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Considering a Lakeville casino

Jack Balshaw 5/14/2003


Much is being written about the possibility of an Indian casino in the area of Route 37 and Lakeville highway. Some thought should be given to how to approach this possibility.

Our County Supervisor, Mike Kerns, has come out adamantly against it, as all politicians must. If he believes there is a 70% to 80% chance of stopping its construction, I say good for him. But if there is a lesser chance, perhaps he and his constituents should consider working with the Indians to develop a minimally intrusive casino. I realize such an act might seem like heresy to many Sonoma County residents, but think of the alternative.

If I represented the Indians and you tried your best to stop this project and failed, I wouldn't be particularly receptive to working with you to develop a minimally intrusive casino. I'd be tempted to completely ignore you. Losers don't have much clout, ask Saddam.

Politicians get re-elected by supporting the wishes of major parts of their constituency. Unfortunately, most constituencies don't look very far ahead and won't consider alternatives and compromises until after the cause is lost. Then they expect the other side to "be reasonable" even though they weren't. Unless there is a good chance of successfully stopping this development, I suggest more could be gained through working cooperatively with the Indians.

Sure, someone has to file a lawsuit to keep the pressure on and a method has to be found to create binding agreements between the Indians and the County. Perhaps the agreement would have to be a nation-to-nation agreement with the Federal Government. But, in the meantime, the County could be working cooperatively to minimize the impact of any development. What might these impacts be?

Assume the lawsuit was lost and the Indians are still willing to work with the public. The only condition was that they would provide two choices on various items and the public had to choose one. Remember now, the Indians are presumed to have won the lawsuit and can do anything they want. They don't have to give any choices.

Would you prefer a very visible high-rise hotel casino that had the minimum ground footprint or a more spread out, less visible; low rise development that covered a much greater area? Along the same lines, parking garages or parking lots?

Should the casino be allowed access to existing water and sewer facilities or should they build their own on site?

Would we trade water and sewer service for extensive transportation improvements? Could this include a ferry terminal at Port Sonoma?

Would the county prefer a fixed annual payment (with a cost of living clause) for off-site impacts to the county (sort of a substitute for property taxes) or a percentage of the casino's gross profits?

Each additional sensitive issue could have two either/or options.

We can talk about the "need" for environmental considerations but, if they won the right to build, they don't have to do anything. Is "compromise-early" better than "no-compromise-at-all-later" a better strategy?

I would hope that Supervisor Kerns would be given some leeway to maneuver and not be forced into an all or nothing fight to stop this project if the Board of Supervisors has no control over the eventual outcome. "All" is OK if you win, but "nothing" is a pretty bad alternative if you lose.

These comments have been developed with the view that a casino would be totally negative. I don't think it would be. The majority of the users would only impact the southern most portion of Sonoma County, the area along Route 37. Those who then went on further north would in fact just be an addition to our normal tourists.

Some might not like tourists in our bucolic county, but they use minimal county services and provide high value business. Sonoma County needs the money to do the many things people living here say they want. As for the county's image, we could always refer to the casino's location as just east of Marin County in the direction of Napa.

A casino and Sear's Point/Interferon could share parking and minimize that detriment. A port could be developed for a high-speed ferry for tourists from San Francisco, which could also then provide a reasonable commuter service. The casino's wastewater could irrigate farmlands.

There are positives to be found if we look with an open mind.


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