Assemblyman Das Williams has declared his opposition to a bill in the state Legislature that could have a major impact on efforts by the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians to annex 1,400 rural acres into its 130-acre reservation.
“I'm against it,” said Williams, (D-Santa Barbara), whose 35th District includes the Santa Ynez Valley.
Senate Bill 162 would prohibit state agencies from opposing Indian tribes’ attempts to add private property to their sovereign reservations for purposes such as housing, environmental protection or cultural preservation. A committee hearing is scheduled Wednesday.
In the Santa Ynez Valley and statewide, that would mean state officials would be prevented from voicing any disagreement with tribes who want to use the federal fee-to-trust process to expand their reservations.
Local Chumash leaders want to annex 1,400 agricultural acres at Highways 246 and 154, about 2 miles east of their Chumash Casino Resort, into their Santa Ynez reservation through the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ fee-to-trust procedure or federal legislation.
Annexation to the reservation would make the property exempt from local and state taxes and local planning and zoning laws.
Tribal officials have said they plan to build tribal housing on part of the “Camp 4” parcel, now a 250-acre wheat field at the northeast corner of the larger property. The entire 1,400-acre parcel, which is roughly the size of Solvang, was owned by the late Fess Parker until the tribe purchased it in 2010.
Originally introduced in February 2011, SB 162 was last amended in the Assembly on May 21 this year to include the following language: “The bill would prohibit a state agency from opposing specified fee-to-trust land acquisition applications.”
Also, the bill would define a federally recognized Indian tribe as a tribe appearing on the list published by the Secretary of the Interior.
The bill was introduced and co-authored by three San Diego County Republicans — 36th District state Sen. Joel Anderson, 38th District state Sen. Mark Wyland, and 74th District Assemblyman Martin Garrick.
Williams said last week in a phone interview that he does not understand why the legislation is necessary, and believes it is “not logical.”
He said he would prefer a full hearing process in the Legislature and would challenge its authors to have the bill go through a comprehensive committee review.
Williams said the way the bill is moving along - a process called “gut and amend” - makes him suspicious that it’s a “bad idea.”
While he said the process of amending previously approved language can have its advantages in timely circumstances, that’s not the case with SB 162.
Issues between the federal government and sovereign Indian tribes are complex, and to take last minute measures to push legislation through is inappropriate, he said.
Also, at this point, most legislators do not know about the bill, he said.
The Valley’s other state representative, 19th District state Senator Tony Strickland, (R-Moorpark), has yet to take a position on the proposal, according to his spokesman.
Sarah Walsh, Strickland’s communications director, said the senator has not had a chance to read the bill since it was changed, and that will likely happen when it is out of the Assembly and into the Senate.
The review of the bill by the Assembly Governance Organization Committee, or GO Committee, is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Wednesday in Sacramento.
Objections must be faxed to the committee by Friday to (916) 319-3979.
Leading the resistance to the bill in the Santa Ynez Valley, Preservation of Los Olivos (POLO), a staunch opponent of fee-to-trust plans for Camp 4, has sent a letter to the GO Committee chairman and vice-chairman, Assemblymen Isadore Hall III and Brian Nestande, respectively, and Eric Johnson, the committee‘s chief consultant .
In the June 12 letter, POLO board member Kathy Cleary said “If passed, SB 162 will be ruinous for California and a substantial burden on the taxpayer and private property owners.”
POLO has said the bill would undermine the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2009 Carcieri v. Salazar decision, which ruled that the Interior Secretary could put lands in trust only for tribes that were recognized before 1934.
The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, California State Association of Counties, Regional Council of Rural Counties, and Urban Counties Caucus have also sent letters in opposition to Sacramento.
In a two-page letter dated June 11 to Senator Anderson, 3rd District Supervisor Doreen Farr said “SB 162 summarily ignores the critical need for review and comment by the state on housing, environmental protection, and cultural preservation.”
“Taking fee land-into-trust has significant impacts at the local level which is critical to provide public safety and other critical services to all served by the County,” she said.