SACRAMENTO, Calif. - In late January, a former intergovernmental ad hoc
committee took steps towards becoming a formal body and hoped to use its
combined strength to have a voice in Indian gaming developments.
The intergovernmental organization, known by the lengthy name Northern
California Counties Tribal Matters Consortium, began as an informal group
after a 2003 meeting that included the entire boards of three Northern
The counties of Solano, Napa and Sonoma were all completely represented by
their entire respective boards of supervisors; a member of the Yolo County
Board of Supervisors attended as well.
Last year, the subcommittee sought to set down a series of "guiding
principles" which they used as a springboard to a formal agreement. On Jan.
25, the member counties consented to a multi-county agreement making the ad
hoc committee a formal regional body-the Northern California Counties
Tribal Matters Consortium.
The issue of a casino development project by the Federated Indians of the
Graton Rancheria in southern Sonoma County came up during the discussion.
Out of that, the counties decided to set up an ad hoc subcommittee
comprised of one point person and an alternate from each county to discuss
Graton eventually dropped its proposal for the area and now seeks to build
a gaming establishment at an alternate Sonoma County site in the city of
Rohnert Park. Local pressure was one of the main reasons for the move.
Brad Wagenknecht, Napa County supervisor and the Consortium's point person
for that county, said that one of the main reasons for forming the
intergovernmental group was to create a regional voice for local
governments to have input into tribal casinos.
"We want to have a seat at the table," said Wagenknecht, referring to
discussions between tribes, the state and federal governments.
Wagenknecht conceded that while local governments are often given some say
during gaming negotiations, he also said that the members of the Consortium
do not believe that they are as strong as they should be.
Wagenknecht said that most of the process is done through the federal and
state governments; and insists that counties have a clearer voice in
project mitigation and the environmental process, in addition to ensuring
local zoning and safety laws are followed.
The Consortium drew up a seven-page document that outlines its goals and
general positions. The first listed principle is that member counties would
oppose any project - regardless of the developmental purpose - from tribes
without a historic land base in the area.
For tribes that do have historic ties, federally recognized or not, the
Consortium insists that its member counties will deal with the tribes on a
"government-to-government" basis with "mutual respect," though they say
these projects must be within the framework of the Consortium.
Another significant point is that the Consortium's member counties will
also oppose any tribe seeking federal recognition outside the BIA
An attorney who represents tribes in Sonoma County said, on condition of
anonymity, that there are some major problems with the declaration and the
Consortium in general. The attorney said that tribes were not informed in
advance of the group's formation and only received word after the plan was
slated for action, not discussion.
Likening the principles document to "a declaration of war," the attorney
said that many of the principles may be illegal and maintained that the
Consortium has essentially overstepped its limits by deciding which tribes
to deal with and how.
"What this does is take away power from the federal and state governments.
It undermines the governor, in that these subdivisions of the state can all
of a sudden overrule decisions made at the federal and local level,"
claimed the attorney, adding that by federal law, the federal government
recognizes tribes and not counties.
On the other hand, the attorney pointed out that after failing to garner
support for its original location for a casino, Graton then made a local
deal with the city of Rohnert Park. That city is in Sonoma County, and the
county could thus do to the city what they claim the state and federal
governments have done to them.
The attorney said he would have no problem with the Consortium recognizing
the current laws while simultaneously lobbying to change them. His main
concern is the Consortium's intended plan of lobbying to change the laws
that would give counties the kind of power to carry out their principles,
though current federal law contradicts them.