A bill moving through the California Legislature has set off alarms in the Santa Ynez Valley because of its implications for the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians’ efforts to annex 1,400 rural acres into its 130-acre reservation.
If signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, 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.
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 130-acre 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 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 approximately 500 children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, Tribal Chairman Vincent Armenta has said.
Nerissa Sugars, spokeswoman for the Chumash, said the tribe has no comment on Senate Bill 162 at this time.
Initially introduced in February 2011, the bill 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.
In a message May 24 to her constituents, 3rd District County Supervisor Doreen Farr said the bill has “been drastically changed and could have serious implications for our county.”
She described changes to the bill as a “gut and amend” process, meaning it was drastically revised late in the legislative process in a “‘stealth maneuver’ to avoid public scrutiny and comment.”
At this stage in the process, she added, the bill would need to be rushed through the Legislature during the summer, when many constituents are on vacation and paying less attention, to have a chance of being signed by Aug. 31.
“Something that I find quite objectionable,” added Farr, whose district includes the Santa Ynez Valley.
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.
Farr noted that the original bill — which related to card rooms in Los Angeles — had been approved by the state Senate and then sat with no activity in the Assembly for more than a year. However, the bill was changed last month to include the ban on state opposition to tribal fee-to-trust applications.
The bill “has not been heard in its newest form by any policy or fiscal committees or on the floor of the Assembly,” Farr said.
It is being reviewed by the Assembly Governance Organization Committee, and no hearings have been scheduled. It must be approved by that committee and the Appropriations Committee, then be approved by the entire Assembly.
If approved there, it must go back to the Senate again to have the amended version approved before being sent to Brown for his signature.
For the bill to become law, the entire process must be finished in time for the governor to sign it by midnight Aug. 31. Otherwise, the bill fails and the authors would have to start all over again in the next legislative session.
“My office has already communicated with both our Assembly and Senate representatives, Das Williams and Tony Strickland, and have asked them to strongly oppose this bill. I will also be writing to the members of the Assembly Governance Organization Committee and ask them to stop this bill in its tracks,” she said.
Several Santa Ynez Valley community groups have lined up in opposition to the fee-to-trust plans for Camp 4, with Preservation of Los Olivos (POLO) prominent among them.
POLO board member Kathy Cleary described SB 162 as “a shocking example of corruption of the legislative process.”
“SB 162 began as a bill regarding the Gambling Control Committee,” she said in a statement. “After the majority of Senate committee analysis and votes, a full bill substitution was made changing it to a bill for tribal land expansion by saying a state agency shall not oppose a fee-to-trust land acquisition. Governor Jerry Brown, the Department of Justice, the Attorney General, law enforcement and the legislature are a few examples of who could not oppose fee to trust if this passes.
“In addition to being absolutely outrageous, it also pretends innocence by stating the purpose must be for housing, culture and environmental protection. We all know that BIA (the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs) will not restrict the use of land once it is in trust,” she said.
POLO has also said the bill appears to 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.
“This bill appears to be stating that any tribe recognized by the federal government is eligible for fee-to-trust,” POLO said in a May 23 message to its mailing list. “Per this bill, if passed, it appears that if the Bureau of Indian Affairs makes the determination that a ‘tribe’ is a ‘tribe’ (there are tribes of a few people) then no state agency will be able to object if this newly created tribe wants land for housing, or environmental protection, or cultural preservation. Remember that ‘tribes’ can then claim they need the above for all their descendants.”
Along with Farr, POLO and Santa Ynez Valley Alliance are encouraging residents to take action in opposition to the bill by contacting the Valley’s state representatives — Strickland, the 19th District state senator, and Williams, the 35th District Assemblyman.
Strickland’s staff can be reached at 965-0862 in Santa Barbara and 916-651-4019 in Sacramento.
Williams’ staff can be reached at 564-1649 in Santa Barbara and 916-319-2135 in Sacramento.