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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on August 20th, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 24 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 24

Santa Barbara County opts out of 
government talks with Chumash

BY CAMILLIA LANHAM

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors chose not to vote directly on the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians’ request to engage in direct government-to-government talks.

Instead, supervisors voted 3-2 during their Aug. 20 meeting, with Salud Carbajal and Larry Lavagnino dissenting, that county planning staff treat the tribe as a private landowner when discussing development on the tribally owned, 1,400-acre Camp 4 property located off of Chumash reservation land in Santa Ynez.

On the table for discussion was whether or not the county would engage in direct negotiations with the tribe—treating them as a sovereign government entity—in regard to the Camp 4 fee-to-trust application the tribe filed with the Bureau of Indian Affairs in July, as well as other issues.

The item was on the agenda in response to a letter written to Carbajal by Chumash tribal chairman Vincent Armenta requesting government-to-government dialogue with the county.

“I think, today, the county refused to engage in government-to-government relations,” Sam Cohen, the government and legal affairs officer for the Chumash, told the Sun after the meeting. “I don’t know that the county knows what they did, but they sort of opted out of any sort of negotiated settlement with the tribe. Now they get to respond to the fee-to-trust like any other private person.”

The tribe bought the Camp 4 property from Fess Parker in 2010 and has been seeking to place it in the fee-to-trust process ever since. If the application is approved, the property would be deeded over to the federal government. In exchange, the government would recognize the land as a sovereign nation, exempt from state and local taxes.

Cohen said the tribe had offered the county 
$1 million a year for the next 10 years in lieu of taxes for Camp 4 if it became fee-to-trust land. With the Aug. 20 vote, Cohen said that offer essentially falls to the wayside.

Supervisor Doreen Farr put the private landowner motion up for a vote during the meeting. She said she was opposed to putting Camp 4 in fee-to-trust and always has been because the move would be a loss of land-use control and a loss of revenue for the county. 

“I think what we want to do here is talk about dialogue, talk about improving relations,” Farr said. “[But the] application for fee-to-trust is not officially before the county.”

Once the Bureau of Indian Affairs gives the county official notice to respond to the fee-to-trust application, it will have 30 days to respond with comments.

Almost 40 people spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting, most of them opposed to putting Camp 4 in fee-to-trust and engaging in government-to-government talks with the tribe. Opponents brought up water and mineral rights, loss of land-use control and taxes, and more gambling as their major concerns. As far as development of Camp 4 goes, opponents said the tribe should be treated as a private landowner rather than a sovereign government.

The public has until Sept. 19 to respond to a different federally issued document about Camp 4: A Bureau of Indian Affairs-conducted Environmental Assessment document regarding the proposed development of 143 single-family housing units on the Camp 4 property was released in accordance with the National Environmental Protection Act.

The county also found out about a Bureau of Indian Affairs-approved Tribal Consolidation Plan before the Aug. 20 meeting. Amy Dutschke, the Pacific Regional Director for the bureau, said the plan was approved in June and functions much like a community plan for the tribe. It’s not a legally binding document, but outlines what the tribe wants in terms of future land acquisition and consolidation.

The plan covers 11,000 acres of land off the reservation that the tribe eventually wants to acquire. However, each parcel of land still has to be bought by the tribe and go through its own fee-to-trust process.

Among those who spoke for moving forward with government-to-government talks with the tribe was Andy Caldwell from the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture, and Business. He said it was time for the county to recognize the tribe for what it is and added that times haven’t really changed all that much.

“The fight back then was over land and the fight right now is over land. Tell me what has changed,” Caldwell said at the meeting. “The fight is still over land.”