Congress adjourned Thursday without the Senate taking a vote on House Resolution 1491, which would have confirmed the federal government’s decision to take the Camp 4 property into trust for the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians.

The failure to act prior to the final adjournment of the 115th Congress means the bill died, and it’s unclear whether a new version will be introduced in the 116th Congress.

Although such a bill would essentially put an end to any appeals of the decision to place Camp 4 into federal trust, its need has been questioned by some because the county has already reached an agreement with the Chumash tribe on the site’s development.

Under the current plan, the Chumash will build 143 homes and a 12,000-square-foot tribal center on the property.

Kenneth Kahn, tribal chairman for the Chumash, said the tribe is disappointed, but overall, he considers the last two years very successful as far as progress on the legislation.

A spokesman for the Santa Ynez Valley Coalition, which has opposed the fee-to-trust effort, hailed the Senate’s failure to vote on the bill as a victory for the organization and Valley residents.

Kahn said the tribe understands the Senate had a lot of weighty issues to deal with, including the government shutdown, and HR 1491 “kind of got lost in the shuffle.”

“There were a lot of tribal land bills that didn’t make it through,” Kahn said Friday. “Ours wasn’t the only one. … The benefit of the bill was the nongaming clause.

“We feel like the work we got done in ’17 and ’18 — the House unanimously passing it along on a voice vote in ’17 and the Senate committee moving it on — was very positive,” he said. “We’re feeling pretty confident about the future.”

Kahn said it’s uncertain whether a similar bill will be introduced in the 116th Congress.

“We’re considering it,” he said. “We just haven’t had that conversation yet.”

While the Chumash are upbeat about the progress, members of the Santa Ynez Valley Coalition see the death of HR 1491 as a clear victory for Valley residents.

“The fact that Congress declined to pass HR 1491 after hearing all the arguments against it is a victory for local land use control, as well as the rights of affected parties,” said Bill Krauch, chairman of the Coalition, who in June 2018 testified against the bill before the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

Krauch said had the bill passed, it would have allowed the tribe to build a development that massively violates local zoning and planning restrictions.

He attributed its failure to pass to strong opposition mounted by the coalition locally and in Washington, D.C.

While the senate committee unanimously approved the bill on a voice vote, sending it on to the full Senate with a recommendation that it be enacted, it never came up for a vote.

That marked the third time a bill relating to the Camp 4 fee-to-trust action, introduced by the same member of the House of Representatives, has died when Congress adjourned without a vote on it by both houses.

The Camp 4 trail

The struggle over the disposition of the property has a convoluted history that extends back to 2010 when the Chumash tribe purchased the 1,400-acre tract located east of Highway 154 in Santa Ynez from the Fess Parker estate for a reported $42 million. The plan was to build tribal housing and a tribal center.

Tribal leaders have said only 17 percent of tribe members and lineal descendants live on the Santa Ynez reservation, where they said additional housing can’t be built because of geographic and other constraints.

Because the Camp 4 land is zoned for agriculture, converting it for housing and the tribal center use would be difficult because of state laws and Santa Barbara County zoning regulations.

So the tribe asked the Bureau of Indian Affairs to have the land taken into trust by the federal government, which would effectively make it part of the Chumash Reservation, negate the jurisdiction of state and county laws and allow the housing and tribal center development to proceed.

Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, who represents California’s 1st Congressional District, introduced HR 3313 in the 113th Congress.

The bill would have directed the Bureau of Indian Affairs to take Camp 4 into trust for the Chumash and included a nongaming clause, but that Congress adjourned without the bill making it through the process.

The tribe’s application was subsequently approved, however, in a controversial decision by an acting director, then again by the Secretary of the Interior, and was appealed by Santa Ynez Valley landowners and Santa Barbara County, which also filed a lawsuit over the decision.

About the same time, LaMalfa sponsored HR 1157, which would have ordered the Secretary of the Interior to take the Camp 4 land into public trust for the Chumash.

The bill made it out of the House Committee on Natural Resources on a 29-1 vote, with then-Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, the sole dissenter.

But it died when the 114th Congress adjourned Jan. 3, 2016, without voting on it.

That led to LaMalfa introducing HR 1491, the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians Land Affirmation Act of 2017, in the 115th Congress on March 10, 2017, and it was referred to committee the same day.

LaMalfa sits on the House Committee on Natural Resources, to which HR 1491 was referred, which considers legislation about Native Americans, mineral lands and mining, fisheries and wildlife, public lands, oceans, irrigation and reclamation and American energy production.

LaMalfa also chairs the House Committee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs, which is responsible for overseeing all matters regarding Native Americans.

Provisions of 1491

According to the bill’s title, HR 1491 would “reaffirm the action of the Secretary of the Interior to take land into trust for the benefit of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Mission Indians, and for other purposes.”

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.

When the bill was introduced, a Chumash spokesman said the passage of HR 1491 will end “years of unnecessary controversy over the property.”

“Placing the Camp 4 property into federal trust through legislation will secure the BIA’s January 2017 decision to make Camp 4 part of the reservation,” Tribal Chairman Kahn said at the time.

Meanwhile, the county had appointed an ad hoc committee to meet and negotiate with the tribe over issues that would arise from the property becoming part of the reservation.

Those included compensating the county for the loss of property tax revenue, covering the cost of county services to the area and how to assure housing and other amenities would be consistent with the community-developed plan for the Valley.

Inconsistency with the community plan was one of the main points for opponents, which included individuals as well as members of a number of local grassroots organizations.

Opposition was also fueled by a loss of local control and tax revenues, fear of a casino on the site and unsightly development along Highway 154, and an expectation of increased water use, among others.

Eventually, members of the Santa Ynez Valley Concerned Citizens, No More Slots, the Santa Ynez Valley Alliance and the former Women’s Environmental Watch, which subsequently became WE Watch, joined forces as the Santa Ynez Valley Coalition.

Coalition members have consistently said they don’t oppose the Chumash tribe’s desire to build more housing, but they oppose any development that doesn’t conform to the community plan designed to protect the local environment and quality of life.

“As we have repeatedly stated, the Santa Ynez Valley Coalition stands ready to work with the Chumash to address their housing needs while protecting the property values and the economic viability of the surrounding area and ensuring that local taxpayers are not on the hook to support tribal development,” Krauch said Thursday.

Coming to terms

In the fall of 2017, the county ad hoc committee reached an agreement with the Chumash tribe to address the issues arising from Camp 4 being taken into trust, and it was ratified by the Board of Supervisors on a 4-1 vote, with 4th District Supervisor Peter Adam dissenting.

The agreement established land uses, outlined environmental impact mitigation measures, required compliance with state safety and building codes and set an amount of compensation for services provided by the county.

It also included a limited waiver of liability for the tribe, which had been one of the major sticking points in the negotiations, and an expiration date of Dec. 31, 2040.

The tribe will keep the land under the Williamson Act provisions, which gives tax credits to property owners whose land is used for agriculture, until that contract expires Dec. 31, 2030.

To mitigate the loss of tax revenues, the tribe will pay flat annual fees of $178,500 to offset most of the cost of county services, starting when the Williamson Act contract expires. Payments will continue until the memorandum expires on Dec. 31, 2040.

In exchange, the county agreed to drop its litigation against the federal fee-to-trust decision and support HR 1491 provided amendments were added to include the provisions of the agreement.

Although the agreement was criticized by the Santa Ynez Valley Coalition and other individuals, 3rd District Supervisor Joan Hartmann, who represents the Valley and at that time was chairwoman of the Board of Supervisors and served on the ad hoc committee, defended its provisions.

She also said it was important for the board and tribe to reach an agreement before Congress could approve HR 1491, which in August had been passed from the Natural Resources Committee to the full House.

Passage of HR 1491 would eliminate any opportunity for local government to be involved in the development of Camp 4 and would remove the land not only from state and local jurisdiction but also the tax rolls, Hartmann said.

Adam said he opposed the agreement because he thought the county could have negotiated a better deal.

As a result of lobbying by Hartmann, the House agreed to postpone a vote until supervisors considered the agreement in October.

Following ratification of the agreement, the House approved the bill in December 2017 and sent it on to the Senate, where it was considered by the Committee on Indian Affairs and sent on to the Senate floor in June 2018.

And there it languished without a vote until Congress adjourned Thursday.

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County Reporter/Associate Editor

Lee Central Coast Newspapers associate editor Mike Hodgson covers Santa Barbara County government and events and issues in Santa Ynez Valley. Follow him on Twitter @MHodgsonSYVNews.