We Are Windsor – Whitney Hopkins Letter

June 29, 2015
The Honorable Don Young
House of Representatives
Natural Resources Subcommittee on Indian,
Insular, and Alaska Native Affairs
1337 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

RE: Testimony for the Record Legislative Hearing on H.R. 2538 June 17, 2015

Dear Chairman Young, Ranking Member Ruiz, and Members of the Subcommittee:

I do not support the passage of H.R. 2538, the Lytton Rancheria Homelands Act of 2015, sponsored by Rep. Jared Huffman, and co-sponsored by Rep. Mike Thompson and Rep. Jeff Denham. The bill is misleading because it refers only to housing and viniculture. It makes no mention of the 200 room resort and 200,000 case per year winery, both to be built on rural, agricultural land not zoned for these purposes, that the passage of the bill would allow for. The Lytton Pomo Tribe always told the local community its need was housing, and a community center for Tribal members. It said nothing about a 200 room luxury resort and 200,000 case per year winery. This came as a huge surprise to neighbors and area residents when the County abruptly announced that it had reached an agreement with the Tribe, with no public hearings since 2011, in March, 2015. While I welcome the Lytton Pomo as neighbors I do not support H.R. 2538 because it would allow the tribe to completely disregard the land use and zoning regulations that residents who live here must comply with, and were created to protect the environment and quality of life for residents in the region. If the Tribe has land placed into trust, they should follow the same land-use zoning regulations as the rest of the community.

Our homeland, our family farm, where we have lived and farmed for 60 years, and four generations, is next door to agricultural land at 7590 Starr Road, Windsor, purchased by the Lytton Band of Pomo and identified as the site to build a 200 room luxury resort (hotel, restaurants, entertainment center, shops, spa, etc.) and 200,000 case per year winery and event center. This land is not zoned for these purposes, and is on a quiet, narrow country road. I think about the severe impact the Lytton development would have every day – forever ruining the rural environment, open space, and quiet country landscape our family, through generations, and our neighbors have worked so hard to preserve. Digging wells to supply a large resort and winery would also deplete water we do not have from an already drought-stricken region. In exchange for a significant payment, the County of Sonoma agreed, without any prior public hearings since 2011, to support this intense development on agricultural land not zoned for these purposes. The Lytton Pomo already have land in trust for economic purposes in Contra Costa County in the form of their San Pablo Casino. It is not appropriate to put land in multiple geographical locations into trust for economic purposes – if it disregards all zoning regulations and destroys the environment. The Lytton Tribe’s San Pablo Casino in Contra Costa County is already making many millions per year for the Tribe who number less than 300 members. It is with the casino earnings the Tribe has been able to purchase extensive acreage in Sonoma County, offering to pay property owners high prices, that no other individual or group can offer. The Tribe continues to buy land.

There has been no transparency. The Tribe made an agreement with the County, but the County made no effort to dialogue with neighbors who live inside and all around the 500 plus acres of non-contiguous parcels that the Tribe is trying to put into trust. There have not been any public informational meetings organized for the many neighbors who now border the current 511 acres that would go into trust to hear about the proposal or the impacts (by Congressman Huffman, by the County, of Sonoma, or by the Town of Windsor, or by the Lytton Pomo Tribe). Local residents have been left in the dark. It is challenging to oppose something without knowing it is happening. Many of our neighbors still have no idea about the County’s agreement. Without any conversation with our family, or consent from us, our family’s farm was included on the list of lands that the Lytton wish to purchase and annex, supported by the County. We have no intention of selling, despite the numerous phone calls we have received on behalf of an “anonymous buyer” trying to convince us to sell, and do not support the County of Sonoma’s agreement made without our knowledge or consent.

All along the Tribe, which already has land in trust for economic purposes in Contra Costa County, said its intention was to build housing, however they continue to buy land. Over time they have sought to put more and more land into trust. They have not been forthright about their intentions. In the Press Democrat newspaper article dated December 1, 2013, regarding the Tribe’s purchase of 122 acres at 7590 Starr Road, next door to us, Tribal lawyer Larry Stidham said “there are no plans for a housing tract, treatment plant, or to add the land to the tribe’s trust application, which would make it no longer subject to most state and county land use regulations.” The County went into closed session meetings with the Tribe, and announced in March, 2015 it had reached an agreement with the Tribe which – instead of 124 acres into trust for housing as was their BIA application, – would entail putting over 500 acres into Trust – including a major commercial project: a 200 room resort and 200,000 case winery, totally disregarding local zoning rules and high impact on neighbors. The farm at 7590 Starr Road, which the Tribe publicly denied would be developed, is now identified in the County’s agreement as a resort and winery site.

I respect and admire Native people and culture. I worked at the National Museum of American Indian in Washington, DC where I made many American Indian friends. I welcome the Lytton Pomo to the area if they comply with the same zoning regulations the rest of the community follows. The proposed legislation appears to be a boon for developers and resort operators. I have spoken with the local developer who is acting as a liaison for the Tribe, and he has said that he encouraged the Tribe to build a resort and wishes to be involved in the resort construction, as well as the housing construction. It appears that developers and resort operators are lining up. These developers would only be able to develop this agricultural land, if it goes into trust, as it is not zoned for these purposes.

Congressman Huffman is making this out as a win-win situation – a model of cooperation between local government and Tribe. It is not. The local community and neighbors, whose perspective the local government is also supposed to represent, were totally left out of the conversation. Decisions have been made behind closed doors about our homeland, our family farm, and without notification or inquiry of us.

Tribal Chairwoman Margie Mejia stated in her testimony that the Lytton Tribe is a good neighbor, by listing all the money the Tribe gives away; however, being a good neighbor requires more than dispersing money. It requires a face to face dialogue with your neighbors about your intentions, a demonstration of appreciation and care for the environment you wish to move into, and compliance with the same land use zoning regulations the rest of your neighbors follow.

If this bill is passed, the rural environment and the landscape of the Russian River Valley as it exists will be lost forever. I urge you not to move H.R. 2538 forward. Our government officials need to communicate with both the local residents who currently live in the area and the Tribe to work out a more sustainable agreement to address the housing needs of the Lytton Pomo Tribe, while also safeguarding the region’s land-use and zoning regulations, which were designed to protect the environment and maintain the quality of life for residents.

Respectfully Submitted,
Whitney Hopkins
8300 Eastside Road
Healdsburg, CA 95448