STC files another lawsuit
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By Jud Snyder  November 9, 2012 12:00 am

Another lawsuit has been filed in Sonoma County Superior Court against the casino being built by the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria (FIGR). This is the fifth court action Stop the Casino 101 Coalition has filed since 2003, when the Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) between the City of Rohnert Park and the Graton tribe was signed. The previous four have not stopped casino construction, now underway on the south side of Wilfred Avenue, named Golf Course Drive West by RP. (City limits for RP are on the north side).

The STC 101 Coalition lawsuit is being handled by the law offices of James DeAguilera in Redlands, east of Los Angeles. Shauna Wickham is the firm’s attorney filing the action.

Wilfred Avenue’s the main bone of contention. The city contends widening of Wilfred Avenue does not come under the jurisdiction of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) because the Graton tribe already has an Environmental Impact statement (EIS) approved for the project in February 2009, a federal EIS, and therefore is exempt from CEQA rules.
STC 101 claims the widening of Wilfred Avenue was “not included in the EIS and the city was provided with credible evidence that the EIS is out of date and failed to consider the impacts of the road widening project.”

They also contend the road-widening project would harm the protected status of the endangered California Tiger Salamander.  The casino is in a 47,383-acre critical habitat area designated by the state’s Fish and Game Department in somewhat of a checkerboard pattern in western Sonoma County to protect the tiger salamander. The DFG’s ruling became effective in September 2011.

In a recent move, FIGR has agreed to pay for widening of Wilfred Avenue from Redwood Drive to Stony Point Road. The project includes city land and also unincorporated Sonoma County acreage. Because Wilfred Avenue separates both casino territory and RP, is there an official dividing line, say, midway of Wilfred Avenue’s length?

Will city crews from Dept. of Public Works be doing the widening work, or will crews from FIGR do the work? Or will the city (or the tribe) assign the job to Ghilotti Construction who have finished the freeway underpass of Golf Course Drive? Apparently, the city claims ownership of Wilfred Ave. since they’ve already renamed it. RP City Hall lawyers have just begun studying the language of the lawsuit. The city already has worked out a Joint Powers Agreement with FIGR concerning road improvements in the casino area. They also contend the widening is “statutorily exempt” from CEQA since the FIGR casino is listed as a “sovereign nation” and not obliged to obey city or county regulations.

STC101 is requesting RP must comply with CEQA rules, a temporary restraining order and a temporary injunction barring any widening of Wilfred Avenue until the case is settled.

“I just despise filing these lawsuits,” said Pastor Chip Worthington, STC101 founder and director. But he realizes his alternatives are slender.

The elusive tiger salamander is a familiar name to more Cotati residents than Rohnert Park citizenry. When Tom Monahan of Monahan Pacific had plans for developing a shopping and residential project on Gravenstein Highway and the south end of Redwood Drive, the imperiled salamander became a major symbol for environmental protestors.

But the economic recession thwarted Monahan’s plans and only Lowe’s Home Improvement, Star Restaurant and a cluster of condos at the property’s northwest corner remain.

The tiger salamander controversy faded away, but now it’s back again.

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