Wednesday, 24 April 2024

Senate approves Habematolel compact; tribe expects to break ground on casino this month

SACRAMENTO – On Thursday, the state Senate voted to ratify the Habematolel Pomo compact, putting the tribe on track to break ground on its new gaming facility later this month.


The 30-3 vote took place Thursday afternoon.


That followed a 69-0 vote by the Assembly last week, as Lake County News has reported.


Late Thursday, Sherry Treppa, Habematolel's tribal chair, said it was unprecedented for both houses of the Legislature to approve a compact while they were in recess.


That clears the way for the tribe to start building its new $25 million, 34,000-square-foot facility, which will include 349 slot machines, six game tables, retail shops and restaurants on an 11.24-acre parcel on Highway 20 outside of Upper Lake.


The project is estimated to create about 140 new jobs for the county, tribal officials reported.


As part of the state compact, the tribe will pay the state 15 percent of its revenues.


On a local level, the tribe has entered into agreements with the county for payment in lieu of property tax; has paid more than $378,000 for upgrades to the sewer system and will pay another $112,000 to hook up to the system; has pledged to help mitigate off-reservation impacts; and will support fire and law enforcement – including $80,000 annually to Northshore Fire Protection District.


The tribe has overcome huge obstacles to keep the project on track, Treppa said.


The compact, which Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed in September, needed to be ratified by the Legislature before the plan could move forward.


That didn't happen before the end of the legislative session in September, as the compact was signed three days before the session ended. However, Assembly members Wes Chesbro and Noreen Evans worked to get the necessary legislation before lawmakers during its recess.


Treppa said the 205-member tribe was worried that the compact might not get through the Legislature this year. If it hadn't, they would have had to wait until next August for their next chance.


Because the project's funding is tied to strict deadlines, “That would have been the end of us,” Treppa said.


Chesbro spokesman Andrew Bird said Chesbro did a “gut and amend” on SB 89, originally a budget bill presented last year. After inserting the Habematolel compact into the bill, it was presented on the Assembly floor Dec. 10, where it was approved.


Bird said Chesbro worked the floor and made a speech to get support for the amended bill.


Chesbro called the compact “a unique developer agreement,” and said the approval was urgent because Lake County is suffering from one of the highest unemployment rates in the state and the jobs are badly needed. Lake County's unemployment rate for October was 16.2 percent.


Evans told Lake County News that she helped get the Assembly speaker's agreement to take the bill up on the floor in the hopes of getting the new jobs for the county secured before Christmas. Like Chesbro, she also helped convince Assembly colleagues to give it their support.


She said it was important to point out how the tribe has worked with local agencies. “They're really ready to go forward and break ground,” she said.


Evans called it “pretty extraordinary” to get the measure through, especially with the Legislature's focus on other issues like the “Race to the Top” legislation and water bonds.


It's also unusual to take up an issue like this that would solely affect a small county like Lake, Evans said.


She said she shared with Assembly members the need for jobs in Lake County. “That really got their interest and got their vote, and that was really heartwarming to see,” she said.


The Senate Governmental Organization Committee held an information session Wednesday on Habematolel's compact, as well as that of Pinoleville in Mendocino County.


Kirstin Kolpitcke, deputy director of the Governor's Office of Planning and Research, told the committee that Habematolel's compact allows for a class three gaming facility with up to 750 slot machines; for every slot machine from 350 and above, the tribe would pay the state $900. Kolpitcke said the tribe also has agreed to pay into the state's revenue sharing fund.


“The administration believes this compact is good for the state and good for the tribe,” Kolpitcke said.


Lake County Deputy Administrative Officer Debra Sommerfield, accompanied by county Special Districts Administrator Mark Dellinger, also spoke to the committee Wednesday in support of the tribe.


Sommerfield read a letter from District 1 Supervisor Denise Rushing and County Administrative Officer Kelly Cox, who praised Habematolel's efforts to work with local government and be a good neighbor.


The letter stated that the county and tribe have established “an exemplary government to government relationship.”


If the Senate didn't ratify the compact, county officials worried that the project would be lost and “the community will suffer the consequences.”


The compact didn't face opposition from Stand Up California, a group that closely monitors gaming issues in the state.


“I did not find a problem with the Upper Lake situation,” said the group's director, Cheryl Schmit.


Schmit, who interacted with county government in looking at the tribe's plans, said it was important that the tribe worked out local agreements with the county.


Treppa said there are still hurdles that remain for the tribe, and that's the reason for the urgency.


The legislation must be signed by the governor and the secretary of state, and then must go to the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, DC, for approval.


The BIA typically doesn't sign California compacts because they feel the state is taxing the tribes, Treppa explained.


However, “They won't disapprove them because they know it's critical to the tribe,” she said, and if the BIA takes no action in 45 days, the compact is deemed approved.


Ratification is critical because it will open up funding from the tribe's lender, Michigan-based Luna Gaming, she said.


Treppa said the tribe wants to get the facility's doors open before Memorial Day weekend or by the first of June in order to hit the peak season, which runs from the end of April to the start of October.


Once the tribe's final environmental impact report is published Dec. 21, they should be able to break ground on the casino within a few days, and would likely have full funding for the project by Jan. 15.


She credited local support, particularly that of county officials, for being instrumental in getting the needed approvals.


“We are blessed to be able to work with a county as forward thinking and willing to work with a tribe as Lake County,” Treppa said. “If we didn't have county support, we wouldn't have been able to get this done out of session.”


Individuals who want to find out more about job opportunities at the new facility are encouraged to call the Habematolel tribal offices in Upper Lake, 707-275-0737. Treppa said resumes can be faxed to 707-275-0757.

 

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .

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