In a perfect world, disputes between the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians of the tribe’s neighbors over land use would have been settled years ago.
But as we all know, our world is far from perfect, which means the House of Representatives’ recent approval of a fee-to-trust bill means 1,400 acres the tribe owns will become part of the Chumash reservation, assuming the Senate goes along and President Trump signs the bill into law.
While this has been a big deal in the Santa Ynez Valley and everywhere else within the drawing power of the tribe’s casino, as federal legislation goes, it didn’t merit anything more complicated than a voice vote, and there was no written record of those for or against the measure.
However, Rep. Salud Carbajal, a Santa Barbara Democrat and former member of the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors, signaled his support of the legislation, submitting a statement to that effect before the House vote.
Similar support was expressed by 3rd District Supervisor Joan Hartmann, who represents the area that includes the Camp 4 property. In fact, Hartmann had requested and received a delay in the bill’s progress to give the tribe and county time to reach agreement, essentially finding a previously-hard-to-find middle ground.
That delay resulted in more fruitful talks between the county and tribal leaders, which in turn resulted in a memorandum of agreement, a key provision of which is prohibition of future gaming activities on the Camp 4 property.
You’d think that might mollify the tribe’s critics, whose primary complaint has been the potential for a huge new casino operation. Not so much. A spokesman for one of the groups fighting the tribe’s business and housing expansion plans made the following point: “Essentially, Congress has determined that it is better-suited to make local land-use policies than elected local governments. This is a dangerous precedent for all local communities.”
We agree, at least with part of that statement. Local governments are better positioned to make their own land-use decisions. But what the critics don’t mention, and have steadfastly ignored in recent years, is that Chumash are, in fact, one of those local governments. The tribe’s status as a sovereign entity ensures that.
The land was purchased from the estate of the late Fess Parker, who while still alive was often critical of local government and its decision-making capabilities.
But the agreement hammered out between the tribe and county opens a door to future agreements and cooperation between the two governments. That door had previously been shut tight.
Supervisor Hartmann traveled to Washington last spring to meet with congressional members and convinced the House to give the county and tribe time to talk things out concerning the fee-to-trust implications. The resulting memorandum met the approval of the tribe and the Board of Supervisors.
Tribal officials have insisted all along that their plan for the Camp 4 property involves building homes for tribal members, and a tribal center, not unlike the facilities on current tribal lands, which the Chumash outgrew years ago.
Critics of the tribe’s plans seem resolved to continuing their battle, but frankly, with the federal and county governments finding common ground, those groups would likely be wasting money on future legal challenges. A more viable path to changing the rules would be at the federal level, and we don’t see much enthusiasm for such change in Washington.
For now, the Chumash remain one of the top job-producers in the county, and like every successful business operation, growth seems inevitable.