Angry Sonoma County residents meet with Supes over tribal land deal

WINDSOR, Calif. (KGO) -- Angry Sonoma County residents say they've been blindsided by what they call a backroom deal between their county supervisors and a local Indian tribe.

The agreement paves the way for a tribal homeland and commercial development on the edge Windsor north of Santa Rosa in Sonoma County.

The deal was made with almost no public input and a lot of the people who live nearby are furious.

The town of Windsor is holding a public meeting Tuesday night to talk about the issue, but many residents say they should have been consulted years ago.

For more than a decade the Lytton band of Pomo Indians has been buying land around the town of Windsor to create a tribal homeland.

The proposal first included only high-end homes and community buildings, but when the county finally made a deal with the tribe the plan changed to include a large resort and winery.

Angry residents have gathered almost 1,500 signatures trying to stop the plan.

"Where are they going to get the water for the winery, the hotels, the spas, the restaurants and the 350 homes that they are going to build," said Ann Bainbridge Krausc, a Windsor resident.

The money to build all that is coming from the Lytton tribe's casino in San Pablo.

Gaming profits have paid for more than 500 acres and the Lyttons hope to buy 800 more.

Larry Stidham is the tribe's lawyer.

"It's as close as they can get to their original aboriginal territory out in Healdsburg," Stidham said.

The tribe wants to turn the land into a sovereign nation and that could include a casino.

Counties usually don't get any say over what happens on Indian lands, so Sonoma County supervisors decided to make a deal with the tribe now rather than wait to see if the Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs approves the Lytton's plan.

"It's an extraordinarily fair deal," Stidham said. "There's nothing like this in the United States in terms of agreements reached between the county and the tribe."

Supervisor James Gore represents the area. "The county's agreement calls for 22 years of no gambling on that location," Gore said.

The tribe also agreed to a $6 million one-time payment to the county, future payments based on the value of the property and possible income and some environmental protections and mitigation.

"They waived their sovereign independence over those items," Gore said. "That's a big deal for us."

Based on the agreement, congressman Jared Huffman has now introduced a bill to create the Indian homeland and add further prohibitions on casinos.

"I think the county did the smart thing by negotiating a deal and I think the tribe did the good faith thing by sitting down and working things out with the county," Huffman said.

Critics say the deal is full of loopholes and they are furious the county did not do more to let residents know what was happening.

"This is a small town that's just trying to stand up and fight back against development and against big money and big interests," said Eric Wee.

The Hopkins family has farmed the property right next to the Lytton land for three generations.

"The county's agreement was made without any public input," Hopkins said. "There are environmental safeguards in place in that agreement, but we feel they are insufficient."

Critics accuse officials of favoring the tribes because of their political donations.

"Nobody who donated to my campaign gets anything other than the same good government they would get it they didn't donate to my camp," Huffman said.

At the public meeting in Windsor, critics spoke out Tuesday night against the controversial deal.

The plan requires Congress to pass a bill to get the land into a federal trust.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney.
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