With just four weeks until the Nov. 5 opening of the $800M Graton Resort & Casino, Sonoma County and Rohnert Park officials are working to improve their infrastructure near it and prepare public safety personnel to handle the onslaught of visitors to the new destination – though projections on exactly how many new visitors are expected to come vary greatly.
Darrin Jenkins, Rohnert Park's assistant city manager, said the city is taking a series of mitigation measures in advance of the opening to handle the expected uptick in traffic and the collisions and requests for medical aid that will come with it.
Those measures include the current project to widen Golf Course Drive West (formerly Wilfred Avenue) to provide better access to the casino, as well as new traffic lights at Redwood and Business Park Drive and at the casino entrance at Business Park Drive. Jenkins said he traffic lights along Rohnert Park Expressway and Golf Course Drive in the vicinity of the casino site.
The 317,750-square-foot casino sits on 66 acres of a 254-acre site between Wilfred Avenue, Business Park Drive, and Labath and Langner avenues in unincorporated Sonoma County adjacent to Rohnert Park.
The Rohnert Park police department created two new traffic-related positions – and sergeant and an officer – specifically to focus on traffic around the casino, Jenkins said. Rohnert Park is contracting with the California Highway Patrol for additional officers on motorcycles for traffic control on city streets. Jenkins said the city's congestion management plan includes “escalating levels of deployment,” allowing city officials to move police personnel around as needed.
“What we don’t want to do is draw down our typical resources throughout the rest of the city,” Jenkins said.
A massive influx of new people will produce a surge in requests for medical aid, and fire crews from Sonoma County Central Fire Authority (Central Fire), the Rancho Adobe Fire Protection District (Rancho Adobe) and the city of Rohnert Park will be on site at the casino on a rotating basis, as will ambulance personnel from American Medical Response under a contract with the county.
The on-site medical personnel at the casino has a $1.5 million budget through June 30, 2014. That includes two fire engines, one stationed at the casino, and the other rotating between Rohnert Park, Rincon Valley and Rancho Adobe fire stations. The Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo members of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, the owners of the casino, are paying for the medical personnel. Under an agreement with the city of Rohnert Park, the tribe has paid the city $2,789,000 to date in development fees to cover the infrastructure improvements and staffing increases.
Under an agreement between the city, the county and the tribe earlier this year, the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria will give $5 million a year for general impacts on the city and county, $2.4 million a year for impacts to city services, $500,000 a year for public safety, $125,000 a year for gambling treatment and $50,000 a year for storm water runoff and $1 million to the Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District.
City officials have broken down the evaluation of the mitigation measures into three time periods: the first two weeks of opening; the first six months and long term. Jenkins said county and city officials will monitor the impacts and the subsequent demand on public safety and adjust accordingly, since they won’t know the size of the influx of visitors until the casino opens.
Just how many visitors will swarm into Rohnert Park and Sonoma County as a result of the Graton Resort & Casino is the subject of some debate. Casino and city officials have suggested that between 8,000 and 10,000 visitors a day are expected. But in a report delivered Tuesday to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, former San Rafael Fire Chief Robert Marcucci projected a much higher figure of an additional 40,800 vehicle trips a day on Highway 101 in the area around the casino.
Marcucci based his report on a traffic impact study by Katz, Okitsu and Associates in January 2005 of the San Pablo Lytton Casino in the East Bay. That report assumed that the casino generated 13.6 new car trips per slot machine. “If their assumption of 13.6 trips per weekday per slot machine is correct, then an additional 40,800 trips would be generated with 3,000 slot machines” at the Graton Casino, according to Marcucci.
Marcucci also drew a parallel with the June 2003 opening of the Thunder Valley Casino north of Sacramento. Citing a article in the Sacramento Bee, Marcucci said traffic on the three roadways around the casino increased 92 percent after it opened, and that DUI-related arrests jumped by 600 percent on those roads.
How big of an influx of visitors do you think the Graton Resort & Casino will bring to Rohnert Park and surrounding area? Are the city and county prepared? Tell us in the Comments below.