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Senate committee to hold hearing on Chumash Camp 4 fee-to-trust bill
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Senate committee to hold hearing on Chumash Camp 4 fee-to-trust bill

Armour Ranch Road by Camp 4

A lone oak tree stands in the sun-dappled fields of the Camp 4 property the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians wants taken into federal trust so the tribe can build homes and a tribal center on the site. 

The U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs has scheduled a public hearing Wednesday on a bill that would reinforce the federal government’s decision to take the so-called Camp 4 property into trust for the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians.

California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, both Democrats, apparently requested the hearing on HR 1491, sponsored by Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, who represents California’s 1st Congressional District.

HR 1491 was passed without a hearing by the House of Representatives in late November on a voice vote, so there is no record of who supported and who opposed the bill.

A spokesman for the Santa Ynez Valley Coalition, which opposes the federal government taking Camp 4 trust decision, said the Senate committee’s decision to hold a public hearing means senators will hear testimony from two witnesses, including one in opposition to the measure, which was not the case in the House.

Third District Supervisor Joan Hartmann, who represents the Santa Ynez Valley and served on the board’s Ad Hoc Subcommittee Regarding Santa Ynez Valley Band of Chumash Indian Matters, said she will not attend the hearing.

“I am not attending the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs hearing on HR 1491 next week,” Hartmann said Thursday, adding, “I am supportive of this hearing process as the committee deliberates and considers the bill.”

Titled the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians Land Affirmation Act of 2017, HR 1491 affirms the Jan. 19, 2017, decision by the secretary of the interior to place the 1,400-acre property east of Highway 154 into trust for the tribe, which already owns the land.

The Chumash purchased the Camp 4 property between Armour Ranch Road and Baseline Avenue from the Fess Parker estate in 2010 specifically to build tribal housing and a tribal center.

Once the agriculturally zoned land is placed in federal trust, it is no longer subject to county ordinances or property taxes, although the county will still provide certain services to the site, and it will not have to be rezoned to construct housing and the tribal center.

The Chumash say if the bill is approved by the Senate, then signed into law by the president, it will allow them to move forward with construction of tribal housing and a community center.

Chumash Tribal Chairman Kenneth Kahn couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday, but he has said being able to develop housing on Camp 4 is necessary because only 17 percent of tribal members and lineal descendants currently live on the Santa Ynez reservation.

However, because the undeveloped portions of the reservation consist of steep terrain and are subject to other restrictions, there are no locations there where adequate housing or a tribal center can be developed, and he has said the center is vital to preserving Chumash culture and heritage.

But opponents say if HR 1491 becomes law, it will give the Chumash a “blank check” to develop anything on the property with no oversight by Santa Barbara County.

The Santa Ynez Valley Coalition said the hearing came about after the organization sent a delegation to Washington, D.C., in mid-February to meet with staff for Feinstein, Harris and other congressional representatives to point out “serious problems with the 11th-hour fee-to-trust decision” and the development proposed for the property.

“The fact that the committee pulled the bill for a hearing -- and has invited opposing testimony -- underscores the seriousness of the problems with the Camp 4 deal and the potential adverse consequences, not only to the residents in the Santa Ynez Valley but across the nation as well,” said Bill Krauch, coalition chairman.

Last fall, county supervisors and the Chumash tribe approved a memorandum of agreement that restricts the tribe to building 143 homes and a 12,000-square-foot tribal center on the property and provides the county more than $3 million, which will offset a portion of the lost property tax revenue.

Under the terms of the MOA, the county agreed to support HR 1491 and drop its federal lawsuit over the secretary of the interior’s fee-to-trust decision.

One year ago, Hartmann traveled to Washington, D.C., where she met with members of both the House of Representatives and Senate and convinced the House to delay a vote on HR 1491 to give the county and tribe time to reach the agreement.

Krauch said the coalition delegation in February pointed out that the County Board of Supervisors had opposed the fee-to-trust action, but under the threat of HR 1491 had reversed its position and approved the “hasty, one-sided land-use agreement.”

He also noted the agreement will allow 250 parking spaces -- eight times the number called for under normal building codes — for the center, which can host up to 100 events a year.

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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.

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