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Friday, November 14, 2014
Harvey Hopkins of Dry Creek Pomos Faces Two Challengers
Harvey Hopkins, longtime chairman of the Dry Creek Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians, is up for re-election, facing two challengers, including the tribal vice chairwoman who tried to recall him four years ago.
Saturday’s election comes at a pivotal time for the tribe, which for 11 years had a monopoly on Indian gaming in Sonoma County, only to see revenues at its River Rock Casino near Geyserville plummet by half following the opening a year ago of Graton Resort and Casino next to Rohnert Park.
Subsequently, the tribe missed interest payments and defaulted on more than $140 million owed to River Rock bondholders. It also is delinquent on a $3.5 million payment to Sonoma County, owed since July.
“We’re not trying to run from debt. We want to pay our bill, pay our debts,” Hopkins said in an interview this week, adding that the tribe’s representatives expect to sit down with a majority of bondholders after the election to restructure the debt. He said the tribe is negotiating with the county on the missed annual payment, most of which goes to pay for extra patrols by sheriff’s deputies in the vicinity of River Rock Casino.
As a result of the casino’s decline in fortune, Dry Creek tribal members have seen a reduction in their monthly payments and have had programs curtailed or discontinued that provided books and clothes to schoolchildren and assistance for college tuition and housing.
But whether members will take it out on Hopkins, who has led the tribe with about 1,200 members for 10 years, remains to be seen.
Hopkins’ challengers for leadership of the tribe include the current vice chairwoman, Salvina Norris, 36, and Chris Wright, 43, head of marketing at River Rock.
Neither returned phone calls or requests for comment over the past several days.
Hopkins said he has kept a keen eye on expenses, trimming the budget, while creating new ventures to increase income. The tribe has bought vineyards, produced wine, expanded into tobacco sales, explored olive oil production and worked to develop a highly profitable wetlands mitigation bank on the 277 acres the tribe acquired south of Petaluma during his tenure, he said.
The tribe this week also announced a joint effort to develop a large, 10-megawatt solar array in the hills overlooking Lake Sonoma on land leased from the Army Corps of Engineers, a project that is expected to both cut the casino’s electric bills and potentially produce income.