Local wine industry, political and community leaders are weighing what options they might have to stop a potential Indian casino in Napa County while it is still only an idea.
Some 30 people held a closed-door meeting Friday at the Napa Chamber, two days after news surfaced that a band of Pomo Indians in Lake County could be casing Napa, Solano or Sonoma counties for a gambling operation.
Represented groups included Napa Valley Vintners, the Napa Valley Farm Bureau, Friends of the Napa River and county government.
County laws to preserve agriculture would not apply to a tribe that bought land and had it held in trust by the federal government. For county supervisors, that possibility raises the specter of a casino rising up amid Napa Valley vineyards while they sit helpless to stop it.
Dan Mufson of Vision 2050 noted Napa County has held recent community discussions on growth restrictions and protecting watersheds, both issues his group is interested in.
“Here comes the bomb that kind of dropped in the middle of it,” Mufson said Friday about the possibility of a casino.
Those attending the meeting took no definitive action, according to a statement by Napa Valley Vintners. Still, Napa Valley Vintners has pledged up to $200,000 to address casino issues and agreed to raise more funds to support the effort.
The Scotts Valley Band of Pomo Indians is supposedly involved with this latest possible casino move. Local officials obtained what appears to be a confidential term sheet – they won’t reveal how they got it – between the tribe and Las Vegas-based Integrated Resort Development LLC.
The preliminary potential agreement calls for developing a gambling establishment in the northern San Pablo Bay area. A site is to be identified within 80 days of the term sheet being executed.
In recent years, Napa County has opposed a move by the Mishewal Wappo Tribe of Alexander Valley to receive federal recognition, for fear that could pave the way for a casino. The Scotts Valley Band of Pomo Indians is already a federally recognized tribe.
Rob Ottone is the Scotts Valley tribal administrator. He said Friday from the tribe’s Lakeport office that he will be talking about the casino issue with the tribal council that afternoon. The tribe could have a statement on Monday, he said.
The Pomo Indians lived in the Bay Area and Northern California. The Scotts Valley group was disbanded by the federal government in during the 1950s, but successfully sued in 1986 to have its federal recognition restored, according to the tribe’s website.
A few years ago, the landless tribe attempted to have land held in trust by the federal government in north Richmond so it could build the Sugarbowl Casino. Plans posted by the tribe called for a 225,000 square foot building, 1,500-square-foot events center, over 3,500 parking spaces, 2,000 gaming machines, a steakhouse restaurant and entertainment bar.
“At long last, it is the policy of the United States to support Indian self-sufficiency and economic advancement,” then-Tribal Council Chairman Donald Arnold wrote at the time. “Given all that happened to us before, we deserve to benefit from that policy.”
But the U.S. Department of Interior turned down the trust-for-gaming request in May 2012. It decided that the tribe failed to establish a historic connection with the southern San Pablo Bay area.
Paul C. Steelman is listed as a managing partner with Integrated Resort Development LLC of Las Vegas. The Napa Valley Register left a message with Steelman Partners on Thursday. A person with the company on Friday said that Steelman has no comment on the possible casino deal.
When Napa Valley Vintners learned Wednesday evening that the tribe might be looking at Napa, Sonoma or Solano counties, it quickly convened the meeting on Friday.
Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza attended. Napa County welcomes businesses, but want to make certain folks play by the same rules, he said afterward.
“What I’m interested in is having a discussion, to make sure any business or development coming to Napa goes through a process where we can have a discussion around that development,” he said.
The group will continue to meet and talk about any new casino information that comes out, he said
Another attendee, Bernhard Krevet of Friends of the Napa River, said that a casino would be potentially disruptive to the Napa Valley landscape.
“It is interesting, because we have inherited something from the first people that we have changed,” Krevet said of the impact of non-natives.
Still, he has difficulty accepting that any group would be above the law, irrespective of what happened in the past. You can’t turn back history, he said.
Perhaps the groups at Friday’s meeting will release a statement, Krevet said. He pointed to a statement from several years ago regarding the Mishewal Wappo Tribe of Alexander Valley. It was signed by 10 local groups ranging from Friends of the Napa River to Napa County Farm Bureau to the Sierra Club to Napa Valley Vintners.
“We collectively can only support the ownership or transfer of land to an entity required by our laws to maintain the historically significant environmental land use standards set forth by the governance of Napa County and its municipalities,” that statement said.