The Committee to Improve North County is constantly searching for ways to keep our members informed about issues that impact our community.

Over the years, we have been concerned with the economic climate and housing costs that would allow our children and grandchildren an opportunity to stay in the area they grew up in.

While this has been a challenging agenda, we believe two projects addressed at our recent meeting will go a long way to meeting these goals. In our April Committee INC meeting, we addressed an update on the North County jail, and the efforts of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians to place land into federal trust.

While Sheriff Brown’s presentation on the new North County jail was certainly informative and it will be a great economic boost to North County, the topic of this column is the presentation by Sam Cohen, government and legal specialist for the Chumash.

Cohen began by providing an overview of the tribe’s business enterprises, including its largest, the Chumash Casino Resort, and discussed the significant positive economic impact the tribe has on the community. In addition to the Casino Resort, the tribe owns three hospitality businesses in Solvang — Hotel Corque, Root 246 and the Hadsten House.

A few interesting facts addressed in Cohen’s presentation included:

The Casino Resort 2012 payroll: $64,392,680; Casino Resort 2012 payroll taxes: $5,563,532; number of employees in all Chumash enterprises: 1,750.

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The tribe is the largest employer in the Santa Ynez Valley. Through its Foundation, the tribe has donated more than $16 million to the community over the years.

One of the more complex topics Cohen addressed was the subject of placing land into federal trust. In a video, “The Fight to Reclaim Ancestral Land,” the tribe tells the story of its quest to place two parcels of land into federal trust — 6.9 acres across the street from the reservation, and 1,400 acres of ranch land commonly known as “Camp 4.” It is explained that there are two ways to place land into federal trust — administratively through the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), or legislatively through Congress.

The tribe’s application to the BIA to place its 6.9 acres into trust to build a cultural museum and commemorative park has been approved twice. But local opponents have filed lawsuits against the BIA’s decisions, thereby holding up the process for years. In the meantime, the tribe continues to amass a collection of artifacts tribal members hope will someday be displayed in their museum.

Due to the difficulties the tribe experienced going through the administrative process with opponents fighting its 6.9-acre project, a decision was made to explore the legislative process for placing its 1,390 acres of land into federal trust. The tribe hopes to build housing on Camp 4 for tribal members and their families.

In a second video, “Camp 4 Facts,” the tribe focuses on key points to allow for a better understanding of why placing this land into federal trust would be a significant step in building a stronger community for current and future generations of the tribe: Tribal families want to live on the land of their ancestors. The tribe has no intention of building a casino on its Camp 4 land. Economic health does not affect eligibility for land into trust. A “cooperative agreement” would replace loss of tax revenue.

I applaud the tribe for pursuing its entrepreneurial spirit so enthusiastically and giving so much back to the community. I’m confident the tribe will overcome the obstacles placed before it, and can eventually move forward with building the cultural museum and housing for tribal families.

Trent Benedetti is a board member of the Committee to Improve North County and a long-time local business owner.

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