This is Our Homeland – Whitney Hopkins

Letter to the Editor Windsor Times 8-20-2015

I am writing in response to Paul Kelley’s commentary and Dave Heventhal’s letter. Our family has been living and farming on Eastside and Starr Roads for over 60 years and four generations. We have followed the county land use rules and gone out of our way to be good stewards of the land, trees and water, which we feel so blessed to enjoy and share with others. We were aware that the Lyttons were buying land with their San Pablo casino earnings, and know people who have sold their homes to them. The Lyttons have also offered, multiple times, to buy our farm, but we’ve said no because where else would we go? This is our homeland, and no amount of money can come close to our deep love for the land. Since the Lyttons submitted their application and Environmental Assessment to the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 2009, the community was always told publicly that the Lyttons’ intention was to construct 147 houses and three community buildings on 124 acres along Windsor River Road. Despite the fact that their residential development on Windsor River Road is contrary to the Sonoma County General Plan and would cut down many, many significant oak trees (around 1,500) which I have known and loved my entire life, I could appreciate the Lyttons’ desire to live together and re-establish a homeland, and came to understand this residential plan; however when the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors in March, 2015 unanimously signed an agreement with the Lyttons supporting a vastly expanded acreage (1,300 acres) in totally new neighborhoods and a greatly expanded development proposal (commercial and residential) with no Environmental Assessment of the entire acreage after closed session meetings, and no prior community engagement meetings or public hearings for the many neighbors who live and own homes and properties all around this land, this was too much. Mr. Kelley and Mr. Heventhal conveniently neglected to mention these details, nor the unknown environmental impacts of the vastly expanded development, such as water usage and traffic. The County Supervisors failed to represent the many people who live near this land. Instead they rubber-stamped a 200-room hotel, restaurants, shops, entertainment center, 200,000-case winery and event center on the rural, agricultural land around us, with no thought to the neighbors or the rural landscape. It would be extremely difficult for anyone else to ever build a hotel on this land, and it would also be very difficult to build a winery of this size. Any proposed development would go through a public process. To say that the Press Democrat and Windsor Times have accurately portrayed the Lytton development is misleading. The papers have not mentioned the fact that there was no effort on the part of the County to seek input from the many residents of the area before signing its agreement. To say that the Lyttons need to diversify their casino earnings is also misleading. Perhaps Mr. Heventhal is not aware that the Lyttons have already invested millions in Bell Village, Airport Business Park and in Mayacama Club, to name a few plus over $50 million in Sonoma County real estate, including vacation rentals. I wonder if Mr. Kelley or Mr. Heventhal would feel the same way if they were suddenly told that a 200-room hotel was going to be built next door on the quiet country lane zoned for agriculture? I have every desire to welcome the Lyttons and be a good neighbor, if they respect their neighbors and the rural landscape. This is a homeland for all of us. The County’s Memorandum of Agreement with the Lyttons is extremely anti-democratic, and therefore I cannot support Congressman Huffman’s bill HR 2538, which would put the Lyttons’ land into federal trust.