A House resolution affirming a federal agency’s decision to take a parcel of land into trust for the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians was unanimously approved June 13 by a Senate committee and will now move to the full Senate for a decision.

On a voice vote, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs sent HR 1491, the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians Land Affirmation Act of 2017, to the Senate floor with a recommendation that it be enacted.

The committee, consisting of eight Republicans and seven Democrats, is led by Chairman John Hoeven, R-North Dakota, and Vice Chairman Tom Udall, D-New Mexico.

If approved, the bill would ratify the Dec. 24, 2014, decision by the secretary of the interior to place 1,433 acres of Chumash-owned land, known as Camp 4, into trust for the tribe, making it part of the reservation and allowing the development of 143 tribal housing units and a tribal center.

The decision was praised by the Chumash tribe but condemned by the Santa Ynez Valley Coalition, which represents several groups opposed to the fee-to-trust action.

“The unanimous support of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs demonstrates that good faith cooperation between tribes and local governments will be recognized with swift and decisive action in Washington,” said Kenneth Kahn, tribal chairman. “We look forward to passage of HR 1491 by the full Senate in the near future.”

The bill was passed by the House of Representatives in November 2017 after the tribe and Santa Barbara County reached an agreement that limits the types and location of development on the land, requires that it meet building and safety codes and adhere to the environmental assessment mitigations, provides for mitigation of financial impacts on the county and prohibits gaming.

In exchange, the county agreed to provide certain services to the site, dropped its appeal of the fee-to-trust and agreed to support the passage of HR 1491.

“I am aware that HR 1491 unanimously passed out of the bipartisan Senate Committee of Indian Affairs today,” 3rd District Supervisor Joan Hartmann said June 13.

“I will continue to track HR 1491 as the full Senate now considers the bill,” added Hartmann, who served on the supervisors’ ad hoc committee on Chumash affairs and helped hammer out the memorandum of agreement.

Opposition continues

But the memorandum of agreement and HR 1491 were opposed by the Santa Ynez Valley Coalition, which said neither will protect the rural character of the Valley, assure development meets provisions of the community plan or provides adequate compensation for the county’s loss of tax revenue.

Bill Krauch, chairman of the coalition, appeared before the Senate committee April 26 to register the group’s objections and propose amendments to address the environmental and private property impacts coalition members see resulting from the legislation.

Krauch said Hoeven ordered both sides to find “common ground” but the tribe has refused to negotiate a compromise with the coalition.

“We are outraged by the Senate Indian Affairs Committee’s latest action,” Krauch said June 13. “This action is a direct repudiation of the notion of protecting property rights.

“Make no mistake about it, what is happening in the Santa Ynez Valley could happen anywhere else in the country,” he said.

Krauch said the bill will eliminate three federal lawsuits challenging the legality of the fee-to-trust decision and will give the tribe a “blank check” to develop the land however it chooses, including constructing a commercial or entertainment complex.

But he said as the bill is considered on the Senate floor, the coalition “will continue seeking assurances that HR 1491 will be modified to protect the residents of the Santa Ynez Valley and beyond.”

HR 1491 was sponsored by Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, who represents California’s 1st Congressional District, and supported by Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, the former Santa Barbara County 1st District supervisor, as well as California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, both Democrats.

The Chumash purchased the Camp 4 property, located along the eastern side of Highway 154 between Armour Ranch Road and Baseline Avenue, from the Fess Parker estate in 2010 specifically to build tribal housing and a tribal center.

Kahn has previously said only 17 percent of tribal members and lineal descendants currently live on the Santa Ynez reservation, which can’t be further developed because of its topography and other restrictions.

But converting the agriculturally zoned Camp 4 land for those uses would be difficult because of state laws and county zoning regulations, so the tribe applied to the Bureau of Indian Affairs to have the land taken into trust by the federal government, which would negate the effect of state and county laws and would take the property off the tax rolls.

Although the application was approved, it was appealed by local landowners and the county, which also filed legal action.

In the last Congress, LaMalfa sponsored HR 1157, which would have ordered the secretary of the interior to take the Camp 4 land into public trust for the Chumash.

The bill made it out of the House Committee on Natural Resources on a 29-1 vote, with then-Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, the sole dissenter.

But it died Jan. 3 when the 114th Congress adjourned without voting on it.

LaMalfa, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs, then introduced HR 1491 in March 2017, and that July it unanimously passed the House Natural Resources Committee, which sent it on to the House floor for a vote.

Agreement reached

In October 2017, prior to the House voice vote approving HR 1491, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors approved a memorandum of agreement with the Chumash on a 4-1 vote, with 4th District Supervisor Peter Adam dissenting.

The agreement was designed to address some of the issues that would result from the fee-to-trust action and objections raised by Santa Ynez Valley residents.

Under the terms of the agreement, the tribe agreed to waive its sovereign immunity to lawsuits and judgments involving the agreement.

In return, the county dismissed its pending federal litigation over the fee-to-trust issue and supported HR 1491 with amendments.

The tribe also agreed to keep the land under the Williamson Act provisions, which gives tax credits to property owners whose land is used for agriculture, until the contract on the Camp 4 property expires Dec. 31, 2030.

To mitigate the loss of tax revenues, the tribe agreed to pay a flat annual fee of $178,500 to offset most of the cost of county-provided services, beginning with the expiration of the Williamson Act contract or after the first home is built on the site, whichever comes first, until the memorandum expires.

The county relinquished permitting authority over the development, but the tribe agreed to implement all mitigation measures in the environmental assessment and not develop any buildings or solar energy projects within 985 feet of Highway 154.

The tribe agreed to follow California Building and Public Safety codes, as well as Green Building Guidelines; install the highest efficiency indoor plumbing fixtures; and not increase water use during drought conditions.

Recycled water from a tertiary wastewater treatment plant will be used to irrigate landscaping, which will emphasize native and drought-tolerant species, and vineyards, which will be reduced by 50 acres.

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News Editor

Mike Hodgson is news editor at the Santa Ynez Valley News, where he writes about local government, special events and the people who live in the Valley. He has been a photographer, writer, news editor and managing editor at weekly newspapers since 1972

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