A long battle has begun for the Koi Nation casino project near Windsor
Completing a large casino project is usually a two-part process. The first is to get the US Department of the Interior to approve the tribe’s land trust application and confirm that the development meets the requirements of India’s Gaming Regulation Act. The second is to obtain a gambling contract with the State of California.
The Koi’s chances of having the land in trust are good, Rand believes. One of the reasons is the change in presidential administration this year. The other is the story of the tribe.
The Koi traditionally lived on an island in Clear Lake and the surrounding shores. This land was taken by white newcomers in the 1870s, according to the tribe’s website. By the turn of the 20th century, Koi members had mainly settled around Santa Rosa, Windsor, and Sebastopol. Congress gave them land in 1916, a 140-acre parcel between Lower Lake and Clear Lake Heights that tribal leaders now say uninhabitable. The government transferred it under them to Lake County in 1956, leaving them essentially landless.
A DC district court restored Koi sovereignty in a 2019 ruling against the Home Office. But the application of land to trust is not a freebie.
One aspect of this approval process, Rand said, involves community participation. And it’s already clear that there will be a substantial backlash on the Koi Project in Sonoma County. Part of that comes from elected leaders such as U.S. Representative Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, and State Senator Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, among others.
Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore, whose district includes the plot purchased by the Koi Nation, said he was cautiously open to the process but very skeptical of the tribe’s timeline.
“Their statement indicates that it will be a process of getting a one to two year permit and building in years three and four,” Gore said Friday. “Personally, I think it’s a joke, from everything we’ve seen working with the Bureau of Indian Affairs.”
Graton’s casino only opened its doors 10 and a half years after the rancheria first announced its proposal.
Neighbors share their concerns
The most vocal opposition to the Koi Project will likely come from private citizens. Five of them met Friday at Ron and Lynn Darst’s home at the end of a cul-de-sac in Shiloh, just inside the city limits of Windsor and about a fifth of a mile from the proposed casino, which would be located in a former unincorporated Sonoma County vineyard.
Neighbors are convinced that the casino will lead to traffic, pollution, crime and lower property values, and they are concerned about its effects during forest fires. Their neighborhood, they said, has been evacuated each of the past four years.
“Where will the casino be, if a fire breaks out in the Mayacamas mountains and the casino has to evacuate a 200-room hotel, where will they go?” Ron Darst said. “Down the road, at the intersection of (freeway) 101 and Shiloh, they could disperse. Here it is difficult to get out. Faught Road is the only other exit, and it’s twisty and twisty.
Graton’s casino has also faced a barrage of sustained outrage during its development.
Residents of Rohnert Park cited many of the same issues as the Shiloh opposition, as well as accusations the project would harm the endangered Tiger Salamander. They protested on the sidewalk, filed at least two lawsuits and tried to recall two members of the Rohnert Park city council who supported the project. They delayed its opening for years but ultimately couldn’t stop it.
The Koi experience could be different, many observers agree, due to intertribal opposition. Gore said it was “well known” that the Dry Creek Rancheria casino, River Rock in Geyserville, saw its revenues drop by 50 to 70% after the Graton facility opened, and he went. asked how the Dry Creek Rancheria would react to Koi’s announcement. . Rand argued that fierce competition in California’s saturated gaming market could lead to conflict.
About 30 minutes after saying this, the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria distributed a dazzling statement officially announcing their opposition to the Koi Casino, calling it a “blatant attempt to shop on a reservation outside the traditional territory of the Koi Nation and on the territory of other countries recognized by the federal government. tribes. “
The statement claimed that the tribe had previously attempted to initiate similar projects in Oakland and on Mare Island.
“Our stories and traditions are tied to this cultural landscape,” Greg Sarris, president of the Federated Indians of Graton and professor of Native American history, said in the statement. “Our ancestors are buried here. All of Sonoma County is indigenous to the southern and southwestern Pomo language groups. Koi Nation, a Pomo tribe from the southeast, has no connection or affiliation here.
The Koi contacted the Sarris tribe and offered to make them business partners in the Shiloh project, said Dino Beltran, brother of Darin and vice president of Koi. He said the people of Graton refused. Sarris declined an interview with The Press Democrat.
Koi families have lived in Sonoma County for several generations, but their ancestral homeland is an island in Clear Lake and the surrounding shores. The proximity of these lands to a casino site is important to the Home Office, Rand said. Shiloh is about 60 miles from lower Clear Lake, apparently an borderline case.
Even if they remove all obstacles in the trust land process, the Beltrans should get a state gambling contract. It’s a bit easier to interpret, as California tends to use a template for these deals, Rand said. But that would be another real challenge.
“Class III (full casino game) contracts are never stamped,” Rand said. “Usually they go through a complex negotiation process. “
Standing placidly in the shade of towering oak trees sprinkled with yellow leaves, surrounded by harvest-season vineyards, Beltrans and Koi Nation secretary Judy Fast Horse seemed unlikely candidates for the brawl ahead as they spoke quietly about their spirituality.
Why get into this fray? Because the tribe has little other path to prosperity, they said. And because it is their turn to reap the riches of this region, even if it is in the form of a 24/7 resort-casino.
“I have heard people say, ‘We are here because of the natural beauty of the vineyards,’ said Dino Beltran. “These vineyards weren’t there naturally. Natural history has changed.
You can reach Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or [email protected] On Twitter @Skinny_Post.