The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors signed an agreement on Tuesday with the Lytton Rancheria of California that supports a tribal housing project west of Windsor and outlines parameters around the development.
The 124-acres of land owned by the Lytton Band of Pomo is slated for 147 housing units and, a community building, roundhouse and, in the future, may include a winery and resort.
County officials said that agreeing to the terms before the land is taken into trust would help ensure best management practices when the county no longer has control. The tribe agreed to $6.1 million in mitigation payments for impacts to roads, administrative costs, woodlands and parks surrounding the Windsor River Road property.
“This is something that was in no way spelled out before. Any kind of work that they do on the location now has to fit county code and general plan reviews. We have had examples around the country where a tribe has moved their lands into trust and then there is no interaction whatsoever, it annexes out of the jurisdiction of the county and then you have no way to deal with impacts,” Supervisor James Gore said.
The memorandum of agreement (MOA) between the county and the representatives of the tribe outlines the county’s relationship with the tribe and the importance of coming to an agreement that addresses land use, environmental impacts and their mutual goals.
“This is a big deal, let’s be honest, this is a very big deal. We talk about this as a memorandum agreement but it is also important to realize who has authority over what when we get into discussions with the county…the tribe has certain rights to take legally owned land into trust and govern that land outside of the local jurisdiction and governments,” Gore said.
Currently the tribe is in the processes of transferring the land out of fee-based property status and into a federal trust. Typically, once the land is taken into trust, no property taxes are paid and local zoning laws no longer apply. Through this agreement, the tribe agrees to develop lands consistent with Windsor’s General Plan and the County General Plan and Zoning Ordinance.
“I think it’s an opportunity to look at what we agree to now but also how do we open that relationship to ensure that this land, which is going to be the Lytton’s tribal homeland, ancestral footprint, is in conjunction with what we do as a county in terms of our general plan, our codes, our enforcement and that mitigation is taken care of,” Gore said.
Supervisor Shirlee Zane brought forth the question of how the $6.1 million would be spent and was met with staff response that no terms for the funding have been laid out and that the land would first have to be taken into trust before the payments would begin.
“At that time we would bring it to the board for discussion…the $6.1 million will be at the board’s discretion as to how those funds are used,” said county administrator Chris Thomas.
The agreement also resolved concerns that some Windsor residents have expressed: that the tribe plans to build a casino just outside the town limits, by guaranteeing that no gaming will take place on these lands.
The Lytton Rancheria of California has approximately 270 members and is a federally recognized tribe. In 2007, the tribe applied to have 124-acres of their land transferred out of fee-based and into a trust. The application is still pending with the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
While plans with the Town of Windsor are being drafted to extend water and sewer service to the proposed development, and separate agreements have been made with the Windsor Unified School District and the Windsor Fire Department, the tribe has made no forward progress on development of the project. As negotiations settle, Windsor voters will then need to vote to approve the initiative allowing the tribe to hook up to the Town’s existing water and sewer system.
“I want to remind people that, that vote is not whether or not the tribe can convert these lands into trust, just like our agreement here, they have the right to do that. This is for us as a county and a Town and as local districts to get together and figure out how it is done in a way that it conforms with our county and our jurisdiction, with our Town and that jurisdiction and that we find a way to be good neighbors going forward,” Gore said.
In addition to this agreement, the county also agreed to support the tribe in transferring another 376 acres of land into a trust at a later time. This land, also located west of Windsor, is already owned by the tribe and may be used for additional housing, tribal buildings or a resort and winery. The tribe agrees to develop this land in compliance with county zoning laws with the exception of the winery and resort portion.
Several Windsor residents were present at the meeting and voiced concern about their property, the effects that the development will have and how they are out of the incorporated area and will not have the opportunity to vote.
“We could have be left out in the dark if we didn’t do this…we wanted to make sure the provisions of public input and county input were included. This is going to happen one way or another, but by us sitting at the negotiation table together ensures that the county and the neighbors have a spot at the table, not just now but in the future,” Gore said.