RP council OKs revised casino MOU
Graton Tribe predicts new terms of agreement will provide income of $251 million over 20-year period for city
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By Jud Snyder  March 29, 2013 12:00 am

The contrast told the story. 

A decade ago, a noisy, tumultuous crowd of 350 mostly opposed to the casino nearly packed Spreckels’ main theater when the Rohnert Park City Council debated signing a Memorandum Of Understanding with the Graton Rancheria tribe and Station Casinos of Las Vegas. They did so, 4-1, with Jake Mackenzie the only dissenter.

Fast forward to this week. 

Tuesday March 26, 2013, RP’s City Council approved 5-0 an amended MOU with the Graton tribe. City council chambers was a small pond of empty chairs, and there were no public members to speak about the MOU. Mackenzie said, “I never thought 10 years ago that I’d be actually approving this.”

It was October 2003 when the Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) between the City of Rohnert Park and the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria (FIGR) was approved on a city council vote. Nine years and six months later, the current city council was handed a “First Amended and Restated MOU,” prepared by Darrin Jenkins, assistant city manager and city engineer, and approved by City Manager Gabe Gonzalez. Both “strongly recommend” the council approve it.

Highlights of new MOU

Putting the basic points of the amended MOU up front, the Graton Tribe predicts a $251 million income over a 20-year period compared to the 2003 prediction of $211 million. Yearly payments by the tribe to the city will begin in July 2014 in the amount of $2,636,994 paid in quarterly assessments of $500,000 through April 2015. The Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District will receive $1 million on a quarterly payment basis on the same time schedule. There’s also a Rohnert Park Foundation who will receive a $1 million per year contribution and will be administered by the city as it chooses.

The mechanics of the amended MOU will be handled by a Graton Mitigation Fund (GMF) run by the state of California’s Gaming Agency, who will accumulate proceeds from the Tribe. Priorities of fund distribution list Rohnert Park first, Sonoma County second, the Graton Tribe third and other tribes fourth.

The amended MOU was needed, for the Graton Tribe first planned a casino site on San Pablo Bay where it had bought acreage. But protests from the public and environmentalists forced them to donate the land to the Sonoma County Land Trust and select a site on Wilfred Avenue where it meets Stony Point Road. They later moved the site eastward to near Business Park Drive, still in county land but adjacent to future RP expansion. The 254-acre parcel is within RP’s urban growth boundary (out to Langner Avenue) and its sphere of influence.

 

Tribe to build new DPS station

Other provisions include a new police and fire station west of the freeway, hook and ladder fire truck, money for DPS crime prevention forces, promises not to buy Rancho Verde mobile home park for 20 years and not build a golf course on FIGR land.

Those are just some of the early highlights. The staff report alone is nine pages long of single-space type. The amended MOU is 31 pages long, also single-spaced type.

Assistant City Manager Darrin Jenkins handled the PowerPoint display and answered questions. Most of the questions were related to the gambling revenue the tribe will give to the Graton Mitigation Fund. Jenkins said they’re still “working on the framework for funding,” and didn’t anticipate any problems. The amended MOU merely says, “If there are insufficient funds to make any partial payments, then no payment is made.” The discussion took less than hour to complete.

 

Tribe ‘set an example’

Council members had nothing but praise for the way the tribe handled negotiations the last nine years and six months.

“The tribe couldn’t be more responsible,” said Mayor Pam Stafford. “They’ve set an example for other tribes to follow.”

“We have no control over the casino,” Vice-Mayor Joe Callinan reminded his colleagues. “The tribe didn’t have to do this MOU. Its completion is a great piece of work.”

Councilman Amy Ahanotu said, “I want to make sure the city is protected. That’s where I’m coming from. This MOU does that.”

“The tribe did what they said they had to do,” added Mackenzie. “I’m ready to vote yes on this.”

Councilwoman Gina Belforte agreed with them in her comments.

Callinan cautioned the TV camera and rows of empty seats, “I want to make sure the newspapers tell everyone we’re not ‘filthy rich’ from this MOU. The funds are all mitigating factors dealing with the casino’s impacts. The city is still carrying a deficit budget into next year.”

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