Depending on present company, Graton Rancheria chairman Greg Sarris might be seen as one of Sonoma County's few public intellectuals, as a champion of American Indian rights or as the big bad wolf behind one of California's largest casino projects. Originally, Sarris said that "casinos are not in the picture" for the tribe's plans, but with groundbreaking almost complete for a planned casino in Rohnert Park, his stance has obviously changed.
Sarris refuses to talk with media about the deal's plans and potential impact, but it's clear that the casino has the potential to alter the landscape of Sonoma County—some say for good, some say for worse. Yearly revenues are projected to be around $300 million with 15,000 cars entering and exiting the parking lots each day. The tribe will give some of that money back through the Community Benefit Fund, and Sonoma County is said to receive up to $38 million per year for the county's parks and open spaces and other environmental purposes.
Sarris first received renown as a writer. His short story collection Grand Avenue, which takes Santa Rosa as setting, received acclaim when it was published in 1995. In addition to chairman and casino responsibilities, Sarris holds an endowed chair in Native American studies at SSU, and teaches classes in creative writing, American literature and American Indian literature. Greg Sarris speaks on Wednesday, Nov. 7, at Santa Rosa Junior College in the Bertolini Student Activities Center, Room 4608. 1501 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa. 2pm. Free; $4 parking fee. 707.527.4647.