A bill that would reaffirm the decision to place more than 1,400 acres of land into trust for the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians has been passed along to the full House of Representatives by the Natural Resources Committee.
The committee unanimously approved HR 1491, the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians Land Affirmation Act of 2017, introduced March 10 by Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, who represents California’s 1st Congressional District.
The bill would place approximately 1,427 acres of Santa Ynez Valley land known as Camp 4, already owned by the tribe, into trust and make it part of the Chumash reservation.
That would clear the way for the construction of tribal housing and other facilities outside of county and state development restrictions and requirements and would prohibit gaming on the property.
The bill would also give the federal government jurisdiction over appeals filed against the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ decision to place the land into trust and, at the same time, would dismiss those appeals.
HR 1491 must be passed by both the House and Senate in identical form and then be signed by the president to become law.
A Chumash representative hailed the committee’s decision, saying it brings the tribe one step closer to achieving its goal and demonstrates the federal government is meeting its responsibilities to Native American tribes.
But opponents of the fee-to-trust transfer called HR 1491 unconstitutional, said it deprives local residents of their rights and vowed to continue fighting the federal decision to place Camp 4 into trust in favor of a local agreement on developing the property.
“Today we took a step in the right direction,” Tribal Chairman Kenneth Kahn said of the July 26 decision. “The committee’s action, and the Trump administration’s recent decision to dismiss lawsuits alleging that Department of the Interior officials lacked the authority to take this land in trust, demonstrates that Washington, D.C., is upholding its trust responsibility to Native American tribes.”
However, Kahn said the tribe remains committed to reaching a mutually acceptable agreement with Santa Barbara County that will address land use concerns, county services to be provided and the loss of property tax revenues.
Kahn said such an agreement is not required by law, but “tribal leaders believe that governments must work together to address common goals.”
County Supervisor Joan Hartmann, whose 3rd District includes the Chumash reservation and who sits on the ad hoc committee negotiating with the tribe, expressed disappointment over the vote.
“Earlier (that) week I lobbied Congressmember LaMalfa, the entire Natural Resources Committee and the chairman of the tribe requesting
that the bill not be brought before the committee, thereby allowing more time for the county and the tribe to reach a local agreement,” Hartmann said.
“Despite my request and a written request from Congressman (Salud) Carbajal to delay action, the bill was brought to the committee for a vote and passed.”
Hartmann said two encouraging details emerged during the committee’s discussion.
First, LaMalfa said he was open to amending the legislation to incorporate a local agreement between the tribe and county if one is reached, which she still hopes wil happen.
Second, she said, the chair agreed to a committee member’s request include Carbajal’s and Hartmann’s letters requesting a delay in the formal hearing record.
Hartmann said reaching a mutually agreeable solution on the Camp 4 property remains her top priority.
“I vow to keep fighting to protect the character of the Santa Ynez Valley and will continue to work towards reaching a local agreement with the tribe,” she said.
A spokesman for the Santa Ynez Valley Coalition said the federal fee-to-trust decision is illegal and the bill is unconstitutional.
Coalition Chairman Bill Krauch said HR 1491 is an “extraordinary special interest bill that denies citizens and our county government the opportunity to challenge in federal court the Camp 4 fee to trust action.”
“The Chumash (tribe) would be able to develop this land in any manner it sees fit in defiance of county land use laws and regulations,” Krauch said. “The land would not be subject to property taxes, which shifts the burden of needed infrastructure spending to all existing residents and businesses.”
He also said HR 1491 is another example of “bad faith” on the part of the Chumash, who he said are negotiating with the county to address the tribe’s housing needs in a way that’s consistent with land use policies while at the same time pursuing federal legislation that would make those policies irrelevant.
“This legislation ratifies the illegal prior actions of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and prevents impacted residents and our local government from presenting our case before a federal judge,” Krauch said. “This bill is an unacceptable denial of due process and justice.”
Brian Kramer, a Manhattan Beach lawyer who lives near the Camp 4 property and with wife Suzanne appealed the Bureau of Indian Affairs decision, said HR 1491 deprives residents and the county of their right to seek judicial review of a governmental decision that will negatively impact local communities and the environment.
“Every decision made to date in the Camp 4 fee-to-trust matter has been by a political appointee in a governmental agency, and not one decision has been made by a neutral judicial officer,” Kramer said.
“Federal law provides for judicial review of decisions by governmental agencies to protect the public and the community from decisions that are arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion and/or otherwise not in accordance with law,” he continued.
“Judicial review of improper decisions is the legal mechanism and protection in this country to insure we remain ‘a nation of laws, not of men.’”
But LaMalfa, who is also chairman of the Indian Affairs and Alaskan Natives Subcommittee, defended his bill.
“The unanimous support from the committee … sends a clear message that the sovereign rights of the Chumash, and all federally recognized tribes, are inalienable,” LaMalfa said.
“I expect that HR 1491 will continue to move through Congress in short order so that the admirable efforts of the Chumash to meet the housing and community needs of their members can finally be realized.”
Skopos Labs, a New York City-based company that uses an advanced custom-tailored artificial intelligence platform to predict outcomes, has given the bill a 55 percent chance of being enacted.
Norma Torres, D-Pomona, who represents California’s 35th Congressional District and is the ranking member of the Indian Affairs Subcommittee, said she doesn’t believe a local agreement can be worked out.
“I, like many, would hope for a local solution, but history of this issue has shown us that it is not forthcoming,” Torres said. “So it is up to us to act.”
Kahn said if the tribe does reach an agreement with its neighbors and the county, HR 1491 can be amended to incorporate that arrangement.