North Bay Tribe Propose $ 600 Million Casino Project


The Koi Nation, a federally recognized tribe based in Sonoma County, has announced plans to turn a 68-acre vineyard southeast of Windsor into a $ 600 million casino complex, one of largest of its kind in Northern California.

The 90-member Pomo Tribe intends to transform the land approximately half a mile from Shiloh Ranch Regional Park into the Shiloh Resort & Casino. Pending the necessary federal and state approvals, it will likely take four years before the complex is built and opened, tribal officials said.

The tribe acquired the property at 222 East Shiloh Road from private owners this month for $ 12.3 million. Until then, most of its members lived in Sonoma County but had no land of their own.

Although local officials expressed surprise and opposition to the casino’s massive development plan, they recognized that the tribe would likely have broad authority over how to develop their newly acquired property if the federal government granted the property the status. sovereign.

Leaders of the Koi Nation, who have gone from ordinary citizens of Sonoma County to a force to be reckoned with in a day, said they would seek input from community members and local elected officials on their project. .

The expected economic and community benefits of the complex would boost tribal members – many of whom find it difficult to afford to live in North Bay – but also give residents of the county a boost, they said.

“This day is long in coming,” said Koi Nation President Darin Beltran. “Our main goal is to become economically independent.

The project would be the third Las Vegas-style gambling venue in Sonoma County, rivaling the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria casino outside of Rohnert Park, which has the largest gambling hall in the Bay Area and a hotel. of 200 rooms. It opened in 2013.

The Dry Creek Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians owns and operates the smaller River Rock Casino near Geyserville. It opened in 2002.

The planned development of the Koi Nation would include 2,500 slot machines and other slot machines, a 200-room hotel, six food and beverage areas, a meeting center and a spa. The intention is an energy efficient complex mixed with the natural landscape. The entire development would cover 1.2 million square feet.

The approval of the casino complex ultimately rests with state and federal officials. Still, Koi Nation leaders said they had already contacted Sonoma County supervisors to discuss their plans. Board chair Lynda Hopkins acknowledged that county officials may have little say in land use decisions for the project under federal rules.

“The counties are pretty much left out of the process,” Hopkins said.

Impacts on water resources, traffic, wildfire hazards, and public safety are all key concerns – and many of the same issues have fueled opposition to the development of Sonoma County’s two existing tribal casinos. over the past two decades.

Supervisor James Gore, whose district includes Windsor and the proposed casino house just outside of town, said he was personally opposed to casinos.

He noted that county officials reached a deal with the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians in 2015 to refrain from building a planned large casino on their sovereign lands in Windsor or elsewhere in the county. Unlike the Koi Nation, however, the Lytton Tribe already owns a casino – in San Pablo in Contra Costa County.

Gore said he expects Windsor residents and city council members to oppose the Koi Nation resort plan “vehemently”, concerned about traffic congestion, environmental impacts and crime. .

Koi Nation vice president Dino Beltran said the tribe expects questions and concerns from the community.

“We’re going to be very open to what people have to say,” Beltran said. “We will have community outreach and address people’s concerns. “

The Koi Nation also submitted plans in Washington, DC on Wednesday to place the 68-acre area of ​​Shiloh Road in a federally-owned trust, which would allow the tribe to exercise sovereignty over the land.

The announcement and filing with the Office of Indian Affairs, Department of the Interior, sets the clock for what will be a lengthy approval and construction process that could take four years, said Sam Singer, spokesperson for the tribe and famous audience of the Bay Area. relationship manager.

The tribe hopes to begin construction on the complex in one to two years, and is expected to take another two years until it is ready to open, Singer said.

Federal authorities are expected to begin an environmental review of Sonoma County lands and open a public comment period on the project in 60 to 90 days, according to tribal leaders.

To open the casino, the Koi Nation must also negotiate a Tribal Gaming Agreement with the Governor of California, which must be ratified by the state legislature and approved by the US Department of the Interior, according to the California Indian Gaming Association. .

State Senator Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, said he had just learned of the casino complex’s proposal on Wednesday, but found it “deeply concerning” because of its size.

“Sonoma County doesn’t need another casino and I oppose any new gaming outlet,” McGuire said. “While I honor and respect tribal sovereignty, this is not the right plan for North County.”

U.S. Representative Jared Huffman D-San Rafael helped draft the bill that allowed the Lytton Tribe to turn their land west of Windsor to the federal government, advancing a tribal housing project and other development plans – but not a casino. Huffman said he would likely oppose the Koi Nation resort plan and there is no guarantee the tribe would successfully go through the complicated process to get federal and state approvals for their casino.

“It’s one thing to say you’ve acquired property and rolled out designs and plans,” Huffman said. “In fact, getting those lands to be trusted and getting the contracts and approvals to start playing is a whole different story. It’s just hard to do if everyone around you is against it.

Windsor City Councilor Debora Fudge said the Koi Nation announcement was particularly frustrating given the time Sonoma County and Windsor County officials had spent negotiating with the Lytton Tribe to drop any plans to local casino. Through spokesperson Doug Elmets, the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians declined to comment.

Fudge opposes the planned development of the Shiloh Casino. Considering Windsor’s history of pitting casinos, she was not too surprised that Koi Nation tribal leaders did not alert Windsor leaders to the unveiling of the project.

“I understand,” she said. “They seem to have hired people who are at the top of their game in terms of public relations, so they expect opposition.”

The proposed wine property for the project is in unincorporated Sonoma County between Windsor and Santa Rosa.

On Wednesday, the entrance to the vineyard was framed by a wrought iron gate with a tree-lined driveway leading to a country villa. Although the region is dominated by agriculture, an eastern subdivision of Windsor with dozens of grand houses sits just across East Shiloh Road to the north.

To the west, on the west side of Old Redwood Road, is a large mobile home park. San Miguel Elementary School is about a 10-minute walk south on Faught Road.

And to the east is the 850-acre Shiloh Ranch Regional Park, a popular destination for hikers with 8 miles of winding trails leading through the Mayacamas Mountains.

The Koi Nation plans to seek private investors to help fund the massive development, said Singer, the tribe’s spokesperson. He said there was “great interest in this project,” although he declined to share names of investors.

The Koi Nation anticipates that an unspecified portion of the revenues of the Shiloh Casino will be shared with the entire community through the support of local organizations.

Once built and fully operational, the complex is expected to employ over 1,100 full-time workers.

The Koi Nation is one of the last Pomo groups that have not had their own land for most of the past 150 years. The ancestors of the Koi Nation were part of the southeastern Pomo people who lived on Koi Island on Clear Lake, according to the tribe’s website.

In 1916, the United States government attempted to relegate the tribe to a small rancheria near Clearlake. But the Office of Indian Affairs ruled the land uninhabitable. The tribe then moved to Sevastopol and Santa Rosa, and Sonoma County remained its spiritual and political center.

Although uninhabited, the Koi Nation’s Lower Lake Rancheria was closed in 1956 by federal authorities who mistakenly ended the federal government’s relationship with the Koi Nation.

Over the next 50 years, the United States continued to deny recognition of the Koi Nation as a tribe, until a federal court in 2019 restored its sovereignty and ability to establish a tribal land base.

The court ruling “paved the way” for the tribe to acquire the Shiloh Road land and take the first step in securing approval to build the casino, Singer said.

“With this land and the Shiloh Resort & Casino, we are taking long overdue steps to preserve our cultural and historical integrity and ensure a better future for generations to come,” said Beltran, President of the Koi Nation.

Distributed by Tribune News Service


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