In a letter to Alaska Congressman Don Young, 3rd District county Supervisor Doreen Farr has detailed her opposition to placing the Chumash tribe’s rural “Camp 4” property in Santa Ynez into federal trust.
The four-page letter addresses a recent request by the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians to Young, an Alaska Republican who is chairman of the House Indian and Native Alaskan Affairs Subcommittee, to help the tribe add the 1,400 agricultural acres into their reservation through direct congressional legislation.
Chumash leaders are seeking to annex the land, at Highways 246 and 154 about 2 miles east of the Chumash Casino Resort, into their 130-acre Santa Ynez reservation through the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ fee-to-trust procedure or federal legislation.
“The fee-to-trust process, whether handled-through the Bureau of Indian Affairs or through direct congressional action, was established to assist tribal governments that have demonstrated that the trust acquisition is necessary to achieve economic success and to provide long term fiscal stability for their members. This is not the case here,” said Farr, whose district includes the Santa Ynez Valley, in the April 16 letter.
The tribe’s holdings also include Hotel Corque, formerly the Royal Scandinavian Inn, and Root 246 restaurant, both in Solvang, two gas stations in Santa Ynez, and an employee resource center in Buellton.
“The Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians has achieved great financial success through the establishment of a casino and hotel on their reservation property,” Farr said. “The revenues from the hotel and the casino have been substantial enough to not only well provide for the needs of their members but also to purchase other income producing properties in the Santa Ynez Valley such as another hotel and restaurant as well as the 1,400 acre ranch presently zoned for agriculture.”
Tribal leaders have said they plan to build tribal housing on part of the parcel, which is about the size of Solvang, on what is now a 250-acre wheat field at the northeast corner of the larger property. The entire parcel was owned by the late Fess Parker until the tribe purchased it in 2010.
There isn’t enough room on the tribe’s reservation, about 30 percent of which is hillside or creekbed, to accommodate the tribe’s 143 enrolled members and their 500 or so children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, Tribal Chairman Vincent Armenta has said.
An economic impact report commissioned by the tribe and released April 10 concluded that building homes on Camp 4 would create between 100 and 360 construction jobs in the county in the project’s peak years and pump $18 million in sales taxes into the local economy.
In a statement last week responding to Farr’s letter, Armenta echoed those figures and the need for housing.
“The fee-to-trust process was created by the federal government to restore tribal land bases and to protect tribal lands for generations to come,” Armenta said. “Placing Camp 4 into trust will not only restore our ancestral lands, but will also create hundreds of jobs in Santa Barbara County and millions of dollars in economic activity throughout the county.
“Nearly two thousand residents of Supervisor Farr’s district have signed a petition supporting the return of this small piece of our historical territory to the stewardship of our tribal government. Members of our tribe, their children, and their grandchildren need a place where they can live and raise their families on tribal land governed by their own tribal government.”
Annexation to the reservation would make the property exempt from local and state taxes and local planning and zoning laws.
In July 2011, Preservation of Los Olivos (POLO), an opponent of tribal annexation, submitted 10 pages of testimony to a congressional committee chaired by Young, detailing impacts of the casino on the community and local opposition to expansion of tribal land.
“POLO is confident that Congressman Young, or any other out of area legislator, will not consider writing legislation regarding a county far removed from their jurisdiction; especially when the requested legislation will have exponential negative impact on thousands and thousands of citizens,” Cleary said in a statement.
The POLO document can be read on the group’s website, www.polosyv.org.
In her letter, Farr said she strongly believes “decisions on land use need to be conducted under local jurisdiction through a transparent process that not only allows, but requires, community input. If the Chumash want to develop their ranch property, or any other property they own that is not within their current reservation boundaries, I would ask that instead of seeking a legislative fix, they work through the county’s land use process for the greater benefit of the entire county.”
As an example of the Chumash working through the county planning process, Farr cited, in a phone interview earlier this month, the proposed gas station with convenience store and car wash at the southeast corner of Highway 246 and Edison Street. The corner is adjacent to the reservation but not part of it, and the gas station was approved through the county planning process.
Farr reiterated to Young her opposition to the fee-to-trust process, which she has expressed directly to tribal leaders, in a letter to Congressman Elton Gallegly, and in various published commentaries.
“The significant loss of tax revenue to the county and to all of the special districts, including schools, which depend upon it would impact all county services,” Farr said. “We cannot afford to lose any of this revenue, particularly during the current severe economic downturn.
“Any proposed development has many other potential impacts including impacts to police and fire services, to traffic and circulation and to the continued viability of agriculture, both on the property in question and on all the properties that surround it. If gaming were also on the property it would obviously only exacerbate those impacts.”
She sent copies of her letter to U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, Central Coast Congress members Lois Capps and Elton Gallegly, Santa Barbara County CEO Chandra Waller, the other four Santa Barbara County supervisors, and Armenta.
Included in the letter is a copy of Farr’s guest commentary about tribal annexation that was published in December in the Valley News.