A local Indian tribe’s decision to extend a $9 million loan to a Jameson Canyon winery last fall has raised some hackles among Napa County officials sensitive to any actions that could relate to tribal gaming within the county’s borders.
The loan, granted from the Sonoma-county based Lytton Band of Pomo Indians, was issued to Madison Vineyard Holdings LLC, the company that owns the Jamieson Ranch Vineyards, formerly Reata Winery and Kirkland Ranch winery. The property is located off Highway 12/Jameson Canyon Road on the old Kirkland Ranch property.
The decision to extend the financing had no connection to gaming aside from the fact that money was raised through revenue the Lytton tribe gets from its casino in San Pablo, in Contra Costa County, said Larry Stidham, an attorney who acts as a spokesman for the tribe.
Stidham said the tribe has not purchased any property, and the only way it would own the Jameson Canyon land — 300 acres of vineyards plus the winery property — was if the wine company defaulted on the loan. The land is valued at $21.6 million, according to records from the Napa County Assessor’s Office.
“We don’t have an interest in the business itself,” Stidham said. “It’s a business venture, just like anybody else.”
But to Napa County Supervisor Mark Luce, the loan was enough to cause him concern. The county has actively sought to keep any tribal gambling enterprise from taking root in Napa Valley, including fighting another tribe, the Mishewal Wappo Tribe of Alexander Valley, in its legal quest to regain federal recognition.
Federally recognized tribes can petition the government to take land into trust, exempting them from local land use controls and allowing them build Las Vegas-style casinos.
“We’re aware of it,” Luce said of the loan. “It’s definitely concerning. So much of this is out of our control. We continue to make state and federal officials aware of this problem.”
The Lytton tribe has a history of pursuing gaming projects in Napa County. Before converting a card room in San Pablo into a large-scale casino, the same tribe sought in the late 1990s to build a casino in American Canyon, in the business plaza where the Walmart store is located, Supervisor Keith Caldwell said Friday.
Caldwell, then the fire chief in American Canyon, said the plans to purchase the land off Highway 29 touched off contentious negotiations between city and tribal officials. City residents strongly opposed the plan, which was ultimately scuttled in favor of the San Pablo location.
“That fell through,” Caldwell said. “At the end of the day, the City Council said ‘You know what, no. We’re not going to do that.’”
Caldwell said the Lytton tribe’s investment seems innocuous, but he was also skeptical of its motives. “I’m still a little bit suspect of that,” he said.
The tribe has been on an acquisition binge in Sonoma County in recent years, buying 1,300 acres for $47 million that includes vineyard land and pasture land, the Press Democrat in Santa Rosa reported last year.
That, too, set off some alarm bells for local residents and elected officials in Sonoma County, the Press Democrat reported. But Stidham said any fears that the tribe would attempt to build another casino were misguided.
Its home has historically been in Sonoma County, and Stidham said the tribe has no interest in trying to acquire land in Napa County and take it into trust.
“That’s certainly not been what the tribe’s considered,” Stidham said. “We’re trying to create a homeland in Sonoma County, not Napa.”