Friday, October 19, 2018     Volume: 19, Issue: 33

Santa Maria Sun / Commentary

The following article was posted on November 8th, 2017, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 18, Issue 36 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 18, Issue 36

Is the war against the Chumash finally over?


For the past decade, I have been making the same speech, over and over again, having to do with the aspirations of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians. For your information, these neighbors of ours, not so long ago, lived on their reservation in abject poverty for decades in the heart of the otherwise prosperous Santa Ynez Valley. Even in modern times, they had no running water or electricity. Their reservation straddled a ravine and was one of the smallest reservations in the country, a mere 99 acres.

Fortunately, you know most of the rest of this story. The voters in California granted Native American tribes the opportunity to have gaming on their reservations, and the Chumash built one of the finest establishments in the country. They are now enjoying unparalleled success, and one of their first goals was to expand the boundaries of their reservation in order to create more housing opportunities for tribal members along with other amenities.

Unfortunately, the Chumash ran into an intransigent county government and hostile neighbors who made no bones about their intentions to keep the Chumash on the reservation and to ensure the reservation boundaries did not expand. Hence more than a decade of bureaucratic and legal maneuvering began, seeking to hinder the Chumash from creating space for a museum, tribal center, and housing.

At the heart of this controversy was the stubborn contention that the Chumash must comport with the county land-use regimen and the provisions of the Santa Ynez Community Plan. However, the truth is something altogether different. The fact is, the Chumash and their reservation are a construct, creation, and manifestation of federal law and jurisdiction. That is to say, the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians is a legitimate government entity in its own right recognized as such by both our federal and state government. They are therefore subject to federal oversight, not county rules and regulations. And, just like any other government, when land is transferred out of the county’s jurisdiction, county rules, regulations, and taxes no longer apply. This is true for cities, Vandenberg Air Force Base, and even UC Santa Barbara. Yet, somehow the county figured they could make up their own rules as it affected the Chumash, despite decades of legislation and jurisprudence that spoke volumes to the contrary.

Despite the fact that the Chumash had a clear path, outlined by federal law, to expand the boundaries of their reservation, they nonetheless were more than willing to discuss their project with the county in the hopes of getting the county to support their application for expansion to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). Instead, the county and some vitriolic neighbors decided to sue. Nevertheless, the Chumash continued to try and negotiate. Well, as time went on, the legal obfuscation the Chumash were forced to suffer came to the attention of Congress. Congress, in no uncertain terms, directed the county to negotiate in good faith with the Chumash in order to facilitate their expansion requests or else risk losing anything they hoped to gain in the process.

Unfortunately, up until last week, these talks were an abysmal failure. What the county couldn’t get through their thick heads was the fact that they were not in control of the fate of the Chumash’s project. They are so used to being able to bully and exploit applicants, they just couldn’t come to terms with the fact that the feds were in charge of the Chumash’s application. So, instead of negotiating, they bullied, obfuscated, and sued. So did some well-funded NIMBYs in the valley. Millions of dollars were wasted. Acrimony and hostility ensued. And, in the end, nothing constructive was accomplished. All the while, the Chumash continued to humbly ask for the county’s cooperation.

All during this time, I kept informing anybody who cared to listen that the Chumash was well within their rights to request an expansion of their reservation. Moreover, I urged the county and the community to rely on negotiation and mitigation instead of litigation as it affected the proposed project. Finally, I repeatedly warned that federal legislation would eventually trump the litigation along with the stalled negotiations and the overwrought demands of mitigation.

Well, last week, the dam of obstinacy finally broke, at least as it pertains to the county. Four out of the five supervisors agreed to end the litigation and support the legislation moving forward in Congress. In exchange, the Chumash was willing to give up the use of some 80 percent of the ancestral property they had acquired in the valley known as Camp 4. They also agreed to no gaming on the property in perpetuity, and they waived their sovereign immunity should the deal be abrogated.

County Supervisor Peter Adam was the lone no vote on the deal. He stated he has nothing against the Chumash but that he wanted a better deal for the county. Whereas, I understand where Supervisor Adam is coming from, the fact of the matter is that the better deal for the county would have come 10 years ago, not on the eve of the legislation pending in Congress.

In other words, the property in question was already taken into fee-to-trust on behalf of the Chumash by the Bureau of Indian Affairs before last week’s hearing took place. The only thing left for Congress to do is to end the abusive lawsuits against the tribe by legislation. What that means is that the county, due to its own obstinacy, had lost its chance to leverage the Chumash for even more concessions. The county was lucky to get what it got, because Congress was in no mood for more haggling and harassment of the Chumash and the BIA. They had seen enough and so have most of the rest of us!

Unfortunately, even though most neighbors say they are OK with housing and a tribal center on Camp 4, a few diehards have nonetheless filed additional lawsuits against the county and the feds over this deal. Despite the fact that the Chumash have donated more than $20 million in charity, have given up the ability to use most of their property, and will continue to pay millions for their fair share of police and fire support, along with road improvements, these people are still not satisfied! How unfortunate is that?

Andy Caldwell is the executive director of COLAB and the host of The Andy Caldwell Show on AM1440 KUHL and AM1290 News Press Radio. Send your thoughts to

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