Tribal leaders have "a moral obligation to acquire land for the long-term survival of the tribe," and converting private property into sovereign tribal land does not result in a loss of local control, according to speakers at a public meeting Friday night on the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians' reservation.
About 200 people in the Samala Showroom of the Chumash Casino and Resort heard Tribal Chairman Vincent Armenta describe the tribe's intentions for the 1,400-acre "Camp 4" property at the corner of Highways 154 and 246 in Santa Ynez.
They also heard several other speakers describe the history of Indian law and sovereignty, the history of local Indian housing and the federal environmental review process that governs development on a reservation.
The Chumash want to add the "Camp 4" property, about 2 miles east of the casino, to their 138-acre reservation either through the Bureau of Indian Affairs' fee-to-trust process or by direct federal legislation.
Opponents say their resistance isn't to new housing but to expansion of the reservation because once land becomes sovereign tribal property, activities there become exempt from local and state taxes and local planning and zoning laws.
They want the tribe to develop the land as private property through Santa Barbara County's planning, zoning and environmental review rather than through the federal government's processes.
On the contrary, "fee-to-trust is local control," Armenta told the audience.
A flyer handed out at the meeting elaborated: "Fee-to-trust is about returning lost land to the tribe and returning it to the local control of the one government that was in place long before the present county government or any nearby city government existed."
Some members of the public have also complained that development outside of the county's guidelines would make a mockery of the Santa Ynez Valley Community Plan, the county's 20-year blueprint for local zoning and development that was approved in October 2009 after a decade of public debate.
On the contrary, Armenta said, the community plan should not apply to the Chumash, just as it does not apply to the incorporated cities of Buellton and Solvang.
Other panelists were Carl Artman, a law professor at Arizona State University and former Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs; Executive Director Dave Schaffer of the All Mission Indian Housing Authority; and Assistant Director Kevin Bearquiver of the Bureau of Indian Affairs Pacific Region and his aide Chad Broussard.
The tribe bought the 1,400 acres, which is about the size of Solvang, in April 2010 to build housing for its 140 members and their descendants, Armenta said.
"No, absolutely, we are not building a (second) casino on Camp 4," he added.
The tribe has not worked out the details of its housing plans, but those will be decided eventually by all 140 members acting as the tribe's General Council, he added.
Federal oversight of environmental impacts, through the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), is just as stringent as state review through the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), several speakers insisted, and both processes include public comment.
"I'm sure we'll be back before the Board of Supervisors" as the tribe tries to work out an intergovernmental cooperative agreement for developing the property, Armenta said.
"The tribe genuinely believes that you are eventually going to be comfortable with the process (of development through fee-to-trust) and become supportive," he said.
According to Schaffer, the 2010 U.S. Census showed the tribe having 140 enrolled members and 1,300 descendants.
Armenta said there isn't enough room on the tribe's current reservation, about 30 percent of which is hillside or creekbed, to accommodate the tribe's housing needs.
Friday night's meeting was scheduled in reaction to a similar one Aug. 26 at the Solvang Veterans Memorial Building sponsored by opponents of reservation expansion: Santa Ynez Valley Concerned Citizens, Women's Environmental Watch, Preservation of Los Olivos and Preservation of Santa Ynez.
Speakers at that meeting told the standing-room-only crowd of more than 400 people to organize politically to stop any potential expansion of the reservation and to anticipate the worst possible impacts on any land that is annexed.
POLO has posted documents on its website (polosyv.org), including letters from federal, state and county government officials, pertaining to the tribe's previous fee-to-trust efforts to bolster their arguments against this one.
In response, the tribe has created a new website, www.chumashfacts.com, where they have posted their arguments in favor of taking more land into trust.