrina Lockhart said these land issues would likely not be a problem.
“When we sent that letter to the NIGC, the land was owned by a management company,” Lockhart said.
Marilee Montgomery, of the anti-gaming group Stop the Casino 101, said that the last time she checked the public records Sonoma LLC still owned the land. She added that according to an “unimpeachable source,” the administration is in talks not only with the Gratons, but also two other tribes: the Shingle Springs Band of Miwok Indians and the Rincon Nation of Luise